Speaking about Greek islands, we imagine the Aegean islet’s of Corfu depicted as “virgin”, intact and lost, even if it has transformed into an enchanting attraction for tourist and adventurers a long time ago. Yet we like to imagine that it remained tied to traditional rhythms and lifestyles.
And this is how the island of Corfu has created its new and fairytale-like identity, based on a mixture of different elements: the suggestions of ancient ruins, folklore, the amenity of its villages, the charm of its beaches, the wonder of sunsets that we often witness collectively, as if we were expecting a final applause with the sun that seems to sink into the waves.
The island is a “myth”: it represents a safe haven, space on which to escape from hectic everyday life, reconciling in an almost mystical embrace with nature.
But it is also a myth of unbridled fun, of special joy, exhibited through transgressions in a sort of permanent feast.
If the island is really that place of exception, where the flow of daily existence appears to be suspended, staying there almost inevitably represents an opportunity to live out of ordinary life. It’s like living a different life.
All this, and much more, is Corfu.
The old Kotor or, as the ancient Greeks called it, Kerkyra, is a small, proud and independent nation.
Once landed, we can immediately realize how this isn’t an island like the others; we’re immediately struck by such a varied culture, a rich nightlife, as well as by a melancholy colonial atmosphere. Without forgetting its beaches, often of disarming beauty.
Corfu is the perfect “first-time” island in Greece, suitable for everyone, from the mass “all inclusive” tourism to intimate vacations, for those who like to discover the most traditional villages, as well as the tranquillity of rural landscapes at a stone’s throw from a deep blue sea.
The capital Corfu
The first must see is the capital Corfu, which takes the name of the island.
It’s sufficient to take a hasty look at the old center to realize that this is a different Greece, where the East culture influence wasn’t able to make space for itself. You’ll perceive a strong sense of Italianism here: as in a dream, here you’ll be walking through the streets of the Doges, where the light of the lamps illuminates the canals…
Ok, right! For sure, you’ll not find canals in the city, but rather than the ancient Greek vestiges, Corfu will be eternally grateful to the Venetian domination that imposed itself on the island starting from 1402. The Venetians sold it for 30,000 gold ducats, and their architecture is still widely significant here.
Let yourself be overwhelmed by the innate human curiosity, leaving for a while the beaches as beautiful as they are crowded – especially in the hot summer months – to get lost in the narrow streets of a town in full ferment, simple and, at the same time, immensely delicious: pastel colors on the walls, the half-closed shutters, shops windows invaded by tourists. Corfu is definitely a pleasant mosaic of colors and smells, all wrapped up by that Venetian lagoon aura.
Just turn towards the main avenue and you’ll come across a considerable number of Coffee shops and dehors reminiscent of a boulevard. Suddenly, you’ll discover a “Parisian” Corfu.
It’s true that Venetian domination forged a really strong identity, but it was Napoleon’s arrival to make Corfu so sophisticated, with its almost flirtatious lifestyle. Someone even called the city the “Edith Piaf” of the Greek islands.
The Capital and Its Inhabitants
Before starting the small tour, do not resist some small sins of gluttony, perhaps tasting one of the most typical products of the place, the Greek yogurt. You can sit in one of the many cafes under the arches of the Liston, one of the capital’s most representative buildings and its true heart. As you sink your spoon into a cascade of delicious chocolate pralines, have a look around you.
This capital is all to be discovered, with its narrow alleys, ancient churches, tall houses with wrought-iron balconies, and small squares that once again bring to mind the Venetian Campielli.
There’s a real crossroad of looks: once again, people will surprise you.
In a country so ancient, the inhabitants and their gestures seem to offer, even for a moment, a bit of their tranquillity. That’s how they are: beautiful, quiet, without that slightly dramatic air typical of the citizens of our hectic metropolises. There’s a deafening shouting of people all the time, maybe interrupted by the songs and notes of the street-artists who cheerfully animate every angle of the historical center.
You’ll really hear a call to this land, you’ll almost feel the value as if the island was going to open its doors to the world, with its “French habit” and even with a veil of melancholy and decadence.
Make sure to maintain your curiosity, just go through the mazes of streets, almost on tiptoe, trying to intuit an ephemeral beauty, leaving behind the island worldliness, asking yourself if it was really worth it.
You’ll reach the Campiello, the most fascinating district of the capital, regarded as UNESCO heritage site since 2007. It’ll be enchanting to walk among its narrow streets, the Kantounia, in the shadow of its ancient buildings that survived the horrors of the Second World War.
Smells of cooking food spread into the air and clothes hanging on the sun give their note of color, the houses’ windows and doors opened, exuding genuineness and the laughter of kids playing in adjacent courtyards. All around, a feeling of almost maternal protection that only these streets can give you.
Walking up and down these streets, it’ll be like visiting a sort of open-air museum; sometimes, among the palaces, a small glimpse of the sea will peep out, skirting the entire capital and encircling it in an affectionate embrace. Its colors make it a magnificent picture, all around the atmosphere of a dream; but in that silence, hearing the waves placidly breaking on the shore will bring you to reality: you’ll love even more that nature you are admiring, alive more than ever.
And there’s still a curiosity: between the Campiello and the Spilia district, for those who managed to find it, there’s a street called Filellinon. Stop at number 18, where you’ll find the oldest building of the town, dating back to 1497! A true leap in the past for history lovers, as well as for the more curious. Surprising detail: the presence of a balcony that will take you back to a Shakespearean Verona.
A really nice way to end your walk, returning to dream in the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet.
The Spianada and the Old Fortress
Finally returning on the main road, it won’t be easy for you to look away from the paved squares and the hidden courtyards that you just left. But again, you’ll find in front of you a new attraction: the great main square, the Spianada, called this way for the absence of buildings. Full of greenery, this square separates the city from the Old Fortress.
You really feel powerless in front of its greatness. It was created under the Venice domination, to further facilitate the defence of the city during enemy attacks. I‘ll be a pleasure to witness the many mundane and religious events taking place within it.
The capital historic center is surrounded by two fortresses, erected at different times – hence the name of Old and New – but joined by walls in the oast, allowing its inhabitants to live safely inside them.
The Old Fortress, dating back to around the XVI century, it’s the symbol of the capital, the milestone of the Corfiots. This Fortress changes its clothes in the light of the sunset, turning yellow and orange, preparing the city for the evening and observing it from afar in all its majesty and pride.
A Walk to the Port
Suddenly, a bell ringing will echo in the air, marking the time: it comes from the bell tower of St. Spyridon’s Church – Corfu patron saint. Built in 1520 by the Venetians, it’s the most famous religious monument of the island, recognizable from the red point of its bell tower.
Religion is a very important component of the life of Corfu’s inhabitants. And it can be seen from the considerable number of churches: only in the capital city, there are about twenty religious buildings.
There’s still time to continue strolling among the quiet of the landscape, listening to the waves that peacefully fall on the shoreline below you. You’ll probably come across a small neighborhood market. Even at closing time, you can go around the few remaining stalls still full of local products, and this will make your experience even more unique. Once again, on display, you will be submerged by the smells of something good and genuine, often bringing to mind those flavors linked to your past.
And at the end of this day, watching children playing joyfully in the sand will be like the last tender present that Corfu wants to give you.
In short, Corfu is like is the “navel of the world”, that amazes, teases, even intrigues. So rich in buildings, green, and lush; with its panoramas of such strong colors, especially during a sunset, and its many natural “shows” that hide behind every corner.
Moving away from the capital, the island offers many other possibilities: historic boutiques of traditional products, fortresses, museums, palaces.
Insomma, si sarà capito: Corfù è un “ombelico del mondo”, che piace, stuzzica, intriga persino.
Fascinating palaces like the Achilleion.
Located about 10 km south to the capital, crossed winding paths and olive groves as far as the eye can see, here’s the imposing palace, erected in 1890 in Pompeian style.
It owes its importance both to its beauty and to its belonging to the Austria Empress Elisabeth, Sissi; oppressed by a life of court that she hated and by family tragedies, she loved to spend here her long periods of hospitalization due to poor health, between the peace and the healthy air of the island. A little corner of paradise that has left us an inheritance and to be thankful for.
It’s really impossible to ignore the beaches.
They are too many and really beautiful. Perhaps unique, like Arillas. And being among the pebbles or in the sand, it doesn’t matter: their beauty kidnaps you and lets you be ready to take a dip, especially to escape the summer heat wave.
In Corfu, romance dominates; in the village of Kassiopi, many couples love to spend their time in a totally picturesque atmosphere: you’ll always have the impression of being in a nice cove, all for yourself.
The Canal d’Amour – the small inlet of a beach – then, in Sidari, is another of the must-see stops, to continue to the delightful Paleokastritsa, considered by the Corfiots the most beautiful place in the world. The alternation of inlets and small stretches of beach, it will give you all its splendor.
And if you’re not tired yet of wandering around the island, you can always take advantage of the nice Corfiot “nightlife”. It ranges from the most fashionable clubs, perhaps by the sea, to the most hidden and popular bars, where ouzo and other traditional liqueurs flow like rivers, or to the most culinary and enjoyable aspect of the island in the town of Sidari.
It would be very limiting to consider Corfu just a summer destination.
The Orthodox Easter is certainly one of the most unique feasts to take part in; it’ll be like being in post-war Sicily when disused furnishings were thrown out of the window during the New Year celebrations. Well, here they’ll not be objects of common use, but rather red terracotta vases take flight.
An experience – with the necessary precautions – that must be done once in your lifetime.
Suddenly, the landscape in front of us is coloured in fairytale tones, and the sun that sets over the small cove reminds that it’s time to go. And looking once more towards the old marina, you’ll going to think about how much nostalgia you’ll leave this island.
Corfu, where Ulysses landed before returning to his Ithaca.
The island that preserves a past rich in history, now walking on the steps of the ancient Greeks, now on the cadenced march of the Napoleonic army.
Corfu, the island that everyone loves terribly and where you’ll find the age of lightness and carefreeness.
And it’ll remain there, motionless to observe the wonder that she managed to arouse.
But other places are ready to be visited, better not let them wait too long.