The verdant island of Corfu, or Kerkyra as it is known in Greek, with its unrivaled natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and modern tourist infrastructure is the most renowned of the Ionian Islands.
According to tradition, the island acquired its name, Kerkyra, from a nymph of that name, a daughter of Asopos, the river god, with whom Zeus, the mighty King of Olympic Gods, fell in love and carried to the island to hide their mating from the wrath of his jealous wife, Goddess Hera. The first literary reference to the island is found in Homer’s “Odyssey”, as the Island of the Phaecians where the legendary hero Ulysses found refuge in the arms of the local princess Nausicaa, after his ship wreck.
Lying at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea, in between the shores of Italy and mainland Greece, with just a narrow channel of sea, 1-1.5 nautical miles in width, separating it from the shores of Albania, it is the northernmost of the Ionian islands, and at the same time, the most western part of Greek territory.
Its strategic geographical position attracted the interest of a number of mighty colonial cultures over the years; from the ancient Corinthians in classical times, to the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians, the Angevins, the French, and the British, before the island finally joined the modern Greek state in 1864.
The capital of the island is the picturesque and delightful historic Corfu Town, one of the most attractive and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Built on a narrow strip of land, it owes much of its charm to the many disparate architectural elements it contains, traces of the different cultures that have settled here over the years; from the Venetians, who have built most of the old town and its fortifications, to the French and the British, who have added splendid monuments and palaces to it during their era.
The island, with its lush green hilly landscape, cloaked in olive, pine and cypress trees, and its impressive coastline nestling an array of traditional picturesque coastal villages, bays and coves washed by crystal clear waters, enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate of mild winters and cool summers.
Known as the most verdant of all the Greek islands, hence its nickname “the Emerald Isle”, its trees, grass and bushes stretch right down to its shores. All year round, the island resembles a natural wild little “forest jungle”, adorned with colourful blooming flowers and trees laden with fruit. The locals, known for their genuinely hearty sense of hospitality, they communicate with simplicity and courtesy, proud of their island’s history and culture.
DISCOVER THE DIFFERENCE
The island has been much loved by travellers over the centuries and is a favourite retreat for the rich and famous. According to local myth, Odysseus was shipwrecked on its shores during his eventful voyage back to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Cleopatra, the legendary Queen of Egypt, and Marc Anthony have visited it during their campaign against the Roman Emperor Octavianos. Prince Philip of Great Britain was born here, on the kitchen table of the Mon Repos Palace.
The beautiful Empress Elizabeth “Sissy” of Austria, known as the “Sad Empress” has built here her favourite summer residence “Achilleion Palace”, decorated with statues of Achilles, her favourite mythological hero. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany often spend time here during his trips in the Mediterranean onboard the “Hullenzuller”. The famous British writer, Lawrence Durrell, author of “Bitter Lemons”, “Prospero’s Cell” and “The Alexandrian Quartet”, has spend much of his life on the island in search of inspiration for his books.
Perhaps the most marvellous thing about Kerkyra is that it has absorbed so much, yet changed so little. In the villages, peasant women still ride along side-saddle on their mules carrying home bundles of firewood, scarcely glancing up at the giant jetliners zooming in to land, whilst sleek sports cars roar in the roads playing hide and seek with the traditional 19th-century horse-drawn carriages.
THE OLD TOWN OF KERKYRA
The historic Old Town of Kerkyra, wedged between the two Venetian fortresses, occupies a peninsula on the island's eastern coast on the Ionian Sea. A maze of winding narrow cobbled streets and high stone & wood-built tenements painted in mellow pastel colours, the town is more reminiscent of Venice or Naples’ architecture rather than that of the rest of Greece. The Old Venetian Fortress, now a UNESCO World Heritage listed monument, stands on a promontory to the east, while the New Venetian Fortress guards the town from the north-west. The “Spianada”, or Esplanade Square, probably one of the largest in Greece; the old cricket fields; the Royal Palace of St. George & St. Michael, the former residence of the British Commissioner built entirely of yellow Maltese stone; and the arcades of the Liston Piazza, a smaller replica of the Rue de Rivoli of Paris, built by the Imperial French; are some of its most noteworthy and beautiful sites.
THINGS TO DO & PLACES TO VISIT
Any visitor to the island should not omit a walk around the enchanting old quarter of Kerkyra Town whose magic lies in its maze of little cobbled streets ‘kantounia’ and old buildings - relics of the island’s colonial days - when so many cultures unknowingly combined their influences to create this cosmopolitan town. The main square, Esplanada, features dense gardens leading to the arcade-clad Liston piazza – formerly the palace’s stables - and the old cricket pitch; a tradition left over from the British, a popular place to relax over an ouzo and watch the cricket matches.
In the streets behind Esplanade Square one can find an array of boutiques, jewellers, souvenir stands and Greek handicraft stores. The deeper one walks into the Old Town, the more enchanted; the little alleys form a maze, but there is no worry - the tall bell-tower of the centrally located St. Spyridon Cathedral, visible from almost anywhere in the Old Town can be used as a handy reference point.
Nearly 18 miles outside of town, on the northwest coast, lies the Bay of Paleokastritsa. Set high on the rocks above the turquoise waters of the sea, the area is renowned for its serene beauty. Its transparent waters have drawn fishermen and divers for years, while the area is full of fine-pebble coves and intricate caves. You may choose to take a local boat into those caves and coves, or perhaps walk down to the Agia Triada beach, found nearby. Whilst in the area, one should not miss the Monastery of the Virgin, high on the rocky hill, one of the few that are still in use by a local community of monks.
The Achilleion Palace, named after Achilles by Empress Elizabeth of Austria, has spectacular grounds and gardens with sculptures of Achilles himself in the gardens. The interior is extraordinary, filled with family mementoes and portraits, and lots of gilt, bright murals and frescoes. Located in Gastouri, admission is 4 Euro, and it is open from 8am-5pm.
The Royal Palace of St. Michael and St. George is a wonderful example of British neoclassic architecture; the building itself is considered to be as much a work of art as the collection of Oriental art it houses. There are excellent examples of Japanese netsuke and wood-block prints, porcelain, sculpture and watercolours. There is also a large collection of Chinese art. It is open from 9.00am to 3:00 pm except of Mondays. The gardens overlook the Old Fortress and the sea, are open to visitors and offer a most relaxing ambience.
BEACHES IN CORFU AND DISTANCES FROM THE VILLA
- Benitses 10km
- Glyfada 15 km
- Mon Repos 6 km
- Barbati 20 km