‘My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood,’ said Gerald Durrell, author of My Family and Other Animals.
Gerald Durrell and his family lived on the Greek island of Corfu from 1935 to 1939, and it was here that he and his older brother Lawrence, also a prolific writer, found their literary inspiration. Their time on the island is brought to life in British ITV’s family comedy-drama The Durrells. Set against a backdrop of sublime natural beauty, the series traces their daily lives and interactions with local characters. It’s worth watching before you arrive on Corfu.
Known locally as Kerkyra, Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian Islands — located off the north-west coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea. Corfu is also referred to as the ’emerald island’, thanks to the copious amounts of rain it receives from autumn through to spring. The countryside is heavily wooded with olive and cypress trees, and over 6,000 different herbs and flowers grow here. Make the effort to escape the coastal tourist hotspots and see some of the island’s stunning interior during your stay.
Enjoy this Corfu travel guide.
Top cultural experiences in Corfu
Corfu’s rich culture is a legacy of its diverse history — one which melds influences from Venice, France and Britain.
Music has flourished here since the 18th century, when the Venetians introduced opera to the island. Greece’s first music institution, the Philharmonic Society of Corfu, was formed in 1840, and the composer of the Greek national anthem founded the first modern school of music here during the time of the British protectorate. Today the island boasts over 80 professional and amateur orchestras.
Corfu also developed an artistic tradition from the early 16th century following the Ottoman conquest of mainland Greece. As a result, the island was inundated with religious painters who gave rise to a western style of iconography dubbed the Ionian School. Around the same time, the island of Crete developed the Cretan School of painting. When that island fell to the Turks, a large number of artists, including El Greco, moved to Corfu to continue working. Housed in a medieval church, The Antivouniotissa Museum in the Mourágia district features works from this period.
Other museums on Corfu include Alpha Bank’s Banknote Museum (with a collection of over 2,000 items of currency, dating back to 1822), the Casa Parlante Corfu Living History Museum, and the Folklore Museum of Acharavi.
To explore the island’s architectural heritage, step back in time in Old Perithia — a heritage village located half way up Mount Pantokrator. It dates back to the 14th century. Wear comfortable walking shoes!
Some of The Durrells television series was filmed in Danilia Village — a replica of a traditional Corfu village, owned by Greco Hotels and Resorts. The recreation features the narrow laneways, porticos and columns that were typical of the period of Venetian rule.
Corfu for history lovers
Corfu’s history is one of pirates, gunpowder, battleships and fortresses, thanks to the island’s geographic position at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea.
Each occupier left an indelible mark on the island’s soul. Today for example, cricket is still played across the island on Sundays — just as it was in the days of British rule.
Corfu Old Town (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in 2007) is a maze of charming streets adorned with Venetian neoclassical architecture. Make sure you pay a visit to the Old Fortress, located on a rocky peninsula with two distinctive peaks. The castle dates back to Byzantine times. Not far away is the New Fortress, which was constructed under Venetian rule in 1577.
The Archaeological Museum of Corfu has finally re-opened after five years of renovations. The most famous attraction is the Gorgon Pediment from circa 585 BC, and the exquisite Archaic Lion of Menecrates sculpture, which was unearthed in near-perfect condition in 1843. It dates back to the 7th century BC.
Spianada Square is an area of Corfu Town between the old castle and the city. Look for the Royal Palace of St Michael and St George, perhaps the most significant remnant of British rule. Once the opulent residence of the British High Commissioner, today it houses the Corfu Museum of Asian Art — Greece’s only museum dedicated to art from the Far East and India.
Then there’s the opulent Mon Repos villa — birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh, which today houses the Palaiopolis Museum and Botanical Gardens. The grounds feature more than 2,000 rare plants from the British colonies.
Great places to eat in Corfu
Corfiot cuisine revolves around seafood, vegetables and some meat, and its ties to the island’s history are what make it very different from that of the rest of Greece.
The Venetian influence can still be found in many popular island dishes, including sofrito (sliced veal cooked with vinegar, garlic and parsley), bourdeto (a peppery fish stew), bianco (a white, garlicky fish stew), and pastitsada (a pasta and meat dish). It’s believed the French brought turkeys to the island during the 16th century, given the Greek word galopoula literally translates as ‘French bird’. The British brought their puddings and other culinary traditions.
Kumquats are unique to the island. They were introduced from the Middle East in the 1860s. Mavromatis has been in operation since 1933 and is a fine source of kumquat liqueur, as well as candied kumquat sweets. On hot days, you can cool off with Yogart’s kumquat yoghurt — a Corfiot taste sensation not to be missed!
Salto Wine Bar-Bistro in Corfu Town is popular with locals and tourists alike. Seafood is their specialty. For starters, try hake croquettes with garlic mousse and caramelised beets or citrus-marinated salmon carpaccio with a side of beluga lentils. Follow that with a tuna fillet in ginger sauce. It’s sensational!
Fagopoteion in Ágios Stéfanos Sinión is a waterside taverna offering traditional dishes. Try their three-cheese saganáki and chunky tzatziki, along with their signature dishes of rabbit stew, succulent pork-based bekrí mezé, and baby squid.
Where to shop in Corfu
Corfu is a shopper’s paradise and offers a large range of shoes, clothes, jewellery, ceramics, rugs, textiles and traditional arts and crafts.
For a fantastic range of local organic olive oils, almond oils and aloe vera products, head to The Land of Corfu Natural Products in Corfu Town.
With over 4,000 olive trees on the island, it’s no wonder that the Spirit of Olive Wood is so popular. It sells a wonderful range of decorative and household products made from local olive wood.
To purchase a piece of traditional art, head to the excellent ICON Gallery in Corfu Town. It showcases the work of artists from across the country.
Ways to relax in Corfu
Diarise a daily siesta from 3 to 5pm during your stay on Corfu; it’s a firmly upheld local tradition!
Corfu boasts around one hundred beaches, which are said to be the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. For sun-seekers interested in boogie boarding, windsurfing and scuba diving, head to Paleokastrítsa Beach (check out Theotokos Monastery while you’re there), dive with Apollo Scuba Diving in Nissáki, and swim the beaches of Marathiá and Agía Varvára. You won’t be disappointed!
At the southern end of the island you’ll find the party town of Kavos. Enjoy bungee jumping and water sports during the day, and pulsating bars and nightclubs after dark.
Corfu offers lots of fabulous walks, so take the opportunity to get off the beaten track and follow in the footsteps of the Durrells. For diehards hikers, the famous Corfu Trail is a 10 to 15 day walk along the entire length of the island.
Several small islands are within easy reach of Corfu, including beautiful Paxos and Antipaxos. Book a day cruise to see the famous blue caves of Paxos and swim in the clear waters off Antipaxos.
Do you have any tips to add to our Corfu travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Sydney-based journalist Francesca Muir fell in love with the Greek blue of the Mediterranean while living on the island of Crete in the late 1980s. She has written about Greece for Living Postcards, Crete Travel, Politismosmuseum, Stigmez, Athens News, TV Soap, Soap World, Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining, Vogue Living, ITA, Way to Go, Travel Abroad, the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age.