‘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 life on the island is the subject of British ITV’s family drama The Durrells, which traces their seemingly idyllic daily lives and interactions with local characters, against a backdrop of the endless beauty that is the island of Corfu.
Corfu, known locally as Kerkyra, is the second largest of the Ionian Islands. It’s located off the north-west coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea. Corfu is also referred to as the ‘Emerald Island’ thanks to the torrential rainfall 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. It’s well worth making the effort to escape the coastal tourist hotspots and see some of the island’s stunning interior.
Enjoy this Corfu travel guide.
Corfu’s rich culture is a legacy of its diverse history – one which melds influences from Venice, France and Britain.
These can best be seen in the region’s architecture, art, music and dance.
Music has flourished in Corfu 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. The Antivouniotissa Museum in the Mourágia district is a medieval church that features works from this period.
Historical 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’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 dating back to 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.
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 – 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.
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.
Diarise a daily siesta from 3 to 5pm during your stay on Corfu; it’s a firmly upheld local tradition!
For relaxing ways to get to know Corfu Town, the City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus tour is a great way to go.
Hikers will have plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten tracks and follow in the footsteps of The Durrells. For diehards, the famous Corfu Trail is a 10 to 15 day walk along the entire length of the island. Navigate the mountainous interior to Agii Deka, Corfu’s second highest peak.
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.
Five tours we love
Explore the historic Old Town of Corfu and discover its myriad secrets. You’ll enjoy a guided walk through the warren of winding lanes, containing fine restaurants, traditional bars and intriguing shops. Enjoy the fabulous architecture, which has been influenced by the Sicilians, Venetians, French and English.
On this fabulous full day tour, you’ll visit all the must-see sights on Corfu. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Corfu Town, Kanoni, Achilleion Palace, Paleokastrítsa, and Bella Vista – dubbed the most beautiful view in the Mediterranean by Lawrence Durrell.
Enjoy the sun, sea and sand of Corfu on this relaxing boat cruise along the north-east coastline. Visit small villages on sparkling bays and inlets. Swim to the cave of Agios Andreas and enjoy a BBQ on the beach with drinks. Life does not get any better!
Several small islands are within easy reach of Corfu. On this day cruise, you’ll visit beautiful Paxos and Antipaxos. The famous blue Caves of Paxos are a must-see. Swim in the clear blue waters of Antipaxos and explore the traditional town of Gaios.
Take the opportunity while on Corfu to set foot in fascinating Albania. Enjoy highlights such as the ancient city of Vouthrota. You’ll travel from Corfu to Albania and back by ferry.
Do you have any tips to add to our Corfu travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Sydney-based journalist Francesca Muir fell into photography while living on the island of Crete in the late 1980s. Living with that Greek blue is a writer and photographer’s dream, so it came naturally to combine the two. Francesca has written and photographed 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, Sun-Herald & Sunday Age magazines. She lives to breathe Mediterranean air, peppered with wild thyme and oregano, swim in azure seas and bathe in that Greek light which has mesmerised so many for so long. In 2018 Francesca is joining The Cape Club and taking small groups to Crete (and other islands) to show them why she calls it her spiritual home.
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