To view pictures taken of Corfu in May/June 2006 - click HERE
To view pictures taken of Corfu in September 2006 - click HERE
To visit the Corfu picture gallery for June 2016 - click HERE
Corfu (known in Greek as Kerkyra) is the most northerly of the Ionian Islands. It was also one of the first Greek Islands to succumb to the worst excesses of mass tourism.
In the last 10 years of visiting Greece, Corfu was a destination that never appeared on our shortlist of places to go. We don’t really like places dominated by large hotels and on Corfu this is exactly what you get in many of the resorts.
I should mention that this was not my first visit to Corfu. Back in 1992 I spent 2 hazy weeks in Kavos. On one day we did manage to hire a couple of beach buggy type vehicles for the day and drove to Sidari via Corfu Town and returned via Paleokastritsa. On reflection it was the best day of the holiday and I remember thinking how beautiful the countryside was. The mountainous north of the island was the most striking. On leaving Corfu I also remember how ghastly the airport was and how passing through that place could put you off ever returning. In 1994 the airport was extended but from what I have read it still struggles to accommodate the huge numbers of summer visitors. So it was with some trepidation that we set off for Corfu.
We visited in May 2006.
UPDATE: We also visited in September 2006.
As we arrived there were already 4 other planes on the tarmac. On entering the baggage reclaim area I was surprised to see only 2 carousals and fully expected that the stories I had read about having a long wait for luggage were just about to come true. The first bag appeared and it was ours and just as we were thinking that the last bag off will be ours along it came. We had passed through in little more than 20 minutes. As we went outside I suddenly fast forwarded 2 weeks as I viewed the queues of people all trying to get into the departure hall. Not a reassuring sight. We had arranged to pick up our hire car from the airport, whilst being very convenient it did mean that the next task was to navigate around Corfu Town and make for the north east of the island.. In reality it was quite simple, turn right out of the airport and head for the sea. This area is known as Garitsa, once here turn left. The key thing now is to stay on this road, any turn left will take you into the centre – not a good idea. Any turn right and you will end up in the sea – also not a good idea. Eventually the road merges with the main road north. This was the least attractive part of the journey along a hectic stretch of dual carriageway.
At the Tzavros junction a right turn leads onto the main north east coast road. We passed through Dassia, Ipsos and Pyrgi – none of which seemed as bad as I was expecting. Indeed Ipsos was very quiet and the beach almost deserted. After leaving Ipsos/Pyrgi the scenery changes dramatically as the road rises and then skirts around the base of Mount Pandokrator. After passing above Barbati we arrived in Nissaki.
UPDATE: We were obviously lucky in May as on arrival in September we were subjected to the scenario that we had feared. The arrivals hall was packed. We waited over 90 minutes to get our luggage. The delay appeared to have been caused by luggage for another flight coming out on the wrong carousal. We watched the same luggage go round and round, while, presumably the owners were at the other carousal – there are only two !
Our base for 2 weeks was Villa Selini in Nissaki booked via Villa Plus but now available from James Villas, perched high on the hillside with views east to the harbour at Nissaki and beyond to Albania and south to Corfu Town. Normally we would stay in basic studios or a small hotel but decided it was time to try a villa. We may never stay in a studio again !! The villa was immaculate, very well equipped and comfortable. The private pool area was fantastic and offered the chance of a truly relaxing holiday. How I was ever going to take pictures of Corfu was beginning to be a concern.
It would be quite easy to have spent the entire holiday in the villa or relaxing by the pool with daily visits to a supermarket and/or a taverna. We had intended trying to see as much of Corfu as possible but in reality only saw parts of the north of the island. Why sit on a beach and get sand in your shorts when you can sit by your own pool with a fridge nearby. Consequently, a return visit is planned to explore the south and west coast.
UPDATE: In June 2016 we returned to Villa Selini. Some more pictures can be seen HERE.
Stone Villa Petros
UPDATE: In June 2016 we also stayed in Stone Villa Petros located in the hills above Gouvia. We were moved here as the water pressure at Villa Selini became just a trickle because of a broken pump. Pictures can be seen HERE.
The village does not really have a centre but is spread out along the main road or down around the harbour area. There is an excellent, if somewhat small, pebble beach. Overlooking the beach is the Mitsos taverna and at the back of the beach is the taverna "I Parea". Overlooking the harbour is the Olive Press taverna. A path leads north along the coast to a number of smaller pebble beaches.
UPDATE: Walking on a bit further the path becomes noticeably more worn and then the reason becomes clear – the huge presence of the Club Mediterannee hotel – complete with its own sandy beach !
At the junction for the road down to the beach there is the taverna Dora, a supermarket and a travel agency that hires cars and exchanges traveller’s cheques etc. Further up along the main road are a couple of larger supermarkets and 3 more tavernas. There is even a cocktail bar located next to Afrodites supermarket. There is some accommodation in studios but in the main visitors to Nissaki stay in villas. The majority of these villas are up very steep roads which make the use of a car essential.
Nightlife centres around a few drinks and a meal in the tavernas. It is not a place to go if you are looking for a wild time !! For something livelier a 10 minute taxi ride will get you to Ipsos.
We were told that whilst other parts of Corfu have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, Nissaki has changed very little apart from the harbour being extended. The only other development has been to build numerous villas up on the hillside. However, this is much more pleasing on the eye than a huge hotel.
Boats are available for personal hire at Nissaki Boat Rental or we can recommend a trip on the ‘Vivi’, a traditional caique. Captain Iakis is a very entertaining host and offers trips along the north east coast and across the bay to Corfu Town. The boat can also be rented privately for small groups of up to 12.
Note: The Nissaki Beach Hotel is not located in Nissaki – it is about 2 kms further north at Krouzeri. This and the Club Mediterannee hotel are about the only eyesores along this part of the coast and demonstrate that not even this part of the coast is immune from inappropriate development. Both are huge all-inclusive type hotels that typify developments that do not blend in well with the surroundings. They may well be very good hotels but both just look so out of place..
There is a very diverse selection of places to eat, from traditional village tavernas to the sophisticated restaurants of Corfu Town. In the busier resorts, particularly those dominated by the British, the fast food option is very much prevalent.
A couple of Corfiot specialities worth sampling are Sofrito (braised beef in parsley and garlic sauce) and Bourdeto (fish cooked in a tomato sauce with onion, garlic and spicy red pepper).
We used the Olive Press taverna in Nissaki most evenings. Aside from the food being very good, Laura or Phillipos would give us a lift back up the hill !!
Amstel Cost of Living Index
Taverna3.00 - 3.50€
Supermarket – 500ml bottle 1.20 - 1.500€, can 1.20 - 1.60€
Meal for 2+ drinks about 45€
Traditional Greek night including wine and entertainment typically 50€ for two.
Around the Island
Travelling around the island takes time. Although the distances seem relatively short, the twisty roads extend the journey times. We only managed to explore the north east, north of the island and the Paleokastritsa area on the west coast. The majority of the south of the island remains a complete mystery.
UPDATE: In September we managed to get down the east coast beyond Benitses and to explore more of the west coast. The west coast in particular is very picturesque with a mountainous backdrop and a number of big sandy beaches – all of these areas are home to well established resorts.
The slow pace of travel is of significance if being transferred from the airport by coach. Some coastal resorts, such as Sidari in the north, can take as much as 2 – 3 hours to reach depending on the number of drops on the way.
One of the pleasures of driving around the island are the villages that you pass on the way. Our particular favourite was Doukades, near Paleokastritsa. A perfect spot to stop, relax and watch village life. The small square in the centre of the village is home to a couple of tavernas, a bar and a kafenion.
Note 1: If you approach a village and see a traffic light on red for no apparent reason - STOP – this indicates that the road through the village is too narrow for two-way traffic. Ignoring the signal may lead to an unwanted encounter with a lorry or a coach coming the other way.
Note 2: Whilst walking or driving the coastal road beware of signs that state “Footpath to the beach”. I do not doubt that they were factually correct but you would have to be a very keen walker to set off down some of these paths.
East coast north of Corfu Town
This is the first resort away from Corfu town worth stopping at. The beach area is well away from the main road. A number of tavernas are tucked away amidst the trees that line the pebble beach. There are 2 large hotels which dominate the southern end of the beach. However, it became apparent that this is exactly the type of unsympathetic development that you have to expect on Corfu – find a reasonable beach – build a big hotel.
Up on the main road, which even at this distance from the town is still very busy, there are plenty of shops and tavernas.
This stretch of coast was once 2 distinct places but they have now merged into one with Pyrgi at the northern end of the beach being in the more attractive setting. Pyrgi is also near a couple of tavernas that have good views down across the bay.
There is a long narrow strip of sand and shingle with good views of the mountains to the north. The downside is that the main road runs directly alongside the beach. The good news is that on the other side of the road for the entire length of the ‘strip’ are shops, bars, tavernas and ‘fast food’. The beach never seemed particularly busy when we passed through but perhaps it was just too early in the season. I am sure that after dark the place livens up considerably and probably attracts people from further up the coast looking for a more lively night out.
I can remember that Ipsos was once one of ‘the’ places to go. I suspect that Kavos in the south has attracted most of its usual customers and as a result the feel of the resort has been considerably toned down.
We quite liked Ipsos – we wouldn’t want to stay there but it was nothing like what we were expecting.
UPDATE: Much busier in September – there were actually bodies on the beach but from what we could see not all of the young and lively variety. We also visited one evening and again found it very quiet – even pleasant.
As the road leaves Ipsos it climbs into the very spectacular and mountainous north east. Barbati has a long shingle beach with the stunning backdrop of Mt Pandokrator. Along the main road are numerous tavernas and supermarkets. Much of the land above the beach is owned by the new developments that are taking place between the main road and the beach and access down to the beach is not that obvious. . The only places to park seemed to be at tavernas or supermarkets but just take one of the turnings and hope you get lucky.
Once passed Nissaki there are numerous small bays all of which have some kind of development but usually low-key, the most popular of which are a follows:-
There is a small beach where most of the visitors arrive to dine in one of the 3 beachside tavernas. Taverna Agni being the most popular – it even has its own Webcam. Taverna Agni even offers a speed boat service which will pick you up from other bays along the coast.
Set in a horseshoe shaped bay with a decent sized pebble beach and a good selection of tavernas. Kalami is famous for its connections with the Durrell family and in particular, Lawrence Durrell who lived in the white house on the rocks by the side of the bay.
Idyllic spot reached via the road to Kalami. There is a small beach backed by trees with a popular fish taverna at the harbour end.
The village is more remote from the main coast road than most of the bays in the area. The beach is not particularly appealing but there are a number of attractive tavernas lining the bay with views to Albania.
Reached by following the road through Agh Stefanos and up over a hill. A good sized beach backed by trees. A lone taverna is located at one end.
In most of the bays there will be small boats for hire.
This is the islands highest mountain at 917m. It is a popular trip so it is best to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
We originally tried to visit by taking the road above Nissaki that was signposted to Apolisi. Once past the last villa the road became a dirt track. We have driven on much worse but another couple who were coming back down the mountain advised that the track was not suitable for a small car. The track would make for a very nice walk.
Eventually we took the main route up from the south. From Pyrgi take the road signposted Spartilas. Here there are great views down to the coast. The route passes through the village of Strinilas where there is a very pretty taverna with all the tables shaded by a huge plane tree. Just before the village of Petalia turn right. From here there is a good road all the way to the top of Pandokratos. There is plenty of space to park although it does get busy. A small snack bar is located at the entrance to the monastery. The prime reason for getting here is to take in the spectacular views. Corfu town and the airport can be clearly seen as can the snow capped mountains in Albania.
The route from the north is accessed from Acharavi passing through the villages of Lafki, Trimode, Eriva and Petalia. When we arrived in Lafki the road was temporarily closed and we were required to take a diversion. Having taken diversions in Greece before we should have known what to expect. Sure enough the track went around the side of a hill with weeds up the middle at least a foot high. This was not a well used track !! However, we did arrive at a spot with excellent views down to Acharavi and Roda and all the way along the north coast. We finally managed to get back to the main road after a few sorties down dead end roads which led us into someone’s house. This seemed to amuse a couple of the locals we passed (more than once).
The mountain is a magnet for any bad weather in the area and can often be shrouded in cloud when the rest of the island is bathed in sun.
The first of the main north coast resorts. We only passed through but it was clearly a popular family destination dominated by the British package holiday companies. There is a small beach in the village and several others nearby including Kalamaki, Sikia and the more expansive Avlaki.
UPDATE: The main street into the village is lined with tavernas and bars all competing for the attention of the predominately British tourists. However, once down by the harbour the village takes on a more relaxed feel. There are some very nice places overlooking the pretty quayside to sit and watch the world go.
This place looked very promising as we approached but was surprised to see so many people at what seemed a relatively out of the way spot. Then we became aware of the Blue Bay Escape complex – oh well nothing more than we should of expected really. A few tavernas exist not just for daytime trade but also to offer the Blue Bay residents an alternative night out.
To the north there is track running alongside Lake Andinion which leads to some smaller beaches and eventually to the headland at Cape Agh. Ekaterinis
A long and more remote stretch of coast where the hotels and apartments that do exist are far more spaced out.
UPDATE: In September we stopped off at Roda and found it to be a quite low key resort but with a good selection of tavernas and bars. The sea here is very shallow and there are good views to Albania.
We did stop here to have a look at the famous weathered sandstone cliff formations of the Canal ‘Amour area.
This is a mainstream package holiday destination with all the usual conveniences where you could almost be excused for forgetting you were in Greece. It would be easy to be critical of Sidari but many people return here year after year and clearly enjoy what is on offer. It demonstrates that what people want on holiday differs quite widely.
So if you enjoy karaoke, quiz nights, bingo, ten pin bowling, a bit of cabaret, watching sport/videos in bars, Indian, Chinese and fast food you will not be disappointed. It is a lively place and I suspect it gets even livelier in the evenings.
During the day there is a reasonable sandy beach, a water park and go-karts. This is not a place to stay if you are looking for a quiet and relaxing holiday.
In total contrast, just a 5 minute drive away via the village of Peroulades is Logas beach (also known as sunset beach). Due to the height and proximity of the cliffs the beach does not get any sun until around midday. There is a Café bar and restaurant at the top. I would imagine a great place to watch the sunset.
UPDATE: In September we ventured down along the ‘low road’ into Paleokastritsa. From above it all looks picturesque and serene and gives no indication as to how busy the area can get. There is no real centre to the village – hotels, apartments and tavernas etc line the road around the horseshoe shaped bays and up into the hillsides. During the day the crowds are swelled by the numerous coach trips that visit. Despite this the whole area is very beautiful. We stumbled across a wonderful taverna (Dolphin) overlooking what must have been the least populated of the beaches.
We arrived quite early and had the place to ourselves. There is a small car park leading to steps up to the Kastro initially along a path shaded by olive trees. Unfortunately the gate to the Kastro was locked as it was Monday !! There is also a Taverna/bar near the car park. This was also closed. I did say we arrived early !!
As we drove through the village a woman was frantically waving her arms at us - we drove on half expecting the road ahead to be blocked or for some other disaster to be awaiting us. Regardless we carried on to the top of the ridge where there were great views down to the sweeping bay of Agh. Georgious.
Driving back through Makrades we were again approached, this time in a pincer movement with a man from the opposite side of the road joining the woman we saw earlier. Both seemed very keen to get our attention. If I had wanted to buy olive oil or wine I might have stopped !! To quote from the Rough Guide to Corfu when referring to Makrades “a curious tradition of roadside stalls whose energetic owners could probably sell refrigerators to Eskimos”.
If driving - arrive early as parking is notoriously difficult and many of the car parks are full by 10am.
It is a busy and lively place but there are plenty of places to settle down and watch the world go by.
The area of Garitsa is a nice quiet part of town with pleasant walks by the sea overlooking the old fort.
The old town is dominated by the old and the new Venetian Fortresses towards the northern end of town. Here you will find a maze of narrow streets, picturesque squares and a mixture of Venetian, French, and British-influenced buildings. The city is famed for its architecture and there are few streets as grand as the French-built 'Liston' arcade, modelled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The Liston buildings border the main Esplanade or Spianada. Here you may even catch a game of cricket.
Many of the shops sold a local liquor made from Cum Quat (an exotic citrus fruit of Chinese origin), Olive wood products, Linen, Jewellery and Leather goods.
Corfu town is a main stop for many of the larger cruise liners so there are lots of upmarket restaurants and cafes as well as tavernas.
This is a suburb of the town and is densely populated. It is home to many big hotels. There is a one way system around the peninsular – presumably to make it easier for coaches etc to navigate the narrow roads.
Most people head here to visit the Monastery of Vlacherna – which is one of Corfu’s most photographed sites and has become a symbol of the island. Most pictures disguise the fact that it is directly under the flightpath of jets about to land at the airport just a few hundred metres away.
Just beyond the Vlacherna is the Island of Pondikonisi (Mouse Island). Boat trips are readily available from the small harbour out to Mouse Island.
The area is also a Planespotters paradise – as it overlooks the southern end of the airport runway. Monday is the busiest day when most of the flights from the UK arrive and leave. There are bars and tavernas on the hillside from which to view.
There is a dam across the inlet which leads to Perama on the other side. This is another excellent plane spotting vantage point.
East coast south to Benitses
Benitses seemed very quiet – as with Ipsos in the north, perhaps because its former regulars now head south to Kavos. There is still a main strip of bars etc but overall it would seem that gradually the village is being transformed into a more relaxed resort. Times have changed and so have the type of people visiting Benitses.
The beach is not the best but there is a very pleasant area lining the ‘village green’ to relax in one of the many café bars and tavernas. The old village area retains an authentic feel and is worth a stroll around.
UPDATE: There are two main resorts, Moraitika (the larger of the two) and Mesongi. Both are mainstream purpose built resorts with nothing much to offer the casual visitor – so we drove straight through both.
However, it is worth going to Mesongi to pick up the road that heads south hugging the coastline down to Petriti, the last few kilometres of which are dirt track.
The road passes through Psara – which is simply a single fish taverna with good views up the coast.
Boukari – is a better choice if you are searching out a fish meal. Here there is a small harbour and a couple of well established fish tavernas. A very pleasant, peaceful spot and a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the big resorts back up the coast.
Petriti – is a modern working village with a harbour and seemed oblivious to any influence from tourism.
UPDATE: On our journey west we crossed the Ropa valley – a very picturesque area and the main farming region of the island.
Ermones – is a purpose built resort overlooking a shingle beach. There is also a very large hotel complex complete with its own funicular railway.
The coastline south of Ermones is dominated by some of the bigger and most popular resorts on the whole island and include Glyfada, Pelekas and Agh. Gordios. All have dramatic mountain backdrops, big sandy beaches and are all very developed.
However, for a change of scene and just a short distance inland there are a number of pretty traditional villages such as Pelekas and Sinarades.
For something much quieter, even remote, keep going south to the small sandy beach of Paramona. The road is not good but the views make it a worthwhile diversion.
Beyond the nature reserve of Lake Korission is the huge sandy beach of Issos. Here is a single taverna and plenty of space to get lost amongst the sand dunes.
The airport has a bad reputation.
There is a constant stream of coaches etc and from quite early on in the day there is a feeling of confusion. When we arrived we tried to find the right queue – we were spoilt for choice there were so many. We asked the reps on duty (who had initiated the queues) which queue to join for our flight but none of them was very helpful.
So we kept an eye on the departures board and waited for the check-in gate for our flight to be displayed. Sure enough about 2 hrs from the scheduled departure time the check-in desk number was displayed and off we went. We joined a select band of other ‘independent’ travellers. Somewhere outside I presume another queue was being formed by the reps for this flight.
I have since discovered that this practice is frowned upon and seen as ‘queue jumping’. People have been asked, quite forcibly, to go and join the back of the queue outside. I can understand their reasoning - if everyone did their own thing it would be even more chaotic than it already is. However, they do not have any authority to make you queue elsewhere. If you are an independent traveller they cannot force you.
It is worth delaying going through to passport control – preferably until you know your plane has landed. There are limited though adequate facilities in the departure lounge and it can get very crowded.
UPDATE: In September we were actually able to get information from a very helpful Rep who was able to show us where to queue. Recent security restrictions now mean that only passengers directly approaching their check-in desks are allowed inside – having already queued outside.
Many people seem to have prejudices about Corfu. The type of development that has given it bad press is in no way exclusive to Corfu. There are many other places throughout the Greek islands that have suffered a similar fate but in Corfu it seems it has a reputation that it can’t shake off.
When hearing the phrase “a destination that offers something for everyone” you can be forgiven for being somewhat sceptical. I believe that Corfu is such a place. It is essential to be very careful in deciding where to stay – not everyone’s taste in holidays is the same. Resorts on Corfu seem to suffer from extremes. If you want big all inclusive hotels, you can. If you want brown sauce on your English sausages, you can. If you want a more relaxed holiday – no problem – all types of holidaymaker are catered for.
We enjoyed Nissaki but it certainly would not suit everyone – it would be far too quiet for many. That’s why places like Sidari and Kassiopi continue to thrive. They are offering what many people want.
Beneath the brash surface there is still that Greek charm to be found, however, it is difficult to believe if you are being served by an 18 year old girl from Birmingham.
We found Corfiot people very friendly and look forward to a return trip later in the year.
To visit the Corfu picture gallery for May/June 2006 - click HERE
To visit the Corfu picture gallery for September 2006 - click HERE
To visit the Corfu picture gallery for June 2016 - click HERE
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