Off the west coast of mainland Greece, the Ionian island of Corfu is a place that might just surprise you. It is one of the Greek islands that has been longest visited by tourism, ever since it was made famous to Brits by the 1956 memoir My Family and Other Animals, which depicts the island in its wild, unspoiled natural state. Luckily, despite a throng of resorts being built upon the island’s shores, there is still a glut of natural beauty to be found here — as well as a thriving historic capital that’s a feast for the senses.
Taking to the sea is one of the best ways to discover the untouched side of Corfu. In the early morning, take a tender ride — or hire a small boat that rents for cheap in the beach towns of Liapades or Palaiokastritsa on Corfu’s west coast — and motor southward. The island’s rugged beauty will come fully into view as you pass along the rocky shore. Here you will discover beaches that you can only visit by boat; long swaths of untouched sand backed by imposing cliffs. Kolios Beach is one such spot, an untouched beach that makes you feel like you’re at the ends of the Earth and not a touristed island. Early in the day, you will likely have the beach to yourself, save for a few campers who have set up a tent to truly escape to nature for a night or two.
But if you’d prefer to do anything but be on a boat and really stretch your sea legs, hit the Corfu Trail, a 135-mile-long hiking trail that runs the length of the island, passing through ancient villages and alongside gorgeous beaches. Likewise, mountain bikers will be offered a treat in Corfu. To really take in the island’s beauty, head up to a viewpoint, perhaps pairing it with lunch. Il Pozzo is one of the best-rated restaurants on Corfu, deservingly so with its delicious home cooking and staggering views of the island’s western coastline from its large patio. Try the moussaka or the perfectly grilled squid. Equally stunning views can be found at the nearby Monastery of Paleokastritsa. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea, it’s easy to see why the monks chose this peaceful spot. Take time to visit the monastery and its adjoining museum.
In the afternoon, spend more time on one of the many beautiful beaches on the island — or instead, indulge in some self-care at the MarBella Corfu Resort Spa, set on the island’s east coast. After a massage or spa treatment, lap up the sun at the resort’s hillside pool. Once you’re refreshed and relaxed, and as the day is drawing to a close, it’s the perfect time to visit the vibrant Corfu Town. From the MarBella resort, it’s just a quick drive northward along the coast. A winding road will lead you straight into the heart of Corfu Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is regarded for its beautiful cobblestone streets and well-maintained architecture dating back to the Venetian period, a blend of Greek, Italian, Parisian, and British design influences. Corfu Town is also known for its expansive main square, named Spianada, which is actually the largest square found in Greece. It is set at the easternmost side of the town, directly across from the city’s Old Fortress.
Within Corfu Town you will find a seemingly never-ending selection of chic sidewalk cafés and restaurants set in pretty courtyards. If you’ve had your fill of Greek fare, head to the Divino Ristobistrò, which has the best pizza in Corfu, as well as a variety of other delectable Italian dishes — Italy is only 400 miles westward, after all. There is also plentiful shopping with cute, local boutiques found between the usual tourist shops, and lively bars that really hit full swing after the sun sets.
After a day spent soaking up Corfu’s natural beauty, there is no better send-off than spending the night dancing and throwing back a cocktail made with kumquat liquor. The brightly colored local drink matches the joy and vibrancy of this enigmatic island, a place that’s simply full of surprises.
This article originally ran in the May 2020 issue of Dockwalk.