An insider’s guide to Corfu, featuring the island’s best accommodation, restaurants, bars, shops, attractions and things to do, including how to travel there and around – Corfu travel guide.
Corfu has figured in our consciousness since Edward Lear visited and painted while it was a British possession from 1814 to 1864. The Durrell brothers (and Henry Miller) lodged it even more firmly in the Anglo-Saxon psyche with their late-1930s sojourns, and subsequent rhapsodising in print.
Today the island has a somewhat chequered reputation, due in part to its associations with Peter Mandelson/Jacob and Nat Rothschild (habitués of the north-east coast, popularly dubbed “Kensington on Sea”) but also the notoriously downmarket excesses of Kávos in the south.
Yet there is plenty in between for the rest of us, on one of the greenest of the Greek islands – thanks to intermittent but torrential rains from September to June, and the thousands of olive trees that carpet the landscape. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more rural, sleepy islands away from the touristic honeypots.
Tourist development is quarantined on certain coastal patches, and once inland you really seem to be on another island, even another era. Secondary roads appear not to have changed (in width at least) since British times, and perennially rutted surfaces make driving a challenge, and some of the steep access tracks down to the beaches from main roads are white-knuckle jobs – not recommended for novice or nervous drivers.
In remote glades, Corfiot villagers still celebrate summer-and-autumn panigýria (religious festivals-cum-fairs) with music and merchandise stalls – watch for posters (usually Greek only) plastered onto olive trees, and don’t expect much action until after 8pm as a rule. Olive culture was traditionally rather desultory – the Corfiots for years didn’t prune, or pick the fruit, local patron saint Spyridon having forbidden the practices in a vision – and many groves still retain a romantically half-wild aspect.
The old quarters of the east-coast capital, Corfu Town, have been designated a Unesco heritage site. There’s nothing else quite like it between here and Dubrovnik.
With last winter’s unusually light rains – just 91cm between September 2015 and June 2016 – over, now’s the time to begin seriously considering a spot on one of Corfu’s many beaches – those along the west- and southwest-facing coasts rate among the finest in Greece, with enough heaped sand to satisfy the most jaded Californian or Australian.
When to go
Corfu is “open for business” from (Orthodox) Easter (usually in April) until October, though many resort hotels only work from May to September inclusive, Melina Bay House – Holiday Apartment in Pelekas operates all year round. Climate patterns, as worldwide, have been changing locally, with the last strong spring rains bucketing down as late as June in 2015 and 2016. For discounted room rates, better taverna service and moderate weather, late May to late June, and the last two-thirds of September, are the best times; during July and August everything is fully functioning, and the sea thoroughly warmed up, but you’ll contend with crowds and either intense heat and humidity or the maïstros, the infamous north-westerly wind which buffets beaches all afternoon.
Where to go
Kérkyra Old Town is unbeatable for strolling, but do pop into the Museum of Asian Art and the Byzantine Museum. The Archaeological Museum, closed for repairs since 2012, may re-open late in 2016 or early in 2017. The only other museum of similar calibre on the island is the National Gallery Annexe in Káto Korakiána. Paleá Períthia on the slopes of lofty Mt Pandokrátor constitutes a museum village, architecturally unchanged since Venetian times. Down at sea level, plenty of beaches beckon – sandy west-coast ones like Marathiá, Gardénos and Íssos never fail to please. Especially if you’re on Corfu for two weeks, take a day trip to ancient Butrint in Albania, or the idyllic islets of Eríkoussa, Paxi and Andipaxi.
Know before you go
UK Embassy: Ploutárhou 1, 106 75 Athens: tel 210 7272 600; gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-athens
British Vice-Consulate: Corfu Mantzárou 18, First Floor, Old Town (tel 26610 23457 or 26610 30055, Mon–Fri 8am–3pm)
The Greek National Tourist Office (visitgreece.gr) has UK offices at Fifth Floor East, Great Portland House, 4 Great Portland Street, London W1W 8QJ (020 7495 9300)
Urban fire brigade: 199
Forest fires: 191
Telephone code: 0030
Time difference: 2 hours
Flight times: 3 hours
Mikró ýpno (siesta, 3–5pm) is legally mandated quiet time.
Dress code is casual, but shorts on men except near the beach is infra dig.
Local driving habits leave much to be desired – beware especially of people emerging from side-roads without stopping, opposing traffic straddling the middle of the road, scooters (and even four-wheelers) going the wrong direction on one-way streets, and reckless overtaking (often on your right).