The most northerly of the Ionian islands, Corfu may well be one of the most well-known destinations in Greece after Athens. Falling under British rule after the Napoleonic wars, Corfu (or Kerkyra, to give it its Greek moniker) has remained a favourite of the English. Not only was Prince Philip born here (at the stately Mon Repos villa now an archaeological museum) but literary figures including Edward Lear, Gerald and Lawrence Durrell documented their love affair with the "gem of the Ionian" extensively.
In spring, wild flowers fleck the land, with rare orchids found on higher ground at hiking trails near Mount Pantokrator. Walking trails north and south of the island lead deep into olive groves, past ancient wells and crumbling shepherd’s huts, offering a rural side to Corfu sometimes side-stepped in favour of sandy beaches (of which the island has plenty.)
For any vacation party that is divided on their beach preference, Corfu offers choice. Perivoli village, where our apartments are located, is perhaps one of the only villages that offers quick and easy access to both coasts. The east coast of the island, facing Albania and the Greek mainland offers pretty pebble beaches, crystal clear water and arguably, the best views. The west coast, in contrast, juts Jurassic-like into sandy beach, with jagged cliffs and vegetation lining the shore that would look pre-historic when omitting the bobbing fishing boats and primary-hued parasols.
Geographically benefitting from access to two contrasting coastlines, Perivoli Village allows easy access to both craggy, Jurassic beaches on the west coast and pebble-lined crystal clear turquoise water on the east. Separating the two sides of the south are verdant hills, the charming bougainvillea flecked village and winding coastal roads that wrap around wild landscapes perfect for cycling and hiking.
Here, the ubiquitous souvenir shop is replaced by local bakeries offering up pastries laced with cinnamon and kafeneions where moustached men smoking packets of camels and swilling tarry Greek espressos spill out into the street. Restaurants are a family-run affair, with mums in the kitchen and bright-eyed sons trusted to take orders.
Corfu is wild and rugged, you only need turn your attentions down south...
Morning trip to the village Bakery
Understated considering its impressive output, Perivoli village bakery serves up the best bougatsa (a traditional cream-packed pastry covered in icing sugar) on the island. Choose from feta-filled layered pastry to gut-satisfying sausage rolls and know that you have tasted what few other tourists ever will. A family-run place that opens from 7AM and is all out of goods by 10AM – this is where everyone starts their day. Find your way into the village and ask for directions to the fournos (bakery.) Santa Barbara beach is then a 10-minute drive from here.
Hike into the hills behind Mega Choros beach
On the road that leads to Santa Barbara, take a left turn into the hills, past the Perivoli village cemetery and follow the gravel path up past olive groves and dense forest to the centuries old church of Pantrokratora and out onto views of the inky Ionian and neighbouring Paxos. This hike takes you past grape vines and impressive coastal views then into the neighbouring village, Vitalades, where you can also visit Gardenos beach.
Cycle down to Noto and visit Savvas
Hire a bicycle for the gorgeous winding route up to Perivoli village then down the other side to Kalivioti beach on the Eastern coastline. Cycle on past Kalivioti until you reach Savvas Taverna in Notos. This lunch location sits above its own private pebbled beach with a sun-bleached jetty that juts into aquamarine oblivion. Anyone visiting the eponymous taverna will inevitably end up having a soft-spot for its blue-eyed establishment owner, Savvas. Having run his restaurant for over four decades, Savvas knows it’s a smile and a twinkle of the eye that makes the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal one. Look to this well-kept secret along the eastern coastal road for serenity and a seriously delicious plate of sardines.
Lefkimmi and Argyrades Village Stroll
In the morning, head to Lefkimmi Village, the capital of the north, for a relaxing cold coffee by the river. This village was once home to one of modern Greece’s founders, Ioannis Kapodistrias. It still maintains its charm and offers a great many options for good taverna food and a cocktail come sundown, too.
To experience a charming Corfiot village that’s managed to resist the allure of beach-front property in favour of fertile land up on the mountainside, head to Argyrades. The best time to see the village is after 7PM, as the hill’s inhabitants wake from their afternoon siestas. There’s no better time to mix with the locals than sunset, when the village shakes off its slumber. Park your car and head up into the old village on foot, asking for directions to Saint Ioanni (pronounced Yi-An-Ni) church. Expect a pretty pastel wash that’s guaranteed to end up on your instagram. Climb up the steps to the church atop the hill and soak in the panoramic views of the glorious south.
Unbeatable for views and a dose of Corfu’s regal history, the Achilleion Palace and museum sits at the end of a nail-biting steep, hair-pin bend road into the mountains. Built in 1890 as the palatial summer home of Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria, the Achilleion was inspired by the myth of Achilles for its architecture and interiors. This explains the huge statue of the hero in the gardens. The museum was once used as a set for the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, but we suspect the apple cake served up at the teeny taverna just next to the museum is what really attracts visitors.
At the heart of the island is its Venetian old town, characterized by its orange, red, pink and yellow wash facades, grand forts, winding alleyways (or ‘kadounia’) and the ever-fashionable marble-paved Liston square. Do as the Greeks do here. Pull up a pew in a shaded arcade, sip on a cold coffee and while away the hours people watching and playing backgammon as the heat of the afternoon dissolves into balmy night. Or swim at Karditsa and visit the birthplace of Prince Philip at Mon Repos.