Corfu: Ionian idyll

Corfu: Ionian idyll

Image credit: Marketing Greece

Meera Dattani falls for Corfu’s charms

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“The island dozed below us, shimmering like a water-picture in the heat-haze: grey-green olives; black cypresses; multi-coloured rocks of the sea-coast; and the sea smooth and opalescent, kingfisher-blue, jade-green…”

That was Corfu in 1935, seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old Gerald Durrell in the book My Family and Other Animals, his love letter to the island where he spent five years of his childhood.

Almost 80 years on and Corfu’s natural beauty remains intact. Ionian Sea beaches, traditional villages, wind-hewn cliffs – throw in Unesco World Heritage-listed Corfu Town and friendly Corfiot locals, and it’s a winner.

Visitor numbers last year exceeded expectations too, following the country’s trend. Marketing Greece, a new organisation representing the tourism industry, believes Greece is on track to have hosted a record 17 million visitors last year.

SEE: FORTS, BEACHES AND PEAKS



Corfu is unmistakably Greek, but more than 400 years of Venetian rule has left its mark. Corfu Town’s Italian feel is an example; its narrow streets, esplanade, cafe-lined colonnade the Liston, St Spyridon church and two forts some of the highlights.

Northwards is resort town Dassia, Kontokali and Gouvia’s marina with numerous hotels and restaurants including the renowned fish taverna Roula. Apart from Ipsos, Kassiopi and Nissaki, the northeast remains relatively undeveloped with views to Albania’s coastline, just over a mile away.

Highlights include Barbati and Almyros beaches, Kouloura’s harbour and fishing village Kalami, which is home to the White House, former home of the Durrells, now a rentable villa/restaurant.

You’ll also find Antinioti Lagoon and the Karst Plateau below Mount Pantokrator, Corfu’s highest peak. At its foot is Corfu’s oldest village, Old Perithia, a one-time ghost town with excellent tavernas and the boutique Merchant’s House hotel whose owners are spearheading this scenic village’s revival and restoration project.

The northwest has Corfu’s most dramatic coastline around Peroulades, Avliotes and the Channel of Love near Sidari (pictured below), a busy resort. For something different, suggest a tour of Corfu Beer in Arilas, the island’s only brewery. Along the west coast,

Paleokistritsa’s beaches, hilltop monastery and ‘blue grotto’ sea caves make it a popular spot, while mountain village Lakones, dubbed Bella Vista for its views, has the highly-rated Boulis taverna. Nearby beaches include Agios Stefanos.

South of Corfu town is bustling Perama and quieter Kanoni, near the islets of Vlacherna with its photogenic church and Pontikonisi (Mouse Island). Inland is Mon Repo palace, birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh, and Achillion, former summer palace of Princess Sissy of Bavaria, with expansive gardens and views. Mount Agios Matthaios and mountain villages Pelekas and Aghios Ioannis offer peace, while Glifada and Myrtiotissa have lovely beaches.

The southwest coast has some of Corfu’s most unspoilt beaches, such as Halikounas and Prassouda near Korission Lake. In the south/southeast are the resort towns of Benitses, Messonghi and party favourite Kavos. Nearby is the north-south Corfu Trail, sold by operators such as Explore and Inn Travel.

Corfu

Image credit: Region of Ionian Islands

STAY: FROM VILLAS TO ALL-INCLUSIVES



Villas are a big seller. Sunvil’s sister company GIC The Villa Collection’s properties include Villa Halikounas in the southwest while Ionian Island Holidays specialises in the northeast coast.

CV Travel, which started business in northeastern Corfu in 1972, has a vast selection, plus extras such as hiring a chef. Newcomer S&O Villas offers revamped luxury villas (see Tried & Tested) in Dassia with commission.

“Corfu has everything, from budget studios to luxury hotels such as Kontokali Bay Resort & Spa and Dassia Chandris Hotel,” says Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides. “We have many four-stars, good quality two and three-stars such as Mareblue Aeolos, and self-catering options such as the Belvedere Apartments, exclusive to us in the summer.”

Top picks in Corfu town include Corfu Palace Hotel, Cavalieri and Bella Venezia or choose Divani Corfu Palace in Kanoni or Dassia’s Grecotel Daphnila Bay Thalasso, offered by Planet Holidays, which specialises in weddings.

Five-star properties remain the bestsellers for Classic Collection, says Head of Purchasing Gary Boyer. “Kontokali Bay, Grecotel Imperial and Marbella Beach (see Tried & Tested) are the most popular with families and couples. With some five-stars exclusive to operators, many four-stars are being upgraded to replace this loss of capacity.”

Highly-rated four-stars include the renovated Louis hotels such as Louis Kerkyra Golf near Corfu Town and Glifada’s Louis Grand Hotel. Cosmos, Thomson, First Choice and Thomas Cook cover a wide spectrum such as Nissaki Beach, Mitsis Roda Beach and Aqualand Resort near the water park. Adult-only properties include Restia Suites, Grand Mediterraneo and Aquis Agios Gordios Beach Hotel.

Cosmos Holidays has expanded its choice of resorts for the summer and now include Agios Stefanos, Corfu Town, Gouvia and Ipsos with properties such as three-star Perros Hotel in Agios Stefanos and Corfu Town’s five-star Corfu Palace Hotel. This year also sees the launch of its ‘authentic’ concept across the Greece programme to help agents recognise traditional accommodation in quieter spots.

Family-friendly resorts with safe beaches include Perama, Dassia, Kontokali, Agios Georgios (south) and Nissaki.

SELL: VERDANT VARIETY



“Block out any preconceived ideas of Corfu,” says Francis Torrilla, CV Travel’s managing director. A former British protectorate, Corfu has been welcoming British holidaymakers since the 19th century and while it was one of the first to embrace mass tourism (and it’s the closest Greek isle to the UK), don’t assume it’s over-run.

As Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “The beauty of Corfu is its greenery. It gets good rainfall so it’s very colourful. It’s also not as hot as the southern islands in July and August.” May to early July and late September offer pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds.

Variety is a big plus. Dudley der Parthog, Sunvil Holidays Greece programme director, says: “For families, there are shingle, sheltered beaches on the east coast, and wide sandy ones on the west. Mountain villages are little changed and spring brings wild flowers. Alternatively, suggest a day trip to Albania or hiring a boat.”

Sell the distinct Corfiot cuisine to foodie clients – the Venetian influence is evident in veal sofrito, the fish stews and pasta dish pastitsada. And don’t forget the local orange-like kumquat fruit, found in liqueurs, ice creams and marmalades.

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