The island of Corfu, best known of the seven Ionian islands that lie off the northwest coast of Greece, differs markedly from the other popular Greek islands because not only is it green and lush, but also very developed with tourist resorts and hotels. Summertime is busy, with charter flights arriving daily from European cities, ferries disgorging travellers from Italy, and cruise ships docking.
There is plenty to draw visitors to this magical island, also known as Kerkyra. Modern Corfu Town is upbeat and cosmopolitan, offering an exciting conglomeration of Greek, Italian, French and British influences. The old town was laid out by the Venetians in the 14th century and features narrow alleys lined with multi-storied, pastel-coloured buildings with red tiled roofs, creating a scene reminiscent of Italy. The hub of activity in the town centre is the Liston, an arcaded row of touristy cafes and restaurants, copied from the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
Most tourists stay in one of the popular beach resorts like Sidari and Roda in the north, or the party capital, Kavos, on the southern tip of the island. Quieter resorts include Gouvia and San Stefanos. Those wishing to escape from the melee can head for the interior to enjoy some spectacular scenery and greenery. Corfu has 43 different kinds of orchids growing wild in the countryside, and there are countless olive groves. There are dozens unspoilt coves with beaches washed by the sparkling, warm Ionian Sea. It is still possible to search out a secluded bay even in the busy season when the package holiday resorts are awash with tourists.
Corfu Town has its own Archaeological Museum. Though small and ordinary-looking from the outside, it's definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in archaeology or the area's ancient history.
Built between 1962 and 1965, the museum was initially meant to house important artefacts from Corfu's sixth century BC Temple of Artemis. Indeed, its greatest treasure is the temple's Gorgon pediment, which is Greece's oldest surviving stone pediment. To many, it is a fine example of archaic sculpture.
Visitors will find some other interesting sculptures too, such as the Lion of Menecrates. A famous Corinthian sculptor carved it in the late 7th century BC. The 500 BC pediment of Dionysus is another fascinating artefact. The museum's collection also features some interesting coins, vases and armour.
Although it may seem strange to visit a museum dedicated to Eastern art and antiquity while on holiday in Greece, this museum is very interesting and the only one of its kind in the country. Gregorios Manos, the founder of the museum, was a Greek ambassador to Austria who was passionate about the East and purchased at art auctions about 9,500 authentic Chinese, Korean and Japanese artefacts which formed the basis of the museum collection when it was opened in 1928. The permanent collection includes arms and armour, bronze, ceramics, paintings, sculptures and textiles from China, Japan, Korea, India and a few other Asian countries. The three-storey building housing this collection of art is a beautiful neoclassical structure built by the British in 1820 when the Ionian Islands were ruled by Britain. The building itself justifies visiting the museum for those with an interest in architecture. The museum is a peaceful oasis which immerses the visitor in another world and culture. It is situated at the north end of the Esplanade in Corfu Town.
Empress Elizabeth of Austria built the Achilleion in 1890. Standing just south of Corfu, the palace was intended as a memorial to her son, Rudolf, following his death by apparent suicide one year earlier.
Neoclassical in style, the palace takes the mythical figure, Achilles, as its central theme, and features numerous statues and motifs associated with him. The gardens are also set with a number of statues commissioned by the Empress, including German sculptor, Herter's, 'Dying Achilles'.
After Elisabeth's assassination, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased the Achilleion property and used it as a summer home. During his time, the palace hosted many notable guests and became a hub of European diplomacy. The Kaiser added some artwork of his own.
The palace transitioned to a new purpose when it served as a military hospital during World War One, and as a military headquarters in World War Two. Later, a brief spell under private ownership saw it house a casino in the upper storey. It has since been reclaimed as a museum, and as a venue for state events.
All told, the Achilleion houses many valuable artworks and is well worth a visit. Its sprawling gardens are also a joy to explore.
Aqualand Water Park is the perfect place to cool off while holidaying on Corfu. With its wide variety of slides, rides and pools, it's understandably one of the island's most popular attractions for kids and adults alike.
Children aged four to eight can enjoy water games, slides, jumping castles, playgrounds and more in a fun-filled kid's area. Thrill seekers will find steep, scary slides. Visitors looking to relax should head for Jacuzzis, gentle pools, the Lazy River and sun loungers.
Parking, sunbeds, umbrellas, as well as access to shower facilities and changing areas are all free. Dining options include a bar, a restaurant and various fast-food kiosks. Visitors should pack plenty of sunscreen as the park is very much exposed to the glorious Greek sun.
Not your average waterpark, Star Beach Water Park features all the expected things, like various nice pools and four big water slides ranging from the relaxing to the thrilling, but it also offers traditional beach watersports such as jet skiing, scuba diving, waterskiing and banana boat rides, and a kind of bungee jumping, to name a few. There are sun beds and umbrellas in relaxation areas by the pools and tubing rivers for lazy sun worshippers and parents to float along while the kids let off some steam. There is also a spa which offers various beauty treatments. For the really little kids there is Baby Star Beach, a children's water playground with shallow pools. Star Beach has an amazing variety of amenities and activities including free wifi and free foam parties on a daily basis. There are lifeguards permanently on duty so the park is very safe. Needless to say there are also restaurants and a bar to replenish energy for more fun activities. This is a great trip for the whole family and a good combination of wholesome beach fun and poolside relaxation.
Nymphes is a big village with a unique and colourful history. Legend has it that the mythical nymphs would come to bathe in the village's waterfalls, giving lucky humans a chance to catch a glimpse. Nymphs were nature spirits in Greek mythology and were usually portrayed as beautiful, female guardians of nature. There were different kinds and the ones at Nymphes would have been Naiads, guardians of springs and rivers. Nowadays you can still walk to and enjoy the scenic waterfalls and wells in this lush setting; it is easy to imagine the nymphs in this magical landscape. Other attractions in Nymphes include the nearby monastery of Askitario, where, according to local tradition, the monk Artemios Paissios lived in the 5th century and worked many miracles. The Agriculture Co-operative is also interesting and it produces fruit, and liqueurs and sweets made mostly from the kum-kuat fruit. They will allow you to sample their wares free of charge and if you find something you like you can buy it; these local treats make for good souvenirs. Other lovely villages to visit on Corfu include Kynopiastes, Lakones and Roda.
Paleokastritsa is one of the most beautiful villages on the beautiful Corfu and it is frequently included in tours of the island. This resort area is on the west coast of Corfu island about 16 miles (26km) from Corfu Town and consists of six lovely coves with sandy beaches, surrounded by green forests and olive trees. There is a variety of accommodation here for those who choose to stay. The local tavernas, clustered around the waterfront, are renowned for serving up the town's delicious lobster catches, and there are a few bars and clubs that provide after hours entertainment.
There is a monastery, dating from 1228, on the promontory about a mile from the beach with a surprisingly nice selection of gifts and handcrafted souvenirs. In one of the cells of the monastery a small museum has been founded which exhibits the holy relics of the monastery. Magnificent views are obtained from the monastery complex and the hills above, particularly from the village of Lakones. A medieval castle, Angelokastro, overlooks the area, sitting on a hilltop which can be reached by a very scenic drive via the village of Lakones, or on foot, though the walk is arduous. There are several nearby villages worth visiting, and Paleokastritsa is a good base from which to explore Corfu.
Corfu's climate features hot, dry summers and mild winters. Temperatures in the peak summer months range from 90ºF (32ºC) during the day to 64ºF (18ºC) at night. Rainfall is unlikely, but heavy showers can be expected between September and April. The sea temperature is perfect for swimming between July and October.
Spring is also a good best time to visit as the weather is warm and the landscape is coming alive with wild flowers and new greenery. Some rainfall can be expected, but the brief showers are usually welcome and refreshing. Autumn is another fine time to visit, as days are still balmy and the sea remains fairly warm.
Winters are mild and are a good time to visit for those who want to explore Corfu Town without the crowds, or explore mountain villages and the network of paths and trails that run alongside the island's coast. Winter temperatures range between 41°F and 57°F (5°C and 14°C) and there are still plenty of sunny days.
Getting around Corfu is fairly simple. Its inexpensive and highly efficient bus service, KTEL Green Buses, services most destinations on the island and connections between Kerkyra and Ag, Benitses, Kavos, Sidari, Stefanos and Ipsos on a daily basis. Also, taxis are easy to hail or book in advance. Stands are located in Corfu Town. Visitors will find plenty of car-hire agencies dotted throughout the island. Boat trips link many of the Greek islands and there are numerous charter flights landing in Cofu during summer months.
In addition to its wonderful beaches, magical coves and the clear, warm sea, the lush green island of Corfu offers plenty of things to see and do, many with fascinating cultural or historical significance. Outdoor activities to enjoy include water sports, hiking in the mountainous interior, and there is even an 18-hole championship golf course for those fancying a quick round.
The beautiful leafy Corfu Town boasts some wonderful churches, fortresses and even a palace. History buffs will love the Archaeological Museum, offering insight into Corfu's past, as well as the neoclassical Museum of Asian Art, which houses some breathtaking pieces originating from China and Japan. The Municipal Gallery of Corfu showcases famous works such as the 'Sphinx' by Sp. Skarvelis and 'The assassination of Capodistria' by Haralambos Pachis.
There are many smaller villages worth visiting in Corfu as well. The villa of Achilleion, just six miles (10km) south of Corfu town, has beautiful rolling gardens which provide the perfect location for famous statues by the German sculptor, Herter. The terraced cliff-top view point known as Kanoni, near the eastern port of Corcyra, is the ideal spot to take that postcard shot for the holiday album. Nymphes is a green village with a number of wells and waterfalls heavy with myth and legend.
There are plenty of things to do with children in Corfu, most notebly Aqualand Water Park, one of the largest water parks in Europe. Small children will enjoy the many sandy beaches including Sidari with its Kanal de l'Amour, the pretty bay of Kassiopi, the quiet Lefkimmi with its children's playground, and the unspoilt Chalikounas Beach. Most of the more popular beaches offer pedalos, windsurfing, boat trips and banana boat rides. Alternatively, hire a small day boat and motor along the coast to find one of the many unspoilt coves.