One of the first Greek islands to attract holidaymakers back in the 1960s, Corfu still hasn’t lost its touch.
Dangling off the coast of mainland Albania and Greece, the northernmost Ionian Island really has got the lot – secluded bays for summer sun, remote mountain villages, party-mad resorts, you name it. The good-value resorts of Roda, Sidari and Kavos are busy and brash, but there’s more. Stroll Corfu Town’s elegant French arcades, drive through hazy olive groves in the silent interior, or beach-hop along the cliff-backed west coast to see a surprisingly different side to this ever-popular island.
When to go
Unless you’re tied by school holiday dates, July and August are best avoided. During these peak months, temperatures soar well above 30°C, hotel rates are at their highest and the beaches are packed. September is often pleasant, but you can expect the odd shower. In spring, Corfiots celebrate Easter with candlelit parades, fireworks and pot-smashing festivities. May is often glorious, with mild weather in the mid-twenties, fireflies lighting up the night sky and wildflowers carpeting the hillsides. Winters are cool and rainy and nearly everywhere closes.
Getting the best deal
It is possible to pick up inexpensive last-minute packages even in mid-summer, but flights and accommodation are generally much cheaper in April to June and September. Book flights well ahead to get the best deal.
You do not need any injections to visit Corfu. It’s free to apply for an EHIC card, which entitles EU citizens to emergency health care. That said, the card is no substitute for travel insurance. Be sure to wear a high-factor sunscreen, avoid the midday sun and drink plenty of bottled water. Mosquitoes and wasps can be a nuisance, so pack the insect repellent and sting relief.
Packing and Baggage
With a little careful packing, you might just need hand luggage (usually limited to 10 kilos), allowing you to skip airport queues on departure and arrival. Supermarkets in Corfu are not cheap, particularly for items like sunscreen, batteries and medicines, so squeeze them into your case if there’s room.
Nearly every major city in the UK has flights to Corfu in summer, including London, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Most flights depart on Mondays and Fridays – so you’ll find it quieter if you can travel on another day. Direct flights slow to a trickle in the low season and stop entirely in winter, when the only way to reach Corfu is by flying to Athens first or taking a ferry from Greece or Italy.
Surviving the airport
Ease your journey by arriving by public transport or booking airport parking well in advance. Smaller airports tend to have fewer queues and are easier to negotiate. Visit the airport website before departure for the low-down on baggage restrictions. Liquids should be kept in a re-sealable plastic bag.
Local blue buses 5 and 6 run from Corfu International Airport to the main bus station in Corfu Town in around 10 minutes. Here you can catch KTEL green buses to resorts across the island. The buses are cheap, but transfer shuttles (try Sun Transfers or Resort Hoppa) offer a quicker service and you can book ahead online. Sample transfer times include Dassia (25 minutes), Sidari (50 minutes) and Kavos (65 minutes). Car hire gives you flexibility to explore Corfu at your own pace. You’ll find Avis, Europcar and Hertz at the airport, but shop around as rental companies like Holiday Autosand Atlas Choice may be cheaper.
Once you are there
Do as the Corfiots do and begin your evening with a stroll along the waterfront in Corfu Town as the two fortresses light up. Ducking into the Venetian Old Town brings you to a warren of lanes, crammed with jewellery, leather and olive wood shops. The Liston’s graceful 19th-century arcade is the perfect spot to relax over a ginger beer or café frappé. For dinner, take your pick of the tavernas, where you can find Corfiot favourites like pastitsada, a rich veal and pasta casserole flavoured with tomatoes, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. If you’re in the mood to celebrate, book a courtyard table at Etrusco in Kato Korakiana, where Ettore Botrini puts his creative stamp on Corfiot cuisine.
Practical considerations for planning an itinerary It’s simply too hot to rush in Corfu, so take the Greek siga-siga (slow) approach to sightseeing. Follow the lead of locals and escape the midday sun with a long lunch at a breezy seafront taverna or a shady siesta. Modest dress is a must when visiting the island’s Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries – sarongs are handy for covering up beachwear.
Whether it’s to be the curving golden sands of Ermones or the white pebble coves of Kassiopi – Corfu has a beach with your name on it. For coastal drama, go northwest. Paleokastritsa is postcard stuff, crowned by a monastery and fringed by cliffs cloaked in olive and cypress trees which dip into startling turquoise waters. To have it (almost) to yourself, arrive before or after the crowds do.
Swinging further north, the gently shelving bay of Agios Georgios has clear, shallow water that’s ideal for kids to splash around in. The locals will happily point you to the Fisherman’s Cabin, where you can tuck into fresh fish over some of the most enticing sea views on the island. The sublime horseshoe-shaped bay of Kalami is where the Durrell brothers of literary fame grew up in the White House (now a taverna).
Mountain roads twist through the lush green interior to Old Perithia, a deserted Byzantine village with its own eerie beauty, and continue to the 906m summit of Mt Pantokrator, Corfu’s highest peak. The monastery courtyard affords spectacular views of mainland Greece, Albania and, on clear days, Italy. It’s a magical place to watch the sun set.