Elegant Corfu Town (also known as Kerkyra) leaves you spellbound from the moment you wander its cobbled streets aglow with evil eyes and redolent with sandalwood, past old ladies bedecked in widow-black robes measuring their afternoons with worry beads, washing strung from balconies.
The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefallonia is a place where it's easy to lose yourself, surrounded by air thick with oleander and the bells of wandering goats. Lush, mountainous and blessed with wild meadows, vineyards and secret coves lapped by water bluer than a supermodel's iris, Kefallonia has it all.
Lefkada (or Lefkas) is ringed by electric-blue water, and shimmers with wild olive groves and the spear-shaped forms of cypress trees. Despite being connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway it feels in places distinctly untamed by the tourism footprint, whose developed enclaves tend to be on the east coast.
Thanks to being laid flat during the 1953 earthquake, Argostili's rebuilt streets feels very new. And though it might like lack much architectural gravitas it has a lively buzz about it, with Lithostroto, a long pedestrianised street, running through a gauntlet of stylish shops.
Zakynthos, also known by its Italian name, Zante, battles against heavy package tourism along its eastern and southeast coasts. Beneath the kiss-me-quick types zipping around on quad bikes it's a beautiful island – you just have to make a determined beeline to western and central regions of forested mountains dropping off to unreal turquoise waters to leave them behind.
Sleepy, underpopulated, and with a Circean charm that enchains you to its mythical soul, Ithaki is something special. With its ancient ruins, tiny harbours and rugged coast fringed in gas-blue water, this island between the mainland and Kefallonia stays in your memory long after others have melted away.
Wrapped around an enormous blue bay and peppered with lively restaurants, Zakynthos Town is the pulsing capital and port of the island. The town was devastated by the 1953 earthquake, but was reconstructed with arcaded streets, imposing squares and gracious neoclassical public buildings. A Venetian fortress looks down from a hill on the hubbub of town life.
Pretty Vathy, with its neoclassical sky-blue and ochre mansions, sits around a sheltered, horseshoe-shaped harbour, backdropped by mountains. The central square, Plateia Efstathiou Drakouli is ornamented by a fabulous verdigris statue of Odysseus and buzzes with seafront traffic and cafes, while narrow lanes wriggle inland from the quay.
The island’s bustling main town has a relaxed, happy feel. It is built on a promontory at the southeastern corner of a salty lagoon where earthquakes are a constant threat. The town was devastated by one in 1948, only to be rebuilt in a distinctively quake-proof and attractive style, with the upper-storey facades of some buildings in brightly painted corrugated tin.
Some of Corfu’s prettiest countryside, villages and beaches line the west coast. The scenic and popular resort area Paleokastritsa, 26km from Corfu Town, rambles for nearly 3km down a valley to a series of small, picturesque coves between tall cliffs. Craggy mountains swathed in cypresses and olive trees tower above.
North & Northwest of Corfu Town
To explore fully all regions of the island outside Corfu Town your own transport is best. Much of the coast just north of Corfu Town is overwhelmed with beach resorts such as Gouvia, Dasia and the linked resorts of Ipsos and Pyrgi – all with close-quarters humanity and narrow beaches, but with everything for a family holiday.
Ithaki reaches back into the mythical past to claim several sites associated with Homer’s Odyssey, though finding them can be an epic journey of its own: signage is scant. The Fountain of Arethousa, in the island’s south, is where Odysseus’ swineherd, Eumaeus, is believed to have brought his pigs to drink.