From the writings of Gerald and Lawrence Durrell to the place where the shipwrecked Odysseus was soothed and sent on his way home, Corfu has been portrayed as an idyll for centuries. Today this reputation has led to parts of the island being defiled by mass tourism, but despite this, the Corfu of literature does still exist. All you need to do is sail around the corner, walk over the next headland or potter about the rugged interior and a place of bountiful produce, cypress-studded hills, vertiginous villages, and sandy coves lapped by cobalt-blue waters awaits.
Since the 8th century BC the island the Greeks call Kerkyra has been prized for its untamed beauty and strategic location. Ancient armies fought to possess it, while in the early days of modern Greece it was a beacon of learning. Corfiots remain proud of their intellectual and artistic roots.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Corfu.
Beyond the northern end of the Spianada, the smart Regency-style Palace of St Michael and St George was built by the British from 1819 onwards, to house the high commissioner and the Ionian Parliament. It’s now home to the prestigious Corfu Museum of Asian Art (the entry fee covers both this museum and the palace). Two municipal art galleries, I (entry €3) and II (free), are housed in one annexe, and its small formal gardens make a pleasant refuge.
Home to stunning artefacts ranging from prehistoric bronzes to works in onyx and ivory, this excellent museum occupies the central portions of the Palace of St Michael and St George. One gallery provides a chronological overview of Chinese ceramics, and showcases remarkable jade carvings and snuff bottles. The India section opens with Alexander the Great, 'When Greece Met India', and displays fascinating Graeco-Buddhist figures, including a blue-grey schist Buddha. A Japanese section incorporates magnificent samurai armour and Noh masks.
The rocky headland that juts east from Corfu Town is topped by the Venetian-built 14th-century Palaio Frourio. Before that, already enclosed within massive stone walls, it cradled the entire Byzantine city. A solitary bridge crosses its seawater moat. Only parts of this huge site, which also holds later structures from the British era, are accessible to visitors; wander up to the lighthouse on the larger of the two hills for superb views.
Corfu Town owes the elegant, photogenic Liston, the arcade that lines the northern half of the Spianada, to neither the Venetians nor the British but to the French. Designed during the brief Napoleonic occupation of Corfu (1807–14), its harmonious four-storey houses were modelled on Paris’ then-new rue de Rivoli. A procession of grand, see-and-be-seen cafes sprawls under the arcade, open to both the Spianada and to Kapodistriou around the back.
Pilgrims and day-trippers alike throng this Old Town landmark. As well as magnificent frescoes, the small 16th-century basilica holds the remains of Corfu’s patron saint, Spyridon, a 4th-century Cypriot shepherd. His body, brought here from Constantinople in 1453, lies in an elaborate silver casket, and is paraded through the town on festival days.
Set atop a steep coastal hill 12km south of Corfu Town, the Achilleion Palace was built during the 1890s as the summer palace of Austria's empress Elisabeth, the niece of King Otto of Greece. The palace's two principal features are its intricately decorated central staircase, rising in geometrical flights, and its sweeping garden terraces, which command eye-popping views.
This park-like wooded estate 2km around the bay south of the Old Town was the site of Corfu’s most important ancient settlement, Palaeopolis. More recently, in 1921, the secluded neoclassical villa that now holds the Museum of Palaeopolis was the birthplace of Prince Philip of Greece, who went on to marry Britain's Princess Elizabeth (now the current Queen). Footpaths lead through the woods to ancient ruins, including those of a Doric temple atop a small coastal cliff.
This town house has been remodelled to illustrate the daily lives of a fictitious merchant family from the mid-19th century. Enthusiastic guides make the whole experience fun and informative, while in each room waxworks undertake small, endlessly repeated movements. The tour is enlivened by the free glass of 19th-century-style rose liquor visitors get to try.
Home to an outstanding collection of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons and artefacts, the exquisite, timber-roofed Church of Our Lady of Antivouniotissa has a double role as church and museum. It stands atop a short, broad stairway that climbs from shore-front Arseniou, and frames views out towards wooded Vidos Island.