Romantic films and travel clips of verdant, pine dotted hills and turquoise pebbly bays have always inspired a desire to experience the charm and wonders of the Ionian Islands of Greece. Finally, our recent midsummer visit to Corfu allowed us to languish in all this precious jewel had to offer.
When you arrive at Corfu airport you may be forgiven for thinking you have come to the wrong place. This tiny, disheveled, rural terminal and the messy scramble to secure a taxi create an impression of developing world chaos.
The short drive through the ramshackle back lanes towards the coast doesn’t do anything to improve one’s initial view. However, when we arrived at Mon Repos Palace Hotel, right on the waterfront of Garitsa Bay we were certainly impressed. This stately, luxury (adults only) hotel is a charming mixture of modern Greek straight lines on the exterior with colonial timber and marbled interiors. Our room was on the third floor and the view from the balcony looked to the Greek mainland in the east, Albania to the north and the stunning Old Fort in Corfu Town. Add the bobbing boats and yachts in the foreground and our Arcadian dreamscape was beginning to unfold.
Just south of the hotel is the beautiful forest which is home to the original Mon Repos Palace, birthplace of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. To the North is Corfu Town (Kerkyra). Our hotel was perfectly situated as a launching pad to all the iconic tourist spots on the island. On this occasion we made the ideal choice for accommodation.
Our first few days consisted of walks through the narrow lanes of the Old Town. We visited the fortresses which still valiantly guard the harbour and pay tribute to a glorious bygone era. Evening strolls along Garitsa Bay, past quaint tavernas, promenading locals and candlelit cocktail bars set the mood for our dinner time forays into the town centre. With so many dining options the challenge was to locate the most authentic Corfiat cuisine, defined by rich tomato sauces and succulent fresh seafood selections.
Hiring a car is not for the faint hearted on Corfu’s narrow winding roads and, in some places, treacherous mountain roads. However, with wheels, we were free to explore the coast with all the stunning bays, the long sandy beaches and sleepy resort towns. Our lazy days in the crystal clear waters of Issos Beach and Mirtiotissa Bay satisfied our longing for Arcadian seaside sanctuaries.
High in the hills above the town of Benitses is the magnificent Archilleon Palace. This was once home to the Empress Elizabeth (known as Sissi) who was murdered shortly after building her stunning mountain abode. This truly superb royal mansion is a must see on your tour around the south east coast and you will be fascinated to hear the history of the palace, its ‘fates and fortunes’.
Even more interesting is the feeling that in this place, under the giant statue of the Greek warrior Achilles, looking out to the coastline beyond, you are standing at the very place where the Arcadian dream began.The austere beauty, the historical significance and palatial proportions of this amazing construction reminds you of the golden age which once existed on this beautiful island.
We decided to spend our final day in Corfu in the crystal clear waters of Garitsa Bay, just near the old windmill which faces Corfu Town. For us this island in Greece offered new and memorable experiences, having previously spent so much time in the austere rocky Cyclades. Here the green hills which meet the acquamarine bays have been a joyful change and an Arcadian adventure come true.
Only one question remains, is this an island for gay men? If you are after gay bars and nightclub action then the answer is, go to Athens or Mykonos. But if you want relaxation, brilliant sunshine, great food and shopping, plus a leisurely pace, this island has loads to offer.
To find out more details about our trip around Corfu see Tips & Tales Corfu.