The island of Corfu wasn’t actually on our radar until the pandemic had us searching for new TV shows to binge. On a cold and dark winter night, we discovered The Durrells of Corfu. It’s the true story of a 1930’s family who fled dreary England to discover the beauty and wildlife of the greenest Greek island. Similarly, months of lockdowns had us dreaming of Corfu, relaxing in sunshine hot enough to demand that we dive into the crystal blue waters.
East Coast vs West Coast
Most guidebooks will steer you toward the northeast coast of Corfu with its colorful, posh hotels and resorts hanging off the cliffs. But we also heard that the rugged northwest coast was worth a visit, with its ancient olive groves humming with melodious cicadas and clearer seas for scuba diving. We divided our trip up and visited both sides, finding that you really can’t go wrong with either choice. Regardless of where you decide to stay, spend one day and night in the old Corfu Town. More on that later.
After a three-hour direct flight from London to Corfu, we rented a car and immediately headed west. We try to schedule our scuba diving on the front end of our trips so that we can potentially add more dives later or have wiggle room if the weather is too windy or rainy. There were several beautiful beach towns we’d recommend staying in: Arillas, Agios Georgios (where our Corfu Diving Fun Club was located) or Palaiokastritsa. Even if you don’t dive, we recommend renting a speedboat for the day (no experience necessary) to explore the coastal caves, cliffs and seaside tavernas. We preferred driving our own boat, but you can hire a captain to be your guide.
Whether you stop by on your boat or hike in from Afionis, do not miss Porto Timoni, back to back beaches with crystal clear coves. And the sunset is gorgeous from this side of the island. Don’t miss it! Our Airbnb host and newfound friend, George, recommended the view from Loggas Beach or Agios Stefanos. He also steered us toward what became our favorite restaurant on that side of the island, the simple and local Vavilis Fish Taverna. It literally has no menu, only a fisherman/chef who brings you into his kitchen where you point to the fresh catch you want to order. It was heavenly. We also loved our 3€ pita gyros from Yiannis Grill Room.
After three nights in the northwest, we drove east across the topside of the island. We stopped for a walk and ice cream in the cute little town of Kassiopi, then moved into a hillside apartment near Barbati Beach. The driving can feel precarious as you hug cliffsides and avoid tourists on mopeds. It’s a steep descent into the towns of Nissaki, Agni or Kalami, but each inlet has its own little pebble beach with sun chairs and friendly tavernas. Again, we rented a speedboat to explore the coastline from the water. Our Durrell obsession took us just south of Gouvia to find the show’s waterfront home (it’s privately-owned, so you can only see it from the water). The White House was Larry Durrell’s real home and is now a boutique hotel and restaurant. Had we known, we would have booked in for lunch and gone from our boat. (The drive was so steep I thought for sure we’d lose our lives driving home in the dark after dinner!) Other restaurants we loved were Dionysios in Barbati, Mary’s Lab in Nissaki and Toula’s in Agni.
Old Corfu Town
With Venetian, French and English influences, Corfu Town is a crumbling pastel paradise. The UNESCO World Heritage site has charm oozing out of every narrow alleyway and sunny square. Don’t miss the gelato at Papagiorgis (we went twice in one day!) and simple, generous, traditional Corfiot dishes from Roubas, a favorite of English chef Rick Stein. On our final night, we had drinks overlooking the yacht-filled marina at NAOK Azure. Picture perfect.
If you want more views from the sea, you might consider booking a day-long ferry tour of tiny Paxos and Antipaxos islands, a couple of hours south of Corfu. We hesitated, never knowing what the clientele might be like, but ultimately we risked it and were rewarded with a fun day out. The 200-passenger Ionian Cruises ship, booked on Viator, departs from Corfu Town port and stops on both islands to explore caves, swim and have lunch in Gaios town.
Why the Med is Infamous
After our visit to Corfu, it’s easy to see why the Mediterranean is so popular. But it’s not just about the beaches, the beautiful blue water and picturesque architecture of the towns. You can sense the history here. You recognize pieces of our own culture, language and menus that have descended to us from the Greeks. What may seem like an ancient and forgotten civilization is actually still very alive and influential. Their generosity of spirit and Old World, laid back lifestyle rubbed off on us and will beckon us back, I feel sure.