Corfu (Kerkyra, Κερκυρα, Κέρκυρα) is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Greece. It is located on the northwest part of the country, and it's part of the Ionian islands grouping.
Corfu does not fit the stereotypical mold of the dry landscape that most people have in mind when they think of "Greek islands". It is a bit cooler than the southern Ionian and Aegean islands, more wet in the winter, and a lot greener all year long. It is also a large enough island to require either a long vacation or a second visit to experience it in its totality.
Just minutes away from the main tourist centers you will be engulfed in lush green mountains, tiny traditional villages, and even places to get away from it all. Beautiful beaches lace its every shore, and abundant joy drives the night life of every small town.
The island has an extensive tourist infrastructure that includes hotels, marinas, airport, and a mature tourism philosophy that has managed to retain the island's unique Greek character. Although its soil seems to be overrun by tourists, its size allow visitors to find holiday spots that don't feel crowded. The town of Corfu would be an excellent place to stay if swimming is not your only preoccupation. The Old Town is full of life and it's adjacent to the new town where the local Greek rhythm dominates the atmosphere. You would need wheels to explore the rest of the island.
Some beach towns in Corfu seem to have gladly accepted the role of the holiday resort for the large British (and other) groups that visit every summer to enjoy the hot sun and the beautiful beaches. If you visit one of its resorts from Great Britain, you would feel right at home in Corfu where all the televisions in the bars play live football games from the premiere league, and it is easier to find British newspapers than Greek ones.
If on the other hand you just want to get away from the daily routine of every day life, Corfu also has much to offer. A few kilometers away from the busy resorts one can still find the small Greek villages that have remained unchanged for centuries, where life is slow, and traditions are strong. Within a short drive you can be lost in a lush forest, or on the verge of a small gem of a beach which has not yet been discovered by travel agents. Corfu is perfect for exploring and getting lost on its serpentine roads up the mountains in search of the perfect view. It is the perfect place to find the narrow dirt roads that could lead to the perfect landscape photograph, or to an isolated swimming spot.
Corfu's history reaches back to early antiquity. Based on Strabo's writings, Corcyra is believed to be the νησι των Φαιακων (Island of Cercyra, Scheria, or Land of the Phaecians) that is mentioned in Homer's Oddysey. With it's political, economic, and naval power it was a major player in ancient Greece, having founded many colonies around the Mediterranean shores during the Archaic Era (700-480 BCE). Corfu itself was founded by colonists from Corinth around 730 BCE.
The island played a pivotal role in the beginning of the Peloponnesian war that was fought in the second half of the 5th century BCE. Finding itself on the losing side of that war Kerkyra came under Spartan control and later joined the Epirotic alliance before it became subject of the Roman empire. After 395 CE it became part of the Byzantine empire.
Given it's strategic location between Italy and Greece it was the subject of desire for all subsequent naval powers that emerged in Italy and suffered frequent attacks. The Genoese took their turn in occupying the island for a brief time, but Corfu stayed under Venetian control for over 400 years (about 1400-1800 CE). After the Ottoman empire occupied the entire Greek mainland Corfu remained the last Christian bastion, resisting numerous attacks and sieges between 1431 and 1716. The island remained under Venetian rule from 1386 to 1797 BCE.
This long-lived connection to the Venetians can still be traced today in the island's unique language, food, and architecture. Strolling through Corfu old town has the unmistakable feel of a typical Italian place. The island changed hands several times over the centuries with the Italians, the French, the British, and the Ottomans, and finally by the Germans in World War II. The island was liberated in 1944 and reunited with Greece.
Corfu is a large island and there are plenty of destinations that cater to every taste and travel style. The most popular destinations are Corfu town, Paleokastritsa, Sidari, Kassopi, Ag. Stefanos, Benitses, Lefkimi, Ai. Gordis, and Glyfada.
Corfu town is a very charming place with beautiful cobblestone streets and old buildings it has all the charm of old world to go with it's casual atmosphere. There is a small beach in town but to visit some of the best swim spots of the island you will need a car. Corfu town offers plenty to do on its own.
Sidari, Agios Stefanos, Ai Gordis, and Paleokastritsa would be excellent vacation choices for families and young couples who prefer a bit more quiet near a beach, without missing vital parts of a night life. Paleokastritsa's rocky coves are a popular diving destination.
For more youthful excitement, beaches, and nightlife, Benitses and Lefkimi have already built a reputation as the wild party towns (with many negative reports about extreme behaviors often appearing in the media), while Ag. Stefanos, Glyfada, and Ai. Gordis offer a civilized setting to enjoy the best beaches in Corfu.
Despite it's deep roots in history, there are relatively few archaeological sites of note on the island besides the Funeral Monument of Menekrates and the scant remains of Palaiopolis (both in Corfu town). Neither site warrants anything but a casual short visit. The Archaeological site of Butrint in Albania, can be visited on a day-long trip from Corfu town. It is an extensively excavated hill of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins near Sarante (Ag. Saranta).
The Archaeological Museum of Corfu contains an extensive collection with finds unearthed in excavations around the island. Most important of all the artifacts is the magnificent "Gorgo Pediment" from the temple of Artemis (590-580 BCE). If you have seen this artwork in small reproductions in your college Art History books, you will be awed by its scale and its sheer presence.
The Byzantine Museum is near the Liston and it houses important artifacts from that era, and The Byzantine Collection of Corfu, at the entrance of the Old Fort, houses a collection of similar religious artifacts. Near the Liston you will also find the Museum of Far Eastern Art.
Notable beaches of the northern and east coasts include Peroulades, the Sidari wind swept coves, Roda, Acharavi, Kerasia, Dasia, and Benitses.
In between, a huge array of smaller and larger beaches await to be explored, some isolated and unknown; some packed with bathers and parasols. If you are a beach enthusiast, with your own wheels you will definitely find your own beach paradise no matter what your personal preference is.
One of the most popular destinations in the island of Corfu is the Achilleion. Travelers are attracted to the estate of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (and later a summer residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II) probably more by the mystique and glitter that accompanies royalty rather than the palace's diminutive historical significance.
In itself, the palace is a pleasant estate with beautiful architecture, gardens, and views of the surrounding Corfu landscape. It is laced with some historical images and documents, and adorned with a multitude of statues and artworks that revolve around the theme of Achilles and ancient Greek mythology.
All the artwork was created in the 19th century in the Neo-Classcial style that mimics ancient Greek art. Most imposing of the art on the palace are the statue of Dying Achilles that is the centerpiece of the garden, and the large painting of Achilles dragging the dead Hector behind his chariot at the top of the main staircase. Also of note are the collection of statues representing muses, and the huge bronze statue of Achilles that was commissioned by Wilheilm.