Corfu, which is identified as the Homeric island of the Phaeacians, Odysseus’ penultimate stop on his voyage home to Ithaca (Odyssey vi), is one of the best-known and most highly developed tourist islands in the Mediterranean. Its natural beauty and mild climate, many places of interest, sparkling sea, ultramodern hotels, abundant opportunities for entertainment and sports, its combination of a cosmopolitan character and couleur locale, its aristocratic town and picturesque villages are the principal poles of attraction for visitors. The northernmost of the Ionian Islands, Corfu is 611 sq. km. in area and has 200 km. of coastline. Its terrain is fertile, with lush vegetation and lots of water, vast olive groves, vineyards, pine forests, orchards of fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The geomorphology of the coastline varies. Steep, rocky cliffs on the west and gentle shores on east and north, ending in tranquil bays in which the greenery of the land is reflected in the limpid waters of the Ionian Sea. Human habitation can be traced back to the Palaeolithic Age but the island enjoyed a particular heyday in the eighth century BC and was enhanced as a great maritime and mercantile power later. During the Peloponnesian War it allied with the Athenians but later came under Spartan influence.From 229 BC to AD 337 Corcyra was occupied by the Romans. In 1537 it suffered a devastating attack by Barbarossa. In more recent times the island experienced many conquerors (Venetians, Russians, Ottomans, French, British and Italians), which fact largely explains the diversity of its monuments, witnesses to the long and troubled course of the island’s history. On 21 May 1864 Corfu was united with Greece, along with the other Ionian Islands, while during World War II the town of Corfu was badly damaged by incendiary bombs. Corfu has a splendid cultural tradition, particularly in the Arts and Letters, which continue to be cultivated to this day.
The island’s capital and port, of the same name, is located in about the midpoint of the east coast, opposite Epirus on the mainland. It is the largest living medieval city in Greece and one of the loveliest in the Mediterranean. The medley of cultural traits endows this Heptanesian town, with its unique noble ambience, with a particular charm. Quite fascinaing are the foreign architectural influences and the various orders that are blended with the local vernacular features and the spectacular natural landscape, creating an aesthetic result sans pareil.
SIGHTS IN THE TOWN
The town of Corfu has one of the largest public squares in Greece, the impressive Spianada, the left side of which is dominated by the magnificent Liston building complex with its distinctive arcades, a meeting place for locals and visitors. On the north side of the Spianada stands the palace of Sts Michael and George, which dates to the period of British rule (1814-1824), while on the west looms the imposing and intriguing Venetian Old Fort, constructed on a peninsula in the fifteenth century. Of interest too are the New Fort, built on St Mark’s hill in the sixteenthseventeenth century, and the buildings of the Town Hall (17th c.), the Ionian Academy and the Ionian Parliament, the Reading Society (the oldest intellectual foundation in modern Greece) and the old Prefecture headquarters (Capodistrias Building – 1832), which now house the offices of the Ionian University. It is worthwhile wandering through the quarters of the town: Kampielo, the oldest neighbourhood, with Venetian kantounia (narrow cobbled streets); Mouraya, one of the prettiest neighbourhoods by the seaward walls of the city; Mantouki (near the new harbour;) Omvriaka, the old Jewish quarter; Saroko Square, the centre of the new town; Garitsa Bay with its quaint alleyways, detached houses and two-storey residences, where the Menekrates Monument is located. Of the town’s churches, the most famous is that of St Spyridon (1859), on account of the presence of the sacred relic of the town’s patron saint and the distinctive campanile. Important too are the churches of Sts Jason and Sosipater in the Anemomylos (windmill) quarter, a Byzantine cross-in-square church with octagonal dome (10th c.), the Greek Orthodox cathedral of the Virgin Spiliotissa or St Theodora (1577), the Platytera monastery at Mantouki (18th c.), which houses the tomb of the first Governor of Greece, I. Capodistrias, the Virgin of Foreigners (1689), the Roman Catholic cathedral (Duomo) of St James in Town-Hall Square and others. The Archaeological Museum (tel. 26610 30.680), the Museum of Byzan-tine and Postbyzantine Art in the church of the Virgin Antivouniotissa, the Museum of Asian Art (Palace of Sts Michael and George, tel. 26610 30.443), and the Museum of Dionysios Solomos (tel. 26610 30.674) all merit a visit. Three kilometres from the centre of the town is Mon Repos, initially the summer residence of the British Governor-General of the island and later the summer palace of the Greek royal family. The Palaiopolis basilica, also known as the basilica of St Kerkyra (5th c.) is nearby. On Analipsis Hill, ruins of a Doric temple of the sixth century BC and a fountain (Kardaki) were found, as well as the monastery of Sts Theodore and the ruins of the temple of Artemis (6th c. BC), to which the Archaic pediment with the Gorgon belonged (now in the Corfu Archaeological Museum). Kanoni at the edge of the peninsula (Chalikopoulos Lagoon), south of the town, is a modern tourist resort, linked by a little bridge to the islet on which the much-photographed Virgin of Vlacherna monastery stands. A short distance away is densely wooded Pontikonisi, with the Byzantine chapel of Christ Pantocrator (13th c.) in the midst of the greenery.
South of the town, on the east coast of the island, are lovely villages with riotous vegetation, fine beaches, accommodation for tourists and places of interest: Perama a suburb of the town with tourist infrastructure, Gastouri with the splendid palace of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sissy), the ‘Achilleion’ (1890), which is now a museum (tel. 26610 56.245), Moraitika, Mesongi, Boukaris, Korakades, Lefkimmi, a large town built in a fertile plain, the tourist village of Kavos, and Asprokavos, the southernmost locality on the island. To the north of the town, again on the east coast, are some of the island’s most cosmopolitan and wellappointed resorts, frequented by large numbers of tourists. These are Kontokali, Gouvia where there is one of the biggest marinas in the Mediteranean (capacity of 1000 anchorage posts) tel. 26610 91.376, the cosmopolitan Komeno with luxury hotels and restaurants, Dasia, Ypsos, Pyrgi with the uniquely beautiful neighbouring village of Aghios Markos, Barbati, Aghios Stephanos and others. On the north side of the island, dominated by Mt Pantokrator (911 m. a.s.l.) are Kassiopi, centre of the region with a ruined Byzantine castle, Roda, Acharavi, a developed tourist resort, and the seaside centre of Sidari with its peculiar rock formations and the so-called ‘Channel of Love’. The west side of the island is equally pleasing. Picturesque Peroulades has a rich architectural heritage from the Venetian period. Aphionas, built on a small peninsula, has a wonderful view of the bay of Ai-Yorgis as well as of the open sea. The traditional village of Krini is close to the Byzantine fortress of Angelokastro, built by the despots of Epirus in the thirteenth century. The locality ‘Bella Vista’, as its name indicates, offers an amazing view. Not far from here is the renowned Palaiokastritsa with clear cool water in its beautifully formed bays, a verdant landscape and the historical monastery dedicated to the Virgin Palaiokastritsa (1225). Next come the villages of Lakones, Liapades and Ermones, built in the recess of a closed bay. Quite near the coast is the Ropa Valley with a golf course. A height in the picturesque village of Pelekas offers a breathtaking view and amemorable sunset. At the tip of the bay of Ai Gordis are the villages of Ano and Kato Gerounas, and further south Aghios Matthaios (or Ai Mathias) a main village with typical Heptanesian architecture. Not far away is the monastery of Christ Pantocrator (4th c.). Also in this area are the ruins of Gardiki Castle (13th c.) and further south is the Korissia Lagoon (60 ha.) of unrivalled natural beauty. The island’s interior holds many surprises. Gorgeous villages in idyllic green countryside, with well-kept traditional houses, charming churches and flower-filled gardens: Karousades (40 km. northwest of Corfu town) a picturesque main village with the characteristic ‘Pyrgos’ (tower); Aghioi Douloi, Ano Korakiana (18 km. north of the town) with a famous brass band and numerous notable churches; Skripero with old mansions and a significant folklore tradition; Zygos (23 km. north of the town) with the church of the Sicilian St Agatha (1536); Nymphes with abundant water and greenery; Episkepsi (44 km. north of the town), a large village in the midst of a wood of olive and pine trees. On the slopes of Mt Pantokrator, with magnificent views, are the villages of Strinylas, Sgourades, Spartilas and others.
Scores of beaches, to satisfy even the most discerning visitor, punctuate the island’s coast. We mention indicatively: On the east coast (from N to S): Kerasia, Kouloura, Nisaki, Barbati, Dasia, the wider area of Kommenos, busy Benitses, Aghios Ioannis Sidari, Petroulades. On the west coast (from North to South): Arillas, a fabulous beach with fine sand and tiny desert islets scattered in the sea, the famous Palaiokastritsa, Ermones Myrtiotissa, Glyfada one of the best-known seaside resorts on the island and neighbouring Kontos Yalos, very lovely Yaliskari, Ai Gordis with fine sand and curious rocks, Chalikounas and many more.
EVENTS – OTHER INFORMATION
Corfu is the venue of many festivals, religious feasts and cultural events: Litany of St Spyridon four times a year, accompanied by the brass band; anniversary of the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece (21 May); Easter celebrations with the local custom of smashing jugs by throwing them from the balconies, on Easter Saturday; Carnival in the town of Corfu and in many villages; the annual Corfu Festival in September; the Cricket Tournament in the summer; the ‘Sound and Light’ spectacle (May-September) in the Old Fort; folklore festivals in Lekkimmi with local dances (July). Traditional patronal feasts are also celebrated on the ’ days in the island’s villages. Corfu offers all manner of eateries, with good food and local specialities (sofrito (braised steak), pastitsada (macaroni pie), bourdeto (meat stew) etc.), as well as places of entertainment and amusement for all tastes. Local products include wine, oil, ginger beer, kumkwat – glac fruit and liqueur, nougat (mantolata), gruy re-type cheese. In the harbour of Corfu and of Palaiokastritsa there is a station for refuelling yachts and replenishing water supplies.
At the entrance of the harbour of Corfu lies the islet of Vidos, which was known as Ptychia in Antiquity. A few nautical miles northwest of Corfu is the tiny archipelago of the Diapontian Isles (Ereikoussa, Mathraki, Othonoi). Ereikoussa (4.5 n.m. from Sidari), with a few rooms to let and a small hotel, is ideal for a quiet vacation. Mathraki (4 n.m. from the northwest coast, opposite Arilla) has lovely beaches of fine sand. Othonoi (7.5 n.m. northwest of Corfu) is identified as the place where Odysseus met Nausikaa. There are two settlements with a few rooms to let. Caiques from Sidari and Arilla bring visitors to the Diapontia Islands.
USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS:
Municipality of Corfu: 26610 40.402
Municipality of Lefkimmi: 26620 22.066
Corfu Police Department: 26610 38.661 , 38.662
Corfu Police Station: 26610 39.509
Lefkimmi Police Station: 26620 22.222
Tourist Police: 26610 30.265
Corfu Civic Theatre: 26610 33.598
Airport: 26610 89.600
Corfu Harbour Authority: 26610 32.655, 26610 40.002
Lefkimmi Harbour Office: 26620 23.277
Intercity Bus Routes (KTEL): 26610 39.985, 26610 39.862
Prefectural General Hospital: 26610 88.200
First Aid: 26610 88.223