Last month I had the opportunity to visit Corfu in the Ionian Islands for work. It’s been more than 10 years since I last visited so I had some catching up to do!
A little bit of history
The first thing that you notice upon arriving in the city is how Italian it looks (I also got that comment on Instagram). That comes as no surprise since Corfu was under Venetian rule from 1386 since 1797. During that time the Ottomans attempted to siege the island on a number of occasions and most notably in 1537 and 1716. All these attempts were repulsed, so Corfu never fell under the Ottoman rule. During the last siege of 1716, the Venetians and Corfiots where under the leadership of Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg. He was honored with a statue in the entrance of the Old Fortress.
In 1797 the Venetians ceded the island to the French and in 1809 a British fleet besieged Corfu . It remained under the British rule until 1864 and was then united with Greece along with the other Ionian Islands.
Things to see in Corfu Town
I’ll start with my favorite one: Liston, an arched colonnade lined with cafes and restaurants on the west side of Spianada (Esplanade). Spianada is Greece’s largest square/ open area. Liston resembles uncannily Rue de Rivoli in Paris, albeit with a Mediterranean flair.
On the east side of Spianada lays the Old Fortress of Corfu, which was built by the Venetians. Inside the citadel you’ll find St George’s church, the Ionian University and you can walk up to the lookout which provides a beautiful view towards the city.
What impressed me the most was the Museum of Asian Art. It sounds like an odd suggestion for a Greek island but I haven’t met such a rich collection of Asian art in Greece before. The museum is housed in the former Palace of St. Michael and St. George, and you can get a glimpse of its former use as a palace in the throne room. It was established back in 1928 thanks to the donation of George Manos collection of Chinese and Japanese art. Then in 1973 Nikolaos Chatzivasiliou donated 400 works of art from India, Pakistan, Thibet, Thailand and SE Asia.
A visit in Corfu town isn’t complete without walking along the narrow streets of the Old Town, also known as kantounia. They are maze like and trust me Google Maps doesn’t help a lot. Unless you want to get to a specific place/restaurant, just go with the flow and enjoy it!
Of course I didn’t have time to venture outside the city, but the island offers many places of interest and of course beaches! A few kilometers outside the city lays the palace of Mon Repos which initially was the residence of the British High Commissioner in the island and was later owned by the Greek Royal Family. Several royal births have taken place at the villa, including those of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on 10 June 1921. Today the palace houses the Museum of Palaiopolis.
Another notable palace in the island is Achilleion, which was built by Empress Elizabeth of Austria as a summer residence. The name comes after mythical hero Achilles and the palace is decorated with paintings and sculptures of Achilles.
Since Corfu is located in northern Greece, the sea is cooler than the rest of the islands. For me the ideal period to visit would be late August. Most notable beaches are Sidari (and Canal d’ Amour) and Palaiokastritsa. You will find a full list of beaches in Corfu on the Discover Greece website. You can also take a boat from Kavos and visit Paxoi islands.