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Trip Report CORFU – A CHALLENGE FOR THE “DISCERNING TRAVELLER”!

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We were supposed to sail around the Ionian Islands but our crew abandoned us unexpectedly, so never ones to give up on a holiday, DH and I decided to turn it into a one week road trip in Corfu instead. Being from Rome, we didn’t even think of renting a car but pre-booked a large scooter from Nik in Moraitika – the only rental company that answered my e mails, and were met at the airport directly with our vehicle. This turned out to be rather the worse for wear Kymko Dink with smooth tires and badly worn body – the helmets had also seen better days but the delivery was very efficient and Costas said not to worry, so off we went.
Our first port of call was Corfu Town where we had booked a superior room at the old fashioned Cavalieri . This is an old, slightly shabby hotel , not devoid of charm set in a perfect location for the view over the citadel and for walking about in the old town. Of course we did not miss the 6pm opening of the rooftop bar which well deserves its reputation as the best aperitif spot in town.
Corfu, or Kyrkyra , is a gem of a town with its mix of Byzantine and Venetian architecture, its narrow streets, grand palazzi and tiny piazzas. Its run down atmosphere reminded me more of old Bari in Puglia than Venice except for the countless tacky tourist shops which filled all the available space in the alleys. Unfortunately our chosen restaurant The Venetian Well was closed (permanently it seemed) and we regretted not being able to eat in such a charming location under the bougainvillea. We opted for the more conventional Rex just by the Liston instead. A reasonably good meal at a decent price compared to Italy. It was lovely to sit outside and watch the swallows flying in and out of the crevices in the wall in front of us, their loud screeching noises filling the air.

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    Next day we set off for Kalami Bay – chosen after much research on the internet for its supposed beauty and off the beaten track location. We reached Kalami after a few stops in Ipsou, Barbati and other resorts which didn’t impress us very much. Nor did Kalami to begin with…..Firstly the bay is ruined by the ungainly structure known as A&A, a package tour self catering apartment venture which may be fine from the inside but is a real eye sore in the small bay. Secondly the bay was more crowded with people and buildings than we expected (little did we know what lay in wait on the rest of the island!). However, after the first impression we began to explore and discover its magic.
    We had booked with The White House organization (Durrell’s White House) a one bed apartment which turned out to be on the ground floor, stuffy and with no view. We complained (since we had been promised the floor above) and were promptly and kindly given a whole villa with a nice terrace overlooking the bay just behind the restaurant. Much happier with this accommodation (3 bedrooms, huge kitchen!) we went for a swim off the rocks just a few steps from our new home. The sea was transparent and blue and we were already beginning to like the place. That evening the European football final was showing so we ate early at the White House Restaurant – good fish, charming ambience right on the water – before heading off to the Kalami Bar with a big screen. Despite the disappointment of Italy losing 4-0 to Spain the evening was enjoyable with lots of friendly people and laid back atmosphere.
    For the next 2 days we rented a speedboat and explored the coast . This is where the real beauty of the place lies: small coves and beaches, one after the other with few or no people, beautiful rock formations, emerald sea and delightful tavernas with moorings for small boats. We ate at Agni Bay and Kouloura Bay both lovely and visited busy little Kassiopi. All in all a most enjoyable time which for us lasted just enough as by day 4 we were ready to move on.

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    I am originally from Corfu or Kerkira in Greek and read your trip report with great interest....

    I am not sure where in venice you have been, but there are many run down neighbourhoods there...

    What you describe as run down, has a reason.. everything is protected, and changing the colour or renovating the facade of a house requires special permissions and the supervision of the local office of the Ministry of Culture.
    ( same happens in Italy too as i know).

    The Cavalieri is an older hotel , as all hotels in the old city of Kerkira, but it has an unbeatable location....
    It is more popular amongst Greeks families and Greek salesmen, as most foreign tourists prefer to stay somewhere on the beach....
    Venice has a strong influence even after all the years that passed since they left Kerkira.
    You can still hear it in the dialect of the locals, in their music and their food :)

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    Hello Clausar, thanks for your comments. We definitely felt a strong Italian influence - in the good and the bad! There are so many similarities in our two countries : )

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    The idea was to explore some of the inland towns and the busier resorts like Sidari on our way to our next accommodation in the small village of Peroulades. It didn’t take us long. We found Roda very uninteresting and neither of us wanted to swim on the muddy overcrowded beach despite the heat. Sidari was worse – massively overdeveloped and the “canal d’amour” is literally inside a tourist development. After the sea on the East coast we were very disappointed with the North. Luckily I had chosen our accommodation well and all was not lost. The charming Villa de Loulia hotel lived up to its expectations. Beautifully tended gardens full of flowers and herbs surrounded a lovely pool and pretty rooms painted in bright colours. A real oasis of peace and beauty. The small village of Peroulades has nothing particular to recommend it other than being outside the main tourist track. There is a beach, a long walk down the cliffs, with water milky white with clay deposit. At sunset it is alluring and that is when most people go. There is a dramatic “Sunset Paradise” bar and tavern perched on the cliff which served us a surprisingly good meal with funky background music and friendly cats.
    After a delicious home- made breakfast we decided to move on and check out the West coast and villages. Arillas and Afionas were quite pretty though nothing comparable with similar villages in the Cyclades. What really amazed us and is unique to Corfu, I believe, is the vegetation and the size and number of the olive trees. They are amazingly tall and with the cypresses, myrtle, broom and other Mediterranean scrub reach all the way to the water’s edge giving the sea it’s bright green colour. What a shame about the eco-monsters which abound on the way towards Paleokastritsa! The amazing bay with its curious rock formations is encroached upon by huge rambling hotels and apartments which start way up the mountains and spread down towards the sea. The bay is an adventure playground for waterbikers, yellow submarines, banana floats and all manner of noisy activities. Sadly a lot of them empty as, despite being July, the island was by no means full. We parked our bike and rented a small boat from the dozens on offer and went off to visit the peaceful beaches advertised as “paradise”, “sunset” etc. In just a few minutes we were away from all the traffic and pubs and once more in idyllic surroundings . The boat cost a reasonable 40 euros for the day but petrol came to 25 for a couple of hours which seemed a expensive. However it was worth it.

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    By late afternoon we arrived at our final destination : the mountain village of Pelekas. This is famous for the Kaiser’s throne, a fortified viewpoint from which Kaiser William apparently liked to admire the view. It is indeed a spectacular point from where you can see 360° including Corfu Town and the Citadel, Albania, all the coast villages and mountains, very impressive. Once again we had made the right hotel choice as the Levant Hotel just outside the village and next to the Kaiser’s throne is a really lovely place to stay . An old fashioned , family run hotel full of charm and incredibly cheap for the location and level of comfort. We were sad to see it a little bit decadent in places and imagined the incredible cost of maintaining such a property. We hope that places like this and The Villa de Loulia will not be forced to close and either waste away or be sold off and transformed with horrible extensions into more economically viable enterprises.
    We stayed in Pelekas for 2 days visiting the famous Glyfades Beach – an umbelievable mass of German teenagers enjoying themselves with loudspeakers all playing different music on the beach – Ermones quite ugly and the water that day was filthy - and finally delightful little Myrtiotissa Beach, saved by the steep winding road and numerous nudists from becoming another overcrowded hell. Pelekas itself is hardly “oozing with charm” as Frommer’s describes it. Just an ordinary Greek village with some nice tavernas (very good meal at Jimmy’s) and friendly atmosphere. On our last night we were immensely entertained by a traditional music night organized by the local council for the locals in the school yard. Good guitar playing, singing, some old people dancing and souvlaki’s broiling to the sound of the cicadas.

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    Our last day was spent lolling by the pool , then driving towards Corfu with a stop at the amazing Achilleon . It has been very well restored and is definitely worth a visit. The long drive to Kanoni seemed a bit pointless to us just to see the view and the Starbucks so we wouldn’t do that again. It also made us late for our planned visit to the Archaeological Museum and Museum of Asian Art which both closed at 2.30pm! Instead we wondered around the old fort in Corfu Town and I climbed to the top in the hot sun and nearly fainted on the way down! After an ice cream on the Liston and walk round the lanes we rushed to the airport just in time to catch our flight home.
    In conclusion, for an Italian (ie. not desperate for sun and sea) , I would not recommend Corfu as a beach destination in Greece. Aside from the coves around Kalami with their tavernas which were unique and incredible value for money compared to Italy, the rest of the island is spoilt by over development and you really can’t appreciate it without a boat. Corfu town is worth a visit at any time of year and we were glad we went but probably would not return if not for our initial intention of sailing round the Ionian islands.
    I have to thank, as usual, the suggestions from this and other forums which pointed us in the right direction so that we avoided the traps and stayed in some memorable places making it all worthwhile.

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    I live on Corfu. If you only saw the touristic streets in the old town you cannot have ventured far, there are enchanting corners and alleyways not cluttered by the tourist shops which spread over three streets only. It is indeed reminiscent of Venice, rather than Bari- fond though I am of Puglia.
    If you wanted to eat under bouganvillea it is a pity you did not go to the very popular restaurant of that name, on the Town Hall Square, a stones throw from the Rex, atthe lower end of Guilford Street, current favourite of the foodies with so many good Greek and Italian restaurants it is hard to select just one!
    Agree re Kalami totally, a great shame, but luckily only round the promontory from Kouloura, one of the loveliest bays of the north east.
    A pity your plans to explore the delightful unspoilt inland villages did not appear to have happened, they are charming- Sokraki, Peritheia (old), Choroepiskopi and the Pantocrator villages are only a few of the northern ones worth visiting.
    The greeness is the Venetian legacy as the Venetians gave subsidies for planting olive trees, whereas the Turks, rulers of the most of the rest of Greece, used the wood for charcoal and shipbuilding and denuded the hills which have never recovered.
    Don't worry, if you had gone to Canoni you would not have see Strabucks, it closed last year and I don't think it has reopened, but the view is superb. A shame you didn't have time to wander through the grounds of Mon Repos Palace with remains of an ancient Greek temple, and the palace itself containing an interesting exhibition.
    But the bit you missed is also one of the glories of Corfu- the long sandy beaches which stretch the length of the south west coast, mostly undeveloped. There are turtles nesting there (on sites which for obvious reasons are not publicised), kite surfing takes place all year round at Issos, the sea is crystal clear, and there are some superb tavernas.
    On the opposite coast the wetlands sanctuary at Lefkimi was home to a large flock of flamingoes this Spring, and further up the unspoilt fishing harbour of Petriti reminds one of Greece as it used to be- the boats going out at night, fish that is truly fresh served in waterside tavernas there, and at Boukari also.
    Agree that for an Italian Corfu is not necessarily different enough- I drove round the Gargagno peninsula and was reminded of Corfu at almost every turn. It has however a lot of charm, and it is still possible to get right off the tourist trail, the inland villages are magical sometimes- Kinopiastes, Agii Deka, Stavros etc.
    The views over one of the best, if developed beaches, Agios Gordios, near Pelekas (to my mind a big improvement on Glyfada nowadays), are stunning, especially from the village of Pentati, perched on the cliff edge.
    You saw the tourist places, do return sometime and see the real Corffu!

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    janmanessi
    i totally agree with you !!!
    I am from Corfu originally and i was honestly surprised to reed a trip report where my island is presented as touristy and ugly.. How can someone visit the city of Kerkira and not like it... or only remember run down houses...

    The real Kerkira is totally different from what the OP wrote in her TP...

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