‘The more I see from this place, the more I feel that no other spot on earth can be fuller of beauty,’ wrote Edward Lear in 1863 to describe the island of Corfu, which with its historic monuments, stunning natural landscapes, crystal clear seas, and excellent weather all year round, is one of the most cosmopolitan and best-loved Mediterranean destinations, weaving a powerful spell on its visitors.
Corfu (Kerkyra, in Greek), the second largest island in the Ionian Sea, unlike the rest of Greece, never suffered from Ottoman occupation and oppression. Rather with the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the island was ruled by the Venetians, French and British, before being united with Greece in 1864. It was in Corfu that the first modern Greek University (the Ionian Academy), the first Philharmonic Orchestra and the First School of Fine Arts were founded.
In the beautifully preserved Old Town of Corfu, a UNESCO world heritage site, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles merge. Palaces, fortresses, austere public buildings of the Venetian period blend with lines of drying washing in tiny alleyways and small secluded squares. Strolling through a complex of narrow cobbled streets with stairways and vaulted passages, the so-called kantounia, are reminiscent of Genoa or Naples.
Discover the most beautiful spots in the city of Corfu walking through:
• Spianada Square, the centre of the city, adorned with 19th century remarkable works of French architecture. Here you can watch cricket games, or participate in musical concerts organised throughout the year.
• Liston, where nobility used to enjoy evening promenades. The characteristic arcades form the most romantic background setting for a welcome cup of coffee at one of the town’s cosy cafés.
• The smart suburbs: Mandouki, Garitsa and Sarokos.
The city’s most important attractions bear witness to a rich history:
• The impressive 15th century Old Fortress, as well as the New Fortress.
• The Saint Michael and George Palace at the north part of Spianada, built during the British occupation.
• The most imposing of the many churches in Corfu city is the city’s Cathedral, the Church of St. Spyridon, the island’s patron saint, whose relics are kept here. The church’s immensely tall bell tower is reminiscent of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice. Four annual processions are held every year during which the body of St Spyridon is carried around the streets of the city (on Palm and Easter Sunday, on April 11th and the first Sunday in November). All the philharmonic bands of the city accompany the processions creating a remarkable spectacle.
Call in at the city’s fascinating museums:
• The Museum of Asian Art was founded in 1927 after the donation of 10,500 items by Gregorios Manos. Until 1974, it was a Chinese and Japanese Art museum, but later it was enriched with other private collections. It is housed in Saint Michael and George Palace.
• Archaeological Museum: Here you can admire important finds from the temple of Artemis and excavation finds from the ancient city of Corfu.
• Byzantine Museum: It is housed in the Church of the Virgin Mary Antivouniotissa and boasts a fascinating collection of icons and ecclesiastic items from the 15th to the 19th century.
• The Banknote Museum showcases an almost complete collection of Greek coinage from 1822 to the present day.
• Dionysios Solomos Museum: The National Poet of Greece left Zakynthos and lived in a state of self-imposed isolation in Corfu, where he wrote and studied. Today his house hosts a museum in his honour.
These sites around the city of Corfu used to be the aristocracy’s favourites:
• Mon Repos Palace was built by the British Commissioner Adams as a gift to his Corfiot wife. It is a small but beautiful palace with colonial elements, which today operates as a museum. In this luxurious dwelling, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Elizabeth II of England, was born in 1921. The park around the palace is ideal for long romantic walks.
• Kanoni (meaning canon) offers from its circular terrace an amazing view across the island of Pontikoníssi (meaning Mouse Island), one of the most photographed spots of Corfu. According to legend, this rocky islet was the Phaeacian ship that was turned into stone as described in Homer’s Odyssey.
• Paleopolis (at Mons Repos estate) stands where the Agora of the ancient city of Corfu was located. Admire the remains of several public buildings erected there along with sanctuaries, workshops and residencies.
• Achilleion is a fairy palace built among cypresses and myrtles by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who wished to escape from life at the Austrian court. Elisabeth truly fell in love with the island, and she dedicated this palace to Achilles as she cherished the belief that he represented the soul and spirit of Greece.
Corfu is thought to be the island of Scheria (or Phaeacia) Homer describes the stranded Odysseus landing on his way back to neighbouring Ithaca from Troy. Odysseus is rescued by Princess Nausicaa and shown great hospitality by King Alcinous, and still today Corfu welcomes visitors all year round, with its colourful music events, culinary feasts, religious festivals, carnival celebrations and the most joyful Easter experience in Greece.