Corfu: The Emerald Island

By Jamie

As we are fast-approaching summer and minds start to turn towards where to escape to this year, I thought it would be the perfect moment to review one of my favourite summer destinations. A few summers ago I had the pleasure of going to the Greek island of Corfu, a hot but surprisingly green island snuggled up against the shores of Albania in the Ionian Sea. Corfu has traditionally been an escape of the mega-rich, and still caters for people with outrageous wealth to the north of the island. However, if you are not among the ultra-wealthy (and as you’re reading Budget Budgie we can safely assume this) there is also a wealth of options for a more palatable budget.
Before I begin my praise of Corfu’s serene landscapes, exquisite food and general excellence, I shall come in quick and hard with my big complaint, and that is with the airport. While I accept that all airports are similarly boring, involve queuing and waiting, and are not exactly the kind of place you voluntarily spend vast amounts of time, Corfu Airport is frankly awful. It is tiny, old and completely unfit for dealing with the number of people that head to the island. My personal experience is of being told to queue outside in the sun with no shade, to then join a queue for check-in, witness a poor woman in her first day in the job do everything wrong, to then join a queue for security, again outside at first, then join another line of happiness and love to have your passport checked, realise how pointless it was when the person behind you gets through holding the wrong passport, and then see the plane is delayed and have nowhere to sit for the next five hours. And, finally, your flight almost leaves without any passengers because the announcement system is broken. Do bear in mind I’m an inherently unlucky person, the kind of person who hangs his washing outside after three months of no rain to then witness a deluge, so maybe your experience will be better. The airport, however, is awful.

Aside from the airport, Corfu is a real island gem; a glistening, starry jewel surrounded by warm azure seas. I went in August and the weather was perfect: hot, but not so oppressive that you can’t do things during the day. There is a refreshing sea breeze that provides moments of coolness and the evenings, though humid, are not unbearable. Despite the constant sun the island is a luscious dark green and is covered with 3 million olive trees, many of which were planted during Venetian rule of the island 400 years ago. They are left to grow to their full height, and create a welcome canopy of shade. The island is beautiful, with rolling mountains, a turquoise coastline, with idyllic golden beaches dotted with rocky inlets. The colours of this island are really something: it is like an eccentric artist simply threw some paints at an olive-green canvas. Sunrises and sunsets should not be missed either (you can nap in the day if you find yourself missing sleep to see them, it’s worth the effort). It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

Besides the climate and the natural beauty, the food is very impressive. I have found that islands have a very understandable tendency to have mainly fish and seafood, and Corfu has a noble range of former sea life for your pleasure. It also offers a delicious range of typical Greek cuisine, like meat kebabs, moussaka (my favourite), pitas, cheeses and everything a person could want. I happily ate my way into the night and, after an excruciating waddle up the hill to get home, eagerly anticipated repeating the meal the next day. Travel should involve sampling good local food, and I took this belief to heart (and to my stomach). This was the first time I had tried Greek food, and I was an instant convert.

On the subject of delicious food, I also came to the realisation that I am utterly irresistible. Well, when I say that, I do of course mean irresistible to the mosquitoes that unfortunately plague the nights. The various buzzing things were generally annoying, some were quite frightening, like the hornet that I watched attacking a swarm of wasps, successfully, and of course my mosquito chums, who took quite a liking to me. Insects come with the warm territory, but I found they were more belligerently bitey and brave than anywhere else I’ve been. I honestly think it’s because I tasted better as a result of the amazing food I’d been having, but for whatever reason they were a pain, so if you go there try and find a way of scaring them off, like burning anti-mosquito incense or standing next to me to be safe.

Generally speaking, the north of the island is where the mega-rich congregate to trade gossip and compare the size of their enormous, cosmetically-stretched super-yachts (and whatever else they do), while the south is more focussed upon package holidays and modestly-priced hotels. I stayed somewhere between the two, in a small village called Nissaki. it was a basic place, with a small shop, a local beach and some tavernas of various quality. It was quite a peaceful place, although you need a car to get there (and it is probably advisable to have one to get around the whole island to appreciate it fully).

The main lure of the island is the beach, of which there are mainly delightful ones, and the sea, which is warm, calm and lovely to soak in. There are, however, many other things to do, thanks partly to its tumultuous history, and partly because of its natural beauty. Taking a drive to the centre of the island, where life has remained relatively untouched by tourism, is a great experience (as is picking up a friendly hitchhiker and having no idea what he says to you or where he wants you to take him.), and the old villages and surrounding olive groves are serene. There is also Pantorcrator (great name) the highest point on the island. You can drive or hike up to it to enjoy the sensational panoramic views from the top. Perched right at the summit is an old monastery which still has a solitary monk living there, but, right next to and actually in the grounds of the peaceful monastery is an array of masts and pylons which give the island communication signals. There is even one that stretches high above the monastery, and looks strangely reminiscent of an Eiffel Tower that has been built by someone who has never seen it but had it described to them by a child: similar, bit at the same time really missing something. Depending on your viewpoint, these communication masts either ruin the monastery or add something quite unique and memorable. I’m undecided whether I liked it or not. It had a weird cold-war, Bond-villain feel to it, and is probably more memorable than it would otherwise have been. It’s worth going to just for the views.

Another thing to do is to explore Corfu Town, the capital. Corfu has a rich history of invasion, occupation and cultural upheaval, and as a result there are several forts, ruins and museums to visit. The Old Fort, built on a rock right on the seafront, is good, exhibiting military buildings and fortifications, as well as an old lighthouse right at the peak of the rock, which provides great views across the town and the coast. There is also the New Fort, which, despite being the newer of the two is also the more decrepit. It has decent views at the top although it is mainly empty, but is free so worth visiting. There are also several local museums, such as the museum of Asian Art. Corfu Town also has bustling shops and narrow streets, and it is fun to get lost in the labyrinthine network.

You can also find several other forts, towns and castles scattered around the island. There are byzantine castles, venetian buildings, palaces and ancient ruins to be found and explored, so culturally there is a whole history to explore. The sea also provides entertainment if you wish to scuba dive, take a boat trip, water ski or any other of the usual activities.

Overall I loved Corfu, despite the airport and the mosquitoes. It was beautiful, warm, delicious, interesting and very relaxed. It was an ideal place to escape for summer, and offers so many different things for different people. I would highly recommend.