I’m back in Corfu Town to finish off our trip. Waking up to another beautiful day, the husband would be quite happy to sit outside a taverna soaking up the sun and people watching. It’s not going to happen, obviously. I have a list of things to see, so we’d better get walking. After breakfast, of course – scrambled eggs with feta anyone?
The husband understands the need for exercise, as we munch our way through huge mounds of food on any trip away. The history he tolerates, as long as I don’t take too long over it. I’ve learnt to gallop my way through castles, museums and stately homes, stopping only when absolutely necessary. You may like to take things more steadily, but here is my brief round-up of highlights both historical and culinary, all easily accessible on foot, as long as you’ve brought those all-important sensible shoes.
Number one port of call, and situated just a stone’s throw from the Old Town is the Old Venetian Fortress. There have been fortifications here since the 6th century, but these were replaced by Venetian engineers in the 15th and 16th centuries. A bridge leads to this huge edifice, which is separated from the mainland by a manmade channel.
You can easily spend a few hours exploring the fort – even with the husband in tow I managed to last more than the usual 10 minutes! Steep pathways and staircases lead upwards to the lighthouse and downwards to Corfu’s sailing club. You cannot take a bad photo here – the vistas are stupendous whichever way you look.
If you’re in need of some refreshment there’s even a restaurant inside the fortress, but we plump for Cafe Azur instead, which sits atop the cliffs opposite with amazing views to accompany a nice glass of rose. I polish off a deconstructed spanakopita and feel ready to walk a few miles more.
A wide seafront promenade runs around the bay to the south of town, perfect for stretching your legs. Alternatively, the Garitsa Grove Park provides a shadier route, and you can watch the locals catching up over coffee at the many pavement cafés along the way. It’s a good half an hour’s walk to the windmill on the headland, where you can take a breather at the popular Nautilus restaurant right on the water’s edge.
A quick plunge through the backstreets here, and you’ll arrive at the gates to Mon Repos. Built by the British in 1828, the villa became the summer residence of the Greek Royal Family. Our very own Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was born here in 1921 but left Greece as a baby when his father was forced to flee in fear of his life. The story goes that Philip was smuggled out of the country in a fruit crate. Philip never learned to speak Greek and considered himself to be Danish. He probably isn’t too keen on being called Phil the Greek. Just a hunch!
Inexplicably, the lady on the front desk asks me if I speak French? Well actually, yes I do, and I’m happy to have a bit of a chat. The husband is impressed, I’ve saved us an entry fee with my language skills. Just to clarify, this doesn’t happen often, he generally thinks I’m a bit of a div.
We make our way up the long driveway. Although it’s quite delapidated nowadays, this was clearly once a magical spot overlooking the sea and surrounded by woodland. The villa was the focus of a long dispute between the Greek Government and the ex-King about who owned it. Eventually the authorities had to pay out several million in compensation, but in the meantime the place had sadly fallen into disrepair.
The grounds of Mon Repos are extensive, with lots to see. A pathway meanders amongst the trees, passing an old church and the ancient ruins of a temple and sanctuary. There’s just one problem. Mosquitoes – huge grey monstrous ones. We’ve been warned about them but this is where we realise that they are truly nasty beasts – ouch. We decide to abandon our tour and head back to the road, but not before being well and truly feasted upon. The rest of our walk will be an itchy one!
On the south western side of town lies my next must-see destination. The British cemetery is a peaceful, shady spot for a contemplative saunter. No mosquitoes here, thank goodness. As we arrive and open the gate, a bell wakes the ancient caretaker who is snoozing in the sunshine outside his cottage. He bids us welcome and waves us on.
Opened in 1855, the cemetery contains casualties from both World Wars, but also the graves of civilian settlers on the island, with over 500 monuments in total spread around what feels like a secret garden. Just watch where you’re walking, as there are resident tortoises hanging out amongst the tombstones, munching on the grass. No lawnmowers required here.
Curving round to the western side of town, we arrive at my final recommendation, the New Venetian Fortress. So called because it’s slightly less old than the Old Venetian Fortress, of course! This particular fortification was built in the 16th century, practically yesterday in Corfiot terms.
The wily Venetians took their defenses seriously – once both fortresses were complete they elected a separate governor for each one, and the two men were banned from any form of communication with each other to prevent them plotting against the Republic.
Once again, it’s all about the views, over the town and out to sea. The New Fortress towers 55 metres above the port and the outlook is fantastic from all viewpoints. But the husband has had all the history he can stomach for one trip now, it’s back to town for some shopping and people watching, or even dog watching. We particularly liked the furry fellow below, who took up his favourite sunbathing spot every day and refused to move an inch.
After a day spent wandering, there’s the reward of another evening eating and drinking in the myriad bars and tavernas of the Old Town. Take your pick! You’re guaranteed service with a smile. At Elia Taverna, hidden away in a quiet courtyard, we meet the whole family including their pet pooch. Mum is cooking, Son is waiting tables, Dad is supervising, obviously. Stopping for a nightcap at Bar Cofinetta, the owner notices the husband shivering and drapes him in her pashmina. These people sure know how to make you feel welcome.
A few days of sunshine, glorious views, tasty food and most of all the friendliness of the Corfiot people and you may feel tempted, like the Durrells, to move to a villa overlooking olive groves and the distant hills of Albania. Faced with returning to a British Winter of even more than the usual discontent, we seriously consider it. Yamas!