The Greek island of Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian Islands. In some ways, Corfu feels more Italian (thanks to the Venetians and the Italians who occupied the island) than it does Greek.
The island, also known by its Greek name Kerkyra, remained in Venetian hands from 1401 until 1797. The Venetians erected fortifications to repel Turkish invaders, and indeed, the historian Will Durant claimed that Corfu was one of the few parts of Greece never conquered by the Ottomans thanks to the Republic of Venice.
The Italians, French and British influenced the culture of Corfu, which is apparent in the Old City, where the small and ancient streets as well as the architecture evoke the mix of cultures. No wonder the Old City has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2007.
The best way to get acquainted with the historic city is on foot. In several parts of the Old City, you’ll stroll past buildings with trademark Venetian arches. You’ll seldom see streets as clean as those in Corfu’s Old City, which appears spit-polished. Just beware that the well-worn stones can be a bit slippery at times.
In Corfu’s Old City, find the best baklava you’ve ever tasted. Where? Café Espianada, on the promenade by the same name. Prices were good as were those two giant beers in the photo below. The owner who used to live, and operate a restaurant, in the United States, is friendly and promises the best baklava ever.
Corfu’s Old City is situated on a peninsula that terminates at an ancient fortress. The “Old Fortress” was built by the Venetians in 1546 on the site of a Byzantine castle and is separated from the rest of the town by a seawater moat. Its two peaks (korypha in Greek), gave the island of Corfu its name. Standing on the peaks, you’ll have a gorgeous view over the Old City in one direction and in the other direction across the beautiful Ionian Sea, the mountainous coast of Albania.
Corfu town’s entire population once lived within the walls of the Old Fortress, which was once one of the most fortified places in all of Europe. The fortress repelled the Ottomans. Today, it stands as a beautiful citadel that punctuates Corfu’s Old City.
Grab the steering wheel and put your right hand on the gear shifter. Prepare for a drive like you’ve never experienced before. You’ll pass through the villages of Kato Korakiana and Ano Korakiana — said to be the most beautiful of the old, traditional villages on Corfu Greece — and up to Troumbetta and Kratsalo—the highest point of Corfu.
In the village of Makrades, stop to shop for local products such as olives, olive oil, honey and herbs. At Lakones, admire the panoramic views of Paleokastritsa’s multiple bays.
Overall this 4×4 excursion allows you to admire the beauty of Corfu’s countryside while catching glimpses of the sparkling Ionian Sea, all while shifting gears and steering your way through curvaceous Corfu.
About 30 minutes from Corfu’s Old City, Achillion (also Achilleion) Palace represents what some might call an obsession. Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria chose to build a magnificent villa that reflected her admiration for Achilles, the Greek god, represented abundantly in paintings and sculptures throughout the house and in its beautifully landscaped grounds.
When an anarchist in Geneva assassinated Sisi at the age of 60, the villa was purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who used it as a summer retreat. After a brief period as a grand casino, Achillion Palace then became a museum owned by the Greek government that today provides a rare glimpse into the privileged lifestyle of turn-of-the-20th-century European rulers.