By OLIVER PILCHER
CORFU IS GREEN AND LEAFY, so much so that it seems as if every inch of the island is covered with trees. Even when your eye becomes accustomed to the landscape, you cannot stop reeling at the sheer number of trees, particularly the olives. There doesn’t seem be any bare land, open spaces or fields. I never once saw a cow.
In 1623, the Venetians, who occupied the Greek island for four centuries from 1386 to 1797, offered the Corfiots financial incentives to plant olive trees and to replace wild ones with cultivated ones. Within 100 years there were more than two million; and this number has continued increasing so that today Corfu is one huge olive grove. Corfu, despite the olives, doesn’t seem all that Greek; or maybe my visit just reminded me of the diversity of Greece. Certainly Corfu Town, with its broad streets, splendid monuments, esoteric museums, fashionable shops and pavement cafés often seemed as grand and cosmopolitan as Paris or Rome.
The Old Town is a labyrinth of narrow streets paved with cobblestones and packed with tourist shops all selling pretty much the same things: wooden toys, soaps, olive-wood carvings and embroidered fabrics. These cobbled streets are known as the kantounia, and some of the older ones follow the gentle, stumble-inducing irregularities of the ground; many are too narrow for cars and lorries. A promenade rises by the seashore towards Garitsa Bay, together with an esplanade known as the Spianadha, between the town and the old Venetian citadel.
On the western side of the Spianadha lies theListon, an arcade of shops and cafés modelled on the rue de Rivoli in Paris and designed in 1807 by the French engineer Mathieu de Lesseps (whose son built the Suez Canal). Facing it is the former cricket ground, a British legacy, and nearby is the Museum of Asian Art, where more than 10,000 artefacts, donated by Gregorios Manos in 1927, are housed in a building which originally belonged to the British Protectorate.
The tiny, fashionable enclave of Agni, down a narrow, winding road a few kilometres north of Nissaki, has three restaurants and a reputation as a ‘foodie’s paradise’. I tried two of the three restaurants: Toula’s and Nikolas. Both were good – Toula’s better, more expensive and the waiters treated us all equally with indifferent courtesy. The one I didn’t manage to try, Agni, is supposed to be the best.
The north of Corfu, and particularly the north-east, nicknamed Kensington-on-Sea, has traditionally been the smart part of the island. The low-lying south is where the lager louts hang out. Ipsos is not smart, but I liked its long, sandy strip of beach and shallow sea. People were swimming from early in the day, and there was a peaceful family atmosphere. The most beautiful part of Corfu, however, is undoubtedly inland.
My favourite place on this huge island (Corfu so big that you can sometimes forget you are on an island) is probably Aghios Markos, also in the hills, a couple of kilometres above Ipsos. There I saw no concessions to tourism, only a timeless view of olive groves, almond trees, slender, swaying bamboo entwined with deep-purple morning glory, and tiled roofs. And, in the distance, the strip of Ipsos and the shallow, aquamarine sea glinting.
The landscape and wildlife are spectacular. The food is good, often very good, the sea divine – even in Ipsos- and the sun is always shining. No wonder so many want to go there.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
When to go: Visit Corfu in the spring for uncrowded beaches and mild weather. In May the average daytime temperature is 23°C, with nine hours’ sunshine a day.
To read the full article visit Condé Nast Magazine.
Read this article in Spanish here.
We apologise for not posting last week, but it was a hectic week since we had our midterms going on. Thank God the is over and we can get back to posting regularly.
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All the dest,
Jordy & Nass