Corfu Old Town, an amalgam of diverse cultural influences, its imposing fortresses, its majestic palaces and mansions, the intriguing maze of cobble stone streets, its idyllic waterfront promenades and colorful squares and flowered gardens, makes up an alluring scenerythat has just popped out of the pages of a fairytale and was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with good reason.
Timeless Venetian elegance in a cosmopolitan setting
Corfu Town is one of the most impressive historic places not only in the Ionian Islands, but in the whole of Greece as well, and rightly so. Built centuries ago by the Venetians, it retains a timeless grace and charm that captures the heart of every single visitor. Within a 45- kilometers’ drive from our luxury villas in Corfu along the idyllic north east coast, Corfu Old Town sits between two hills, on top on which stand the impressive Old Fortress and New Fortress, strong reminders of the Venetian rule in the Ionian Islands from the 15thuntil the late 18th century.
A very short period of French rule at the beginning of the 19th century left its strong mark on Corfu’s main square, the Esplanade, the largest square in the Balkans which was designed after the French garden architectural standards. The French element was also imprinted on thesunlitListon arcade at the western side of the Esplanade, built by the French engineer Lesseps, that bears a strong resemblance to Rue Rivoli in Paris. This is where some of the oldest and most elegant cafés and restaurants of the island are found and where the heart of the social life of Corfu beatswith many festivals and processions stagedon the spot throughout the year.
The British, although their rule on the islandlasted little less than fifty years during the 19th century, have left their own legacy inCorfu Town, among which the old English Cricket Field just across Liston, where you can still catch a game of cricket played between local teams, a sport found nowhere else in Greece. Opposite Liston you can visit Bosketto Durrell, a garden named after famous British authors Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, who used to spend their childhood summer holidays inCorfuand wrote down their memoirs in their books. This is a perfect spot where you can enjoy fine specimens of exotic and local flowers and plants next to a public playground on the side of the old Fortress, overlooking the Ionian Sea. On the other side of the Liston, the palace of St. Michael and St. George, a fine sample of neoclassical architecture,also built by the British, houses the unique in Greece, Museum of Asian Art, with its fine collection ofrare artefacts that cover an extensive geographical area and time span of Asian history. The museum is adjacent to a beautiful public garden, where you can get away from the crowds and cool down on a hot summer day, watching the glinting sea and the charming islet of Vidos across the bay.
On one of the back streets behind Liston arcade, the imposing red bell tower of Agios Spyridonchurch, where the saint’s remains are kept on public display, emerges above the terracotta rooftops, the tallest building in Corfu Old Town, to denote the patron saint’s presence in the social and cultural life of the island. Of course, multiculturalism refers also to religious belief and besides the prevailing Christian Orthodox faith with about 39 churches scattered across Corfu Old Town, the Catholic cathedral called “Duomo” is located in the Town Hall square and you can visit the Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, all situated within a short walk from Liston.
You may opt to sit down for a cup of coffee in the morning or an aperitif by dusk in a one of the countlesscharming little squares around Corfu Town.You may wander through the endless maze of small stone paved streets, called “kantounia” in the Campiello area, the oldest part of Corfu, taken by the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle from back yards and flower beds on balconies.Perhaps you will visit one of the many interesting museums, like the Museum of Banknotes, the Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine museum of Panagia Antivouniotissa Church and the Serbian Museum, with unknown stories from the First World War.
Whatever you choose to do, you will be fascinated by the unique atmosphere and character of the place and you are bound to feel part of Corfu’s history. What is certain, is that every step you take, every moment you spend in Corfu Town is bound toreveal a new marvel.
Besides visiting the Old Fortress (“Palaio Frourio”) and marveling at its hidden treasures, including a charming pebbly beach at the entrance of the yacht club, the New Fortress amidst one of the most atmospheric Venetian neighborhoods with breathtaking views over the rooftops, there is a lot more to explore and discover in and around Corfu Town.
Kanoni. At a short distance from Corfu Old Town (2 km), Kanoni is the first ancient Greek settlement on the island. It is a popular spot with lovely cafés and restaurants that offers breathtaking views over Halikiopoulos Lagoon, the airport (great place for watching planes as they land or take off at a stone’s throw), Vlacherna Church, a picturesque little chapel surrounded by the sea and the emerald Mouse Island (“Pontikonissi”), where you can visit a 13th century Byzantine chapelby taking a 5-min boat ride on the spot.
MonRepos. Very close to Corfu Town, a pleasurable 15-min walk along the sea promenade of Garitsa Baywill lead you to Mon Repos. This estate includes a beautiful neoclassical palace built by the British in 1826 amidst lush greenery, which was used as the summer residence for the former Greek royal family and was also the birthplace of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. It currently serves as a restored museum with a lot of artefacts from Corfu on display and hosts occasional periodic exhibitions. Footpaths through the colorful gardens and the forest will take you to the ancient ruins of Hera and Apollo’s sanctuaries and a Doric temple or to a small secluded pebble beach, where you can take a dive and cool off in privacy.
Vidos Islet. If you want to see Corfu Old Town from a completely different perspective, then you simply need to catch a 10-min boat from the Old Port to Vidos Islet. The place is unspoilt and very green and you can wander through the forest and get a glimpse of numerous hares, tortoises, pheasants and partridges that roam around freely.If you walk along the footpath for half a kilometer across to the other side, where there are two lovely calm beaches with sand and pebbles, where you can enjoy swimming or have a picnic under the cool shade of trees. Alternatively, you can enjoy a homemade meal at the islet’s only taverna.
Achillion Palace. A little further from Corfu Old Town (around 10 kilometers), Achillion Palace stands atop a hill overlooking the south coast of Corfu. Built in the late 19th century, it served as the summer residence of Austrian empress Elizabeth or Sissi, as she is best known, who designed the palace with the mythical hero Achilles, as its central theme, thus its name. The neoclassical palace features Sissi’s mementoes, furniture and paintings from that era, grand staircases and beautiful frescoes. Don’t miss the colorful garden and romantic terraces, where you can admire 19th century statues, the most dramatic of which is the statue of Dying Achilles by the German sculptor Ernst Herter.