Due to its venerated Venetian history, at first sight Corfu, or Kerkyra, might appear to be an Italian island. In fact, Corfu Town is home to two commanding Venetian fortresses. However, despite years of Venetian rule, as well as French and British, cosmopolitan Corfu is proudly Greek, yet still home to a wealth of Venetian architecture in the extraordinarily preserved Old Town of Corfu, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Competing with all these Venetian structures is the much-older Greek Temple of Artemis, built around 580 BC, which was adorned with an imposing sculpture of Medusa.
Today, people from all over still come to Corfu, making it one of the country’s most-visited islands. This lush Ionian Island is world-renowned for its rugged mountains and beaches, some of the most beautiful of the latter being Paleokastritsa, Agios Gordios, and Barbati Beach. Corfu, aka the “Emerald Island of Greece,” is also one of Greece’s greenest islands, and is teeming with vegetation, wild flowers, and millions of olive trees, some of them quite ancient. For example, one olive tree on Corfu, known as “Evdokia,” is estimated to be between 1,086 to 1,200 years old. Due to its abundance of olive trees and their importance to the island, visitors can explore the groves and take olive oil tours.
Corfu is also dotted with magnificent monasteries and churches. Must-see monasteries include Paleokastritsa and iconic Vlacherna, which is picturesquely placed on an islet connected to the mainland by a narrow jetty. Lying in front of Vlacherna on another islet, Pontikonisi, is the Byzantine chapel of Pantokrator. According to myth the islet is the ship of Ulysses that was turned into stone by Poseidon in “The Odyssey.”
What To Do
Take an olive oil tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at the production process. With an estimated 4 million olive trees on Corfu, there are no shortage of mills that welcome visitors for tastings, tours, and workshops. You can also visit the Olive Oil Museum at Mavroudis Olive Oil.
Take an enchanting stroll along the Esplanade with the locals. The Esplanade, or Spianada, which lies between the Old Town of Corfu and the Old Fortress, is one of the largest squares in Europe. It is central to the social life of Corfu Town and is overflowing with cafés and Corfiots.
What To See
History buffs won’t want to miss the remains of the Temple of Artemis. It was not only the first Doric temple exclusively built with stone, but widely considered the first building incorporating all of the elements of the Doric architectural style. Some of the best preserved parts of the temple can be found at the Archaeological Museum of Corfu, including its pediment which features the Medusa and is one of the oldest surviving stone pediments of ancient Greek architecture.
Paleokastritsa is a Corfu trifecta: picturesque village, picture-postcard beach, and preserved monastery perched on a promontory with panoramic views. The beach is one of the most popular and photographed on Corfu, while the Byzantine monastery, dating back to 1225, is steeped in history, can be accessed from the beach, and has some of the most awe-inspiring views on the island.
And no trip to Corfu is complete without visiting the Old Fortress. Built by the Venetians in the 15th century, the Old Fortress, or Palaio Frourio, is separated from Corfu Town by a moat and is also home to the Church of St. George, which looks like a Greek temple but was actually built by the British in 1840 as a church.