Growing up in Europe, mid-summer getaways to the Mediterranean are etched into my memory. For Brits who need to get Vitamin D after eight months of winter rain and blanket clouds, plus a summer that is largely a heartbreaking letdown, those escapes are cherished. If you’re travelling far from South Africa, with multiple flight stops and juggling a fickle rand, they’re equally (if not more) prized.
These days, many of Europe’s islands feel even more accessible by air or ferry, but also less accessible due to bulging crowds or soaring prices. Both Mykonos and Santorini are beautiful and hum with energy and cool, but they’re packed, commercial, and it’s ‘a scene’ in order to be seen. That’s not for everyone. Others want to dive into some understatement, deep rest and soak up some ancient Greek historical storytelling.
The history of Northern Corfu, or “Kerkyra” as locals call it, serves as a captivating prologue to its current allure. Steeped in ancient tales and invasions, the shores here have borne witness to the footsteps of Romans, Venetians, the French, and the British, each leaving whispers of their presence on the landscapes and palaces. Corfu Town, the arrival point on the island, is a showcase of that history. Even driving through the fortified port, the oldest stone pediment in Greece, leaves an impression.
Fast forward to the present day, and you’ll observe a renaissance of sorts. The north-east side of Corfu, stretching up to the enchanting town of Kassiopi, has transformed into a modern-day traveller’s paradise. While it still cradles the echoes of Odysseus’ mythical adventures and tales of ancient gods, today’s Corfu beckons luxury seekers with its pristine beaches, lavish villas, and unparalleled culinary scene.
Moving from the annals of history to the pages of travelogues, today’s Kerkyra serves as a testament to luxury travel’s evolution. The beaches here aren’t just stretches of golden sand; they’re gateways to shoreline bars and restaurants that have become the hallmark of the island. Rather than tackle the precarious winding roads, families and couples can be seen hopping from bay to bay, cruising the coastline on speedboats, weaving through the Ionian blues, and guessing the owner of the quiet private sanctuaries perched on the cliffs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, George Clooney, and even British royalty have found solace in its tranquillity. Madonna’s retreat stands as a testament to the region’s celebrity allure. Her lavish estate, nestled amidst the verdant landscapes and overlooking the azure waters, captures the essence of modern Eurolux. The iconic pop star’s choice of island is telling not only of its magnetic charm but also of its ability to conserve the privacy of the rich and famous.
For accommodation, the best on the island would be Ikos Dassia of the famed Ikos Resorts brand, standing as a beacon of luxury and sophistication. 25 acres studded with pristine pools, terraced restaurants, and some beautifully modern rooms and suites, adding in Michelin-starred chefs from every corner of the world, paired with over 300 premium wines and signature cocktails; this is a differentiator for a Greek hotel.
If you’re looking for something less prescriptive and contoured, you may opt for a more authentic cliffside or coastline villa. For that, take a look at Olive Villa Rentals. If booking privately, try Cecilia Estate or PaleoPetres, both of which I have communicated with, and the owners are offering that sublime essence of Greece and sophistication entwined. The winding roads of north-east Corfu are both enchanting and treacherous. Carving through the lush landscapes, they snake their way along steep cliffs and dense olive groves, offering breathtaking views at every turn. However, this beauty comes with caution. Moped riders, lured by the scenic routes, often find the narrow, serpentine roads challenging. Cars, while offering more stability, aren’t immune to the road’s demands either. Sharp turns require deft handling, and the occasional oncoming traffic, including trucks transporting goods, can test even the most experienced driver. Caution remains paramount.
My best suggestion would be to hire a boat. The coastline, punctuated by hidden coves and untouched beaches, is best navigated by sea. As you cruise, the freedom to dip into secluded bays allows for spontaneous snorkelling. An onboard picnic or a stop at a private cove or taverna promises the freshest seafood caught just hours before. As the day wanes, drop anchor and enjoy sundowners. Shade and sunscreen are, of course, a necessity after a day in the reflective shimmer and powerful sun.
Corfu is large, which is why this article focuses on one sliver of the island, but, in my view, here lie the treasures. Beaches like the quiet, stylish nest of Agni, the cozy cove of Nissaki, the long pulsing stretch of Barbati, or the secret dock at Glyfa, don’t just offer a place to lounge; they offer moments of introspection, where the rhythms of the waves match the heartbeat of tales as old as time. Some will host super yachts 100 metres offshore, while others will fly under the radar.
Kassiopi, at the crown of Corfu, weaves a mosaic of culture and leisure. The town’s cobbled shopping streets resonate with a harmonious blend of the past and present. As footsteps echo off centuries-old stones, visitors wander into boutique shops offering local handicrafts, aromatic oils, and vibrant textiles. Adjacently, the open market square comes alive with waiters serving mezze, a symphony of chatter, and clinking glasses.
Paleokastritsa, often referred to as the jewel of Corfu, is a testament to nature’s grandeur and Greece’s rich tapestry of history. Its name, translating to “old fortress,” hints at the Byzantine castle ruins perched above, watching over the six crystal-clear indents below. But while its scenic landscapes and historic ruins are undeniably captivating, it’s the vibrant local culture and hidden gems that truly set Paleokastritsa apart.
Just a stone’s throw away, carved into the rugged cliff face, lies a beach bar, La Grotto, that has become an Instagram paradise. More than just a place to idle, this stop is a theatre of exhilarating human feats. With heart-stopping grace, locals ascend the craggy rock faces by hand (unaided by ropes), finding their perch before diving into the deep blue below. It’s a dance of courage and freedom. The bar, with its rustic charm and panoramic views, throbs with club hits; Dua Lipa and Elton John duet, guests are bobbing, sipping, and enjoying nature’s show, with a dash of human spectacle for good measure. My daughter leaps off the diving board into crystal-clear water. It’s a sublime moment in time, a memory to preserve; as a traveler, it’s bliss to unearth these treasures. Long may it last.