Corfu’s splendid capital city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a unique in spot in the Greek islands for its history and architecture. It was ruled over by the Venetians for four centuries, and their legacy is evident in its neoclassical old quarter in hues of rose and ochre, and in the island’s cuisine. This fortified medieval citadel has not one but three forts, which successfully defended the island from the Ottomans over the years. At various other points in history the Corinthians, Romans, Byzantine, French, and Russian also made an appearance on the island.
After six months in Athens, the sight and smell of a lawn (in the form of a cricket ground, the Spianada) had me overwhelmed with a longing for home. It was the only green grass I found during my time in Greece. The cricket ground is a leftover from British rule during the 19th century, when Corfu was part of a British protectorate known as the United States of the Ionian Islands. The Corfiots also inherited a taste for ginger beer which is now made locally. The islands were finally ceded to Greece in 1864.
If there’s something about wandering the old town and its tall green-shuttered buildings that remind you of Valletta, it’s because the British imported both stone and stonemasons over from Malta.
Of the three forts, the most spectacular is the Old Fortress, a fortified island that juts out in front of the old town. One of the most popular sights on the island, it grants impressive views over the city.
Just south of the main town (a 40 min+ walk, at least at my pace) is an area called Kanoni, the original site of the city and named after the canons that used to protect the lagoons. It’s now a prime viewing point for the planes which come in to land right overhead. There are a few bars here where you can drink a local Corfu beer whilst watching the planes and the sunset.
On the other side of the lagoon is Mouse Island and the photogenic church Panagia Vlacherna, which is accessible by a footpath. From here you can also see across the bay to Albania. There was something particularly mesmerising about the light, bringing to mind a Larry Durrell quote:
“You sit, as so many have done before you and as so many will do after you, watching the dusk fall, veil on magical veil, over the blue gulf which itself will soon be turned to lead and then to silver under the visiting moon.” – Lawrence Durrell, The Greek Islands (Corfu chapter)
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