In August 2018 we have some holidays and decide to go to Greece and start our tour at Corfu Island.
We land in Athens and take the highway to Igoumenitsa, about 500 km northwest of Athens and close to the Albanian border.
Here we take one of the ferryboats to Corfu Island. Once we arrive in our hotel in Pontikonissi we are tired but happy and curious about what we are going to discover in the next couple of days since Corfu is quite famous and a huge island as well.
The name Corfu has its roots in the ancient name of Kerkyra which was the name of a nymph ,the daughter of the river- god Asopsos .
It was Poseidon , the God of the Sea , who fell in love with Kerkyra .
They met on this island and she was giving birth to her kids over here ( the Phaeacians ).
On the other hand Corfu was also known as being a very strategic island at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea for Europe to burst against the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th century and the island was a strong protecting wall with its Venetian fortresses against the attacks of the Ottomans. Later Corfu was also part of the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1864 under the unification of modern Greece it became together with the United States of the Ionian Islands a part of Greece.
In 2007 the old Town of Corfu became UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE.
The old town actually dates back to the 8th century BC and it is a world heritage today due to its unique value of ensemble of its old port , its old Venetian fortresses and its ancient town.
The old towns arrangement of today is from the 19th and 20th century .
When we visit the old town , we stroll around the old stores , walking on the white cobble stone streets – all the names of the stores and their products are written in Greek letters – lots of little old shops , little cafes where you can get your great Greek Café Freddos , Frappes or Greeks or some ice cold beers or soft drinks as it is really hot.
Partly you have the feeling that you are back in time as you can easily imagine how all looked like in former times .Unbelievable that all could be reserved as it is when you imagine all the modern huge malls and all the technology in the World nowadays .
The little shops are selling souvenirs , natural sponges , Greek liqueur made of Kumquat or Lemon , sweets or some delicious olive oil or olive oil products such as soaps or cremes .
If you want to eat some lunch or some dinner you can enjoy the Greek Souvlakis , Gyros or the very delicious meze .
We also pass by a great bakery which is selling some home made sweets – my goodness – Baklava in different variations – with some lemon crème or some chocolate inside and very thin home made dough .
We cant resist and buy some of the little delicious things to taste – they are marvelous !
What you can also find in all the bakeries and which is also very delicious and local is the Bureki ,a fine pastry with spinach and cheese .
Even in the late afternoon when the temperature is going a little bit down , it is still very hot – this is why the people here have some “Siesta ” during daytime .
The city is still slow and sleepy due to the heat -the dogs are lying on the cold cobblestone streets in the shadows under the trees to cool down a little bit and the locals find some windy place to have a cold coffee and some good chat and play some backgammon .
While we stroll around in the streets we also pass by the Saint Spyridon Church where the relics of Saint Spyridon are presented.
Spyridon was a bishop living in the 3rd century and also participating in the 3rd Council.
Lots of local and international people are visiting this church to honor the mummy and the relics of Saint Spyridon and praying and placing their wishes by burning a candle in front of the Church .
People believe that he is the Saint of the Island , protecting Corfu Island from dangerous diseases , from enemy attacks and any other evil since very long centuries.
Corfu Island is somehow wild and also very beautiful at the same time in this wilderness .
In the nature everywhere you see wild olive trees , fig trees , lemon trees and grapes and wild flowers but once you come along the beautiful little villages especially in the mountain ranges and natural beaches all looks very picturesque and natural and gives the island a unique appearance and character .
Somehow Corfu reminds me of Sicily and also Cyprus .
During our stay we also visit the different natural beaches on the island – Glyfada Beach with its golden sandy beach is marvelous. The water is clear , the sand is fine , the bay is nice and beautiful nice people are around – lots of locals from the mainland and tourists- it is a very pleasant atmosphere.
Palaiokastritsa is beautiful with its stony beaches, the bay and the beautiful blue and turquoise waters. All the people here just got their colorful sun umbrellas, their bath towel and very easily just lie down on the beach , very casual – just like in the old days when you did not have all the beach bars with the sun beds and drinks etc .
We go for a swim outside the bay with our rented boat – the water is so soft and so fresh . You don’t want to get out of the water .
Later on we just have some small dishes – the fried calamari is a dream .We just sit at the beachside and watch the boats and the people having fun – it is so relaxing – nice !
The nice Barbati beach is at the edge of the mountains in the north – also a very casual and natural beach along the road .
Agios Gordios is also one of the famous and very picturesque ones located behind the rocks and the vegetation .
All beaches are somehow hidden behind the mountains or behind some villages and you cant imagine the beauty of those unless you have seen them – maybe this is also the reason why this island is somehow full of secrets and full of the unknown . I don’t know how often we got lost in the mountains and you never knew what is around the next corner or bend and you discover another beauty.
This also applies to the Achilleon on Corfu Island , bulit in 1889 – 1891 , which is located at the southern part of the island ,also hidden in the forests of its property ( about 80 hectars of land ).
You cant see the Achilleon from the road but you need to drive up to the palace complex . Actually Achilleon was the summer palace of Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Queen of Hungary, also known as “Sissi” – on the one hand it is said that she build up this palace in order to protect her weak health , on the other side it is said that this was the place for her to escape from the royal rules at the palace in Vienna.
( See also my blog on Vienna -where you can get some info on the Sisi Museum in Vienna )
The summer palace is nicely decorated with lots of sculptures of the Greek Mythology and has a huge garden with a beautiful view to the sea.
Inside the building the walls are fully painted and decorated with sculptures again – it looks very rich and fine.
Elisabeth’s favorite figure in the Greek Mythology was Achilles whom she was admiring.This is why the figure of Achilles is dominating the palace and why Empress Elisabeth called the palace ” the Achilleion “- there is one huge oil painting in the staircase depicting the victory of Achilles in his fight against Hector.
In the garden there is the most important sculpture of ” Dying Achilles ” where Achilles tries to pull out the deadly arrow out of his heel.
It seems that Elisabeth somehow felt close to the destiny and the figure of Achilles since he was a half god but injured and died dramatically.
After Elisabeth’s death, the palace was sold to the German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II.
In WW I and WW II the palace was used as a strategic location for the military and also as a military hospital.
In 1962 the palace was sold to a private company and used as a casino ,while in 1983 the palace came under the rule of the Greek Tourism Organization. In 1994 after it was restored the European Union Summit was held at this place – since then the Achilleon is used as a museum and for special events .
If you have the opportunity in Corfu, also go to Pontikonissi to have a closer look at the airport as it is a very special place since you have the chance to watch the planes landing from a very close distance.
When you stand or sit on the pier you can watch the fishermen catching their crabs and their fishes especially in the evening and on the other side you are standing just few meters from the landing line of the airports so that you look face to face to the landing planes and they just pass over your head maybe just 100 m above you . In case you have a big plane passing by , the power of the plane is even blowing you away – it is a unique experience that you should not miss out .
We needed around four full days to stroll around on the island . The drive with the ferryboat back and forth to the island was also very pleasant since we had a great ferry and enjoyed the trip . We leave Corfu behind knowing that there is still so much to explore on the island – maybe another time when we will come back again.