“It is sweltering outside, let’s stay inside in the air conditioning”, “we won’t find anywhere to park”, “I’m not waiting in line for half an hour for an ice cream.”
Ok, our trip last year to Corfu in August did not consist only of ceaseless complaints, but it was not a few times that such sentiments escaped my lips. The truth is that summers on the island are hot and humid and the visitors are many – indeed this year there was a 10% increase in the number of arrivals compared to last year.
Yet, visiting Corfu Town in September, we were able to derive much more enjoyment out of all the experiences it has to offer. The period from the end of August to mid October is the best time to enjoy strolls, food and even the beaches as the weather still allows for swimming and sunbathing. Below are seven experiences that make a trip here in the autumn well worth your while.
1. Walking at Mon Repos
The autumn is ideal for a visit to Mon Repos, the 26 hectare estate by the sea a little outside of the main town. The palace inside the estate was built in 1831 by the British, and, following the unification of the Ionian islands with Greece in 1864, it was given to King George I. It was he who gave it the name that it is known by today: Mon Repos meaning “My Place of Rest”.
Following a legal battle with the exiled royal family of Greece in the 1970s, ownership of the property eventually passed to the municipality. Mon Repos is open daily from 8.00-20.00 and its lush garden is home to over 2,000 species of plants, flowers and age-old trees, the shade of which offers blissful respite from the heat of the summer.
If the weather allows, walk through the park to the beach of Kardaki which has a concrete pier directly under the shade of the trees; it’s a favorite spot among locals for a quick dip. Today the main building houses the Archaeological Museum of Paleopolis where you will see artifacts from the archaeological site of the same name (in the area known today as Kanoni).
Below Mon Repos and by the sea, the cafe Royals Baths (Theoroki Emmanouil, tel. (+30) 6944-464728) is a perfect stop for refreshments after a walk and a swim.
2. Plane Spotting in Kanoni
It’s the town’s most characteristic sound: almost every 10 minutes you will hear planes flying low as they either take off or come into land at Corfu International Airport which is located just outside the town. Until the end of October, dozens of flights a day connect the island with destinations across Europe.
Head to Kanoni, next to the church of Panaghia Vlacherna and across from the islet of Pontikonisi to enjoy a bit of plane spotting and photography. A very narrow 300 m breakwater known as Perasma connects Kanoni with the opposite shore and is located directly under the flightpath of the aircraft, making it the perfect spot to watch them coming into land on the runway located just 200 m behind you.
3. Stories from Garitsa
“The great Desyllas factory that processed, hemp, flax and jute to create fabrics dominated in the area of Garitsa which was an industrial zone from the end of the 19th to the mid 20th century. Aside from Desyllas, which shut in the 1980s, factories producing, tobacco, pasta, ceramics and leather goods, as well as salt flats and windmills operated here.
“The poor neighborhood, which was home to mainly workers and refugees of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, began to see land values rise with the development of tourism, and next to the low houses hotels and tavernas were built, mainly on the seafront along Dimokratias Avenue. But in the alleys away from the sea, you will still see small homes and narrow lanes.” So I am told by Katerina and Alekos, who have lived in the city for several years and come to Garitsa for afternoon strolls.
Start from Anemomylos heading towards the town, pass through the wooded expanse of Alsos Garitsas (Garitsa Grove), pass by the Douglas Column (the obelisk erected in honor of Howard Douglas, the British Lord High Commissioner the Ionian islands from 1835 until 1841) and head to Spianada. All along the way you will have a view of the Old Fortress and the bay in front of the city.
4.Evening in the alleys
The best time to walk along the old alleys (kantounia) is late, after 23.00. Then, when the crowds have dissipated, is when you will best be able to appreciate the atmosphere of the Old Town. It is also when most shops will have gathered their wares revealing the arches on Nikiforou Theoroki St., the old buildings on Lemonia Square and the details on the Venetian well in Kremasti Square.
5. Drinks and Music
Directly below New Fortress is where you’ll find the alternative nightlife scene in the Old Town. Climb the steps of Scholemvourgou Street and you will see a row of attractive bars playing good music each with their tables laid out along the successive levels.
The first is the beer-house Firi Firi (1st bystreet of Solomou tel. (+30) 26610-33953) with tasty mezes and a wide range of beers. Graal (31 Dionysiou Solomou, tel. (+30) 26610-41735) lends itself to late night discussions accompanied by the sounds of rock music, while the neighboring Jasmine (31 Dionysiou Solomou, Tel. (+30) 6943-103643) makes excellent cocktails.
Just further up is Tabernita Mexicana (see Where To Eat below) where you can enjoy one of their frozen margaritas. Right at the top and directly opposite from the wall of the fortress is the Polytechno (39 Scholemvourgou, tel. (+30) 26610-27794) which, aside from interesting musical nights, also hosts exhibitions, themed parties and live performances.
6. A Break for Coffee and Something Sweet
Around the Town Hall Square in the Old Town you will find a number of small, pretty establishments for coffee, street food or sweets. Pick up a freshly made sandwich at Panetteria (61 Vrachlioti tel. (+30) 26610-22654), sit for a coffee at Puppet (1 D. Kolla, tel. (+30) 26610-40707) – which also serves breakfast and has three cute rooms available for rent on the upper floors – or try stuffed loukoumades (Greek donuts) at Stazei Meli (60 Gilford, tel. (+30) 26613-00537).
7. A Journey Through Time
Four very interesting museums operate in the city. At the Serbian Museum of Corfu (1 Moustouxidou, tel. (+30) 6610-33960) you will see photographs, military equipment, uniforms and other artifacts that once belonged to the Serbian soldiers who sought refuge on the island during WWI.
The Banknote Museum (Iroon Kypriakou Agona Square, tel. (+30) 6610-41552) presents banknotes from throughout the history of the Greek state including those issued by Greece’s first prime minister, Ioannis Kapodistrias, as well as banknotes from other countries. Chinese porcelain,
Noh theater masks, traditional Japanese screens and other exotic items are on display at the Museum of Asian Art (Palaia Anaktora, tel. (+30) 26610-30443).
You will see reconstructions of the daily lives of the island’s elite during the 19th century at Casa Parlante (16 Nikiforou Theotoki, tel. (+30) 26610-49190). The neoclassical building has been furnished with antiques and other household items to recreate an interior typical of the aristocratic homes of that period, while animatronic figures re-enact typical activities.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT
1. The atmosphere of a Mexican hacienda, colorful cocktails and exceptional food all come together at Tabernita Mexicana (31 Solomou, New Fortress, Old Town, tel. (+30) 26610-42328). The Mexican restaurant is arranged over different levels, following the steps that lead to the New Fortress. Plants, flowers and colorful fabrics create an exotic atmosphere, while a bar operates at the entrance offering spicy margaritas, mojitos and other classic as well as innovative cocktails. They also serve beer with lime, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and chili, as well as a wide selection of tequilas. As for the food menu, the owners mean serious business. They have traveled to Mexico, sampled the flavors and studied techniques and ingredients. They make their own guacamole from fresh avocados and prepare the most well-known dishes of Mexican cuisine as they should be made: tacos, fajitas, burritos, enchiladas and more. Try the chicken mole with spicy peppers, salsa, spices and dark chocolate, as well as the chili con carne.
2. At Dora’s Tavernaki, which is located a little out of the center towards the port (42 Ethnikis Antistaseos, Emporiko, Port, tel. (+30) 26610-48999) it is unlikely that you will see many tourists. The menu changes depending on the fish available, but usually on offer are fagri (red porgy), tsipoura (gilt head bream), sardines, fresh anchovies and myriad other seafood, from tiny shrimp to grilled fresh cuttlefish and squid. The fried potatoes are hand cut and the taramosalata (fish roe dip) is handmade and extra tart. Bear in mind that the portions are large – ideal for groups.
3. The best carbonara I’ve ever tried was at La Famiglia, (Yp. Maniarizi & Pl. Arlioti, Old Town, tel. (+30) 26610-30270). This classic trattoria with checked table cloths and dim lighting operates in a small alley in the Old Town and serves pasta dishes, two or three Italian main courses, antipasti and salads. Also worth trying are the arrabbiata, the linguini with fresh mushrooms, the bruschetta and the handmade desserts.
4. The three most classic dishes of Corfiot cuisine are: pastitsada, sofrito, and bourdeto. The first is a casserole made with rooster or beef, macaroni and a red sauce flavored with spetseriko, a mix of about 12 different spices. Sofrito is beef or veal in a white sauce made with wine, flour, vinegar, plenty of garlic and parsley; while bourdeto is made with (usually) scorpionfish in a spicy red sauce. All three are made beautifully at two tavernas in the Old Town: Kokoria (18 Pargas tel. (+30) 26610-35002) and Chrysomallis, 6 Nikiforou Theotoki, tel. +30 26610-30342).
5. Noumboulo (a local type of smoked pork), tomatoes from small producers on the island and tuna from Paxi – these are just some of the local products from which chef Aristotelis Megoulas draws inspiration and uses to create delicious contemporary dishes, such as ravioli stuffed with rooster pastitsada, squid stuffed with rice and peas, and smoked tuna with capers and spring onions. His restaurant, Pomo D’Oro (11 Skaramanga Square, Old Town, tel. +30 26610-28680) is housed in a Venetian building on a quiet square in the Old Town.
Four Road Trips from Corfu Town
Weather allowing, the locals swim up until the end of October and a number of the beaches have waters warm enough to allow for swimming for a good while longer. With Corfu Town as your launching point, below are 4 itineraries for short excursions that include swimming, food and interesting sights.
1. The Kaiser’s Observatory got its name thanks to the habit of Kaiser Wilhelm II (the German emperor, owner of the Achilleon from 1907 and lover of Corfu) of heading up to this spot to relax and enjoy the view. Today most people come here to watch the sun set behind the hills and over the sea. Yet even more impressive than the sunset is the view towards the city and the coastline of Epirus. So rather than late in the afternoon, come here in the morning. After drinking in the view, drive past the nearby beach of Kontogialos – it gets quite busy with people who come for the beach bars even into September – and head to the next bay and the beach of Gialiskari, where the taverna of the same name serves seafood by the sea (tel. +30 6979-759148).
2. A trip to Palaiokastritsa is a must, either to the village’s sandy beach, or to one of the area’s rocky coves. A good place to dive into crystal waters from the rocks is the La Grotta Bar (tel. +30 26630-41006) before Palaiokastritsa, but note that the music is often quite loud. The beach of Rovinia (on the road towards Palaiokastritsa turn left for the village of Liapades and the beach) is gorgeous, with small pebbles and shade from the imposing rocks that flank the beach. It is not organized so make sure to take supplies and refreshments with you – also note that the final stretch is a dirt road although it is not too rough.
3. 32 km northeast of the city is the beach of Kerasia, with pebbles and a few trees. The waters are pristine and blue and across the sea you can see the Albanian coast. This small beach is not very well known, and preferred mainly by locals. On your return, make a stop at the village Aghios Markos. The ideal time to arrive is at 19.00 when the taverna Panorama opens (tel. +30 26610-93903). Grab one of the tables at the front and enjoy the view of the harbor and the town as the waiter brings you good grilled meats, salads made with produce from the owner’s garden, local feta and the local specialty: fried eggs in tomato sauce.
4. Built on the slopes of Mount Pantokrator, Corfu’s tallest mountain, Palia Peritheia is a village popular among tourists. But in the autumn, the crowds abate, as does the heat, making it an ideal time to walk through its alleys, to admire the Venetian homes, or even follow the paths leading out of the village, one of which leads up to the mountain’s summit (910 m). Since 1980 the village has been listed as a protected settlement by the Ministry of Culture for its architecture as well as for the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. Both of the village’s tavernas serve good food, and afterwards as you are heading down you certainly will not regret a stop at the ice cream shop, Ice Dream (Pelekito, tel. +30 26630-98200) which serves handmade gelato and sorbet in a wide range of flavors, as well as waffles.