Corfu smells like summer. I arrived on a Friday evening, just in time for the restaurants lining Ipsos Beach to start filling up. Ipsos was to be my home for the next few weeks. The waft of delicious food mingled with salty beach scents. I don’t know if you can smell a sunset, but if you can, that was in there too.
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Easter in Corfu
It wasn’t any old Friday when I got to Corfu. It was Good Friday, or ‘Big’ Friday in Greece. It was the Friday that kicked off the Easter Celebrations and I was in the right place for celebrating. I’d been told that if I was going to spend Easter in Greece, I really should experience the unique traditions on Corfu. So, when an email came in asking me if I wanted to visit the Island, well, there was really only one answer. I strapped on my backpack and off I went on another adventure.
With the summer fresh in my nostrils and the sun barely set, I stumbled on a candle-lit procession in the village near where I was staying. The somber affair was the start of the Easter celebrations. This was the ceremony that commemorated the death of Jesus. At the front of the parade, men carrying a decorated religious painting on their shoulders sang mournful dirges and a community shuffled along behind them with bowed heads and candles glowing.
The Smashing of the Pots
The next morning in the town centre was a completely different type of celebration. This was what I had come to Corfu to see. Every Easter Saturday, thousands gather in the main square as Corfiots living in the surrounding buildings throw clay pots from their balconies and smash them on the street below. It came from an old tradition of throwing away chipped crockery to be rid of what wasn’t wanted. It’s quite a typical Easter mindset of celebrating rebirth, new birth, fresh starts and making way for all things new. It seemed fitting as the first of my Island hopping adventures and the subject of the first post in my Guide to Greece blog series. It’s definitely the most fun spring cleaning I’ve ever known.
The pots started to fly. At first they were small, dropped from above and successfully smashed on the pavement. Most were painted red to symbolise victory over death, but when they were crushed and crumbled, they were just dusty terracotta. I got into it and chanted and cheered along, I even joined in the countdowns. Tria, dio, ena… smash!
As the pots got bigger and were filled with water, the watching crowd seemed to shrink away. A woman, who only now decided it wasn’t wise to have her children so close to ricocheting earthenware, dragged the children back into the crowd and pushed me forward. I threw the obligatory dirty look, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I was caught up in the atmosphere and pretty excited about the next pot to be thrown.
I watch it fall.
It’s slightly mis-aimed.
In fact, it’s aimed pretty close to where I’m standing…
Down, down, smash!
I feel it before I see it. My shin hurts like hell. It takes a few moments until I feel something sticky on my leg. There on the light blue denim is a dark stain. It’s spreading.
I made for the nearest side street once the festivities started to die down, but it seemed that half of Corfu had the same plan. The narrow streets were the only way to get away from the square and as people funneled into them, a crush started. Jostled and shoved in the crowds, it took a lifetime to get off the square and into a doorway where I could inspect the damage and patch up my leg.
Strangely, it didn’t ruin the day. Pot throwing in Corfu is still the most fun Easter tradition I’ve ever been part of. It even beats chocolate for breakfast. What’s a little lump of leg in the grand scheme of things? I’m pretty pleased to add this battle scar to my travel story.
Easter Traditions in Corfu
The celebrations were far from over. That night, all bandaged up, I joined in the night-time activities. I brought my labatha, the white candle used in the midnight ceremony celebrating the resurrection. The celebrants sang and prayed. At midnight, the flame from the celebrant’s candle was passed on to the candles of the crowd, who passed it to their neighbours until thousands of labatha glowed in the night. When the celebrant announced that Christ has risen, a magnificent fireworks display lit up the sky and the ceremony came to a climactic end.
I made my way back through terracotta dusted streets. You could spot the tourists easily. We were the ones who had blown out our candles for the homeward journey. It’s customary for Corfiots to keep the candles burning until they get home and to make a sign of the cross on their doors with the smoke. The candle then gets put on the table for a traditional midnight Easter feast.
As the crush funneled once more through narrow streets, flames flickered a little too close for comfort; open flames of candles that were often in the hands of tired children. Cars drove by carrying passengers who still held flaming candles. Back at the bus, people trying to clamber aboard needed a reminder from the conductor. The candles were finally blown out.
It was a great introduction to Corfu and a perfect start to my Island-hopping summer. I had gotten a taste of Greek tradition and I wanted more. I set about exploring the Island so I could bring you the best in this Guide to Corfu.
Rambling Ruth’s Guide to Corfu:
Corfu (Kerkyra) is a popular tourist destination and is one of the Ionian Islands off Greece’s West Coast. Its name in Greek, Kerkyra, comes from the name of the nymph Poseidon fell in love with. According to Greek Mythology, he took her to the Island and named if after her. Outside of Greece, the Island is known as Corfu which is derived from the word for ‘peak’ or ‘hilltop’ and refers to the two peaks of Corfu’s Old Fortress.
Holidays in Corfu
The Island is one of the most popular Greek Island destinations for visitors from Western Europe. There are direct flights from many European cities, in particular British cities. It’s well set up for package holidays and is a family friendly destination. Resorts, holiday villages and hotels around the Island are ideal for children. Saint Nicholas Beach Apartments in Dassia are a favourite for families, or a more budget friendly option that I’d recommend is Alessandro near Sidari.
Corfu is also one of the better Greek islands for independent travel and the Island has a lot of accommodation options for backpackers, solo travellers or couples doing it their own way. River Studios in Paleokastritsa offers the best balance of value, location and comfort that I came across in Corfu.
Transport to and around Corfu
You can fly to Corfu very easily or take a ferry from Igoumenitsa in the North West of the Greek mainland to Corfu Town. Ferries are very regular and there are a number of operators servicing the route. Buses run regularly from Athens and Thessaloniki but if you’ve already read my Essential Guide to Greece, you’ll know that getting around can be a bit of a nightmare. If you’re taking any kind of an unconventional route and/or relying on public transport, make sure to check out timetables in advance and give yourself lots of time. Things don’t always run smoothly in Greece and transport workers go on strike a lot! It’s best to be flexible. Everything in Greece happens on ‘Greek Time’ so just go with the flow.
Getting around the Island by public transport can be tricky, depending on where you want to go. There are some great bus routes. I was staying in Ipsos so I was able to get a bus every 20 or 30 minutes that went to Corfu town and came back up to 10.30 or so at night. This was the best bus service on the Island, though, and the moment you try to go to somewhere a bit more remote, things begin to get complicated. Of all the Ionian Islands, Corfu does have the best bus service, but if you want to explore, I’d recommend renting a car, even just for a day or two of your trip.
Value for Money
Prices in Corfu are good. If you’re used to paying Western European or US prices, you’ll be delighted with how far you can stretch your euros. Coffee is expensive, but that goes for most of Greece. For almost everything else, the prices in Corfu are lower than many of the other islands. Which means you can have a holiday with plenty of frills for no or low frills cost. That’s part of what makes Corfu such a popular draw.
Where to go in Corfu
Corfu Town is the heartbeat of the Island and its commercial center. It’s a port town with regular ferries to and from Igoumenitsa on the mainland. In 2007 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site so while it means that residents have to abide by strict rules, it also means that the town will keep all of the charm that makes it so special. Which is important, because there’s a whole lot of history in Corfu.
I’m a sucker for a good fortress (which I know I keep banging on about). Corfu town has two!! In Greek, a fortress is referred to as an acropolis (‘acro’ meaning ‘high’ and ‘polis’ meaning city), probably best exemplified with the world famous acropolis of Athens. Corfu, however, has an old and a new fortress. The two fortresses ensured that Corfu was protected against Ottoman invasion and so the influences in the town are very clearly from the venetian period. If you stroll through the town, you’d be forgiven for believing you were in Venice. The centre is mostly pedestrianised but it’s reasonably compact so getting lost is unlikely. Walk around enough and you’ll find somewhere you recognise. There’s something interesting on every corner, so you won’t get bored.
Don’t walk through the town on your own though. Take a tour with Corfu Walking Tours and you’ll discover not only a wealth of history about Corfu, but you’ll pick up a few nuggets about where to explore, local traditions and what to eat while you’re in Corfu. The company also run a dedicated food tour which highlights all the ‘must visit’ places for foodies. I took the Historical tour with Ariti, the nicest tour guide you could hope to meet and it was one of the highlights of the trip.
While you’re in the town, be sure to visit Spianada (main square) in front of the old fortress and enjoy a coffee in one of the coffee shops on Liston. Visit the Jewish quarter and learn about the Island’s World War II history. Pop into Sweet ‘n Spicy to try some of Cathy’s amazing seasonings while you’re there. Foodies will also enjoy the outdoor market with vegetables so fresh they could still be in the ground. Agios Spyridon church should also be on your list of places to visit to get a feel for Corfiot devotion to their Patron Saint (Agios meaning Saint). It goes without saying that you need to visit both the old and new fortresses for the best views of Corfu.
Ipsos and Dassia
Ipsos is a popular resort about 15km north of Corfu Town. In high season (June-August), Ipsos turns into party central and there are bars and clubs lining the beach. Because I visited in off season, it was pretty quiet and most of the businesses were still making their preparations before opening up for the summer.
Nearby Dasia is also a tourist hotspot with seafront resorts, restaurants and bars. It’s close enough to Ipsos that you can walk between the two. The number 7 bus serves both resorts and it goes to and from Corfu town.
Both Ipsos and Dasia offer a selection of watersports, boat tours and car rental so there are plenty activities if you want a day away from relaxing on the beach or partying the night away.
Kassiopi is a gorgeous resort in the north of Corfu. It boasts the ruins of a medieval castle, so obviously it featured on my list of must-see places. It didn’t disappoint. If you’re a sun-seeker on the hunt for nice beaches, there are plenty of options nearby and ornithologists will want to visit Antiotis lagoon which is the home to almost 100 bird species. Lawrence Durrell once called the area home and there’s a lot of excitement about the ITV series ‘The Durrell’s’ which is filmed on the island.
This was one of my highlights. I hadn’t expected much from Kanoni, thinking of it as just another tourist destination to visit, but I ended up spending most of the day here, drinking a few Greek beers and watching the planes taking off and landing over one of the most beautiful sights of Corfu, Vlacherna Monastery. It’s not far from Corfu Town and there is a regular Bus service with the No. 2 bus. If, however, you want to take in a few more of the sights around the town outside of the pedestrian area, Corfu City Tours’ open deck bus tour is a great way to take in sights covering a pretty wide area while learning even more about the island and its history.
Paleokastritsa is a small, picturesque resort which is perfect for a relaxing beach holiday. It’s very popular and has lots of activities from boat trips and scuba diving to hill-walking. The nearby monastery of Panagia Paleokastritsa is a really nice walk and houses a museum about the monastery, but bring water as it’s on a hilltop and might be a challenging climb if you visit in summer. The views are worth it.
I wanted to climb it. Really I did, but I had to admit that the 911m summit was just too ambitious for my new found interest in hiking. As it turned out, I was beginning to learn that my new found interest was quickly becoming a thing of the past. I appeased my conscience with a moderate walk in the foothills and explored some of the peaceful landscapes and quiet villages.
For the more adventurous, there are options not only to climb to the top of Corfu’s highest peak, but to take part in lots of activities from mountain biking to off-roading. Or you can simply drive up to Pantokrator Monastery to take in some beautiful views.
More interesting than what you’ll find at the top of Mount Pantokrator is what you’ll discover on the way up. The preserved village of Palaia Peritheia is an absolute gem. It’s a model for venetian architecture and still has about 100 houses and 8 churches. It’s also a perfect place to start your climb on Pantokrator, or, like me, enjoy a bit of a walk before settling in to one of the lovely little tavernas to enjoy that fabulous Greek hospitality.
There are, of course, many other places on Corfu that you can visit. The beachside towns of Sidari in the North and Lefkimmi in the South are also popular tourist destinations and the island is dotted with hotels and resorts all along its coastline. A car is a must for more off-the-beaten-track locations.
Eating and Drinking in Corfu
Corfu does food really well. Every town and village has a multitude of traditional tavernas, bars, restaurants and fast food outlets. Make sure to try out Souvlaki or Gyros. They’re Greek fast food and available everywhere. Gyros are like kebabs and are made of shaved chicken or pork in a pita with salad and sauces. Souvlaki are skewered pieces of chicken or pork that can be served like a gyro in a pita. They’re delicious.
If you’re not feeling the taverna love, Corfu town has a lot of variety when it comes to restaurants. You could try out Old Times Café Bar Bistro which offers a range of creative dishes made from wholesome local products. They also have really good coffee that will keep you coming back.
For something really special, you need to go to Salto Wine Bar Bistro. I was absolutely swept away by everything about the restaurant, from its perfectly presented leather menus to the incredible food. I ordered dishes I normally wouldn’t choose from a menu because I was determined to try new things. I was glad I did. Who knew caramelised figs could be so good? And the prices are beyond reasonable. It’s a downright steal. So if you’re looking to impress, this is a trick you can’t miss.
If you read my Essential Guide to Greece and wanted to know more about the glass of wine that made me want to fall into the glass and live out my days as a wine nymph – this was it, at Salto Wine Bar. Unfamiliar with Greek wines (and not overly impressed with the ones I had tried), I asked my server Efi for a recommendation. Let’s just say that Efi has good taste. And do you think for a moment that I remember the name of that wine?… It’s probably for the best really. Another glass or two and I might have really believed I was a nymph!
If you’re looking to go drinking in Corfu, then you’ve visited the right place. There are bars everywhere and the island thrives on a vibrant nightlife. I liked the Bristol Bar in Corfu Town or if you’re thinking of a few cocktails and a relaxed vibe, then nearby Piccolo might float your boat. In Ipsos, Olea Cocktail Bar is a great place to get in the party spirit.
Activities in Corfu
There is such a huge range of activities available on the island that you will have no problem finding things to suit you. For outdoors types there are all kinds of watersports, sailing, boat trips and rental, mountain biking and hiking. I’d recommend the Corfu Walking Trail to anyone who likes countryside walking. This route stretches 220km so you’ll definitely have plenty of it to discover.
If you’re going on a family holiday, then the kids will probably want to visit Aqualand. It’s got activities for all age groups and even stuff for Mum and Dad. It’s a little bit on the pricey side, but then it’s absolutely huge so you get a lot for your money. And there’s a bar, so it’s win-win! Just remember, somebody’s going to have to do the driving.
Rambling Ruth’s ‘Likely to’ Guide to Corfu
Likely to see in Corfu: The view from the Old Fortress. Climb up to the lighthouse and hang out for a while. Definitely a highlight.
Likely to do in Corfu: Swimming and Watersports. The beaches are heavenly so make the most of them
Likely to hear in Corfu: English Accents and Marching Bands. It sounds like a strange combination, but the English accents can be heard everywhere due to the high volume of UK visitors. With direct flights and low prices from UK cities, it makes sense for people to holiday on Corfu. The marching bands are a different story. Corfiot children are nearly all actively involved in musical activities and this often takes the form of a marching band. At Easter, every village and every street seems to have a marching band on it. It livens up the entire island.
Likely to taste in Corfu: Really great food, but make sure to get in Souvlaki or a Gyro.
Likely to discover in Corfu: An awesome watering hole. There are lively bars on every corner. Don’t be shy, try them out.
Mosquitos and Other Creepy/Crawly info
Mosquito Bite Count: 9 (all to the face) 🙁
Don’t forget to stock up on important supplies to keep that count down! I love these:
Corfu is definitely the pick of the Greek Islands if budget is your main priority. Your euros stretch pretty far and there are really good deals to be had.
I’d recommend Corfu for families because resorts offer everything you might need and plenty of family friendly activities. I’d also recommend it for groups of friends travelling together. Corfu Town or Ipsos have a great social scene, a killer night life and all the day-after gyros you can shake a stick at.
As usual, I love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or get in touch.