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Immortalised in books by Gerald and Lawrence Durrell, most famously in My Family and Other Animals by naturalist Gerald, Lawrence described Corfu as a “brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian Sea.” Although somewhat larger than Lawrence’s observation, and being the second biggest island in the Ionian Sea, Corfu (or Kérkyra in Greek) measures a scant 65 km from tip to tail.
Corfu is greener than most Greek islands, densely wooded with olive groves and citrus plantations, and dotted with cypresses jutting up proudly. This lush vegetation is thanks to sporadic heavy rains from September to May, making it the wettest place in Greece. It is also very mountainous; inland roads zigzag up to remote villages tucked away in steep ravines, whilst the land descends steeply to the shore, producing precipitous cliffs.
One of the best ways to see the island is by taking a boat trip along the coast, cooling off with a dip in the aquamarine sea and stopping for lunch of grilled sardines at a taverna. Holidays don’t get more relaxing than these.
Corfu is one of the most popular islands in Greece, but although it has its fair share of tourist-packed resorts, these are confined to a few areas, such as Kavos in the south and Ipsos in the east, leaving plenty of wild spaces to explore, virtually as unspoilt as they were in the Durrell brothers’ time. Head to the rocky coast in the northeast, broken up by bays of pebble beaches and easy-going villages such as Agni, famed for its great food. Also here is Lawrence Durrell’s former house in Kalami Bay. From the northeast are superb views over to mainland Albania, only a few miles away and easily visited in a day on a boat trip.
Although influenced by French and British occupation (it was a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864), the Venetians, who ruled it for nearly 400 years, left the greatest architectural legacy. In recognition of its wealth of historical buildings, the old part of Corfu Town, with its Venetian architecture of arches, multi-storied houses and tiled roofs, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. On the Spianáda, a lawned square lined with the arched colonnade of the French-designed Liston building, you can watch cricket, a sport introduced under British rule. Away from the tourist-thronged areas, lose yourself in the narrow cobbled alleyways in Campielo district, with washing fluttering gaily overhead, strung from shuttered windows.