Mark’s Note: I originally published this post on a travel-related blog. Reading it again tapped into a well of half-forgotten sense memories: the glint of golden sunlight on the waters of the bay; the sharp, citrusy flavor of the local kumquat liquor; the salt-water aroma and bubbling pots of the kitchen at Barbas.
I seem to have fallen in love with Corfu, one of the Greek islands Americans hear very little about.
Mention Greek islands, and people squeal about the blue and white domes of Santorini or the rural charm of Mykonos. And those are lovely destinations (particularly Santorini, where I would happily spend another week or two running around with Feel Santorini, a joint project run by two of the world’s very best tour guides).
But there’s just something about Corfu: the walkable Old City, the exquisite beaches, the picturesque vistas, the vibrant dining scene, the off-the-beaten-path boutique shops. I can’t get enough.
This was our second visit to Corfu. Back in 2016, we spent a day in port very happily getting lost in the Old City: wandering the streets, stumbling on pastry shops, sampling (and then avoiding all further samples of) the local kumquat liquor and eating ourselves into a state of bliss over a vegetarian pasta at Aegli. We had only eight hours or so in port, and we spent every possible minute of that time soaking up local color (and second and third helpings of that veggie spaghetti).
On this visit, I wanted to see more than we had managed on our own, so we hired Konstantinos, who runs a private taxi tour of the island. (Contact Konstantinos at email@example.com.) For a few Euro an hour, Konstantinos is at your service. He is in no hurry. He projects an air of calm expertise. He is easy on the eyes and a magnet for the ladies. He exudes a joie de vivre that few people possess, and I am convinced that few people relish island life in quite the way Konstantinos does.
If you have picked out destinations, Konstantinos whisks you there in a Mercedes that is as dark blue as the Mediterranean Sea itself. If you have only preferences (some history, some shopping, some local seafood), he will shuttle you efficiently to the very best places to indulge. And if you have no itinerary in mind at all, he will come up with one — and fill you in on all the history, trivia, and backstory you care to hear. If you are headed to Corfu, stop reading this — right now — and book Konstantinos as your guide before someone else does.
This time around, we wanted some time in the Old City, but we also wanted to discover more of what Corfu has to offer. I shared a wish list with Konstantinos before we arrived, and when he picked us up at the port, he had everything perfectly organized. We started by taking in a series of island views, like this one, from a narrow mountain road no Holland America excursion bus could ever navigate:
And this one, high above the tiny Vlacherna monastery (founded centuries ago, with the current chapel built in 1685) — all but lost in the brilliant blue bay:
From a copy of the excellent Tom’s Port Guides on Corfu, I learned about two must-see shopping opportunities: the Corfu Ceramics and Pottery Workshop and an olive wood workshop right next door. Corfu Ceramics is an active workshop selling handmade, handpainted pottery decorated with island themes … and, importantly, beautiful works of varying sizes that will fit into any shopper’s budget. (We picked up a beautiful green fruit bowl decorated with images of bright yellow lemons.)
Next door, I dare you to leave the olive wood workshop without snagging at least a set of salad tongs. (We picked up a small cutting board, too.) Be careful, though; the owner has a bawdy sense of humor, and some of the hand-carved work on display here has naughty bits (including a set of salad tongs adorned with, of all things, human genitalia). Prices are remarkably reasonable, so this is the place to stock up on light, easily-packable gifts for family and friends.
Around noon, Konstantinos turned us loose at Achellieon Palace, where everyone is eager to tell you about the filming of For Your Eyes Only. (Guides keep mentioning the thrill of meeting Roger Moore; millennial guests keep asking, “Who’s Roger Moore?”) The palace itself, having survived a conversion into a casino and then a museum, is interesting to walk through, but the lush gardens surrounding the site are the real draw here:
You know how we ended the day, right? Fine dining, of course! I was determined to head back to Aegli, but Konstantinos persuaded me to give Barbas (loosely translated: “My Uncle’s Place”) a try.
When I ordered the catch of the day, the server invited me back into the tiny kitchen to pick out my lunch from any of the several freshly-caught fish lounging on a bed of sparkling ice. Minutes later, before we could finish our first glass of local beer, our Greek salads (with local cheese and extra virgin olive oil), meaty sardines, vegetable platters, and filleted grilled fish arrived. Flaky! Buttery! Light! Perfection!
When we decided to leave, our host brought us free slices of lemon cake and some limoncello. Did we stick around for that? Of course we did. And so — as a result — we had less time than planned to stroll the Old City on our own.
And you know what that means: Corfu, we’ll be back!
(I asked about Christmas here. It’s quieter than summer, but the best restaurants are open — and accessible, since crowds are small — and Konstantinos tells me the winding little streets of Old Town are prettier than ever when lit for the holidays. Ideas, ideas…)