Corfu is so rich in natural beauty that it’s little wonder everyone from the Venetians to the Byzantines have tried to claim it. Getting there is easy, thanks to the well-served airport, and there is every type of beach, from soft and sandy to hidden and rocky, making it the perfect destination for families or couples. There is so much to do in Corfu that you’ll need to pack more than just a bucket and spade: for adventure, explore the mountainous north, while the northeast is unbeatable for swimming and watersports. If you haven’t already, binge-watch the hit series The Durrells, which shows Corfu island in all its sumptuous glory, and will have you booking the first flight out.
1. Wander the Old Town
Few Greek settlements are as charming as Corfu’s Old Town, whose unique beauty and faded grandeur were recognised by Unesco in 2007 when it made it a world heritage site. Palaces and churches jostle for space in this buzzing and colourful capital. Don’t miss the 16th-century Church of Saint Spyridon, where the island’s patron saint lies in an opulent gold tomb, the air thick with incense. Book brilliant guide Nausica for a walking tour; little-known bakeries and spice shops will feature, prior to a denouement at a first-class taverna.
2. Paraglide over the interior
The buzzards and eagles that soar high up in the sky over Corfu enjoy the best views, but you can join them with a morning’s paragliding. No experience is needed to be taken up for a tandem flight with Angelos, who has been paragliding for 15 years and will meet you near Pelekas village on the west coast. Taking off from Glyfada beach, you will soon gasp in awe as the land and sea falls away, and you glide silently through the air seeing Corfu through the eyes of an eagle.
3. Unwind in Agni Bay
The northeast corner of Corfu is the least developed and is widely considered to be the most beautiful. Visitors will be spoilt for choice when it comes to rocky coves and small villages. Agni Bay has a small but beautiful beach, which is easily reached by boat from Kalami or by car, and has several good restaurants on the water, once the scene of an infamous meeting between George Osborne and Peter Mandelson. After a swim, head to Nikolas Taverna for a plate of calamari and stifado and, on Thursday nights, live traditional Greek music.
4. Hire a speedboat
Some parts of the unspoilt northeast coast can only be reached from the water, so hire a speedboat and explore it at your leisure. You do not need any experience, as no licence is required for boats up to 30hp and the friendly skippers at San Stefano boats will give you a tutorial before you set off. Starting at their depot at Agios Stefanos, head north and gawp at the Rothschild family’s secluded private estate, before stopping for a swim at the beaches of Vromolini, Akoli and Arias, which are accessible only by boat.
5. Visit the Paleokastritsa monastery
Monasteries are a recurrent feature of Greek island life, often positioned in the highest and remotest spots to keep monks far away from temptation. The 13th-century Paleokastritsa monastery is a fine example, built high on a crag jutting out of the west coast, enjoying sweeping views of the area. A beautiful 20-minute walk takes you from the car park to its bougainvillea-scented entrance, and there’s a small museum with a collection of 15th-century vestments, icons and prayer books. Make sure to cover up before entering if in holiday attire.
6. Hike up Mount Pantokrator
Not one for mid-summer, but if you’re visiting Corfu in spring or autumn, a walk up Mount Pantokrator offers some fantastic hiking, with far-reaching views and a café at the top. The mountain is located in the northeast and, at 906m tall, is the highest peak on Corfu. Start your stroll at Old Perithia, the island’s oldest village, whose inhabitants helped to build the monastery at the top. Alternatively you can always drive, making sure to keep your eyes on the winding road and not be distracted by the views towards Albania.
7. Swim the Channel of Love
On the far north coast of the island above the village of Sidari is one of the most charming natural geological features: a narrow sandy beach hewn between two walls of sandstone cliff. Arrive early to bag a spot on the tiny beach or up above on the soft sand-coloured rocks, and spend the day swimming and snorkeling along the caves on either side, in some of the clearest turquoise waters of Corfu. Nicknamed the Canal d’Amour, this spot — the legend goes — will bestow eternal love on any couple who swim here.
8. Explore Mouse Island
As you fly into Corfu, look out for the tiny island in the lagoon south of the runway. Diminutive Pontikonisi is nicknamed Mouse Island because of the white marble stairs snaking down to the sea from the monastery, which resemble a mouse’s tail. Odysseus’s ship was named Pontikonisi, the story going that when it crashed here it was turned into an island by Poseidon. Boats shuttle all year, but try to time your visit for the festival, which takes place annually on August 5 and 6.
9. Roam around Mon Repos
Prince Philip was born on the dining-room table of this 19th-century villa on the east coast and, until 1967, this pad was also the summer residence of the Greek Royal family. After falling into dereliction in the 1970s, it was restored and reopened as a museum in 2001, with permanent displays ranging in subjects from the British Rule in Corfu to the archaeological excavations at Palaiopolis. The dining table is no longer there (it belongs to a bank in London), but it’s still worth a visit, and there are plans to restore the gardens.
10. Wake up to yoga
Head to Dassia beach, half an hour north of Corfu town, for a sunrise session of yoga. Guided by local practitioners Eva and Sean, you will be taken through a series of hatha-flow moves suited to your level as the sun rises over the mountains of Albania’s Butrint National Park across the water. After the yoga session, everyone heads into the sea for a swim before adjourning to a nearby café for breakfast. Bring suitable clothing; yoga mats and breakfast included. Transport can be arranged at additional cost.
11. Follow in Lawrence Durrell’s footsteps
Venture to the small fishing village of Kalami Bay where you’ll find Lawrence Durrell’s whitewashed house, which is now a restaurant and serves excellent moussaka and stuffed vine leaves. The restaurant terrace is right on the water, where you can set yourself up with a copy of Prospero’s Cell, Durrell’s ode to Corfu; he describes the house being “set like a dice in a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water”.
12. Ride the rugged coast
Explore the island as Byron would have done — from the saddle of a horse. Horseback riding is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the natural landscape of this most beautiful and varied of Ionian islands. Dimitris Stables in the north offers a relaxing walk through the Erimitis nature reserve, with its greenery and coastline views, or more challenging tracks leading to the St Spyridon and Acharavi beaches. You can even end with a stirring gallop across the beach. Silvaland in the centre of the island also offers magical woodland treks.
13. Sail around Paxos
Just south of Corfu lie the idyllic islands of Paxos and Antipaxos, best seen from the deck of a sail boat. The journey takes only 75 minutes, and makes for the perfect day trip. Charter your own vessel with crew who can tailor the day, stopping for swims along the way, before mooring up for a long lunch in a seafront taverna in Gaios, the main town. Paxos is a small island, only seven miles long by three miles wide, so easily circumnavigated before a leisurely sunset cruise home.
14. Learn to waterski
Always dreamt of being able to waterski like the Aga Khan (or, at least, not fall over too often)? Then learn how to do it properly with some expert tutoring at Sakis Watersports, a family-run business based in Kalami on the north coast. Harris, Louise and their two sons have been patiently teaching the basics of waterskiing and waterboarding for years, and are more interested in getting results than making money. You will soon have the confidence to waterski with a smile and even manage a one-handed wave.
15. Savour the kumquat
The British botanist Sidney Merlin first brought kumquats from China to Corfu in 1924, since when they have thrived on the northwest coast. Meaning “golden orange” in Cantonese, these little fruits have become immersed into the Corfiot diet and are used to make everything from marmalade to soap to baklava and liqueurs. Now protected by the EU, they are grown mainly around the village of Nymfes. Visit a producer such as Mavromatis, who has been growing and harvesting kumquats since 1965, and now has a beautiful farm, factory and shop.
16. Walk among wildflowers
“They are so endless”, wrote Edward Lear of the wildflowers of Corfu during a visit in May 1856. Despite significant development since then, the flora and fauna of Corfu remain one of this Ionian island’s greatest attractions, especially in spring. John Waller, a local, has collated his best walks into a book, Walking the Corfu Trail, complete with maps so that you can follow his footsteps. Among ancient olive trees you will see orchids, irises, lilies, borage, honeysuckle and primroses. Head to the British cemetery to see 30 varieties of orchid alone.
17. Pay homage to Byron
The Achilleion Palace just south of Corfu town was built for the Austrian empress Elizabeth, in honour of the Greek hero Achilles. The poet Byron is so revered by the Greeks for his role fighting the Turks that a statue has been erected in his honour in the grounds. The Achilleion has a colourful past, being bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907 and becoming the venue for many diplomatic conferences. More recently it was a casino, and has even been graced by James Bond (it features in For Your Eyes Only).
18. Take up windsurfing
Learning to windsurf is usually a humiliating affair, involving hours of falling into the sea from either too little or too much wind. But below Lake Korission and the Issos Dunes on the southwest coast is a beach that could have been designed as a windsurfing school, where the water is shallow and a gentle constant breeze comes in from the northwest. Here you’ll find the Surf Centre Corfu, whose patient instructors will talk you through the basics, then offer plenty of encouragement until you’re up and whizzing off, the wind in your sail(s).
19. Visit the Museum of Asian Art
Nobody books a holiday in Corfu to be stuck inside, but there is one museum worth visiting. The Museum of Asian Art is housed in the Palace of St Michael and St George in Corfu Old Town and is the only one of its kind in Greece. Opened in 1927, it started with one private collection and has grown ever since to become a treasure trove of Asian art, tracing Greece’s connections with the Far East through fascinating examples of Chinese, Japanese and Indian art.
20. Cycle the island
Of all the Greek islands, Corfu has one of the most varied landscapes. This makes it ideal for exploring by bike, as there is a trail for every different level of fitness. Energetic types can grab a mountain bike and head for the mountain village of Episkepsi or Mount Pantokrator, while gentler rides can be found along the no-less-picturesque Lake Antinioti, which is perfect for families with children. Most relaxing of all is to pootle about the old town by electric bike, stopping regularly for an ice cream.
21. Go scuba diving
Gerald Durrell fell for the wildlife on Corfu, but there are whole worlds of fascinating creatures lurking all around its shores, too. Starfish, crayfish, bream and barracuda feature liberally in a scuba-diving expedition off Ipsos Bay, just north of Corfu town. Kosta and Pam have been running Waterhoppers diving centre since 1977 and have taken some 600,000 people underwater in the intervening years. Start with a gentle 35-minute, 8m-deep dive, before descending further into the teeming depths.