Travelling Article - Corfu- Greece's Emerald Isle

This month Travelling Actuary Eve Hartridge takes us to Greece's very own Emerald Isle located in the heart of the Ionian Sea, Corfu.

 Corfu is one of those places which has had many meanings for me throughout my life. As a child, I absolutely adored the book "My Family And Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell which so clearly painted a picture of life on the island before the occupation by Mussolini during the Second World War. It seemed like such a blissful, tranquil island full of places to explore, where the sun always shone and everyone was so friendly.

 Recalling my school days, I yawn at the thought of double classics on a Wednesday afternoon. Awful. I do, however, recall that Corfu is where Ulysses found himself after being shipwrecked and washed ashore when the island was then called Scheria. The Corinthians claimed it, the islanders objected and this lead to the Peloponnesian War and since then pretty much everyone from The Romans to the British have tried to claim it until in 1864 the island was once again part of Greece and has remained under Greek control ever since.

 My first experience of Corfu, was as a student in 1996. My friend Zoe and I decided to find a cheap holiday and sadly in the absence of the internet, the booking of this trip was left in the capable hands of our teletext savvy friend Annika. It's safe to say that for the total of £190 per person we didn't really get to experience much of the real Corfu and instead found ourselves in a very basic self catering dive in the heart of Kavos. This is not an experience for the feint hearted.

 In September 2013, I finally made it back to Corfu and was utterly charmed by this beautiful island. It is worth hiring a car to explore the island as in the north there are green mountains to see and in the south sandy beaches to enjoy. Corfu town is the perfect place to be based, but it can be noisy as it is extremely popular with visitors. The old town has recently become an UNESCO World Heritage Sight and the new town is bustling with restaurant and high end boutiques. Corfu Town is conveniently located for the airport and is on the east of the island.

 Where to Stay

 The Marbella Beach Hotel is located a few miles outside of Corfu Town on the coast at Agios Ioannis Peristeron. This recently refurbished luxury five star hotel is everything that you could wish for and more. Guests can enjoy stunning views of the lush emerald green countryside or brilliant blue Ionian Sea. Rooms are stylishly minimal, but beautifully appointed, all are spacious with private balconies. I think that the perfect mix of indulgence is to book a sea view suite which also boasts a private plunge pool/ hot tub. The hotel staff are outstanding and the concierge are always on hand to help organise car hire or extended excursions. The hotel can be booked on a half board or all inclusive basis- both are recommended as dining at the hotel is also world class. Guests can enjoy anything from traditional Greek fayre to European standard fine dining and everything in-between. "Cascade" located by the hotel's main swimming pool comes highly recommended.

 Where to Eat

 Greek food can be something of an acquired taste, but there is so much more to discover away from Greek Salad and Moussaka (even those two dishes are delicious). Real Greek food is very healthy and on Corfu often includes lots of locally caught fish. There are many seaside cafes that are worth exploring for plentiful, fresh and reasonably prices dishes. It is worth taking a chance and being pleasantly surprised.
 There is one restaurant on Corfu that is not to be missed and as it was recently voted the best restaurant in Greece by a magazine it is essential to book if you would like to include it into a visit. Etrusco is located in Kato Korakiana and pays homage to the cuisine of the island. Head Chef is Ettore Botrini, son of Etrusco, who is a multi award winning Italian Chef who opened the original restaurant with his Corfiote wife in 1992. Ettore has taken the restaurant to a whole new level and has won numerous awards. Dining here is an experience, the setting is wonderful, the gardens are beautiful and the food, exquisite. The octopus carpaccio was a brave, but highly recommended choice and all the puddings looked sensational.

 What to See

 The Island has some simply stunning beaches with Barbati and Mirtiotissa my firm favourites. It is worth visiting the fishing village of Kassiopi which is picture postcard beautiful. The beach is as lovely as Barbati and there are many restaurants by the water serving great food. Inland and set in acres of manicured gardens is Archelleion Palace named after the famous warrior, but built in 1890 for Elisabeth of Austria. The palace is now an Achilles themed museum and it is worth spending at least half a day in the cool and balmy surrounds which James Bond fans may recognise from the film, "For Your Eyes Only". In Corfu Town make time for at least a coffee at The Spianada which separates the Old Town from the Old Fortress. This is Greece's largest and most spectacular town square and it comes as no surprise that in 2007 it became a World Heritage Site. The Old Town is full of twisting narrow alleyways and cobbled streets and here you will find the Mitropolis Cathedral which dates back to 1577. Nearby is also the Palace of St Michael and St George which was once home to Greece's Royal Family. Corfu Town itself is stylish and elegant, it is a great place to indulge in some retail therapy with silver and leather goods well priced.

 Getting There

 Easy Jet fly from Gatwick to Corfu from £31.99 one way (as of September 2013) which is exceptional value. For frequent flyers, It is worth investing in an Easy Jet Plus card for fast bag drop, priority boarding and extra leg room seating at the front of the plane as well as a speedy exit.

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