Visit: 1st June 2015
Located in the Ionian Sea just off the coast of the Balkan Peninsula where Greece meets Albania, Corfu is the Hellenic Republic’s seventh largest island. Natalie and I had a whole day to spare in Corfu’s old town on our way back from a couple of days on the nearby island of Paxos. Only reachable by boat, Paxos is less than 2% of the size of Corfu – but twice as charming. It was whilst we were there that Ross proposed to Louise on the shores of Plani Beach whilst Natalie and I filmed from afar. We spent four nights on Paxos, in both our rented villa near Lakka – in the north of the island – and in an apartment in Gaios – the capital, in the south.
It was the day of our flight home and the two of us had got up at 5.40am to catch a boat leaving Gaois’s New Port at 7. Although we had expected it to deposit us near Corfu’s old town – from where we had caught the boat over to Paxos four days earlier – it ended up dropping us off at a place called Lefkimmi, on Corfu’s southern tip. The Old Town of Corfu (where the airport is also located) is about halfway up Corfu island, on the eastern side, and the ferry company had, it transpired, arranged for a minibus to take us passengers the rest of the way by road.
On arrival at Corfu town we pepped ourselves up with a Greek coffee and some lukewarm quiche before heading over to the first of its two imposing forts. The Old Fortress, as it is known, dominates the city’s east side and commands a wide lookout over the sea. It was fortified by the Venetians, to whom Corfu was annexed at the end of the 14th century. The Republic of Venice held onto the island from 1386 all the way up until 1797, which gave them plenty of time to make their mark. But they were not the first to build a fortress there – indeed the fort’s origins date back to Byzantine times, from about the 6th century.
The top of the fortress isn’t much to look at (that is it, above), although it was immortalised in celluloid in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (in which the Mercedes of the bad guy, Emile Locque, gets pushed off a cliff by Bond). You may remember that I spotted a Bond scene when we were in Istanbul. Well, I’m not really a Bond geek so I must admit that I didn’t notice the Corfu titbit myself – that fact is from Wikipedia.
After coming down from the Old Fort we wandered through town and had a drink. It is here I admit that Corfu isn’t really the most pleasant WHS out there. It has its charms, but the city is thronged with tourists (ourselves included, obvs) and shops selling tat. Given the narrowness of the streets it feels pretty crowded walking around, making the castles a pleasant respite from the bustle. I wondered if Valletta – a city that seems to have much in common with Corfu, in terms of its history and its character – is similar in the summer. We felt we might have been lucky after all to have had such cold, wet weather when we visited over New Year, since it meant we had the place more or less to ourselves.
In the heat of the day we proceeded to hike up the hill at the other end of town to reach the top of the ‘New Fortress’. This one was built from scratch by the Venetians, although the buildings that exist within the fortress were put up by the British. This fortress is more imposing than the Old one, but even harder to get a decent photograph of (see below). Although entrance is free, tourists are tricked (ourselves included) into paying €3 by a wily group who stand by the entrance and offer you a “free” drink if you pay them for admission. There I encountered some of the worst toilets I have ever set foot in – comparable to something out of Trainspotting. Ross would have loved it.
The climb is worth it, though, because it affords a better view of Corfu than does the Old Fortress. We spent a while talking to a fellow Brit, who had disembarked a cruise ship on a Venetian-themed tour of the Mediterranean, and we swapped tips on historical tourism.
With the sun sinking down in the west, it was time to make our way back to Ioannis Kapodistrias Airport to catch a child-filled Thomas Cook flight back to Gatwick. We had had a great trip, of which Corfu was really just a footnote – but it was good to have seen the city and to have been able to spend Euros in Greece for what may have been the last time!