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Kerkyra (Corfu) is the greenest and, quite possibly, the prettiest of all Greek islands-emerald mountains, ocher-and-pink buildings, shimmering silver olive leaves. The turquoise waters lap rocky coves and bougainvillea, scarlet roses, and wisteria spread over cottages. This northernmost of the major Ionian Islands has, through the centuries, inspired artists, conquerors, royalty, and, of course, tourists. Indeed, when you look at Corfu in total, it's hard to believe that any island so small could generate a history so large. Classical remains vie with architecture from the centuries of Venetian, French, and British rule, leaving Corfu with a pleasant combination of contrasting design elements. The town of Corfu remains one of the loveliest in all of Greece, every nook and cranny tells a story, every street meanders to a myth, even during the busiest summer day. Corfu today is a vivid tapestry of cultures, a sophisticated weave, where charm, history, and natural beauty blend.
Campiello. This medieval quarter, part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site, is an atmospheric labyrinth of narrow, winding streets, steep stairways, and secretive little squares. Laundry lines connect balconied Venetian palazzi engraved with the original occupant's coat of arms to neoclassic 19th-century buildings constructed by the British. Small cobbled squares with central wells and watched over by old churches add to the quiet, mysterious, and utterly charming urban space. If you enter, you're almost sure to get lost, but the area is small enough so that eventually you'll come out on one of Corfu town's major streets, or on the sea wall. West of the Esplanade, northeast of New Fortress.
Church of St. Spyridon. Built in 1596, this church is the tallest on the island, thanks to its distinctive red-dome bell tower, and is filled with silver treasures. The patron saint's remains-smuggled here after the fall of Constantinople-are contained in a silver reliquary in a small chapel; devout Corfiots visit to kiss the reliquary and pray to the saint. The silver casket is carried in procession through the town four times a year. Spyridon was not a Corfiot but a shepherd from Cyprus, who became a bishop before his death in AD 350. His miracles are said to have saved the island four times: once from famine, twice from the plague, and once from the hated Turks. During World War II, a bomb fell on this holiest place on the island but didn't explode. Maybe these events explain why it seems every other man on Corfu is named Spiros. If you keep the church tower in sight you can wander as you wish without getting lost around this fascinating section of town. Agiou Spyridonos, the street in front of the church, is crammed with shops selling religious trinkets and souvenirs. Agiou Spyridonos.
The Esplanade. Central to the life of the town, this huge, open parade ground and park just west of the Old Fortress is, many say, the most beautiful spianada (esplanade) in Greece. It is bordered on the west by a street lined with Venetian and English Georgian houses and a famous arcaded building called the Liston, built by the French under Napoleon and meant to resemble the Rue du Rivoli in Paris. Cafés spill out onto the passing scene, and Corfiot celebrations, games, and concerts take place here; at night, lovers promenade and children play in this festive public space. Sunday cricket matches, a holdover from British rule, are sometimes played on the northern half of the Esplanade, which was once a Venetian firing range. Standing in the center is an ornate Victorian bandstand and, just south of it, the Maitland Rotunda, a circular Ionic memorial built in honor of Sir Thomas Maitland, the not-much-loved first British lord high commissioner who was appointed in 1814 when the island became a protectorate of Britain. At the southernmost tip of the Esplanade a statue of Ioannis Kapodistrias, a Corfu resident and the first president of modern Greece, looks out over Garitsa bay. Kapodistrias was also, unfortunately, the first Greek president to be assassinated, in 1831. Between Old Fortress and Old Town.
New Fortress. Built in 1577-78 by the Venetians, the New Fortress was constructed to strengthen town defenses-only three decades after the construction of Venetian fortifications on the "Old" Fortress. The French and the British subsequently expanded the complex to protect Corfu town from a possible Turkish invasion. You can wander through the maze of tunnels and fortifications; the dry moat is the site of the town's fish-and-vegetable marketplace. A classic British citadel stands at its heart. At the top, there is an exhibition center. Solomou on promontory overlooking New Port. Admission charged.
Old Fortress. Corfu's entire population once lived within the walls of the Old Fortress, or Citadel, built by the Venetians in 1546 on the site of a Byzantine castle. Separated from the rest of the town by a moat, the fort is on a promontory mentioned by Thucydides. Its two heights, or korypha ("peaks"), gave the island its name. Standing on the peaks, you have a gorgeous view west over the town and east to the mountainous coast of Albania. A statue of Count Schulenburg, an Austrian mercenary who became a local hero in 1716 when he helped to defeat the invading Turks, stands at the fort's entrance; just inside, there is an exhibition that tells Schulenburg's story. Most of the old Venetian fortifications inside the fortress were destroyed by the British, who replaced them with their own structures. The most notable of these is the Church of St. George, built to look like an ancient Doric temple. Near it, overlooking Garitsa bay, there is a shaded café where you can sit and enjoy the splendid view. On eastern point of Corfu town peninsula. Admission charged.
At Kanoni, 5 km (3 miles) south of Corfu town, the site of the ancient capital, you may behold Corfu's most famous view, which looks out over two beautiful islets.
Mon Repos. The compact neoclassic palace (really a villa) was built in 1831 by Sir Frederic Adam for his wife, and it was later the summer residence of the British lord high commissioners; the architect, Sir George Whitmore, also designed the Palace of St. Michael and St. George in Corfu town. After Greece won independence from Britain in 1864, Mon Repos was used as a summer palace for the royal family of Greece. Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, was born here in 1921 (he was a royal prince of Greece and Denmark; the Corfiots, who have no love of royalty, call him "the penniless Greek who married a queen"). When King Constantine fled the country in 1967, the Greek government expropriated Mon Repos. After touring the palace, wander around the extensive grounds (entrance is free, so you can do this even if you don't visit the palace), which include the elusive remains of a Doric temple from the 7th and 6th centuries BC and the small but beautiful beach that was once used exclusively by the Greek royal family and is now open to the public. Bring your suit and join the locals on the long pier jutting out into the crystal-clear waters of the Ionian Sea. Opposite Mon Repos are ruins of Ayia Kerkyra, the 5th-century church of the Old City. 1 km (½ mile) south of Old Fortress, following oceanfront walk. Admission charged.
Achilleion. This Teutonic palace, built in the late 19th century for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in Corfu and remains a monument of 19th-century historicism. The empress used the place as a retreat to escape court life and to ease her heartbreak over husband Franz Josef's numerous affairs and her son Archduke Rudolph's mysterious murder or suicide at Mayerling in 1889. Elizabeth named the palace after her favorite hero, Achilles, whom she inexplicably identified with Rudolph. After Elizabeth was assassinated in 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II bought the villa and lived in it until the outbreak of World War I, during which time the Achilleion was used by French and Serbian troops as a military hospital. After the armistice, the Greek government received it as a spoil of war. During World War II, it was appropriated and used as a headquarters by the occupying Italian and German forces. In 1962 the palace was restored, leased as a gambling casino, and later used as the set for the casino scene in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. (The casino has since moved to the Corfu Holiday Palace.) Today it's a museum, but not a terribly inspiring one. More appealing is the terrace, laid out like an Ionic peristyle with a number of 19th-century statues, the best of which is The Dying Achilles. The gardens, surrounded by olive groves and with a distant view of the sea, are pretty but, all in all, the whole place looks a bit vacuous and forlorn. Still and all, lovers of period style won't want to miss this. Main street, The Achilleion. Admission charged.
This spectacular territory of grottoes, cliffs, and turquoise waters is breathtaking.
Lakones. The village, built on the steep mountain behind the Paleokastritsa Monastery, looks rather forbidding, but tourists flock there for the view. Kaiser Wilhelm was among many famous people who would make the ascent to enjoy the magnificent panorama of Paleokastritsa's coves from the cafés at Bella Vista, just beyond the village. From nearby Krini you can climb up to the ruins of the 13th-century Angelokastro, a fortress built by a despot of Epirus during his brief rule over Corfu. On many occasions during the medieval period the fort sheltered Corfiots from attack by Turkish invaders. Look for the chapel and caves, which served as sanctuaries and hiding places. 5 km (3 miles) northeast of Paleokastritsa.
Paleokastritsa Monastery. This 17th-century structure is built on the site of an earlier monastery, among terraced gardens overlooking the Ionian sea. Its treasure is a 12th-century icon of the Virgin Mary, and there's a small museum with some other early icons. Note the Tree of Life motif on the ceiling. Be sure to visit the inner courtyard (go through the church), built on the edge of the cliff and looking down a precipitous cliff to the placid green coves and coastline to the south. There's a small gift shop on the premises. On northern headland.
Corfu Town has myriad tiny shops. For traditional goods, head for the narrow streets of the Campiello where olive wood, ceramics, lace, jewelry, and wine shops abound. Kumquat liqueur is a specialty of the island.
Glyfada. The large, golden beaches at Glyfada are the most famous on the island. Though the sands are inevitably packed with sunbathers, it remains one of the hottest hot spots in Corfu. Sun beds, umbrellas, and water-sports equipment is available for rent and there are several tourist resorts. 2 km [1 mile] south of Pelekas, Pelekas.
Pelekas. The beach at Pelekas has soft, golden sand and clear water but is developed and tends to be crowded. The huge Aquis Pelekas Beach Hotel resort complex rises up behind it, and Pelekas village is popular with summer tourists. Depending on time of year and demand, there is sometimes a free shuttle service between Pelekas Village and the beach (which is a long and steep walk otherwise).
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