I have family in Greece so when visiting I typically stay with them and hang out. Last year, I opted to add some previously unexplored destinations from my bucket list to my three-week stay. Greece has hundreds of islands but one I’d always wanted to visit was Corfu (known to Greeks as Kerkyra), situated east of the mainland in the sapphire blue Ionian Sea, the second largest of the Ionian Islands.
The capital, Corfu Town, is rich in history with beautiful Venetian-style architecture, protected from invaders over the centuries by not one but two imposing stone fortresses. The Old Fortress dates from the Byzantine era and the second, New Fortress, was built in the early 1800s. The laid-back cosmopolitan city center, with its seaside esplanade is popular with tourists who can dine on fresh seafood or sip an espresso or ouzo (a potent Greek aperitif) while enjoying the views. The town even boasts a Museum of Asian Art, a rarity in southern Europe, with a decent-size collection of artifacts from China, Japan and Korea.
I arrived by ferry with a car I had leased from the mainland. (Note: You will need to acquire an International Driver License if you plan to lease a vehicle, which is easy through AAA.) Less touristy than Santorini and Mykonos, which are on the opposite side the country, the popular island destination also has an airport. Through Airbnb.com, my friend and I discovered a very nice family-owned motel called Apartments Despina in a town called Pelekas in the central part of the elongated island. The rooms ($53/night during the Spring) were clean, and the family went out of their way to make our stay comfortable and relaxing.
One of our objectives was to visit a place called Corfu Donkey Rescue (corfu-donkeys.com), which was founded by Judy Quinn nearly two decades ago to save old and abandoned donkeys discarded throughout the island. Nowadays, volunteers from around the world come to the rural compound surrounded by olive trees to feed, clean and care for the unwanted animals for a few days or several weeks. The non-profit organization relies entirely on donations. You can also just stop by for the day to see the donkeys and what is being done to help them. Getting to the rescue location is a little tricky, but if you have GPS you likely will find it. They also have some rescued dogs and cats on the premises, and all the animals appear to get along.
After helping out for the day cleaning stalls and feeding carrots and other veggies to the gentle animals, my friend and I decided to do some sightseeing, so we headed northeast towards Paleokastritsa Beach, some 30 miles east. Luck was with us as the beach is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The crystal-clear waters were inviting and although the caramel-colored sandy beach is not huge, it’s accommodating enough and, most importantly, clean.
Hopping back in the car, we drove to another beach down the coast that had been recommended to us by a waiter in Paleokastritsa. Unfortunately, Glyfada Beach didn’t live up to the hype. Though large and sandy, it was also very dirty with debris left by previous visitors who probably couldn’t find a trash can (or didn’t bother looking for one). Though it looks picture-postcard beautiful from the hillside above, once down on the beach, it’s really icky. I wished we’d stayed in Paleokastritsa, but it was getting late in the day, and I wanted to head back to the hotel via a winding two-lane road before dark.
On our last night on Corfu, we dined in Corfu Town at a café along the esplanade. I ordered a pasta with a side of dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef) and my vegetarian friend had a chickpea salad with a side order of bruschetta. The meal was delicious. After dinner, we strolled the narrow and winding streets of the old city and shopped for souvenirs. As the sun began to set, we returned to our hotel, relaxed, refreshed, pondering our next visit.
Perhaps it will be some Easter when the locals participate in a custom called “botides,” in which clay jugs filled with water are thrown from balconies as thousands watch below (out of range, of course). The unusual tradition goes back to the Venetians, who would throw out old items to prepare for the new year. Corfuians adopted the custom and made it their own by changing the objects to clay pots and moved the holiday from New Year’s to Easter, the most important holy day in the Greek Orthodox Church.