Corfu, Greece was the first spot on our itinerary that was new to both of us, since we’d previously spent so much time in Italy. We decided to head to Corfu because a) we’d never heard of it before, and that always excites us, and b) it looked like a beautiful area with a different and more “lived” vibe than most Grecian “beach” destinations with their Instagram-curated vistas (e.g., Mykonos, Santorini). It turned out to be a great decision, starting from the moment we flew in above the gorgeous, deep blue Ionian Sea and arrived at our hotel with its pristine views of the beach.
While we did spent a considerable bit of time at our resort enjoying the many amenities (the beautiful beachfront and the open-air restaurant in particular); however, we also made time to see a little bit of Corfu itself as well. Before I explain our activities, a bit of orientation – Corfu itself is the name of both the island (the island itself is shaped a bit like an upside down gourd with a wider top and a thin tail) and the name of the main city on the island (located at the northeast of the island). Our hotel, we would later find, was much out of the way from Corfu town; on our first day, all we knew was that we were hungry and very ready to sample some Greek food.
We had a quick lunch at the hotel, made up of an amazing Greek salad, fresh pita with tzatziki, and amazing grilled squid. We had to grab some fries as well (of course) and they were unsurprisingly delicious when dipped in the tzatziki.
After settling into our hotel, we wanted to check out the local area a bit more. We actually intended to visit the seafront of neighboring Albania (only a 30 minute ferry from Corfu, apparently quite a beautiful day trip with some amazing beaches and its own great food culture), but Covid restrictions across international borders were unclear and we felt it safer to avoid accidentally getting stuck. So, we decided to explore the local area instead. Nearest to our hotel – at the south of the island in an area called Miramare and surrounded by small villages – was a town called Moraitika.
The town itself really is quite small – what in the US we’d call a “one stoplight town”, if that. We stopped into a couple places: the bakery, which had a great variety of both Grecian and American-style sweets (everything from spanikopita to baklava, and then red velvet cupcakes and NY-style cheesecake); a couple little souvenir shops, just to see what was available (lots of thyme honey!); a very full grocery store with an amazing cheese section and a very friendly owner.
The owner was so friendly, in fact, that he quickly identified us as tourists (was the big camera a clue?) and immediately came over, clapped my fiance on the back and offered us a feta cheese tasting. We were totally taken aback – not only have we not traveled in a year, we haven’t been offered free food in a long time (especially with Covid!) and really just didn’t know what to say. Ultimately, we thanked him and skipped the tasting, moving on – and, of course, he still found the time to package up a beautiful cluster of fresh grapes and forced it into our hands before we left the store! We loved the Greek hospitality and have vowed to say yes to fresh cheese pretty much any other time because we felt so bad afterwards (and, we probably missed out on amazing cheese!).
Next up was lunch – we wanted to try both an authentic Greek taverna and to try a couple Corfu specialties. Since Corfu is so close to the “heel” of the “boot” of Italy, it was historically occupied for ~500 years by the Venetian empire and still retains a significant amount of Italian influence in both the food and the architecture of the island. We ended up choosing a taverna with a great menu of both Corfiat and Greek specialties so that we could enjoy a variety of treats. Of course, we had to start with the tzatziki and pita, and then from there got one “traditional” and one Corfiat specialty: roast leg of lamb, and pastitsada, a pasta dish made with shreddable beef, spaghetti, and a great mix of spices. Interestingly, the spices lean towards those we’d more commonly use in “sweet” cooking in the US – for example, cinnamon and cloves.
Everything was unsurprisingly delicious. In addition to trying a Greek beer (Mythos) with the meal, the owner brought us out a free house-made limoncello shot, which was a great end to a great meal.
On our way back to the resort, we tried to stop in to see the village church, which was set up on a hill overlooking the water. Unfortunately, the complex was closed, but it did provide some beautiful views on the walk up.
Back at the hotel, we relaxed and then had a great dinner which included a mezze platter with eggplant, hummus, a feta spread, and tzatziki as well as a sea bass and orzo dish.
The following day, we decided to visit Corfu town itself. It was about a 40 minute drive into town, all the while listening to loud Greek music and hoping that we wouldn’t become roadkill along the very winding roads (which, of course, does not stop anyone from driving way too fast or passing each other despite being one lane each way with 0 visibility around the turns). As we learned from our taxi driver, a kindly older man named Leo, one of Greece’s premier musicians had actually passed away earlier in the week so the national station was playing all of his hits. We didn’t catch his name, but the musician was prolific from what we could tell, and had earned the equivalent of the British knighthood (Leo likened him to Sir Elton John). After our lively taxi ride, we were dropped off at the old Venetian fort, which is an imposing structure overlooking Corfu town (and very close to the airport).
The fort itself is primarily just an abandoned structure with a couple buildings: the clock tower, some canals, a brief Byzantine art museum housed in a gate-house along the wall, a lighthouse, some imposing walls / fortifications. The view from the fort was really what impressed us – an incredible view straight over Corfu town itself (and, of course, beautiful views of the Ionian Sea as well).
After viewing it from above, we had to actually see Corfu town. We weren’t quite sure what to expect (whether it would be a sleepy town like the village near our hotel, or a bustling shopping area like the streets we’d driven through on our way into town past the airport). It was actually neither, and really resembled a lot of towns we’ve visited in places like Italy or the south of France – gorgeous open boulevards, churches interspersed every couple blocks, very Venetian-style doorways and columns lining each building’s street level.
We stopped in to several churches, many of which had incredibly ornate altar pieces and art – I’ve only ever seen this style of church architecture in Cyprus, which is a little bit further east of Greece.
I also loved seeing the way that the different churches decorated their walls – some had very ornate, fabric “wallpaper” like we’d seen in Venice, while others went for vibrant colors and stone (apologies for the low-light photos, most of the churches were not illuminated inside other than votive candles). The exterior facades were also beautiful across the town.
While walking through town, we also enjoyed getting lost among the small, winding streets.
Of course, we had to try some souvlaki on our trek, so we meandered our way through the old town Corfu area, past the old synagogue and some ruined churches to a great stop: a souvlaki shop right on the main drag. We also passed the “new fort” which is located on a different hill and looks pretty similar to the imposing “old fort” we started at.
The souvlaki was delicious and really unlike the souvlaki I’ve had in the United States – it really had a similar flavor profile to the pastitsada, in that the sauce was more “sweet” than savory in spice; it also didn’t have lettuce or any tahini-based sauces or chili sauce; it really was just meat, fries, the sweet sauce, and a little tomato and yogurt.
Lastly, we ended up walking down to Corfu’s seaport to grab an official lunch, given we’d been walking for several hours and only had 1 souvlaki to share.
We ended up at Poseidōnio, a Corfiat restaurant right on the water. I decided to start with a traditional Greek spirit (raki) and we also shared a couple dishes: perfectly fried calamari, grilled shrimp with honey sauce, grilled halloumi, and a Greek salad. All of the above was incredibly delicious – and, to top it off, they gave us a free mini bottle of raki for the road and a fresh melon shot as well.
The last thing we did downtown was to visit the Byzantine Museum of Antivouniotissa, which is a collection of beautiful Byzantine art in a Heptanese-style church (I’m not 100% sure if I’m correct, but I think the style of the majority of churches I’ve seen both in Corfu and Cyprus could be categorized that way). It’s a great collection, both in terms of showcasing the church structure and showcasing the beautiful works of art.
The view from the church was quite spectacular and made up for the fact that finding a cab back to our resort took about 30 minutes (it was really our fault, we should have booked in advance / we realized later that our hotel was really, really out of the way for most of the taxi drivers frequenting downtown Corfu).
From there, we headed back to the hotel for one last meal – a delicious lobster pasta – as well as sunset at the beach.
Sadly, our time in Corfu ended with an extremely early and not quite so bright (3:30am) wake up for our morning flight onwards – to Crete!