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Corfu: an island with beautiful beaches and Venetian fortresses

The island of Corfu or Kerkyra (592 sq km, 110,000 inhabitants) is located in the Ionian Sea, in the archipelago of the Ionian islands, of which it is the second largest island. The island is among the northernmost of the archipelago and partly faces the coasts of Albania. The main center of the island, the city of Corfu, is located halfway along the east coast, the one that faces Greece and Albania. Corfu’s distance from the Albanian coast is at its narrowest point of only 3 km.

The island is long and narrow, and has a vaguely T shape. Its length is almost 65 km and the width, at its greatest point, is just over 30 km. The coast that stretches for over 200 km is often high and rocky, but there are also many bays with long and beautiful beaches, which have made Corfu’s tourist fortune. The geography of Corfu is characterized by a mountainous northern part. Here, in fact, it is crossed from west to east by a low mountain range, where, in the eastern part, there is the highest peak of the island, Mount Pantokrator (906 meters). Further south there is a central hilly area and then the island ends with a southern part where the plains predominate.

The whole island is rich in vegetation, and very fertile and its soil allows the cultivation of vines, olive trees, citrus fruits, figs and other fruit trees. The non-cultivated areas are mostly covered by Mediterranean scrub.

THE VENETIAN IMPRINT IS CLEAR IN THE HISTORICAL CENTER OF CORFU

Tourism is among the most important sources of income for the Corfu economy. There are beautiful historic cities, Venetian fortresses, churches and monasteries, suggestive archaeological remains, beaches, seaside resorts and coasts of great beauty. In 2007 the ancient city of Corfu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The main center of the island, the city of Corfu (Kérkyra), is a very beautiful historical city where the Venetian imprint in architecture is clearly present. There are impressive fortifications built by the Venetians, along the sea is the Old Fortress (Palaio Froúrio, Castel Vecchio) built in the 16th century. While on the other side of the old town high on a hill is the Fortezza Nuova (Castel a Terra or Castel Nuovo) built between the 16th and 17th centuries.

The historical core of Corfu is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and is full of Venetian palaces that mix with neoclassical buildings built during the English occupation. There is no shortage of churches, the most important of which are the 16th century Agios Spyridon Church and the 16th century Orthodox Mitrópolis Cathedral. In the city of Corfu there are several fine museums. Including the Archaeological Museum, with rich finds found in various places on the island. The Museum of Asian Art, with a rich collection of ancient works from Asian countries. The Byzantine Museum (Museum Antivouniotissa), with icons and other works of art from the Byzantine era. And finally the Banknote Museum.

THE NORTHERN PART OF CORFU ISLAND

The part of the island north of the city of Corfu is a succession of beaches and seaside resorts such as Gouvia, Dasia, Pyrgi, Barbati, Nisaki, Kalami, Agios Stefanos, Kassiopi. In the latter locality are the remains of a Byzantine-Venetian fortress. This part of the island is mountainous and is dominated by Mount Pantokrator (906 meters) which is the highest mountain in Corfu. The mountain can be reached by car and from its top there are beautiful panoramas on the Greek and Albanian coast and on the whole island of Corfu. On the slopes of the mountain is the monastery of Moni Pantokrator founded in the 14th century, but the current building dates back to the 17th century.

The northern coast of the island continues with the seaside resorts of Roda, Astrakeri, Sidhari, Peroulades until reaching Cape Drastis and the western coast of Corfu. Here at Cape Kefali, the westernmost point of the island is Agios Stefanos. This is a resort with a beautiful beach and from where it is possible to reach by boat the Diapondia islands located 15 km north of Corfu. Continuing south along the west coast there are the seaside resorts of Afionas, Agios Georgios, Angelokastro and finally we reach Palaiokastritsa. Here there is a monastery founded in the thirteenth century whose current building dates back to the eighteenth century, here there is also a small museum of icons.

CLIFFS AND SEA CAVES

In Palaiokastritsa it is possible to take boat trips to visit the cliffs and sea caves. Or go into the interior of the island to admire some characteristic villages such as those of Klini, Lakones, Pagi, Doukades and Makrades. Along the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa there is the beautiful Angelokastro fortress located on top of a hill overlooking the coast from over 300 meters high. The fortress was built by the Byzantines. During the Venetian dominion, between 1387 and the end of the 16th century, Angelokastro was the capital of Corfu and the seat of the governor of the Ionian islands.

THE SOUTHERN PART OF CORFU ISLAND

Continuing south, the beaches continue and meet the seaside resorts of Ermones, Glyfada, Pélekas, Agios Gordios. We begin to advance in the southern part of Corfu, which is the flat part of the island and the narrowest.

After passing Paramonas we can go inland to visit the remains of the Byzantine Castle of Gardiki. Which together with the castles of Kassiopi, in the north of the island, and of Angelokastro, along the north-western coast, was one of the three fortresses that the Byzantines had built to defend the island. To the south of the castle is Korission lake with Halikounas beach. Then there are the towns of Issos and Agios Georgios. At the southern end of the island along the east coast is Kavos beach. Going up the coast towards the city of Corfu you will come across the centers of Lefkimmi, Boukari, Messonghi, Moraltika, Benotses and Ahillion. In the latter is the Ahillion Palace (Achilleion), a building built at the end of the 19th century as the residence of the empress Elizabeth of Austria, the famous Sissi.

HOW TO GET TO CORFU

FLIGHTS: The island of Corfu has an important international airport very busy especially in the summer period by charter flights from northern Europe. The airport which is located 2 km south of the city of Corfu in the summer is connected with flights to most European countries. There are flights from Scandinavia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Holland, Switzerland but also from Israel, Russia, Poland, Hungary, from Romania and other European countries.

FERRIES: Ferries connect Corfu with the Greek ports of Igoumenitsa (1 hour), Patras (6 and a half hours), Zakynthos (9 hours) and Paxi (40 minutes by fast ship, 3 and a half hours by ferry). The island of Corfu is also well connected by a dense ferry network with Italy and Albania. Ferries to Corfu leave from the Italian ports of Ancona (15 hours crossing), Bari (8 hours), Brindisi (6 hours) and Venice (25 hours). The port of Saranda in Albania is connected by ferries that take 25 minutes to make the short stretch of sea that separates Corfu from the Albanian coast.

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