Shropshire Star

Travel review: The magical allure of Corfu

There’s something bewitching about Corfu, luring tourists back year after year with its siren call.

Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu

That’s the only explanation I can think of when I meet my fellow passengers on our flight from Gatwick to Corfu. Almost every seat is filled, and we’re not flying in the summer holidays.

Every passenger I chat to is making a return trip to Corfu, with many flying over year after year, bound by such a love of the island that they don’t want to go anywhere else. One passenger had visited Corfu a staggering 25 times. Before even leaving the tarmac, I knew I was going to a special place.

Just a whisker away from the Albanian mainland, the most famous child of the Ionian Islands has a cooler climate and greener landscapes than its relatives to the south of Greece. Luscious olive and cypress trees bow over the coastal paths and verdant forests make a home to hundreds of different bird species.

Nestled into a curve of the north-east coast is the idyllic little hamlet of Kalami. Life is slow and gentle here. There are a handful of beach-side tavernas where you can eat and drink from breakfast until the early hours. There are two supermarkets around the size of a UK extra store where you will need to get any necessities you need during your stay – or classic Corfu gifts to take home, such as kumquat liqueur or Greek olive oil.

Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu
Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu
Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu
Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu
Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu
Travel review: the magical allure of Corfu

A few larger hotel complexes are built up the steep hills and an array of apartments are scattered across the winding paths lined with trees blooming with flowers and fruits. This isn’t the place to go if you expect 24/7 action and a trip filled with adrenaline and action. This is the place to rest your bones while leaving the hectic rush of the world behind, in this land where time moves slower, to appreciate the beauty in a small town and the natural world.

The shingle bay is thin and wide, curving around the bright blue sea. Kalami’s bay is the heart of the little town, where people eat, swim, and relax. You can try watersports and every little shop sells snorkelling masks. This is an absolute must when you’re in Corfu. I only had to walk until the sea was up to my knees and I could already see shoals of fish darting through the water.

With my snorkelling mask on, I floated on my front and watched intently at the tiny little fish, focusing on the seemingly identical looking fish until I started to spot idiosyncratic patterns – one had a bright strip of fuschia running along its spine, another had stripes like a zebra. With the water blocking my ears and with it the sounds of human life, I felt like I was in my own little world.

It wasn’t just the tourists watching the fish, however. On the first day we couldn’t tear our eyes away from the sight of a man fishing off the end of the boardwalk, surrounded by a throng of cats. They would lie placidly around him, rubbing against him from time to time to keep currying his favour, before bustling to the front and trying to snatch any catches directly from the line.

If you’re an animal lover, you may be torn seeing the seemingly endless cats on every street corner. They’re adorable and turn at the heart strings, but also induce worry. Are they well-fed, are they healthy, are they safe? You’ll find them slinking between the table legs while you’re eating in the tavernas and playing with pebbles on the beach.

You may, like me, be stalked back to your apartment by a cat which won’t relent until you go all the way back down to the supermarket in the pitch black and buy it a tin of tuna.

Speaking of accommodation, we stayed in Sunvil’s Kalami Bay apartments: a bright white building just a mere few minutes away from the beach and the shops. There are 12 apartments, each with their own balcony and a small kitchenette. The balcony overlooks the pool on the terrace, where I’d do my lengths, or sit under a banana tree for shade as I looked out onto the stunning sight of Kalami Bay and across the sea to the landscape of the Albanian coast. Corfu is a long island with sights spread out across its corners and crevices, so many people choose to hire a car so they can visit whatever is on their wishlist.

Public transport is a bit hit and miss, especially outside Corfu town. Thankfully, as a small island, Corfu provides a more stylish and fun mode of transport to get around in: boat taxis. George’s Taxis run every weekday from Kalami Bay, taking visitors from Kalami and the surrounding towns to Corfu Town, the capital of the island, which is approximately 30 minutes away. Like the other boat trips we took during our break, George blasted some iconic tunes as the boat sliced through the water. With my hair whipping in the wind and ABBA playing, I felt like I could be in a movie.

Corfu Town is definitely worth a trip if you’re holidaying in Corfu, and tourist guides recommend spending at least three days to fully immerse yourself in the town and everything it has to offer. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting a rich array of museums, independent shops, and architectural sites to explore. However, we could only spare one day and chose to do the classic tourist cliché of taking the official tour bus to view the sites, including the spectacular Old Fortress which stands guard on the coast. If you decide to spend more time in the island’s capital, there’s a wealth of cultural and architectural sites for you to visit, including the Museum of Asian Art and the Music Museum. While the town is an eclectic buzz of culture and life, there’s also a poignant reminder of Europe’s dark history in the Holocaust Memorial of Corfu, depicting a naked family made of bronze, who have nothing left but each other. The memorial, entitled Never Again Any Nation, is dedicated to the 2,000 Jews from Corfu who were murdered in the Aushwitz and Birkeneau concentration camps in June 1944.

Corfu Town is also an important gateway to nearby islands and adventures. We took two boat trips, with coaches taking us to and from Kalami Bay to the port in Corfu Town. The first was a day’s boat trip around the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos, and the second was to the Butrint National Park in Albania. Paxos and Antipaxos have some of the clearest waters in all of Greece, with depths of blue that rival the Maldives and pigments you’d never dream of seeing in the UK. The blue caves tours take you around the rugged coastline of Paxos first, with epic views that make you feel like you’re on a voyage at the end of the world, or the hero of a Greek epic.

Then, you’re granted the chance to dive off the boat into the turquoise waters of Antipaxos, swimming along the coast and exploring the caves. There’s also a chance to explore Paxos by land, frequenting the tavernas, cafes, and little shops. This boat trip was a highlight of the whole holiday and is a must when visiting Corfu.

We also knew that we had to take the chance to visit a country we’d never been to before – Albania. The Albanian day trip to Butrint National Park and the coastal town of Sarandë is another incredibly popular excursion for visitors to Corfu, and with good reason. I never thought Albania was a country I’d ever put on my bucket list and I knew I might never get this opportunity again. However, as our coach drove through the winding hills of the Albanian coast, I knew I’d made the right decision. The dramatic landscape of mountainous peaks, plummeting down to deep blue lakes, as birds of prey circle over ahead, was awe-inspiring. It felt like the most beautiful view in the world. Nestled within the green peaks are ruins detailing an interesting palimpsest of different ancient civilisations, including Greek and Roman. A tour of the ruins is well worth your time, but I have to admit to stealing many glances at the beautiful wildlife around us. The site is a natural paradise, with freshwater lakes, wetlands, salt marshes, open plains, reed beds and islands, providing a home for more than 1,200 different animals and plants. Try to find the time to drink in the surroundings and not just conform to a regimented tour.

And if like me, you are a lover of the natural world, there’s a haven on the north-east coast of Corfu in between the small towns of Agios Stefanos and Kassiopi. Erimitis is a unique ecosystem of unparalleled beauty, winding along the rugged coast, which is home to three wetlands, 81 species of birds, 48 species of butterflies, 23 species of orchids, and 107 marine species. Erimitis isn’t something you’re likely to find at the top of Tripadvisor or your travel guide, but it was one of the most sacred moments of my time in Corfu. I spent three hours doing a solo hike along the coast, watching the turquoise waters below as colourful butterflies danced over my head.

At the furthest point of my walk, I saw a flash of bright brilliant blue and orange, skimming over a lake nestled in from the coast – a kingfisher – and became surprisingly emotional. On my last say in Corfu, I sat on the pebbled beach of Kalami, soaking in the last rays of heat I was destined to get before flying back to rainy old Gatwick. Jays and kestrels had flown over my head while doing laps and lounging around the pool, tiny fish had whirled around my feet while

I swam, and friendly cats had twisted around my ankles as we ate on the beach, staring out at the sea. Corfu can provide a jam-packed itinerary for anyone, with ample museums, attractions, and beaches to keep you busy – but Kalami is an ample reminder of the fact that there’s an extraordinary beauty in the most quiet and simple of things.