A Visit to Beautiful Corfu

It’s been a long time since many of us have been able to take a holiday abroad and I recently spent a nostalgic hour looking at some holiday photos. My husband and I have been lucky enough to visit a few of the Greek islands and one of our favourites is Corfu. There are several lovely resorts to choose from including Kassiopi, Ipsos and Dassia, but the one we like the best is Paleocastritsa on the North West coast of the island.

Paleocastritsa is a small fishing village, situated at the bottom of a long and winding hill. It’s a dead end so there is no through traffic and when we first visited in 2001 it was quiet and undeveloped. There are three small beaches with crystal clear water and lots of fish. We stayed in a hotel just across the road from the main beach and my favourite time of day was early in the morning when the beach was deserted. The hotel was basic and didn’t even have a swimming pool, but the view from the bedroom window was breathtaking. We stayed on a bed and breakfast arrangement as we like to walk around and select a different restaurant to eat at each evening. There are plenty to choose from in Paleocastritsa, in fact you are spoilt for choice.


From this bay it is possible to take a boat trip to see the “blue water” in some caves. It really is an incredible colour and worth seeing. At the top of the hill in the photo, there is a monastery where visitors can go inside and look around. Women are not allowed in if their shoulders are exposed, but the monks provide garments for people to cover up if necessary. It is incredibly peaceful and quiet inside, with beautiful flowers and lovely views of the village below. It is from this ancient monastery that the village gets its name because Paleocastritsa means “old castle”.

On the mountainside above Paleocastritsa is an area called “Bella Vista” which, as the name suggests, delivers an incredible view of the heart-shaped bay below. Bella Vista is a restaurant which sells the most delicious cakes and there are a few shops offering the usual tourist paraphernalia. It is a long walk along the road from Paleocastritsa to Bella Vista and many people book a taxi. However, we found a footpath which took us directly up the mountainside and we walked to Bella Vista. It was hard going, but well worth the effort as the track was covered in wild cyclamen and the views were tremendous. By the time we reached the top we felt we had earned a piece of cake!

I love plants and gardening and when I go abroad I’m always interested to see the trees and flowers that are different from the ones found in England. This is a tree that we saw on Corfu and I think it’s called “Angel’s Trumpets”. I have also seen it with yellow flowers.

The heart-shaped bay of Paleocastritsa seen from Bella Vista.

When we go on holiday we do our share of lounging on the beach beds and relaxing with a book, but we also like to explore and usually hire a car. Luckily my husband is happy to drive, though it is not something I would be comfortable doing abroad. We find it is a better way of seeing the scenery because travelling independently you can get off the beaten track and find things you would never see on an organised trip.

We have explored quite a bit of the island and a visit to Corfu town is worth considering though it does tend to be busy. It’s easy to get lost in the narrow cobblestone alleys or “kandounia” as they are known. The Liston promenade overlooks the Spinada and was built during the French occupation. It was once used only by the nobility. The market stalls are interesting with all the unusual fruit and vegetables.

We once took a trip to the top of Mount Pantokrator which is the highest mountain on Corfu. The driver had a very cavalier attitude to driving, with usually only one hand on the steering wheel and occasionally none. He became over-excited at one point when pointing out the ibis (goats) at the side of the road. However, most of the passengers would have preferred him to concentrate on the steep drop at the side of the vehicle! The view from the top was not to be missed.

It’s not often I drink pints, but the Greek beer Mythos is particularly lovely and as you can see from the photo, this was one occasion, when after a lengthy walk on a hot day, the temptation was too great. We love Greek food and there is so much to choose from. Lamb Kleftico is lamb cooked in the oven for hours with potatoes, carrots and herbs and also feta cheese which sounds strange, but is actually delicious. Beef stifado is another traditional dish of beef cooked with little onions. Pork Souvlaki has chunks of juicy pork served on a wooden skewer with pieces of onion and peppers, and lamb cooked on the spit is not to be missed. However, my favourite dish, which I believe is only found on Corfu, is called Pastitsada (not to be confused with Pastitsio which is a bit like lasagne).

I like Pastitsada so much that I once asked for the recipe and this is what I was given:

Pastitsada Ingredients: 1 kilogram of beef cut into big chunks, 2 onions, 4 bay leaves, 3-4 cloves, garlic, 1 stick of cinnamon, 2 tins of tomatoes or passata (about 1 litre) half a litre of red wine and 1 beef stock cube.

Method: Brown seasoned meat, add onions and chopped garlic, pour in wine and simmer. Add tomato, one stock cube, one stick of cinnamon, the ground cloves and four bay leaves. Transfer to a dish and oven cook until tender for at least one and half to three hours. The meat, which has a deep rich sauce, is served with pasta and I recommend it.

It was in Corfu that we first came across taramasalata and tzatsiki. Taramasalata is usually pink and made from cod roe. Tzatsiki is made from Greek yoghurt, mixed with finely shredded cucumber and garlic with lemon juice added. They are dips that go well with a Greek salad, famous of course for the olives and chunks of feta cheese. Add some crusty home-made bread and you have a delicious lunch. Greek puddings such as baklava tend to be a bit too sweet for me, but Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey is hard to resist.

During a visit to any Greek island, tourists are usually offered the chance to attend a “Greek Night” and they are good fun. We have been to one or two over the years and they usually consist of a nice meal, accompanied by wine or beer, with some entertainment later. Inevitably there will be Greek dancing and plate smashing at some point in the proceedings.

On our first visit to Corfu we stayed in Sidari, which is a busy resort on the North coast and we were keen to see all we could. The Albanian coastline can be seen clearly from Corfu, as it is only twenty miles or so away and we booked a trip to go there. We went to the holiday representative to retrieve our passports and ask about currency and were advised against visiting Albania. However, as we had booked to go the next day and it was too late to cancel, we decided to go ahead, though we were a bit concerned. We needn’t have worried, for it was well organised and the Albanians were keen to promote tourism and made us very welcome. We were taken to Corfu town by coach and then sailed across to Albania to a town called Saranda. Our guide was an elderly Albanian gentleman and he spoke good English. He explained what life had been like in Albania when it was a communist country controlled by Russia.

Visiting Saranda was an interesting experience. There were a lot of bullet holes to be seen on the walls of buildings, which spoke of difficult times. The roads were just mud tracks, many of which just petered out and it was obvious that this was an extremely poor country. Beggar children followed us around and when I bought a lovely crocheted doily from a little boy for just a few coins, I was rewarded with a huge beaming smile. The guide explained that following the end of communism, the cows from the state farms were shared out with each family being given one animal. The problem was they had no land to graze the cows on and so the animals just roamed the streets.

We were taken to a good hotel for an excellent lunch, which we ate rather guiltily, having seen the poverty all around us. In the afternoon we were taken to an archaelogical site at Butrint, an ancient Greek and later Roman city, thought to have been inhabited since prehistoric times.

This was an intriguing visit and we were led through a forest to the site. I remember being glad there were a substantial number of tourists on the trip, as the area was deserted and felt like an ideal spot for an ambush! However, all was well and site was incredible. There were no specified walkways, or roped off areas, as there usually are at these places and we were allowed to walk anywhere we liked. The site had not long been discovered and it was clear there was still a lot of work to do before all of its secrets would be revealed. We have never been back to Albania and probably never will, but it would be interesting to see what it is like now.

This little trip down memory lane has whetted my appetite for a holiday and maybe yours too. Fingers crossed we can all take one again soon.


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