I can’t believe it’s been two whole years since our 2019 European adventure with Alissa, owner of Graefic Design, and her hubby, John. With another trip to Greece on the horizon, I figured I better get cracking on my backlog of travel diaries.
If you’re just joining, the first leg of our last big summer trip was spent in Krakow, and then we went on to Florence, which is where I left off here on the blog. If you need to catch up, click here for my Krakow diary, and here for my Florence Diary.
Our next pit stop was the beautiful Ionian Island of Corfu in Greece, where we spent four glorious nights in the historic old town, Kerkyra, aka Corfu Town.
Michael and I had an incredible trip to Greece a couple years prior (I STILL need to write up my travel diaries for Naxos Island and Crete, but you can read about our time in Athens here, Milos here, here and here, and Santorini here), and we absolutely fell in love with the country and its people. So much so, that we began researching residency visas and started a long term plan to relocate there (Greece has a fabulous “Golden Visa” program to make this move possible for Third Country Nationals).
During my initial research for potential places to settle down, Corfu seemed like a great contender, so we figured we should check it out on this trip. Spoiler alert: it did NOT disappoint! The bad news, a few months after we got home, our frenchie, Gertie, had her second disc herniation within 6 months and we had to rush her to our local neurology specialist for emergency surgery. She sadly didn’t make it home from surgery, which is a whole other sad story, but this situation led me to rethink the whole island life thing, as three of our frenchies have needed this emergency back surgery (very common in the breed), among other medical emergencies, so we need to make sure we have 24/7 access to specialized veterinary care.
On the relocations topic, we had switched gears and strongly considered a move to France due to an abundance of veterinary specialists (and obviously we love France too), but after a full year of intense research and planning, we came to the realization that the visa process would be much, much more complicated for Michael’s work situation. We were willing to proceed through the bureaucratic minefield, but we had plenty of time to contemplate and research during the great quarantine of 2020, and ultimately we’ve decided that our best option to relocate to Europe is to attempt to find a home on mainland Greece. There are excellent veterinary specialists available in Athens, so we just need to settle within a reasonable driving distance from there. Stay tuned for updates on that, as we’ll be meeting with realtors and an immigration attorney during our upcoming visit.
Now, back to our time on Corfu…
After somewhat of a nail-biter of a journey getting from Florence to the Milan airport that morning on the cusp of a country wide transportation strike, which literally started that very morning, we thankfully made it to Corfu around 2pm local time. The flight was direct, so it was pretty brief, but long enough to catch a little snooze after our super early morning wake up call in Florence.
We originally planned to spend five nights in Corfu; however, about a month after we booked all our flights, Alissa THANKFULLY noticed that our departure time changed for the flight leg home from Corfu to Zurich, which would have made us miss our connection back to the states in Zurich. No bueno. Surprisingly, we were able to get a full refund from United, so we re-booked a new flight itinerary with Delta extending our entire trip by one day to tack on a two night stay in London, but we had to shorten our time in Corfu to four nights to make the stop in London worthwhile. In hindsight, we would have loved to have that fifth night back so we could’ve explored more of the island, or even just chill out in Corfu town an extra day. We truly fell in love with the island.
While Corfu is chock full of history, after visiting an obscene amount of museums and historic sights in Krakow and Florence, we had no plans to do the same on Corfu. Our stay was going to be all about taking in the island’s natural beauty, enjoying the traditional cuisine, and hopefully connect with some friendly locals as well. The only thing that was scheduled during our stay was a private sailing tour the following morning, which we were SO excited about.
Whether you’re visiting one of the popular Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea (Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, etc), or Corfu in the Ionian, there’s really nothing quite like the vibrant blue seas that envelop the shores of Greece. I think all of us had a sense of renewed energy and giddiness when we began our descent over the varied landscapes of the island.
As previously mentioned, Corfu is part of the Ionian Island chain, so it’s located just off the west coast of Greece and Albania, and a ways off the southeast coast of Italy. I’d have to research again, but I’m almost positive there are ferries available from Italy (likely Bari) to Corfu during certain times of the year.
When most people think of the Greek Islands, we envision clusters of sun bleached cube homes hugging the cliff edges of the more arid Cyclades Islands, like Santorini and Mykonos. While these characterful little dwellings make for beautiful photo backdrops, what you soon realize is how dry and desolate the undeveloped areas of these islands are. Corfu is just the opposite. It’s landscape is lush, green, and extremely mountainous. And it’s a pretty dang breathtaking sight from an airplane window (which I sadly did not capture on camera).
Sidenote: on a past trip, Michael and I took an overnight ferry from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I can’t say it was luxurious by any means, but it was cheap, and a great use of time, as it left Bari around 10:00 at night, and arrived in Dubrovnik shortly after sunrise (Pics below). We had a cabin to sleep in, and the food wasn’t bad at all. So don’t forget to look into ferry traveling when you’re making your itineraries, as it can be an incredibly efficient way to travel from A to B. We’ve also taken an overnight ferry from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm, Sweden, which was on a much nicer ship. Sometimes you just have to take the ferry that works best with your schedule, vs. the one that has more amenities. Who really needs bells and whistles on a ferry trip anyway, right?
Okay…before I go off on another tangent, how about I just tell you how we spent our time in Corfu?
Day 1 : Arrival Day
We stayed in Old Corfu Town, which is the capital of the island, and conveniently located right near the airport. The Old Town is a UNESCO world heritage site, so its beautiful Venetian architecture has been preserved. In the more “modernized” areas of Greece, it can be a bit like hopping on a time machine to the 1970s, so it’s important to keep this in mind when deciding on where to stay anywhere in Greece if you prefer that historic, old town vibe, or counting on postcard worthy architecture.
The nearby airport is super tiny, just like the little airport I talked about when we landed in Rimini, Italy on the previous leg of our journey. Unlike Rimini, when we stepped out of the airport there was thankfully no shortage of taxis waiting to whisk us off to our airbnb.
After another slightly terrifying, but thankfully short, cab ride where I’m still left wondering whether it was speed bumps or pedestrian casualties we flew over, we arrived in one piece…barely….outside our best AirBnB of the trip. The breathtaking view of the waterfront and convenient location of this two story apartment cannot not be beat. Not to mention the local host was the sweetest human ever, and so accommodating with our arrival and our ridiculously early departure. She gave us several great restaurant recommendations, and was immediately available to answer questions via text or whatsapp, but we’re pretty low maintenance so we left her alone during our stay.
After getting some swimsuits on and taking in the view for a few minutes, we strolled out to grab some drinks and a little pre-dinner snacky-snack at Imabari, which is a waterfront bar/restaurant that was right by our apartment
It’s such a hip, trendy place with amazing cocktails, but we weren’t quite expecting to see soooooo many families there with littles running all over unattended. We dealt with it because we knew they’d have to start trickling out for nap time. Plus, hellooooo, we were on a Greek Island with nowhere we needed to be. Vacay Mode: Activated.
After about four rounds of delightful cocktails and some food, we set out on foot to explore, aka find another watering hole. It didn’t take long for us to find a little nondescript looking bar with some lounge chairs right on a small strip of beach that we had to ourselves. The sun was beginning to set, so we enjoyed the view across the Ionian and everyone, except me, took a little dip in the sea (it was a bit too chilly for me with the sun going down).
We were all feeling pretty fat and happy at this point, so we made an executive decision to not go back to the apartment to change, which would have been a bit of a buzzkill, and instead just rolled into a casual al fresco dinner…..right after we stumbled upon a little bakery with 542 types of baklava that we stocked up on for later. =\
Finding a casual restaurant wasn’t a tall order with Corfu being an island and all. And luckily one of the recommendations we got from our AirBnb host fit the bill well, AND they had a table available. #Winning. We ended up having so much fun that night, which may have had something to do with all the unwelcomed raki we were given (insert green/nauseas emoji face).
We capped off the night with an impromptu stop at a mini mart in the middle of the old town for a half a gallon of ice cream to go with all the baklava we stocked up on, which was a pretty humorous shopping adventure….you kinda had to be there because I really can’t put it into words.
Thankfully our apartment was stumbling distance from the mini mart, so once we made it back there with our baklava and ice cream intact, we proceeded to further stuff our faces while enjoying the incredible view from our terrace. This is also when we realized that Corfiots don’t sleep. The nightlife was just getting started when we got back to the apartment around midnight, and this was the norm every night during our stay. I’m thinking it’s probably pretty sleepy in the winter off season, however.
Day 2: Sailing Adventure
We were all looking forward to this day for MONTHS leading up to our trip, and our long awaited sailing day was finally here!
Surprisingly, we had a really tough time finding what we were looking for when we were researching sailing tours. Actually, we had a really tough time finding what we were looking for when it came to a lot of tours in Corfu. It’s just not as commercialized as some of the other Greek Islands, which is part of why the island is so charming. But even finding things on the internet was a struggle, as a lot of tour businesses don’t have a website. You just learn about them from word of mouth, or stumble upon them. We were desperate to explore Corfu’s Wine and Olive Oil production as well, but after striking out with finding an organized small group tour for either of those, I even polled facebook groups for Corfu locals, and struck out there too. Many locals and expats pointed out that there would be a really good business opportunity there, which definitely got my wheels spinning. I mean, we could buy a passenger van and hire a local Corfiot to help give winery and olive oil tasting tours. Sign me up! But alas, that didn’t help our current predicament.
Thankfully we had more luck on the sailing front when we came across ABCorfu Sailing hosted by Theda and Captain Christos, which operates out of the port in Gouvia, just a quick cab ride from Corfu Town. They have 139 five star reviews on Trip Advisor (zero reviews below five stars), and they’re such a lovely couple and wonderful hosts. Christos is originally from Corfu, and Theda is from Texas. They met two adult children ago on Corfu, and Christos entertained us with the funny story about how he first got Theda’s attention back in the day while Theda was staying in Corfu, and he miraculously secured a date with her (if you’ve heard the story, you know;)), and the rest is history. The two lived in the states while they raised their son and daughter. Now they’ve returned to Christos’ home of Corfu, and their son and daughter split their time between Corfu and Paris. What a life, right? Their sail boat is a single hull (so not a catamaran), so it’s not extremely roomy inside, but it was perfect for our group of four (plus Theda and Christos). Theda had everything super organized (we each had a color coded towel, cup, wine glass, etc), and she kept the beer, wine, and snacks flowing. While Captain Christos kept us entertained with interesting facts about Corfu, and some really funny stories. As I said earlier, at the time Michael and I were actually seriously considering a move to Corfu, so we were able to pick their brains about life there, and some of the hurdles that come with relocating from the states.
Since the tour was private, we were able to determine how long we wanted to stay at each swimming spot, which was a nice change compared to some of the bigger group sailing trips we’ve done, as I’m always the first in and last out of the water.
We also got to stop at a fabulous seaside restaurant for an incredible lunch, complete with adorable, well fed, sleepy kitties.
We had such a great day on the water. The sights were so breathtakingly beautiful, the company was great, the food and drinks were plentiful, we got to swim as much as we wanted, and Alissa perfected the art of napping on what Christos calls “spaghetti” floats.
My only complaint is that it flew by wayyyyy too fast! But we know how this works, as it always happens when we take out our own boat. Time just absolutely zooms by when you’re on the water.
I think it was around 4-5pm when we returned to the dock, so it was a full day, but as I said, it definitely didn’t feel too long at all despite us getting a pretty early start that morning.
We learned that Theda volunteers for one of the Corfu animal rescues, as Michael noticed that she had some t-shirts in the cabin that were available with a 10 euro donation, and we happily offered to contribute to the cause since we’re all parents to rescue babies.
So it was pretty much the perfect day ever since we also got to help the rescue pups and kitties of Corfu.
If you’re interested in taking a boat or sailing tour during a stay on Corfu, I cannot recommend ABCorfu Sailing, and Captain Christos and Theda enough. They are amazing hosts! While we were sailing around, we passed by Christos and Theda’s son, who was spending the summer in Greece and giving tours on their beautiful power boat. Everyone on board his boat looked like they were having a good time as well. So if you prefer power boats over sail boats, ask if they have any tours available on their other boat as well.
After saying our goodbyes and grabbing a cab back to Corfu Town, we were pretty fired up to shower and get out on the town for some good cocktails and dinner that evening.
We started out at the trendy waterfront restaurant and bar, NAOK Azur, for some fancy pre-dinner cocktails, which may have been my downfall that evening.
By the time we realized we needed to leave our prime seats at NAOK Azur and get dinner, it was pretty late. We basically grabbed one of the first tables we could find at one of the many al fresco dining options in the gleaming stone alleyways of the old town. We were all pretty happy with our food, from what I recall, but it wasn’t anything that knocked our socks off, so I don’t think any of us noted the name of the restaurant or took any food porn pics.
After dinner, we wandered around a bit until we happened upon a fun bar with a DJ that had a free table.
Before I go on, I feel the need to explain that we seem to always have that ONE day on vacay where we inadvertently over indulge a little (or sometimes a lot), and thankfully we have an uncanny ability to stagger our turns so we’re aren’t all a hot mess at the same time.
That said, this night was definitely my night, so dinner, Alissa quietly pretending to attempt to light the candle at our table by rubbing two twigs together, and the DJ that I dubbed “Greek Drake” because he vaguely resembled Drake Drake are about the only parts of the evening I remember beyond our cocktails at NAOK Azur. We thankfully (insert sarcasm here) had an abundance of instagram stories to help me put the pieces together the next day though. And let’s just say that the thing I remember most about my seafood pasta dinner, is seeing it again at the end of the night. Yeah….that happened (so embarrassing). Oh well, I had a good run.
We sure did have a blast though.
Day 3: Paleokastritsa
Despite having a rough night out, we all woke up ready to roll bright and early the next morning and had plans to head to the beach. Paleokastritsa is a really popular beach area, so we sort of felt like it would be a crime not to check it out. Yes, it’s popular. Yes, it’s unique due to the landscape. But no, we probably shouldn’t have gone there. Though, our time there definitely made for some great people watching, and it gave us an enormous appreciation for the fact that we weren’t visiting Corfu via a cruise ship.
What we were looking for was a setup similar to what we’ve found on Naxos Island and Rovinj, Croatia: we wanted to rent some loungers and umbrellas, and have a server bring us fruity adult beverages. We were really to kick our feet up and relax. We were expecting to see rows and rows of loungers, but there really wasn’t much of an actual beach to be found. By some miracle we arrived just in time to grab four loungers from the one scant row that dotted the narrow sandy beach that had just been vacated. Thankfully a super friendly server arrived within minutes after getting settled. I can still remember my hangover order:
“I’ll just have a greek salad, the biggest Coca-Cola Light available, and a water, please. Just kidding, can you add a margherita pizza to that too? Thank youuuuuu!!”
And I shamelessly ate every. single. bite.
While we were eating and drinking to our hearts’ content, this is when we really gained a renewed appreciation for the fact that we weren’t trying to take in this spectacular island on a 6ish hour cruise port call. As I mentioned previously, we were treated to a lot of people watching from those lounge chairs, and that’s thanks to the fact that some tourist trap boat excursions took off from a dock just a stone’s throw down the beach from us. At some point Alissa and I finally decided to clock how long each boat tour was, and how long people had miserably waited in line for said tour, in the sweltering heat, wearing actual clothes, and carrying backpacks, camera gear, kids complaining, etc etc etc (I wish I had pics of the insanity). The boat tours were 30-35 minutes long, and the average wait in line was over an hour (we lost interest after the one hour point). To be clear, these boat tours did not seem interesting at all. They basically packed at least a dozen people on crappy old boats like sardines, drove around Paleokastritsa for 30-35 minutes, and unceremoniously dropped the passengers back off at the dock. Then most of these people had to wait on the hot pavement for either a bus to show up to take them back to Corfu Town (where the cruise ships dock), or rejoin their tour group and try to squeeze in another mediocre excursion before rushing back to the ship. Not fun.
Meanwhile, we were able to completely relax, or not. We could do whatever the heck we wanted for the four nights we spent on this magnificent island. And in reality, four nights wasn’t enough time, so I can’t imagine trying to take it all in in just a matter of hours.
The sun was beginning to set, so we called a taxi (absolutely LOVE Corfu taxi drivers…such characters:)), and we headed back to our amazing apartment to get ready for another fabulous greek dinner and cocktails in the little town that never sleeps.
I love the long summer days, as it felt like the sunset lasted for hours before night finally fell. We took our time finding a quaint little al fresco restaurant in the middle of the Old Town, and then bounced around for a cocktail here and there, before finally settling in at the hip waterfront bar that our apartment overlooked, Imabari, which is the first place we went when we first arrived on the island. It was a much different atmosphere at night without a bunch of littles running around. If you click through the pics on their TripAdvisor page, you can see how stunning the views are at night. You can also see how dark that water gets after the sun sets, which is why we were all super impressed when a younger woman at a nearby table casually stepped into the sea and began swimming laps. She was still wearing her swimsuit, presumably from earlier that day, and was so chill about it, so I don’t think she was drunk…..she just wanted to get some exercise. Mad respect. Not only because of her commitment to her fitness, but you couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to step into that pitch black abyss. Jk….I probably would have done it for an extra scoop of ice cream with my Baklava.
Day 4: Glyfada Beach
Ahhhh our final full day in beautiful Corfu. Cue the tears. I don’t think any of us were ready to move on. Our time in Corfu was the recharge that we all needed, and I think everyone knew that our batteries would soon be depleted again after the whirlwind our next couple days in London was sure to be with me driving a slightly insane itinerary.
Corfu is the seventh largest Greek island, so I felt like we still had so much left to explore. But as I often say, you have to give yourself a reason to come back, so don’t kill yourself trying to do and see it all.
For our final day, we really wanted to try to nail the beach vibe we were looking for the previous day in Paleokastritsa, but failed to fully achieve. When we described what we were looking for, we had been told by our wonderful sailing hosts that their adult children always enjoy hanging out at Barbati Beach on the northeast coast of Corfu for the whole lounger + umbrella + fancy cocktail vibe. I had already thoroughly researched that area, both for vacation planning, and from when we began looking into real estate on Corfu, so the fact that this area was recommended by people who lived on the island was extremely encouraging.
We were up and at ’em pretty early, as usual, and figured we’d just take a cab to Barbati. In most of Europe it’s quite easy to find a taxi, as there are usually designated taxi queues with several lined up. I don’t live in a big US city, so pardon my ignorance on the subject, but I’m not sure if this exists in the US, but figured it’s worth mentioning as a practical matter. There is a decent bus system on Corfu, but whenever we’re on vacation our standard philosophy is: money which saves valuable time, is money well-spent. And I can’t recall exactly the cost of the cab fare, but it was roughly in the 30 euro range, so taking a taxi was a no-brainer.
And once again, we had a wonderful driver. Super friendly, super talkative, and super helpful. We were probably about a third of the way to Barbati, and after several minutes of chatting, he had a good understanding of what type of environment we were looking for and suggested we instead head to the north west coast to Glyfada Beach. I think all of us immediately thought that he was just trying to get a larger fare, which would be very unsurprising, as this is exactly the sort of harmless thing that we have to have a radar for as tourists. But when we asked him how much further it would be (aka how much more will it cost us), he delightfully told us it would be the same price. Initially I didn’t want to be derailed from our plans to go to Barbati when I assumed he was just trying to keep us in the cab longer, but once it was clear he actually just really wanted to take us to what he considered the best beach for our needs, we were all for it. And OH MY GOD…..it did not disappoint.
It was pretty early when we arrived, so we quickly realized many of the beach bars/clubs were still cleaning up from the previous night and setting up for the new day (again, the nightlife in Greece during the summer is pretty nuts). Unfortunately the place that was the most inviting, aesthetically speaking (pictured above), was also opening the latest that morning. Before we realized this, they were kind enough to at least service us some coffee and a couple mimosas. Once we realized they weren’t completely open for business (oops) we trekked down the beach to a less nice place that was ready for customers with plenty of loungers available, but they didn’t have servers on the beach. Womp womp. At first Alissa and I scoffed a bit, as this was our last day on this beautiful island, and we really wanted to have just one day to pretend we were all fancy like, but the hubbies promised to be our drink runners, so we accepted their proposal and settled in.
Overall is was a pretty perfect day. Other than a brief moment of irritation when a British Karen who decided to sit in the lounger beside us asked us to lower our voices because she was reading a book. To be clear, we were not being loud, obnoxious, or offensive in any way. We are a group of four adults, who chat and joke, and enjoy each others company, and we were doing so at a normal volume. I’m sure she just found our American accents grating, and I get it, but there isn’t anything we can do about that. Seemed like an odd place to try to read a book anyhow, but maybe that’s just me. If one wants peace and quiet to read, there are miles and miles of empty beaches available to do just that.
On that note, we barely heard any other American accents while we were there, as Corfu is simply not on most American’s radars. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous Greece posts, Americans tend to visit Mykonos and Santorini, and often visit by cruise ship. So perhaps our lovely friend from the UK thought we were lost ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Thankfully that temporary damper was overcome by the highlight of the day, which was when an elderly greek man showed up with some type of hot, sugary, homemade doughnuts that he was parading around the beach, similar to the beer and hot dog guys who roam the stands shouting catching sales pitches at baseball games. Michael didn’t have cash on him and almost crushed my doughnut dreams, but thankfully John saved the day and bought a few before I had a meltdown.
The day flew by, and before we knew it, it was time to call a cab and head back to the apartment to get ready for our last dinner. We probably got back around 5pm, and thanks to the long summer days, we were all able to shower and get back out on Corfu town for some pre-dinner cocktails long before sunset.
During our whole stay there had been a running joke about going on this “pirate ship” that docked near where we stayed, which was basically a party boat. It sailed out at 11pm every night, with music blaring, lit up like the fourth of july, and it had a flat cover charge that included unlimited alcohol (I think maybe they only served rum, or something pirate-y). I don’t know if I would survive such an event at my age, but John humorously tried to persuade us to go up until the last night. He wasn’t successful. Especially considering we had a cab scheduled to arrive at 4am to take us to the airport. =\
So no pirate ship that night, but we enjoyed a quiet dinner overlooking the sea, and then walked our dinner off down at the port and admired several beautiful, enormous yachts.
I think we were all a little somber that night at the thought of leaving this beautiful island. There was still so much to be explored, but now we have several good reasons to return someday.
I can’t say enough good things about our Airbnb host, who was so sweet about our ridiculously early departure. We asked if there was somewhere we could leave the keys, but she unfortunately had to come and collect them. She arrived on time, and we’re pretty sure she came straight from one of the nearby bars, as Greeks definitely know how to live it up into the wee hours. The taxi she arranged arrived on time as well while we were handing over the keys and saying goodbye to our host. Hopefully he had not come from a nearby bar as well.
While we were sad to be leaving, we still had two nights in London to look forward to. Not to mention a long enough flight, with extra leg room, to grab ourselves a good snooze before hitting the ground running.
I’ve done some pretty thorough blog posts on touring London in the past, so I’m debating about whether I should write about our last two nights of vacay there.
What do you all think? Yay or nay?