Corfu Olives

Much of Corfu’s lush green landscape comes from its vast groves of olive trees. For islanders they have long been an economic mainstay. For visitors, there is nothing more magical than a walk or drive through these rustling, sun-dappled groves that cling to the hillsides on stone-banked terraces. Corfu’s olive trees are larger than anywhere else in Greece. Some of these ancient giants with their gnarled and knotted trunks are nearly 500 years old. 

Greek olive tree

Legend has it that St Spyridon appeared in an olive grove and forbade the islanders to cut or beat the branches of the trees, because it was cruel. So for centuries they have not pruned the trees, and instead of picking the olives they let them fall to the ground by themselves, spreading nets beneath the trees to catch them. But the Greek government has decreed that olive trees must be pruned in order to maintain peak productivity.

The Venetians were responsible for the widespread, systematic planting of olives on the island, which reached its peak in the 16th century. They wanted to ensure their city would never run short of oil. The Venetians gave ten gold pieces for every grove of 100 olive trees planted, and when they left it is said the islanders had nearly two million trees. 

Olives on an olive tree in Greece

‘A hunk of bread and a Greek tomato the size of a baby’s head need only a saucer of the magic stuff to provide a wonderful meal.’
Emma Tennant on olive oil, from her book Corfu Banquet.

Today there are said to be 3-4 million trees and olives remain one of the main agricultural crops on Corfu. Trees bear fruit only every other year, and new trees may take 12 years to yield a first crop. In a good year the olive harvest lasts from January through till May. 

Corfu’s olive oil is a dark, slightly greenish colour and is of high quality. Despite the abundance of trees, it can be surprisingly hard to find on Corfu. Locals keep most of it for their own use and the rest is exported to Italy.

Olive Trees on CorfuOlive Trees on Corfu

Ancient Fruit

Since ancient times, olives have been part of the staple diet of people throughout the Mediterranean. Olive cultivation and the production of oil date back to the Early Bronze Age (about 3000 BC). Corfu’s land and climate were highly favourable for growing olives. In The Odyssey, Homer tells us that the tree was cultivated here by King Alkinoös.

In addition to being part of the daily diet, olive oil had many other uses. It was used to cleanse and beautify the body, like soap today. Artwork on vases from the 6th and 5th century BC shows young men smearing their bodies with oil, and scraping themselves clean with a curved blade known as a strigil.

Olive oil had therapeutic properties and was used to soothe skin irritations. It could be blended with flower or herbal essences to produce fragrant oils. It was also burned in household lamps and later in the lamps of Christian churches and saints’ shrines. Olive oil was stored and transported in large clay vessels called pithoi or amphoras, which had a closed shape. 

Greek OlivesGreek Olives

Corfu's Black Gold

Nearly every Corfiot family owns at least a few olive trees. In the 17th century a family’s wealth was determined by the number of trees it possessed. It was customary for large landowners to let out the oil crop to the peasants living on the property, who worked the harvest in return for half the oil.

In rural areas the number of trees is still a factor in calculating land values. Trees and land are often owned separately. When purchasing a piece of land, the buyer must also find out who owns the trees, as they have right of way over the land.

In Prospero’s Cell, Lawrence Durrell describes the sour, pungent taste of Corfu’s black olives as ‘A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.’

Where to Stay on Corfu



Some other Corfu pages

  • Visiting Albania from Corfu

    Donna Dailey of Greece Travel Secrets visits Albania by boat from Corfu Town, staying overnight and seeing archaeological sites with Sipa Tours.

  • Southern Corfu

    Southern Corfu has busy beach resorts like Benitses, historical buildings like the Achilleion Palace and Gardiki Castle, and wildlife at the Korision Lagoon.

  • Paleokastritsa, Corfu

    Paleokastritsa is on the west coast of Corfu and is one of the most popular holiday spots. This page gives information on beaches, boat trips, weather and map.

  • Northern Corfu

    Northern Corfu is the most diverse part of the island, with Corfu's highest point, Mt Pantokrator, and beach resorts like Sidari and Palaiokastritsa.

  • Northern Corfu Drive

    There are two sides to every Greek island, the tourist and the traditional, and this drive from Corfu Town through northern Corfu shows the two faces of Corfu.

  • Corfu

    Corfu or Kerkyra is the main island in the Greek Ionian islands with Corfu Town being one of the most attractive of Greek island capitals.

  • Corfu Town

    Corfu Town is the capital of Corfu and of the Ionian Islands and has museums, two forts, several museums, churches, and many other attractions.

  • Corfu Offshore Islands

    There are three islands off the northwest coast of Corfu, Erikouusa, Othoni and Mathraki, popular with day-trippers from resorts like Sidari.

  • Corfu Food and Drink

    Information for travelers on Corfu Food and Drink including restaurants and tavernas, Corfiot specialties, desserts, wine and other Greek drinks like ouzo.

  • Corfu Festivals and Events

    Information for travellers to Greece on Corfu festivals and events including Easter, the Feast of St Spiridhon, Carnival and Name Days.

  • Corfu Climate: Sun, Rain, Winds

    The Corfu Climate page describes the hours of sun, the rain, the winds, to help you plan the best time to visit this Ionian island.

  • Corfu Beer Festival

    The First Corfu Beer Festival took place in Arillas in North West Corfu and celebrated the beer of Bavaria and of Corfu, in the Ionian islands of Greece.

  • Best Things to Do on Corfu

    The best things to do on Corfu include visiting Palaiokastritsa, a day trip to Albania, seeing the Achilleion Palace, and the museums in Corfu Town.

  • Best Beaches on Corfu

    The best beaches on Corfu, chosen by Greece Travel Secrets, include Paleokastritsa, Mirtiotissa, Sidari and Cape Asprokavos.

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