Visitors and settlers have been delighted by the green and pleasant island of Corfu for thousands of years. It was already a popular holiday destination in Roman times, and today it is one of the busiest spots in the Mediterranean.
Corfu has a population of just over 100,000, packed into its 593 sq kms (229 sq miles), making it one of the most densely populated parts of Greece – and that’s without the annual impact of almost one million visitors. Nevertheless, such figures are misleading, as about 40% of the population lives in the capital, Corfu Town.
It has been established that Corfu Town was one of the first settlements on the island, with remains dated back to about 50,000 years ago. The island’s fertility, size and natural beauty all contributed to its development, and by the time of the Persian Wars it was so powerful that only Athens contributed a greater naval fleet to the Greek forces massed against the Persians. It remained a strong Greek power, and little surprise that it was coveted by the Romans, and indeed by many other powers over the succeeding centuries.
It was the Venetians who have left the most impact culturally and architecturally, after their occupation here from 1386 to 1797, which also means that the Turkish influence, so strong elsewhere in Greece, is here quite negligible. Instead you will see in Corfu Town the tall houses, with wrought-iron balconies and shutters, and the narrow streets so typical of Italian towns, and reminiscent in places of Venice.
Corfu has some 217km (135 miles) of glorious coastline for visitors to enjoy, and the vast majority of these shoehorn themselves into a handful of bustling seaside resorts, so escape from the crowds is still possible. And though few coastal villages are totally untouched by tourism, some have not yet been taken over by it.
What has made Corfu so popular? For one thing, it can boast some of the best beaches in Greece. Its climate is warm for most of the year and regular rainfall makes Corfu an unusually green Mediterranean island.
The scenery is outstanding, with the north dominated by the majestic slopes of Mount Pantokrator, and the people possess the traditional Greek friendliness (in Greek the word for ‘stranger’ and ‘guest’ is one and the same).
The island is divided into a mountainous north and a lower-lying south, with a flat and fertile plain in-between, so lush that it can provide the islands’ only golf course. The bulk of the tourist development is in the northeast, spreading north from Corfu Town, and there are numerous excellent beaches all around the island, which is big enough to provide escape from the crowds into untouched mountain villages, as this drive indicates. And finally, Corfu Town is probably the most attractive capital to be found in any of the Greek islands.
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