I spent just over two weeks on the island of Corfu with a HelpX placement. Corfu is a beautiful island in the Ionian Sea, off the northwestern coast of Greece. The main port and town is Corfu Town, which has been an important trading post, military post, and cultural center for hundreds of years. As the island passed from the Venetians to the British, Corfu Town served as the center for whichever government was in charge. Corfu was especially important to the Venetians due to its strategic position between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The Venetians kept control of Corfu for more than 400 years, the longest they held any overseas possession.
Corfu Town is flanked by two large fortresses, appropriately called the “New Fortress” and the “Old Fortress”. Both were primarily built by the Venetian Empire, but the British made some improvements at the Old Fortress during their period of rule from 1815-1864. These fortresses made Corfu one of the most heavily fortified cities and showed the value that the Venetians placed on the island. They also were responsible for keeping the island out of Ottoman hands – one of the few places in Greece.
There are two reasons to visit the New Fortress: it’s free and the view is amazing. While there isn’t much left of historical interest, there is a coffee shop/bar overlooking the town and over to the Old Fortress. Building started around 1577, although all the current buildings in the fort date to the time of British rule. There isn’t much to see here besides the view.
While the ‘new’ fortress is still more than 400 years old, the ‘old’ fortress earns the title from the fact that it has been some sort of fortification for almost 1500 years. After a devastating invasion by the Goths in the 6th century, the people of Corfu moved into the fortress where they would be protected. To further protect the fortress after an Ottoman siege, a moat was added during the mid-16th century that helped repel the Ottomans during their two subsequent attacks on Corfu. A visit to the Old Fortress is rewarded with great information, fabulous views of the sea and of Corfu Town and a chance to look back at the history of Corfu. I recommend climbing up to the lighthouse to get the best view.
Corfu’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, as “The urban and port ensemble of Corfu, dominated by its fortresses of Venetian origin, constitutes an architectural example of outstanding universal value in both its authenticity and its integrity.” The Old Town is full of Italianate buildings, cute souvenir shops, restaurants, and bakeries. It’s well worth wandering around for a couple of hours exploring the streets and squares. Traces of the British occupation can also be seen, especially in the love of cricket that persists on the island (and nowhere else in Greece).
Corfu Town is a great place to get acquainted with the island. There are several ferries that come into Corfu’s New Port from Italy, Albania and other places in Greece. However, the schedules vary considerably during the year, and in the off-season, the best way to get to the island is probably to fly. Aegean Airlines offers several flights a day, and I was impressed with their service. However, Corfu is prone to large storms and pouring rain, so be prepared for a potential delay. My only flight delay of my entire two-month trip was an hour getting out of Corfu due to a storm. After I finally got out of Corfu, it was back to Athens for a day before heading to Rome.