My first time in Greece! It happened quite randomly, in that I was initially going to start in Croatia and proceed north, but then was told I should see Montenegro and Albania because they were even more beautiful and a lot cheaper. So I thought, why not? And Corfu just happened to be closer to the southern tip of Albania than it’s capital city, Tirana, saving me from backtracking, so I hopped a cheap flight there from Amsterdam (love that option in Europe!).
Impressions + Encounters
My only experience with Greece until now was basically through The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ha. That set pretty high expectations, so I tried to go in with an open mind, and was definitely captured by the stunningly blue waters. I think the classic blue-topped, white-washed houses are concentrated in the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea (other side of the country), but Corfu has a charm of it’s own. It was established by the Venetians, so carries that beautiful style of architecture with old pastel facades and narrow cobblestone streets, and is now recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. But the island does become nearly deserted during the cold and wet winter months, so be sure to plan accordingly.
It’s amazing how many people you can meet when you travel alone. It’s one of the things I love most about it. From local cafe waiters, to the single girl from London sitting next to me at the bar, to another girl (now friend 🙂 ) from Cape Town waiting at the bus stop with me. These encounters add so much value to my experience, I can only recommend to smile and not be shy! Using good judgment of course ha.
See + Do
I learned early on in my trip that I am a wanderer when I travel…into cafes, vintage shops, up mountains, into old buildings, through narrow and winding streets – wherever that pulls my heart strings and curiosity. Mostly by foot. And I love it. So here are some of my wanders 🙂
- Walked south of town, past locals swimming off the sea walls, to the Kanoni peninsula.This was where the first settlement and ancient city port was established in the 8th Century BC and now where the airport lies among a lagoon. Along the way I stopped at the Mon Repos Estate, which featured the now Paleopolis Archaeological Museum and ancient temple ruins. If I went back, I would be prepared to swim below among the rocks, in a private little cove 🙂 . Continuing on I came to the end, which had beautiful views of the Mouse island (you could take a boat there), with the monastery of Vlaherna. After my long walk, I took a break at one of the cafes on the cliffside looking over the sea and had a classic Greek salad (fitting ha).
- Spent a day (or two 😉 ) in Corfu Town – walking, (window) shopping, snacking and exploring the old town streets – best at night, when the cruise ships have left and the weather is stunningly fresh and warm. Don’t miss the Old Fortress!
- Pick a destination from a postcard! I took a day trip by bus to Barbati when I missed the bus I wanted to take to Kassiopi. So instead I selected my destination based on proximity and photos on postcards ha – excellent choice! AND, while waiting I made a new friend who was from South Africa, but working in London and traveling solo for a vacation…we still keep in touch 🙂 I spent a beautiful afternoon on the beach at Bahia Mare, where it’s standard to rent a chair with umbrella for the day (maybe 2 euro). I met a few girls sitting next to me who were from the Netherlands and spend their summers working abroad at beach resorts. There were plenty of food and drink options – I opted for a refreshing salad with prunes, cashews and goat cheese to keep my energy up 🙂 Then soaked up the sun and unbelievably clear blue water.
- Paleokastritsa (my favorite name to say! ha) was my other day trip destination. I took the bus again and this time wasn’t late 😉 I got recommendations from a local friend I made on two good spots to go and am grateful I did, or I never would have found them because the bus drops you off in a different location! The first was Akron Beach Bar, which I walked to (after getting wifi in a local cafe to find it). It had it’s own swimming pool (paid) and sandy beach (free – aka where I landed ha) tucked into a beautiful bay, and you could order food/drinks if you wanted.
After a couple hours there I figured it was time to check out the other spot. I decided to take a boat ride there for the experience and it was definitely worth it.
Destination #2 was La Grotta Bar, a unique little bar tucked into a cove with several opportunities for “cliff” jumping. I met a super nice French family who were so kind as to capture my “daring” jump 😉 . But it was not nearly as crazy as one local guy who was basically Tarzan.
After a little while there to dry off, I walked a few miles back to the original drop-off location, loving both the exercise and vistas along the way.
I finished off my day with a walk uphill to visit the famous monastery. Thankfully a local waiter pointed me to the viewpoint I would have otherwise missed!
- Have a glass of wine at night at one of many cafe patios, especially those lining the green Spianada Square, one of the largest in the Balkans.
(a local told me this was a good spot – along the square – if you can find it^^)
- My last day I went for a swim on the edge of Corfu Town, down near a couple cafes with views of the old fortress. Just be ready to lie your towel on hard stones!
Eat + Drink (gluten-free!)
- Earth Cafe: An organic cafe in the middle of town with both indoor and outdoor seating…a little touristy, but seemed like a safe place to start since I could read the menu ha. My first breakfast was a delicious (and expensive…whoops!) veggie omelet and cappuccino, making gluten-free easy.
- The BEST ice cream, gelato and cakes can be found at Papagiorgis Patisserie – so many flavors and gluten-free options! It’s gotta be good if it’s been in business since 1924, right?
- Anthos Restaurant is the place to go if you want an AMAZING, local gluten-free dinner (the owner has celiac disease, so is very aware). But make sure to book a reservation in advance because it’s small and fills up quickly! I was strolling by one evening and casually asked if they had space for me and somehow got lucky! One benefit of dining solo 😉 Do note that it was my second attempt and I had to sit inside, but still! My meal began with a complimentary starter of their traditional fish soup (surprisingly good) and marinated anchovy on lettuce with balsamic. The owner had just run out of her gluten-free bread, which I was a little bummed about, but she then went and got me these small gluten-free herbed crackers instead! Wow, so thoughtful. And I was really glad because the cheesy dip (Tirokafterh – made with goat feta and spices) they came with was addiction-worthy ha. My main dish was a sea bass fillet with roasted tomatoes and vegetables (zucchini, carrots, potatoes, spinach). Topped off with a glass of white wine and flourless chocolate cake. It was a night of PERFECTION.
- Do not miss Rose’s Bakery with many gluten-free treats!!!
- I wander into most supermarkets to see the local food specialties (and any gluten-free goodies), and found a couple in Corfu town, including paleo cookies and gluten-free rice bread!
- Coffee. I like trying what the locals order and my initial assumption was that it would be the Greek Coffee. Makes sense right? But no, I was told that’s too hot and thick for the Greek summer. Instead they opt for a Freddo Espresso. Smart choice because it was so deliciously refreshing (try making your own here). I frequented Cafe Josephine because my apartment host was friends with the owner and said I could get a free drink there to use the wifi (since my place didn’t actually have wifi, as was noted in the description).
- Made friends with a local who took me out to two different bars one night, which were super fun…NAOK Azur and Amaze Bar, both right on the water in Corfu Town.
- I found my daily fresh fruit and vegetables at local stands, and used those to make meals at home – mostly varieties of salads and greek yogurt (the real stuff, of course) with fruit and granola I had brought with me.
- Hotel Dalia: I arrived late the first night (after 10pm), so found an inexpensive hotel just a few minutes walk from the airport. This was really convenient and the staff was helpful in me deciding to stay in Corfu Town and take day trips from there. Small, firm bed, chunky pillow, clean, towels, funny smelling bathroom, mini-fridge, balcony, AC – basic, but everything I needed.
- Traditional Loft in the Heart of Corfu Town: For the rest of my time, I was having trouble finding a good spot in Corfu Town that wasn’t crazy expensive or kinda creepy ha, and didn’t want to trek to the party hostels on the other side of the island. I finally found a spot on Homeaway, but it was so last minute that I wasn’t sure they’d respond online. So I tracked down the phone number of the owner and was lucky to both get ahold of him and be able to settle in that afternoon! It was THE cutest loft apartment right in old town, and a little splurge for me (I think $90/nt), but the perfect way to get situated and kickoff my trip. I seriously loved it and would go back in a heartbeat just to stay there again ha.
- Cheap flight from Amsterdam to Corfu, via Transavia. Once in Corfu, the airport is only a 30 minute walk from Old town….score!
- I took my day trips by bus, which worked out really well. There are two types – the Blue Buses are for inter-city and the Green Buses are regional – those are the ones you want! The regional bus station in Corfu Town is very convenient and walkable (~20 minutes), and you can go all over the island. Here is the latest timetable – most leave early in the day, so plan ahead :).
(A Sampling of) Lessons Learned:
- Make friends with my apartment host who has a moped (so I can catch my ferry on time – saved me!).
- Trust my gut instincts (not going to this island after Corfu to help at a local shop…long story, but it just didn’t feel right and ended up not working out anyways – I believe for a reason – making the decision for me and giving me a very clear reminder to stick with my gut).
- Talk to strangers (MOST are really nice people – use your judgment however).
- It’s okay to do what I want and feels good, rather than what I’m “supposed” to do, even if that’s aimlessly walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of old town for hours on end.
- I can’t do and see everything, so just don’t try ha.
- I can save a lot of money (and eat really local) by making my own food the majority of time, and then go out for smaller drinks/treats and a special meal, also increasing the appreciation factor 🙂 .
Next Up: ALBANIA!
Yours jenuinely, xoxo