The Autumn Island

By John Waller, Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:30 24 September 2008


Corfu charm: Walk the old town and its colourful history

Britons have been migrating to Corfu for 40 years — and after collecting their bags at the airport most of them immediately head south for cheap beer and English food or north for chilled rosé and overpriced fried squid.

What a pity. Because to miss out on Corfu Town itself is to turn your back on an undiscovered jewel in the Mediterranean, now a World Heritage Site.

Unesco describes it as 'a unique cultural entity of high aesthetic value that has been preserved, alive and substantially unaltered, until the present day'.

Quite right. And by far the best time to explore it is in autumn or spring when the crowds have dwindled and the Corfiots are in charge.

I know this because my wife and I have lived in Corfu since 1966.


Corfu town is filled with beautiful architecture

When we first came here we sat under the arches of the Liston, an esplanade designed by the French in the style of Paris's Rue de Rivoli, and looked out on the cricket pitch with the British Palace of St George and St Michael and its fascinating museum of Eastern Asiatic Art, and beyond to Venetian Old Fort.

Soon afterwards we began to build a little house 20 minutes away on the wild west coast above Agios Gordis, where we still swim off golden sands at sunset.

And we can assure you that over the past 40 years, the island and its inhabitants have lost none of their charm.

Nowadays, when we are sitting under those same arches drinking coffee, I still ask my wife: 'What shall we do now?' 'Get lost,' she answers, and get lost we do.

From the centre of the Liston we walk down Nikiforou Theotoki, the main tourist street, hear the 'Old Philharmonic' Band, founded in the 1840s, practising above a taverna, past the Square of the Saint where concerts are held in October, to the centre of the Old Town and right into the 700-year-old Campielo, the heart of the Venetian quarter.

Corfu has a multi-cultural history, being in the hands of the Venetians, French and then the British, who ruled from 1814 to 1864.

Each left their mark. We wander through the narrow alleyways with clothes lines crossing high above us and eventually we are truly lost.

Worth finding is the closed square, complete with Venetian Well, as pretty a place as any in Venice and the perfect spot to dine under the stars.


One for visitors: the town is very tourist friendly

But we are still exploring and from here there is the Durrell School of Corfu (Lawrence and Gerald Durrell were raised on the island in the Thirties) with its library, lectures and seminars. Corfu prides itself on its lack of crime.

Richard Pine, founding director of the Durrell School, says: 'Since 2002, I have lived above the school in the Campielo. I have wandered through the alleys at all hours of the day and night and have always felt safe.'

And walking is the best way to discover the finer points of the island. From the centre of the Old Town, where you can pick up a map from George's excellent bookshop, walk west to the Port and through the New Venetian Fort to the Market.


The best dining in Kèrkyra town is found around Plateia Dimarchiou (Town Hall square)

Have lunch nearby at Rouvas, founded in the Thirties and a favourite of the restaurant owner and chef, Rick Stein, or head south from the centre to the 'smart' end of town where you can buy a spanakopita, spinach pie, straight from the oven.

Then continue into the 17thcentury Town Hall Square, where the townspeople gathered in Venetian times and down to the Esplanade, the largest town square in the Balkans.

For a perfect weekend, take the new easyJet scheduled flight from Gatwick and stay at the

Sip ouzo and nibble mezedes in the roof bar while you view the incredible panorama of the snowcapped mountains of Albania and Zagoria in Greece turning pink in the crystal clear autumn evening.

Artist Theresa Nicholas advises: 'Look up, to the wonderful sculptures of fierce moustachioed men on the keystones above the arches, the volta, which keep off the sun in summer and the rain in winter.'

Roy Hounsell in his hilarious book The Papas And The Englishman — From Corfu To Zagoria sums it up: 'Corfu in September and October is a truly beautiful island. All the heat and clamour and nerve-frazzling intensity of the main tourist season have abated.

'Magnolia and jacaranda trees hang heavy with blossom, grapes are ripening on the vines, people are altogether more relaxed and a delightful languor has taken over.'

Travel facts

CV Travel (020 7401 1026, offers three nights at the Hotel Cavalieri, Corfu Town from £452 pp for departure every Friday during September- October 2008. Includes return Gatwick flights, transfers and B&B.

Seven nights from £653 based on two sharing. John Waller wrote Greek Walls and Corfu Sunset (£7.99) and the words for Theresa Nicholas's Corfu Sketches (£19.95). More information at

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