Between April and October, the fishing villages and coastal towns of Corfu are transformed from sleepy destinations to popular tourist resorts.
When the island awakes from its winter hibernation, the pace of life still remains relatively slow and a holiday on Corfu is all about relaxing on sandy beaches, enjoying long lazy lunches and suppers in local tavernas, taking walks through shady olive groves and swimming in the island’s clear turquoise waters.
Corfiot lifestyle is generally unhurried, with the locals usually beginning their day early to avoid the heat, many shops and offices closing in the afternoon and people taking a siesta indoors in the afternoon until the temperature begins to drop a little. Corfiots tend not to eat dinner before 9 pm, and often not until much later during the summer, as it’s cooler then. So, while tavernas, bars and restaurants open at around 6pm for those wishing to dine early, they are often still happily serving into the early hours.Fresh local food is one of the highlights of a visit to the Ionian and eating mezze – a selection of smaller dishes or starters akin to the Spanish appetizers known as tapas – is a popular way of sampling the cuisine.
In addition to the more well-known dips such as Tzatziki (cucumber, garlic and yoghurt), Humus (based on chickpeas), and Taramosalata (fish roe), why not also try Skordalia - garlicky mashed potato - or Melitzanosalata, which is delicious smoked aubergine. Appetisers are numerous and varied and also include Saganaki, a delicious deep fried cheese, Keftedes, tasty Greek meatballs, and Kolokythokeftedes, courgette fritters. Cheese and spinach pies (Spanakopita) are popular as a snack or starter at any time of the day!
Perhaps the best known of Corfu’s main dishes, all of which hark back to the Venetian occupation centuries ago, are Sofrito (sliced veal cooked with vinegar, garlic and parsley), Bourdeto (a peppery fish stew), Bianco, (a white, garlicky fish stew) and Pastitsada (a pasta and meat dish).
Greek wine has improved tremendously since the first holidaymakers visited the islands some 40 or 50 years ago. A new wave of young wine makers who trained in the vineyards of France and the southern hemisphere means that even the house wines are much more palatable than they used to be! They are usually served by the litre or half litre in metal carafes in tavernas.
Beer drinkers may prefer to opt for locally-produced Mythos, Amstell or Heineken. Enjoy!
Although a service charge is included in restaurant bills it is customary to leave a small tip for the waiting staff.
The traditional Greek way of life is still in evidence across Corfu, particularly in rural areas where heavily-laden donkeys continue to be used by those who work the land.
Although tourism is the main source of income on the island, this is supplemented by the production of olives, quality olive oils and handmade olive soap, wines, kumquat liqueur, honey and fish. Olive wood is fashioned into carved items – from drinks mats to salad servers, and from bowls to many other decorative and useful objects, perfect as gifts or souvenirs.
Head inland to villages where time has stood still for the best chance of witnessing the real Greek way of life. Here you will see the older generation of women dressed in black, collecting horta (wild greens), chatting on the doorsteps with their neighbours or enjoying an evening stroll (or volta) with their families. The men folk can usually be spotted sitting outside the local kafenion drinking coffee or ouzo, playing backgammon and clicking on their worry beads as they discuss the economy, politics and football!
At some time between June and September, most villages across Corfu have a fiesta or panigyri, when the whole community comes together in the main square for spit-roasted lamb and Greek dancing to live music. These are lively affairs to which everyone is welcome, so dust off your dancing shoes and join in with the friendly locals, who will happily demonstrate the steps to you!
Religion plays a significant role in the lives of Corfu’s people and many of the island’s festivals are centred around the churches. If you wish to visit any of the churches on Corfu, please show respect by dressing appropriately. Women should wear skirts below the knee and cover their shoulders, while men are required to wear long trousers and to cover their arms.
Just a couple of final tips – firstly, tap water is okay to drink but most people play safe and drink bottled water. Secondly, don’t forget that the Greek plumbing system isn’t quite as sophisticated as ours – the pipework is much narrower, leading to blockages if you flush paper down the toilet rather than putting it in the bin provided instead.