At either end of the strip that makes up the resort, it appears that at least three out of four businesses have gone wallop. A closed car hire firm is followed by a shuttered shoe shop, then a taverna, a little travel company and another car hire firm. This is followed by a still open but lifeless looking mini-market. The pattern repeats itself every 50 metres or so until, at the centre of the strip and its side streets, there is a critical mass of spending to keep outlets ticking over.
It is all a little gloomy but our hotel, The Park ( parkhotelcorfu.eu), turns out to be excellent. It is a little down at heel in places (the en-suites badly need refurbishing) but the staff are very cheery and obliging, and to my surprise, the deal includes not just breakfast but an evening buffet as well. The pool area is a definite winner.
A car for nine days (a good deal, unlimited mileage for €250, from Costas at cosmoscarhire.com) gives us the freedom of the island. We head west to Paleokastritsa. There’s a spectacular descent to three small bays. The water is an alluring turquoise and deep blue but the beaches, each perhaps just 200 metres long, are a bit too crowded for our liking.
A tiny monastery, the Holy Bearer of God of Paleokastritsa, is much more interesting. Perched on top of the cliffs giving breathtaking views, it was founded in the 12th century, but only a handful of monks live there now. The small Orthodox church is typical of its type – dark inside, with walls covered by icons and sandy trays of burning candles. Around it, whitewashed small courtyards are brought to life by purple flowering bougainvillea. A gentle breeze around terracotta pots of basil is sufficient to perfume the air with the scent of the herb. Farther south, the beach at Ermones becomes our home for the day. A taverna, one of just two on the beach, serves an excellent lunch of grilled sole, pork and chicken souvlakis (grilled meat on a skewer), tzatziki and aubergine salads, garlic bread, two beers and a litre of retsina, the Greek wine originally flavoured by resin from being stored in pinewood barrels, for €60 for the four of us.
I wonder what Odysseus, who landed here on his way home fromn Troy, would make of it all today: the sun-worshipping tourists and the huge Club Mediterraneo hotel complex overlooking the beach ( grand-mediterraneo.com/eng/corfu-hotel.htm), which even has its own funicular.
We give other places on the west coast the once over in subsequent days – Agios Georgios with its long sandy beach (great for parasailing), Alonaki Bay and its one taverna perched on a cliff top and ideal for dinner against a backdrop of a big, dreamy sunset; and Boukaris on the southeast coast (a quaint, scruffy place unspoilt by mass tourism and whose harbour is filled with small, working fishing boats).
But it is the north east that wins our loyalty. From the resort strips of Ipsos and Barbati (long beaches; bright brash nightlife – fine if that’s what you want!), there’s a necklace of tiny bays – Nissaki, Kaminaki, Kalami, Agni and Agios Stefanos – pearls dotting the turquoise coastline. The little bays and their pebble beaches are reached by steeply descending, narrow winding roads and none is over-developed. As one descends, there is a scattering of villas, most of them tastefully designed and well kept. And at the bottom, there’s a delightful beach with a taverna or two.