Travel / How to get the best out of Corfu: Hidden glories far from the shores: Get away from the airport and you can get away from it all, says Simon Calder

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The Independent Travel
'SHORES of glory' is how Byron eulogised Corfu. The current Thomas Cook Summer Sun brochure describes the resorts of Benitses and Perama rather differently: 'If peace and quiet are your requirement, you had better go elsewhere]' This warning, fortunately, does not apply to the entire island. Corfu is one of those places that seems to have been invaded twice a century for the last 2,000 years. Overrun successively by the Romans, Normans, Venetians, French, Turks, Germans and the British, it now faces a relentless barrage of tourists. One million visitors each year arrive in a place the size of the Isle of Wight. Yet it is still one of Greece's loveliest islands; the EC summit is to be held here next June, which indicates how far the island still is from touristic devastation. And you can easily escape to Albania, a mile across the Straits of Corfu, which attracts as many visitors in a whole year as Corfu does in a week.

GETTING THERE Corfu is tricky to reach on scheduled airlines, but easily accessible on charters. There are frequent flights from most British airports. Fares over the next couple of weeks are higher than normal because of the bank holiday. Some of the best one-week, flight-only deals are: Thomson (081-200 8733) from Gatwick, 2 May, pounds 141; Flightline (0702 480333) from Manchester, 3 May, pounds 99; Flightcall (0273 506668) from Gatwick, 3 May, pounds 135. For later in the summer, try the numbers above, bucket shops or check the late flights entries in Departures (right).

GETTING YOUR BEARINGS The airport has one of Europe's more dangerous approaches. It is just two miles south of Corfu Town, and a taxi to the centre costs around pounds 3; night flights tend to arrive about 4am, so you may end up having to loiter around the terminal until daylight. The tourist office at the ferry port (01030 661 37638 from the UK) dispenses generous quantities of advice and information, including details of bus routes.

ACCOMMODATION Most of Corfu's hotels are beachside eyesores pre-booked with package tourists. The tourist office can provide suggestions for rooms in family houses - about pounds 10 for a double - in the town or outside. Trading up, small hotels start at around pounds 20 for a twin. The room-finding service in Corfu Town, at Arseniou 43, can fix you up with a place to stay anywhere on the island. The more popular beaches have plenty of campsites, but they tend to be tawdry. In general, peace and pleasantness increase the farther you are from the airport. You can also find a degree of solitude by finding a room in an inland destination. In the north of the island, try Strinilas, an isolated village on the way to the summit of Mount Pantokrator. To the south, Potami is a handsome riverside town, close - but not too close - to some decent beaches.

CAR HIRE If you want the security of a guaranteed booking or fixed price, then reserve a vehicle ahead of departure: Avis (081-848 8733) quotes weekly rates starting at pounds 162. Otherwise there are plenty of local car rental firms.

BEST EATING Culinary mediocrity is easy to find in Corfu. The average resort restaurant seems to take more care with its range of beers than its moussaka. The most imaginative cuisine is in Corfu Town, especially the more upmarket places clustered around the Esplanade (main square); try Averof, on Proselendou by the old harbour. The simplest and most authentic food is often to be found at kafenia and tavernas in the inland villages; Potami, mentioned above, has a particularly good range.

BEST BEACH Corfu has two beaches called Agios Stefanos. The east coast one is middling, while the one at the extreme north-west of the island, just above Agios Georgios bay, is enchanting. A deep V-shaped strand is encroached upon only mildly by development, and lies far enough from the rest of the island to be relatively uncrowded.

SIGHTS TO SEE Three areas of Corfu Town are pleasant to wander around: the original Campiello quarter, a warren of tottering houses; the Jewish quarter, rather newer but equally charming; and the huge Esplanade, the bustling main square edged with gently crumbling Venetian palaces. The northern part of it is occupied by a rather forlorn cricket pitch, brown and scraggy. Wander south to Mon Repos, an elegant villa built in 1831 for the British High Commissioner. After the old empire left, the Greeks took it over; Prince Philip was born here.

THE BEST STROLL . . . is a two-hour walk across the hills from Kassiopi to Old Perithia, an abandoned village that feels like an urban version of the Marie Celeste. The walk is tiring (do not try it in the middle of the day) but rewarding.

BREAKING AWAY A cheap charter flight to Corfu provides an excellent cut-price opportunity to sample the Continent's last unspoilt destination: Albania. Today Enver Hoxha and his Stalinist cronies have gone, and Albania is joining the rest of Europe in a dash for tourist cash.

Plenty of people sample Albania for a day; trips to the fishing port of Sarande are easily arranged.

SET BOOKS Inflight appetizer: Prospero's Cell by Lawrence Durrell (Faber, pounds 5.99). Good guide - Corfu and the Ionian Islands: the Candid Guide by Geoffrey O'Connell (pounds 9.99).

FURTHER INFORMATION Greek National Tourist Office, 4 Conduit Street, London W1R 0DJ (071-734 5997).

(Photograph and map omitted)

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