Beating the crowds on a Greek getaway

Marbella Beach Hotel, Corfu.
Marbella Beach Hotel, Corfu.
Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their children

Family on 17-year round-the-world road trip visit Portsmouth

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It’s no secret Greece has been in financial turmoil for the past couple of years.

But as we touched down on the Greek island of Corfu – and our three-year-old finally nodded off – we felt a world away from it all.

And no wonder – the first thing that you notice as you step into the sunshine is just how green this northernmost Ionian island is.

Corfu has been revered for its beauty since ancient times, and today it’s still a place of olive, orange, lemon and cypress trees, wild flowers, and tucked-away mountain villages surrounded by its biggest attraction of all –the crystal-clear sea.

Of course, with the advent of mass tourism to the Greek islands in the 60s, things have changed since Odysseus was shipwrecked on Corfu on his way home from Troy in Homer’s epic, The Odyssey.

Despite the island’s popularity and some areas of over-development, however, you can still enjoy its tremendous natural beauty.

For our week-long trip, we based ourselves at Marbella Beach Hotel, on the south-east coast of the island, which lies to the west of mainland Greece and the southern coast of Albania.

The view was wonderful but prising yourself off your sun-lounger to see Corfu Town, the island’s capital, is a must.

The city’s Old Quarter, a Unesco World Heritage Site, still resembles a Venetian city, despite Venice’s occupation ending more than 200 years ago, and is packed with narrow cobbled streets, churches, old mansions and courtyards.

But there’s also a splattering of British and French influence thrown into the mix.

The elegant Liston arcade was modelled by the island’s French rulers on Paris, 
while a cricket ground in the main square was built by the British before they left in 1864.

The city is great for picking up souvenirs – anything from gold jewellery to olive oil soap and kumquat sweets.

The kumquat is grown all over the island, having been brought to Corfu from Asia by the British, and is used to flavour everything from cake to alcohol.

The small orange fruit is not the only food that’s been introduced by outsiders. The French and Italian occupiers also shaped much of the island’s culinary palette.

Back at our room at the five-star hotel, however, there was absolutely no mistaking where we were. It gave us stunning views of the Ionian Sea.

The hotel has its own stretch of beach, reached by walking through a garden with the scent of pine needles. There are also several pools.

The thought of sitting by the beach all week was tempting, but we wanted to explore more of the island.

Our way of seeing Corfu was on a traditional, wooden fishing boat.

We sailed around the north-east coast of the island and one of our stops was said to only be accessible by boat.

As a result, our little group on the boat trip had the pebbled beach backed 
by forest entirely to ourselves.

The captain barbecued a delicious lunch of traditional souvlaki, on skewers, served with the ‘magic ingredient’ of sweet paprika.

As he handed out glasses of his home-made wine, he said of the boat trip: ‘This will be your little Odyssey.’

It certainly was.

Sherna Noah travelled to Corfu as a guest of Sovereign Luxury Travel who offer seven nights at the Marbella Beach Hotel, Corfu from £489 pp on a half-board basis, departing on the April 27, 2013, including easyJet return flights from Gatwick Airport and private transfers. Price based on 20 per cent early booking discount, complimentary room upgrade and an online discount, saving up to £282 per couple. Visit sovereign.com or call 0844 415 1984.