Where to go in Greece…
My first impressions of the island of Corfu, and, now I come to think of it, of Greece, are more than good. It’s beautiful; I can see that from the sky as we loop the entire (tiny) island at low elevation – I can see swimmers! – and land on the runway practically on water. Shaped like a mermaid, they say ( – I say that’s… creative, though there’s plenty of mythical romance to the island), Corfu is long and thin. The Ionian Sea is deep blue, except by the shore where it’s turquoise, and, I quickly discover, the clearest I’ve ever seen or swum. And surely ever will – it just doesn’t get better… Am I the only one not to already know the delights of the Greek islands?
I’ll assume I am, and start with why you should stay at Kerkyra Blue Hotel…
Greek five-star all-inclusive, my editor, Lady Charlotte, texted me on 1 June. Next week. In or out? (She’s nothing if not efficient and, with requests like these, impossible to say no to). So, I clear my week, make it to Gatwick for an ungodly hour before sunrise, and by lunchtime I find myself sitting poolside at Kerkyra Blue Hotel, post Greek feast, sipping a slushy cocktail and working out who’s going to be my prime people-watching subjects. Name me a better start to summer!
From Corfu airport, as close to perfect as airports get – small, simple, quick to leave – Kerkyra Blue is a 15-minute drive. A long driveway leads to glass doors and an airy lobby and reception, which you tend to gaze right through towards the scenery outside of white umbrellas and glistening pools, and beyond to the calm sea backed by mountains. We’re on a north-facing jut of land on the east coast, a few miles north of Corfu Old Town, looking at the mountains at the north end of Corfu in one direction (thanks to the banana-shaped coastline) and across to Albania and mainland Greece in the other. I’m shown to a rattan Adirondack-style chair and straight away offered two ready-made ice-cold cocktails; I pause to choose, and the waiter puts down both – the joys of an all-inclusive for an indecisive! And relax…
The all-inclusive Corfu spa hotel
Kerkyra Blue Hotel n’ Spa has been recently renovated, upgrading the property to a five-star in both services and design. Colours are clean, calm and muted; white walls and dark wood, to let the blue of the sea, sky and pools do the talking. Rooms are similar – simple, stylish and spacious. A large balcony looks out over the swimming pools three floors below and the sea, just beyond. Between the balcony and bedroom is a lounge space with a large day bed, that no doubt doubles up as a spare, behind a wooden-frosted-glass screen separating it from the king-size bed with a rattan headboard.
An enormous mirror over a huge dressing table is the only other bedroom furniture, but a parquet floor-to-ceiling wardrobe is cleverly built into the entrance way, hiding roomy storage, as well as a Nespresso machine, kettle and fridge, filled with goodies. The bathroom has a double sink vanity (even for one, I appreciate this luxury), a bath and a huge walk-in shower. Yes, everything is right on point, though it’s the view that steals the show.
Kerkyra Blue has three restaurants; a buffet-style main restaurant, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, with plenty of outdoor dining space, as well as a Japanese restaurant and (my personal favourite) a Greek restaurant. Plus two snack bars and four drinks bars that serve throughout the day. It’s not a mega complex hotel, it feels more personal than that, but with 240 rooms and suites at 90% occupancy during my stay, it does a very good job of seeming far smaller and more bespoke than that. What it does have in true resort style, and which I very much enjoyed – not only because it’s not my usual holiday entertainment but because it’s just so much fun – is evening singers, nightly quizzes and bands. On balmy Mediterranean evenings, with free-flowing Greek wine, Kerkyra Blue leaves you wanting for nothing more.
Visiting Corfu town
That is, of course, unless you’re craving the hustle and bustle of Greek island life, for which you head to Corfu Old Town and port just around the corner. Long-ties with the Venetians and shorter ones with France makes for interesting and beautiful architecture. The island’s colours are pink and red, orange and yellow, with ubiquitous green shutters. There’s a Parisian Boulevard just on the edge of Old Town of cobblestone streets packed with shops and restaurants, everything covered in bougainvillaea. It’s completely charming. To get out of the tourist mesh, a Corfu Walking Tours city guide carries the highest recommendation from me. Introducing me to the island’s famous butter and honey, its unavoidable kumquat digestivo (not dissimilar to limoncello), kumquat jam, and the fiercest ginger beer you’ll ever try, my taste senses are blown.
Our guide Nausica unlocked quiet corners of the port and town, pointing out locals’ favourite swim spots, sharing Curfu’s rich history with true passion, all the while greeting her friends and family in the streets. For Corfu might be a favourite Greek island for tourism, but it is also very local, and everyone – Kerkyreos or foreign – converges in the same bars and restaurants on the same bustling streets.
The atmosphere is wonderful – laid back Mediterranean, but buzzing. Nausica leaves me hours later – that have gone by in a flash – in a Venetian square lined with cafes and restaurants surrounding a jacaranda tree. Swallows flit overhead at dusk, who’ve also just arrived in town for summer. I wander off to find a recommended restaurant (Ta Kokopia, just go: words can’t even…) and head back through streets coming alive with a different energy, the late-night revelling kind.
What to do on Corfu island
Hire a car to explore the villages – Lacones is beautiful, perched on a cliffy hilltop – churches, fortresses and ruins, many of which are beautifully located high in the mountains overlooking the sea. Visit the olive grove for a tasting and experience olive oil a different way – on oranges with paprika, flavouring macarons alongside local lemon. Perhaps best of all is a boat trip around the island to sea caves and remote bays, where you can jump into the deep water and swim to the sandy shores, visiting a remote, sleepy town for lunch. I found myself booked on a disco boat that, en route home after a full and perfect day at sea, cranked the music and poured out the drinks. You think you don’t want to, but trust me, you do…
Best hotel on Corfu
Each time you leave, there’s the calm pleasure of coming back to Kerkyra Blue. Of course, some never do leave – why bother when you have sun, sea and sangria (or kumquat liqueur, or anything you fancy) on tap? Because I now totally understand the appeal of a fly-and-flop holiday. There’s a spa on site, a tennis court, two big pools and a kids’ pool slightly away from the sunbathing area (to keep the peace). Pick a different sunbathing area for each day of your holiday, and visit the jetty where kayaks and paddleboards are tied, waiting for adventure.
My favourite spot at Kerkyra Blue was the hotel’s private stretch of beach with a handful of empty sunbeds, surrounded by more empty beaches and glistening water. I’m one that can’t resist a sea swim, luxurious here in warm Ionian water with the sun beating down, so much so that, as I write this, I realise I never even dipped a toe in either pool. But judging on everyone else’s holiday movements, pitched in prime position under an umbrella just metres from the pool for regular plunges, they score top marks.
Whilst an all-inclusive version of a five-star is a little different from a tailored 5* experience (as expected, and namely in size-of-property and in mealtime fare), I find myself very happily inducted into holiday life at Kerkyra Blue Hotel N’ Spa, Greek island life and all-in travel; This will not be my last visit to Corfu, nor to an all-inclusive. And, I expect, it won’t be my last visit to Kerkyra Blue…
Packages: TUI offers 7-night holidays to Corfu, Greece staying at the Kerkyra Blue Hotel & Spa on an all-inclusive basis. Prices from £876 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing a Superior Double Room with Inland View and Balcony, flights departing from London Gatwick/Manchester airport, including 20kg of hold luggage and transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book go to tui.co.uk, visit your local TUI holiday store or download the app.