The Trip: Corfu and Paxi

Lee Osborne combines two jewels of the Ionian – island hopping between the more familiar territory of Corfu, which lies due south of the stilettoed heel of Italy, adjacent to both Albania and the west coast of mainland Greece, and one which seems to go relatively undetected on the tourist radar: the island collective affectionately known as Paxi, comprising Paxos and its sibling Antipaxos.


Once the summer playground of the Onassis clan, Corfu is not only one of the greenest of all the Greek islands, but also one of the mildest. Characterised by its undulating landscape carpeted with lush vegetation and punctuated with vibrant wildflowers and pencil pines, it’s home to over 2 million olive trees and a smattering of vineyards which remain largely off the beaten track. Unlike much of the Hellenic Republic, the island, known as Kerkyra in Greek, managed to escape the clutches of the Ottoman Empire. Successive occupations over the centuries by the Venetians, the French and the British have lent Corfu rather more of a Western disposition. Nowhere is this more evident than in its capital, Corfu Old Town, which is a bastion of sophistication and simply unmissable. You’re left with the overriding feeling that the island is the kind of place that doesn’t have to try to be cool, it’s already effortlessly so.

Where to Stay

Agios Ioannis Peristeron

If you have your heart set on a quiet, tranquil setting away from the hustle and bustle of the main resorts, then Agios Ioannis Peristeron is the perfect place. Depending on whether you’re adults-only or with 2.5 children in tow, you have two stunning neighbouring hotel options to decide between from the Mar-Bella Collection stable of luxury properties, both just a half-an-hour’s drive from the island’s capital.


An upmarket all-inclusive option catering for well-heeled families, MarBella is a seriously smart operation and highly deserving recipient of several Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards. Decorated though it may be, it’s not the least bit pretentious or aloof, much like the island itself. Perched upon a pine-clad hilltop just off the main coastal road which links Benitses with Lefkimmi, it strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and seclusion, overlooking the serpentine stretch of sand and shingle known as Peristeron Beach.

It began life as a very modest beach house, bought by owner Vassilis Dracopoulos initially as a holiday home after experiencing a love-at-first-sight moment when he first visited the resort. The uninterrupted views of the crystalline Ionian, as still as a millpond, inspired the company name “MarBella” which means ‘Beautiful Sea’ in Italian. Having passed through several hotel chain guises, it’s now back in the hands of the third generation of the Dracopoulos family, who have led a €20-million makeover of the property to maximise user-friendliness and accessibility.

As you break away from the original 70s-era hotel building, with its amalgamated procession of retro arched windows, the layout of the resort positions geometric design at its very core, forming an aesthetically pleasing labyrinth of clean lines with a series of staircases linking two large, palm-fringed, heated swimming pools for adults (one salt and one freshwater) flanked by an abundance of sunbeds and daybeds. You may be on holiday, but set your alarm at least once to watch the sunrise, followed by a revitalising dip in the Ionian. You’ll have the place to yourself and, what’s more, there are few more rewarding free things in life than watching the glinting golden sun smoulder through the cracks of a pinky-orange horizon. Then breakfast al fresco on the terrace of Kum Kuat, a more serene option than the busier main restaurant, plus you’re closer to the beach, accessed via an underground tunnel, to either kick back on a sun lounger and read a book or get the adrenaline pumping with a plethoxen for never setting foot out of the resort – most don’t, except perhaps to have a casual lunch at one of the coastal tavernas nearby. It matters not whether you opt for more formal à la carte dining options such as the Provençal feel of Celeste, the pan-Asian Kum Kuat, modern Greek Platea, Italian Comodo, or whether it’s a more relaxed feet-in-the-sand affair at the Deck Bar & Grill, or overlooking the shimmering waters of the Ionian at La Terraza, everything is consistently well cooked and presented, with intelligently selected wine pairing.

Agios Ioannis Peristeron, 490 84, Corfu, Greece; T: +30 26610 72400, E: info@marbella.gr


Unlike family-focused MarBella next door, Nido is the domain of couples only and exudes a more intimate vibe, more typically associated with a boutique hotel. The design of the resort draws influence from the group’s desire to revive the long-lost charm of old Corfiot villages which were built around the aesthetics of the unique Ionian and Venetian architecture – although there’s definitely something very Positano-esque about the muted colour palette and the way the terracotta-roofed villas seem to tumble down towards the coast. It only opened in 2018, yet it’s not the youngest of the Mar-Bella Collection of hotels. That honour falls to Elix which threw open its doors on the adjacent Greek mainland in 2021 (a mere 50-minute boat ride across the Ionian from both MarBella and Nido). An air of calm prevails from the moment you enter reception and seems to accompany you wherever you go. First priority is to park yourself on the velvet sofa, surrounded by swish, wonderfully curated interiors brimming with antiques and contemporary art, and order a drink from the Heritage bar – whether that’s a cleansing glass of Assyrtiko or an enticing cocktail whizzed up by the in-house mixologist while you wait to be called for your dinner reservation. Dining al fresco on the terrace of Apaggio even managed to eclipse all of the incredible gastronomic experiences of MarBella, which is no mean feat, for it was here that I had the best rib-eye steak of my life under the glinting moon. If travel teaches you anything, it’s that you can have the most life-changing experiences in the most unexpected of places. If total privacy’s your thing, then the secret tip here is to book a junior suite with its own pool.

Agios Ioannis Peristeron, 490 84, Corfu, Greece; T: +30 26610 72400, E: info@marbella.gr


Benitses’ popularity peaked in the ’70s and ’80s when it was renowned as a busy package holiday resort infamous for its hedonistic nightlife which drew many an A-lister before the term had even been invented. It was here, holidaying alongside his then-wife Linda and stepdaughter Heather in the summer of 1969, that Paul McCartney is said to have penned the lyrics to Every Night which would feature on his solo album released the following year. Nowadays it feels very much like a destination on the up, having reinvented itself as a resort which still has its roots as a traditional Greek fishing village where an air of calm presides.

Where to Eat

Corfiot cuisine is heavily influenced by the conquering Venetians who not only descended on the isle over five centuries ago, but were responsible for introducing olive cultivation which put the island well and truly on the spice trail. If dishes aren’t replete with a hefty kick of spicy red pepper powder or a dash of cinnamon, locals don’t deem them worthy of eating; the same goes for the island’s revered olive oil, which is copiously drizzled over everything that dares to lie in its path.

Fran Da Silva, who worked in PR on the island for twenty years, shares some of her favourite eateries in the vicinity.


Klimitaria Bellos (Klimataria fish restaurant, Benitses, 49084

Founded by Nikos and Lilly Bellos in 1997, this is the closest you’ll get to dining in a Corfiot family’s own backyard. The small but perfectly formed restaurant only has 11 tables so it’s advisable to ring ahead to secure your booking (T: +30 2661 071201), either on the divine terrace or inside. Klimitaria prides itself on traditional fish dishes prepared with the freshest locally sourced produce available. Chow down on dishes the locals love to lap up, especially the divine Bianco, crafted from freshly caught white fish, with boiled potatoes and a garlic-and-lemon-infused white sauce dusted with black pepper. Nikos and Lilly prepare all the daily dishes themselves: Nikos takes care of the fresh fish and the spicier stuff while Lilly concocts fresh salads and delightfully tasty desserts.

Paxinós (Κερκυρα, Mpenitses 490 84, Benitses

This cosy, family-run restaurant-cum-grill room, slightly tucked away from the main drag is regarded as one of the best on the island: the kind of place where locals substantially outnumber tourists. Open all year round, it specialises in the delicacies of local Corfiot cuisine, namely grilled meats and fresh fish. It even produces its own wine from vines grown on-site and all its vegetables are harvested daily from the restaurant’s own patch. It’s the kind of place where the staff are so welcoming, they really make you feel as though you’re part of the family. Dine outside on the restaurant’s cobbled terrace on tables with pristine white tablecloths, or inside, where it’s about as traditional a Greek taverna as you could ever imagine. The fish soup and skewered kebabs are insanely good. 

What to See

Achilleion Palace (Achilleio 490 84, Gastouri) 

As you navigate the coastal road as it makes its ascent on the outskirts of Gastouri, this mesmerising, gleaming white Neoclassical behemoth soars majestically above the cliffs below like a Rothschild palace you’d expect to adorn the pine-fringed hills of the Côte d’Azur. Achilleion, otherwise known as the Castle of Sissi, is a vast edifice located 10km south of Corfu Old Town and 3km north of the village of Benitses. Designed by Italian architects Raffaele Caritto and Antonio Lanti, in the Pompeian order, it was built for Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1890 to use as her summer residence. James Bond fans will recognise Achilleion as one of the settings for For Your Eyes Only. The palace doubles as a casino and the terrace, boasting one of the finest panoramas on the island, is where Bond and Melina (Carole Bouquet) are filmed leaning on the property’s iconic white balustrade. The Tycoon, chronicling the life of Greek-Argentine shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who assembled a fleet of supertankers larger than the navies of most countries, was also shot here. 

Achilleion Palace

Best Beach

Halikounas Beach, in the south-western extremes of the island, is a hidden gem known not only for its serene, unspoilt beauty but also its crystalline turquoise waters which attract visitors seeking sun and tranquillity in equal measure. Rather like a Grecian iteration of Comporta, it borders spectacular Lake Korission, a large saltwater lagoon famed for its pink flamingos in an area of outstanding natural beauty – home to incredible sand dunes, protected by the Natura 2000 network, which date back some 240,000 years with some as high as 15 metres – as well as a beach that extends for miles. Thanks to the prevailing winds in this area of the island, it’s a popular spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing and a host of other water-based pursuits. Those in the know head to Tayo Beach Bar (Χαλικουκας – ταγιο, Kerkira 490 84) to people watch its beautiful sun-kissed clientèle sipping on mouth-watering cocktails as the sun slips below the pink-tinged horizon. (tayo-beach-bar.com)

Secret Tip


A small island paradise that’s even more under the radar than Antipaxos, which has added jet-set appeal given that it’s only accessible by ferry, private boat or helicopter. ‘No cars, no rush, ideal for lazy days,’ says Brand Strategist Maria Machera, a Greek National herself now living in the UK. ‘There are two beaches you just have to visit: Porto and Bragini. Plus it’s easy to stroll around much of the island on foot seeing as it’s only 5 sq km. Explore the island’s pathways, enclosed by olive and cypress trees, and be intoxicated by the heather-scented breeze.’ erikousa.gr

Corfu Old Town

To come to Corfu and not visit the Old Town would be sacrilegious. It’s a gem of a destination, with a high level of integrity and authenticity, steeped in history and culture with a real air of sophistication. Stunning architecture abounds, bestowed upon it by centuries of occupation by the Venetians, French and British; interwoven by shady green spaces, vivid pink bougainvillaea and mesmeric purple jacaranda, so wonderfully buzzy and atmospheric that you just want to bottle it all up, coupled with the omnipresent melodic dialect of its locals. One of those places that surprises you with its beauty and you really need more than just a day to explore. Located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic, it has its roots in the 8th century BC. It’s dominated by three forts, all designed by renowned Venetian engineers, which were built to protect the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. 

What to See

Mouse Island

Before I’d even set foot on Corfu, Mouse Island – along with Kanoni – was one of the picture-postcard landmarks imprinted in my mind, the white-washed bell-towered church of Panagia Vlacherna perched elegantly upon it. Despite being a couple of kilometres away, Kanoni is actually a district of Corfu Old Town, which takes its name from the historic cannon that stands proudly on top of the lush green hill, presided over by a surfeit of luxury hotels and plush gated residences. When viewed from above, its fusion of whitewash upon turquoise encapsulates Greek island life in one picture.

Mouse Island

The Campiello

It’s easy to lose yourself in The Campiello’s labyrinth of winding medieval back streets known as candounia, but don’t let that put you off; it’s all part of its appeal, and in any case, friendly locals will happily put you back on track. It’s not hard to see why UNESCO bestowed world heritage status upon this historic quarter with its minute squares and central wells presided over by small chapels and zig-zagging washing lines connecting vertiginous Venetian-style palazzi with their neoclassical cousins from the British occupation in the 19th century. You’ll most likely stumble across a local group navigating the tight alleyways which immediately puts a smile on everyone’s faces and instantly transports you to episodes of The Durrells, which filmed many of its scenes here.

The Liston

Strolling through the sophisticated colonnade of The Liston, tree-lined on one side and bordering the Spianada, the green lungs of the city between the Old Fortress and east of town, feels like you’ve been teleported to the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. That’s because the architectural complex was built during the French occupation of the island (1807-1814), by Mathieu de Lesseps alongside his Greek engineer counterpart Ioannis Parmezan. It’s the chicest part of town, decorated with cafés, restaurants and boutiques and a mighty fine place to watch the world go by. 


For great coffee, head to Kafenion Koultoura, which is the new kid in town yet retains the character of a typical Greek kafenio (coffee shop) that will have you reminiscing about old Greek movies. Great food and cocktails too. @kafenion_koultoura    

Where to Eat


Dairy Shop of Alexis (Agiou Vasileiou 12, Kerkira 491 00) 

Do as true Corfiots do and start the day with breakfast at Pericles Alexis, a dairy shop that makes its own, rather heavenly butter. It began life as a grocery store back in 1935. ‘The fresh milk we use is the secret behind all our products,’ says owner Kostas Alexis, while the island’s distinctive flora lends a buttercup yellowness to Corfu’s renowned butter as well as its aromatic flavour. It also boasts a lovely back story involving Aristotle Onassis: the reputation of the island’s butter made it all the way to London courtesy of the shipping tycoon, who rated the stuff so highly that he would fly three kilos of it to London every week alongside a crate of Corfiot strawberries, especially for his wife Jackie to enjoy.


Taverna Barbas (Moustoxidi 14, Kerkira 491 00)  portaremounda.gr/en-GB

Located at the old city gates of Porta Remounda, Taverna Barbas is renowned locally for serving up traditional Corfiot homemade cuisine based on exclusive recipes from Grandma Evangelia’s cookbook, specialising in the very freshest of fish. If you can’t get a table there, another option which also offers traditional dishes, but more gourmet focussed is Rex Restaurant, in The Liston. rexrestaurant.gr


For fine dining in Corfu Town, book a table at the recently renovated, ochre-walled Venetian Well, overlooking the historical water shaft in Kremasti Square, one of the most picturesque squares in the old town. It’s an intimate, atmospheric setting offering local cuisine and a wide selection of wines. venetianwell.gr

What to See


K.AND. for stylish handmade jewellery. kand.gr

MiNiMiS is a Corfiot business initiative founded by Mirella and Nikol Misfout to tackle the issue of glass waste, transforming recycled glass bottles into handmade jewellery for men and women. https://minimis.shop/en/

Mezzo Mezzo is a great concept store focusing on Greek designers, based around the owners’ experience of resort living and love of travel.

Lazaris (Evgeniou Voulgareos 22, Kerkira 491 00. T. +30 26610 41102) is a lovely spot for a drinks break, sat outside gradually working your way through a delicious assortment of sweet artisanal treats washed down with some of its distilled liqueurs including several Corfiot takes on limoncello. But as I’d come to discover, islanders are rather partial to a kumquat, a precious golden orange first cultivated by the British agronomist, Sidney Louis Walter Merlin, and I challenge you not to be won over by this deliciously unctuous digestif. https://lazarisartisan.com/en/

Where to Drink

While it’s possible to taste wine in Corfu Old Town, Salto (Donzelot 23, Kerkira 491 00; https://saltowinebar.gr/), which offers over 100 premium Greek wines, is particularly good. There are several vineyards dotted across the island offering cellar door sales and tastings. Greek wine has come on in leaps and bounds and their wines are now much sought after internationally.


The earliest evidence of Greek wine dates back some 6,500 years ago when wine was produced by every household. More recently, James Bond is credited for shining a light on Greek wine. In For Yours Eyes Only Roger Moore subtly dropped Corfu’s Theotoki winery into conversation – how’s that for product placement? The scene is filmed on the terrace outside the casino formerly housed at nearby Achilleion Palace. The Casino is no longer there, but you can stroll along the terrace and relive the moment.

​​One of the bonuses of staying on Corfu is that it opens up a world of indigenous grape varieties in addition to Greek mainstays such as the divine Assyrtiko. Corfu Island boasts four main local grape varieties: white Petrokoritho, Moschato Aspro, Robola and the red Kakotrygis and Mavrodafni.


A very warm welcome awaits visitors to Pontiglio Winery (Kaboulia Neohorio, Lefkimmi, 49080; pontiglio.gr; @Pontiglio_winery), a 20-minute drive from both Mar-Bella Collection properties. The name Pontiglio, meaning ‘stubbornness’ in Venetian dialect, was coined by the owner’s mother, a former schoolteacher who gave up her career in education to produce wine. Spiros, Athina and Konstantinanow now head up the operation, specialising in three unique Corfiot grape varieties: Kakotrigis, Petrokoritho and Skopelitiko. Their family home backs on to the vineyards with a balcony doubling as a tasting room for wine lovers to sample the fruits of their labours. 

Wine Recommendations

A selection of the best Greek white and rosé wines I tasted on the island. The heat was too prohibitive to drink reds:

  • Alpha Estate, Xinomavro Single Vineyard Hedgehog Rosé, 2022
  • GWC, Flowers Μαλαγουζιά (Malagouzia)
  • Domaine Glinavos, Ionian Breeze Dry White
  • Terre Grec, Muscat/Sauvignon Blanc blend
  • The Blue Rooster, Xinomavro Rosé
  • Tsililis, Vertzamo, Dry Rosé


Legend states that Paxos was formed when Poseidon, the god of the sea, splintered the southern tip of Corfu island with one calamitous blow of his trident. This minute isle, one of the least commercial in Greece, boats heavenly shores awash with gently lapping cerulean waves and picture-postcard villages that you will fall hook, line and sinker for. The best way to circumnavigate the island is by hiring a boat and then dropping anchor in Gaios, then hiring an e-bike or scooter as you can get pretty much anywhere in half an hour. The scenery is mesmerising; lush slopes which plunge into the Ionian, long stretches of powder-white sand and enticingly quaint villages concealed beneath its verdant foliage. 

What to See


The dazzling coastal village of Gaios will leave you in awe from the moment you sail into its pristine emerald-tinged green fjord and in no doubt you are about to embark upon the most serendipitous of encounters. Blessed with an inordinate helping of natural beauty that can only really be equalled by its serene, subtly cosmopolitan vibe, if ever there was a place in which to potter, Gaios is it: browse the plethora of chichi boutiques that line its maze of bougainvillaea-fringed backstreets, pull up a chair at one of its many pavement cafés and tavernas, hydrate with a refreshingly cold Alfa Hellenic lager beer or cool off with one of its legendary local ices. 

Where to Eat

Gaios Port

Gaios Port

Ice Cream

Capriccio (Unnamed Road, Gaios 490 82) 

A holiday’s just not a holiday without the obligatory ice cream. Michalis and his wife Litsa have served the great and the good at their creperie-gelateria, Capriccio. Beat a path to their door for what locals insist is the finest gelato on the island. It’s also a few doors down from the clay-coloured neoclassical ‘school’ and rehearsal venue – one of many locations on the island where the romantic Maestro in Blue Netflix series was filmed. Tel:+30 26620 32687

Porto Vecchio bar (Unnamed Rd, Greece, Gaios 490 82

Whether you arrive for your morning caffeine fix, a leisurely brunch or dinner, super-chilled Porto Vecchio has your back. They also do a mean line in cocktails, which can be savoured from the bar’s port-facing, great for people-watching terrace. Tel:+30 2662 032786

Eat Late

Mambo (Epar. Od. Loutra-Lakkas 44, Gaios 490 82)

Mambo is a traditional island taverna in prime people-watching territory on Gaios’s main quayside drag which feels as though it could easily be a part of the slow movement, such is the relaxed pace of life. Locals come here to feast upon traditional Greek comfort food and local nonna-style stews like stifado (rabbit) and kleftiko (lamb), or for more typically northern Ionian staples try pastitsada (beef stew with pasta, Paxos’s take on spag bol and similarly scrumptious) and sofrito. 


Church Of Analipsi

Of the 64 churches on the island, this one, liveried in resplendent salmon pink and cream, was built by nuns from the monastery of Agios Theodoros. It’s the church most visitors will be familiar with and is perhaps the most picturesque with its iconic bell towers. 

Erimitis Beach 

Erimitis has only been in existence for about 15 years, formed after a natural disaster in 2007 when an earthquake caused many of the nearby cliffs to collapse. Accessible by stairs with jaw-dropping views of the powder-white sand and sparkling bay on the descent, it had me drawing comparisons to Monte Conero in the Italian Adriatic. 

Tripitos Arch

You could be forgiven for never wanting to leave Erimitis, it’s that beautiful, but if you don’t drag yourself away, you’ll miss the delights of Tripitos Arch, a beautiful, naturally formed Durdle Door-like rock structure. Towering 20 metres tall over the western shores of the island, with waters so clear around its base you could read the newspaper through them.

Blue Caves

The western side of the island is home to a succession of steep plunging cliffs and numerous sea caves, which owe their name to the 50 reflected shades of the primary colour spied through its transparent waters. It’s even possible for a small boat to navigate right inside the first and largest cave. Thе imposing rосk οf Ortholithоs, a huge verticаl precipice whiсh juts out оf thе Ionian, is close by.

Ypapanti’s Cave

Well worth visiting is the cave of Ypapanti, a place where the Greek submarine Papanikolis sought camouflaged refuge during World War II. Rumour has it that the cave has a secret passage leading to the church of Ypapanti, where the crew are understood to have exited the underwater vessel. 

Secret Tip


Even smaller than Paxos, if that is humanly possible, Antipaxos, a small island three kilometres south of Paxos remains nigh on uninhabited for the majority of the year, except for the peak tourist season and even then there’s ample space on its under-the-radar beaches. Its waters are a snorkelling paradise of turquoise clarity. Head to the west coast and dip beneath the surface of Rodovani Bay for clear views of its intriguing underworld. Great vino is not just confined to Corfu either. Antipaxos also happens to be home to some of the best and rarest Greek wines emanating from the island’s rich tapestry of vineyards. The hundred or so inhabitants of the island are rightfully proud of their niche wines, some of which are available in stores across neighbouring Paxos.

By Lee Osborne, creative director, Secret Trips. Lee spent a decade as creative director of Condé Nast Traveller before setting up his own luxury content studio specialising in travel, fashion and lifestyle. Follow him @sartorialee

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