How We Holiday: Kassiopi, Corfu
The last time I went to Corfu was a full thirty years ago. It was my first holiday away sans parents, I was eighteen years old and I had chosen to go away with my boyfriend, a teetotal boy called John who had a Simon Le Bon flicked fringe. In those days, you only ever went on holiday for a fortnight - it was considered much too far away to go for less. A week with ALL THAT TRAVEL? Goodness, no. We chose Sidari as our destination. In those days, it was still building up to its party animal reputation, with building being the operative word. Upon arrival in the resort close to midnight, we were unceremoniously dumped off the coach and directed by torch light to a shady looking building accessible up a pebbled path. It was only when the sun came up that we realised that the reason it was shady was due to the scaffold on the second floor which was, as yet, unbuilt. Our ‘apartment’ (a very luxurious word for what was basically a cell) had two low level single beds with no headboards and just one pillow and sheet atop.
We quickly realised that by booking last minute, we had obviously been considered fair fodder by the travel company for the half built apartment block as there was no one else staying there. Being just eighteen, we had no real idea of how to complain properly and as such, spent two weeks dodging falling concrete after being woken daily to the sound of drilling. Days were spent on the beach where I sunbathed topless (a sure fire way to date your holiday photographs prior to 1995) or zooming around the island on a moped a la Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, an excellent mode of transport until I managed to hit my leg on the exhaust pipe, resulting in a foot long blister to my calf. I spent the remainder of our holiday of teen romance lying on the beach with a wet tea towel over my legs. Oh, memories. Less than three months after the holiday ended, I unceremoniously dumped poor John, who was by then my fiancé (yes, I don’t like to mess about #serialwife) in favour of a wild party lifestyle in London. Fickle as a pickle.
Anyway, fast forward thirty years and it was time to return. With map in hand and recommendations aplenty, I decided we should avoid Sidari and focus instead on the North East coast. With two teenagers and a ten year old, we knew that a villa would be our best bet. When they were little, the All Inclusive was like heaven on earth and the only way that I was able to have any sort of break from my full time job of opening the freezer, the dishwasher or the washing machine. However, as they have got older, they actually quite enjoy going ‘out out’ (god knows where they get that from) and we all look forward to holiday evenings where we can go ‘out out’ as a family. I scoured the internet for hours looking for the right one - my usual go to’s of AirBNB, Booking.com and Owners Direct came up with nothing that was suitable. Because we have teenagers, we wanted to be within easy walking distance of a resort centre and I found that most of the villas that I discovered were a car journey away, not quite so good if they wanted to venture out alone (or, indeed, we wanted to venture out alone). But eventually, I struck gold. Here’s all the details.
Let’s Start With The Basics. Where Is Kassiopi?
So, Kassiopi is North East of Corfu and is, quite frankly, a lush green paradise and in my opinion, akin to what Rock is to Cornwall. The town is small but perfectly formed, with just the right amount of restaurants to cover all options and just enough bars to satisfy teenagers should they wish to go out alone. We went as a family so Ella and Max weren’t really into sibling bar socialising but had they had friends with them, they’d have hit the town for sure. As to be expected, there were plenty of tourist shops, combined with some local craft shops and three good sized supermarkets which were well priced. There’s a central bakery which is packed early every morning with people queuing for spinach and cheese filo pies, croissants and fresh bread, not to mention trays full of baklava.
It’s a 40 minute drive from Sidari (a fake goods Mecca for my children who are obsessed with designer names) and less than an hour from Corfu Town and the airport. If you’re happy to stay in the town, then you don’t need a car but it’s nice to explore the neighbouring beaches. Kassiopi is not even close to being purely a tourist town, unlike others - there is a full local community who live there all year round - so it truly feels as if you are getting a taste of Greece.
How Did We Get There?
We flew with Jet2 from Leeds Bradford on an afternoon flight and it took three hours. We hired a car from Avis in advance at the airport - mid range was £546 for seven days. We’ve learned our lesson with car hire and always book directly with the brand after arriving in Spain last year and having to queue for three hours after taking the cheap option. Our flight home was at 10.15 pm and we had to check out of our villa by 10.30 am. After a baking hot walk around Corfu Town, we took advice and went to the Corfu Palace Hotel which is ten minutes from the airport. You can park directly outside, pay 20 euro per person (half price for children) if they have room around their pool and stay there for the day with a sun lounger and a cocktail. Much more civilised.
Where Did We Stay?
I found a villa company called Prestige Villas Of Corfu and the perfect match - the property was called Calypso and comprised four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a pool, a mere eight minute walk from the hub of Kassiopi. It also had reliable WiFi - much as I have the greatest of respect for people who smugly claim to discard their phones for a week whilst on holiday to ‘get away from it all’, the reality is that ALL of my family would rather spend a week in a frozen cave in Outer Siberia with only dead fish for company than be without social media (or in Joe’s case, a motor trade balance sheet). Set over three floors and sleeping eight, the master bedroom suite overlooked the sea and the sun loungers were cream pad cushioned. I always take the quality of my sun loungers very seriously when considering holidays. I would class the price of the villa as mid to high - not cheap, but every room was simply yet beautifully decorated and everything was provided, from pool and bath towels, through to a water cooler, a pool man and a housekeeper who arrived promptly at 1.30 pm daily to clean and tidy. Heaven.
What Did We Do?
We ate. A lot. But I’ll come to that in a bit. We generally lazed by the pool but also went out every day, late afternoon, to explore the local coastline. We visited Kalami which is where the Durrells lived - you can visit their actual home and drink an Aperol Spritz siting on a beanbag overlooking the harbour, just a ten minute drive from the house. We took a trip to Agios Stefanos, five minutes away, a tiny harbour with a little beach and a restaurant/bar overlooking the sea. We went 20 minutes north to the sandy Avlaki beach where you can rent a set of two loungers and a brolly for 7 Euros for the day. Watch where you park as it’s super tight and take note of number plates - a Jaguar parked behind us left whilst we were swimming, reversed directly in our hire car and zoomed off. Bastard.
One day, despite Joe’s protestations, we hired a boat from Filippos in the harbour. You need to book in advance but prices start at 90 Euros for a small motor boat and they give you full instructions as to what to do. Joe has been terrified of boats after we had a shocking experience in Thailand a few years ago in rocky waters (people were actually sobbing in terror) but he soon got the hang of it and by the end of the day, was super confident. You can stop in all the coves as you go around the coastline, both north and south, but your range is restricted. You’re not allowed to go to Albania, although your phone is, it appears (we spent much time shouting at Leo to turn his phone off after data roaming kept switching from one to another). Joe navigated us to Agni Bay where we had lunch - many of the coves have jettys and if you book at the restaurants, you are allowed to moor your boat there for free. On the last day, we went to Corfu Town which was very busy but full of lots of great restaurants and shops which made it super popular with the kids.
Where Did We Eat?
Okay, so first of all, you absolutely have to book restaurants in advance. I’d got recommendations, both from the holiday villa company and from Instagram, which was a good start, but others we found simply by walking around during the day. Walk in is pretty unheard of unless you want to wait. Also, the local dry white wine is excellent and you can order by half or full carafe. We are a family of five and prices ranged from 80 euro to 130 euro for a two course meal with wine (we never had dessert - we always bought an ice cream to walk home with from the many ice cream shops). These were our dinner venues.
Tavernaki, Kassiopi Harbour: Located on the far side of the bay, it was perfect for watching the sun go down behind the mountain. My children managed to complain about the brightness of sun going down whilst they were trying to eat dinner every day (‘put your bloody sunglasses on, ffs’) but it’s truly beautiful to watch (catch it on a Hyperlapse and it’s Instagram goals). The food was delicious - mainly Greek specialities and although there was no kids menu, they had burger type options that suited my beige food loving sons.
Trilogia, Bataria Beach: This restaurant is located high over Bataria beach and is renowned for its full sunset views. We were a little early to get the full effect of the atmosphere - 8.00 pm is classed as early to eat out in Greece - but the views were amazing. The menu was a la carte and beautifully presented and the service super efficient. An impressive dish was white taramosalata with squid ink, totally delicious. It’s a pleasant ten minute walk from the centre of Kassiopi around the headland.
Casiopia, Kassiopi Harbour: Another harbour front restaurant, this one is central and overlooks the main stretch. The service was fab, they had a kids menu and the local dishes were extensive. Please note that we, on countless occasions, ruined our main course by over doing the mezze starters - it’s hard to resist when you are accosted with delicious dips and bread. They also presented us with traditional Greek orange cake with the bill that was amazing.
The Old School, Kassiopi Harbour: This is next door to Casiopia and is fairly similar fare - again, they have a kids menu which is smaller things from the main menu. It’s the only night that I didn’t have fish - we all had chicken souvlaki (marinated kebabs) which was perfect. Both of these restaurants are excellent for people watching and the service is excellent. In fact, we didn’t eat in a single restaurant that didn’t have great service.
Janis Taverna, Kassiopi Beach: This was recommended by the housekeeper and we loved it so much we went back two nights in a row. Set overlooking Kassiopi beach, it has glass moveable blinds that protect you from winds and the sunset is to die for. They have a full kids menu and a really extensive menu of traditional dishes. Portions are huge and it’s super popular - both nights we were there, it was full by 8.00 pm.
Taverna Agni, Agni Beach: This restaurant came highly recommended by the entirety of Instagram and didn’t disappoint. We moored our boat and ordered a huge fresh seafood platter and cold white wine. No kids menu, but there was plenty of mezze that we ordered alongside that was perfect for the children. There’s a small pebbly beach so you can have a swim when you’re finished. My favourite meal of the holiday.
Eucalyptus Taverna, Agios Stefanos: We only stopped for a drink, but we could have stayed all day. Situated on the beach, you can swim and eat to your hearts content and it’s really peaceful. The food looked amazing even though we didn’t eat and the Aperol Spritz was delish.
The White House, Kalami: You can rent this four bedroomed house, the original home of the Durrells, or you can just eat and drink whilst admiring the view. It’s super cool with small white pebbled tiered patios, hanging chairs and comfy beanbags. It’s truly lovely. We only had a drink as I couldn’t see a single thing on the menu that my fussy children would eat (infuriating) and we also had a huge family argument after Leo started chucking the white pebbles around, but it was still worth the visit, if only to bring back the memories of My Family & Other Animals from when I was a child. I’m off to buy the book again.
Prawn saganaki, oven baked feta, Talagani cheese (fried cheese similar to halloumi), taramasalata, feta wrapped in filo with honey, any souvlaki meat, prawns, mussels, fresh Greek salads, cheese saganaki, prawns, olives, kalamari, octopus and prawns. Oh, and did I mention prawns?
What Can I Buy?
Olive wood is the main local craft and there’s loads of it everywhere, chopping boards abound. There’s two traditional fabric shops in Kassiopi - I bought a huge tablecloth for 25 euro and a king size embroidered bedspread for 40 euro. There’s lots of gorgeous ceramics, some less touristy than others and if you’re in the market for nibbles bowls you’ll be in seventh heaven. There’s also a beautiful jewellery shop in the harbour called Pearl. The owners buy in the gems and have local artisans create custom pieces. Joe surprised me with a silver and gold aquamarine ring as a wedding anniversary present. The last time he bought me a ring was when Ella was one so, quite frankly, it was well overdue. And dried herbs, lots of them. I’ve stocked up for years on this trip. Plus don’t forget to leave without at least three boxes of baklava. Greece is traditionally known for its Ouzo, but the local fruit to Corfu is the Kumquat and there’s every type of Kumquat product you can image, including spirits, sweets and jams.
So in summary? As a family, we love going on holiday but it has to be said, we’re usually ready to go home at the end. Not this time. For the first time ever, we would have happily stayed on for another couple of days. It’s gorgeously green, with tall cypress trees as far as the eye can see and the people are super friendly and laid back. It’s lacking in the normal touristy downsides and you really do feel as if you are fully embedded in the local culture without sticking out like a sore thumb. Kassiopi was so peaceful, so relaxed, so beautiful that we couldn’t help but get straight on to the internet to see how much it would cost to buy a home there. In our dreams, obviously - there’s more chance of Joe agreeing to captain the Titanic. Would we go back? The answer, it has to be said, is a resounding YES.