Corfu conquest

Like the Romans and Venetians before her, Yolanda Carslaw is enchanted by the island's Mediterranean grace.

The sun worshippers who descend on Corfu each summer are nothing compared with arrivals of the past. The island is one of the most colonised in the Mediterranean: the Corinthians, Romans, Byzantines, Russians and French were here, though never, the islanders emphasise, the Turks. The most influential, strategically and architecturally, were the Venetians, who gave its capital, Corfu Town, such grace that, two centuries after they left, its compact World Heritage campiello (Old Town) remains as alluring as Siena or Dubrovnik, if less polished.

I make for Corfu Town's Old Fortress via the Spianada, a lawned square where legacies of the British protectorate (1815-64) include occasional games of cricket. Count von der Schulenburg stands guard in stone at the Old Fortress's entrance, where he led Venetians, mercenaries and Corfiots to repel the last westward Ottoman push in 1716.

I cross the sea moat and climb the battlements. The panorama takes in the Greek and Albanian mainland, berthed cruise liners, Corfu's highest peak (Mount Pantokrator), the red-domed tower of St Spyridon and the Liston - an attractive French-built arcade lit by the morning sun. There is Mon Repos, the birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, and, beneath the rambling fortifications, the boxy St George's Church, which was built for the British garrison then converted to Orthodox.

Later, I make for the neoclassical Palace of St Michael and St George, which houses a remarkable collection of Asian artefacts gathered by Greek diplomats. Emerging at lunchtime, I defy guidebook advice and eat on the Liston, at Aegli Restaurant, the "oldest in town". How old? The waiter doesn't know.

At St Spyridon, Corfiots are praying by the casket of the patron saint of sailors, after whom many islanders are named. Ornamental ships dangle from above.

In a sunlit square, I find the pink-and-white Orthodox cathedral, which dates from 1577 but looks as good as new. Beneath the New Fortress ramparts I pass the synagogue; the Germans sent thousands of Corfiot Jews to Auschwitz and destroyed a quarter of the town, including 14 churches.

I stroll home via the cafes and palms of the Town Hall square and broad Guilford Street, framed by vines, and grab a chargrilled cob of sweet corn from a stall on Garitsa Bay. As the sun dips, I settle in for the evening.

FAST FACTS

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Getting there

Etihad Airways has a fare to Corfu from Sydney and Melbourne for about $2276, low-season return, including tax. Fly to Abu Dhabi (about 14hr), then to Athens (5hr 20min), then with

Olympic Air to Corfu (1hr 5min); see etihadairways.com.

Staying there

Bella Venezia is a friendly, 31-room hotel in a mansion with a small garden. It's on a quiet street about a five-minute walk from the Spianada. Rooms from €90 ($112.50) a night. See bellaveneziahotel.com.

Corfu Mare is housed in a replica Venetian mansion and has a swimming pool and gym. Rooms from €100 a night. See corfumare.gr.

Corfu Palace is Corfu Town's smartest address, with a pool, gardens and a spa. The hotel is on Garitsa Bay, a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. Rooms from €160 a night. See corfupalace.com.

Dining there

Rouvas has a modest facade but is a local favourite. At 13 Stamatiou Desila, near San Rocco Square. Open daytime only.

Tsipouradiko is a lively spot at Prosalendou and Panagioti Gida, near the Old Port, where you can graze on meze washed down with tsipouro, a mainland-Cretan firewater. Open until late.

Rex, 66 Kapodistriou, behind the Liston, has a pricey reputation but the bill isn't as high as you'd expect. Order seafood or specialities such as chicken with cumquat.

While there

Swim at Faliraki beach, behind the Palace of St Michael and St George. Rent a sun lounge for €1.50 in a tiny "club". The nearby cafe, En Plo, does good iced coffee.

Browse the Archaeological and Serbian museums. (The Byzantine Museum is closed for renovation until 2015.)

More information

See www.corfuvisit.net.

- Telegraph, London

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