Its lush interior, well-watered by winter rains and smothered in fragrant pine forests and dense olive groves, is studded with charmingly old-fashioned rural villages, where the sleepy routine is occasionally enlivened by summer religious festivals (panegyria).
At such times, tempting food and craft stalls appear, a fairground atmosphere prevails and brass bands, known locally (and rather confusingly) as philharmonic orchestras, toot out foot-tapping tunes. The main festivals take place in July and August and, of course, over Easter. And if religion's not your thing, perhaps the two Corfu beer festivals, in July and October, will grab your attention.
Most time-strapped cruise visitors confine their visits to exploring Corfu Town on the island's east coast, and this delightful medieval enclave, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, certainly deserves the attention. You'll find historic fortresses and the vast Spianada Square (esplanade), which is the largest public square in the Balkans, as well as intriguing alleyways and spectacular statues and fountains (not to mention excellent shops and lively restaurants).
If your cruise schedule allows, or you've visited Corfu Town before, you'll find it very rewarding to venture farther afield. In its long history, Corfu has "belonged" to many invaders -- Byzantines, Venetians, France, Russia and Britain -- before returning to Greek rule in 1864, and all have left their cultural stamp. You'll see it in the esplanade's cricket pitch and the island's Byzantine churches, Italianate mansions and the elegant French Liston arcade.
It all blends into the fascinating jumble, which makes Corfu one of the best-known and best-loved islands of the Ionian archipelago.
Where You're Docked
Your ship will dock at the Neo Limani (New Port), which also accommodates ferries operating between Corfu and Italy, Greece and Albania.
Good to Know
Don't expect crossings to be respected, and look out for cars zooming suddenly out of side roads. If you dare to drive, beware reckless passing and center-of-the-road hogs.
If you're visiting a church or monastery, respect dress codes. Women should take along a scarf to cover their arms or head and avoid short skirts; men should ditch wearing shorts unless planning a day at the beach.
Siesta time runs between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (known locally as mikro ypno).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is national currency in Greece. For the latest exchange rates, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
ATMs are easy to find (there are dozens in Corfu Town). You'll find them mainly in banks, but they also are located on streets and in some hotels and restaurants. Some of the outlying villages also have banks with machines, but if you're heading further afield, stock up on cash before you go. Many bars and restaurants still don't accept card payments.
A legacy of British rule means many Corfiots speak at least a smattering of English, particularly in the shops and restaurants of the tourist-rich old town. You'll find an English section in most restaurant menus but may have difficulty finding a specific address, as street signs are rare, and those that exist are in Greek. If in doubt, ask a shopkeeper.
A friendly demeanor goes a long way, but it's also worth taking a phrasebook or language app along help. Emergency numbers worth knowing: 100 for police, 199 for fire and 166 for ambulance.
Good morning/Good day: Kalimera /Kalispera
My name is: Me lene
Thank you: efharisto
Do you speak English?: Milate Anglika?
How much is this?: Posa kostizi afto?
Where's the bathroom?: pu ine i tualetta?
Corfu's Old Town is by far the best place for souvenir hunters, with pretty wrought-iron garden lanterns and finely worked embroidered cloths making good buys.
With so many olive trees about, olive-wood ornaments and bottles of the excellent olive oil are also worth snapping up. Foodie friends might enjoy a bottle of kumquat liqueur or a jar of kumquat marmalade (made from the fruit trees introduced to Corfu by the Chinese at the end of the 17th century).