Few places beg for a long swim quite like the Greek Islands.
I’d been wanting to visit Greece ever since I saw my first Parliament cigarette ad back in the 90s. I think that's how I learned what Greece looked like, or at least what I thought Greece looked like. Ironically, I was actually studying Ancient Greek at the time, but remember nothing of it, just those ads. The blue water. The clear skies. The chalk-white buildings. And always, that couple luxuriating by it all, pulling a few nice long drags off a Parliament Light™. It’s the stuff swimming dreams are made of, dreams I have often.
So we made the trip this summer, but instead of heading to the usual spots we hear a lot about here in the U.S., we headed to Corfu, an island on the western side of Greece facing toward Italy. Why? Mostly timing. We didn’t have a ton of it and didn’t want to spend what precious bits of it we had traveling.
Turns out Corfu is pretty stunning. Unlike a lot of the other island in Greece, it's gets enough rain to support tree life. Like most islands in the Mediterranean it’s had its fair share of occupiers. Greek. Italian. German. And the influences are there, especially with food which is very much Greek, but also heavily-influenced by the Italians.
Now, Corfu is the choice destinations for a lot of recently-graduated high schoolers from the UK. I didn’t hit Corfu Town, but my understanding is that it’s sort of a shit show, and the chosen destination for these types.
Opting for relaxation over party vibes, we stuck to Paleokastritsa, a quieter section of the island marked by quiet coves and inlets that are ideal for swimming and waiting on the midday heat. We quickly realized that water taxis were the preferred method of transportation (no need for scooters or rental cars) and used these to explore a bunch of beaches near our hotel. The most beautiful being the aptly-named Paradise Beach. There, we found quiet and seclusion (minus the other tourists) and a small make-shift store tucked into a shady area below a cliff where umbrellas and beers could be had for short money. A canteen boat even serviced the beach every few hours.
The water was is clear and as alluring as you can imagine, and it was absolutely necessary to get in to avoid the midday heat. Similarly an umbrella is absolutely critical.
It turns out that Greece is not cheap, or at least, is not as much of a deal as one might expect. A euro goes farther in parts of Sicily and Southern Italy where the food is better as well. Still, I'm very glad we made the trip. I no longer have to rely on old cigarette ads to occupy the image of Greece in my mind, and I scored some of the best swimming of my life.
A few places definitely worth checking out if you go to Corfu are Paradise Beach (bad name, great beach), La Grotta (bar/swimming hole, also where the water taxi leaves from) and anywhere that has shrimp saganaki on the menu. It's not exactly light beach food, but it's incredibly delicious.