A weak late-winter sun is shining outside, but the cold weather still clings here in Hungary. This is a time of waiting, when the bare brown landscape has yet to hold hints of spring, and getting the kids all bundled up to go outside seems less like an adventure and more like a real pain in the ass.
So our thoughts begin to turn to warm sands and sunny shores, and many of us begin spending more time online browsing summer beach destinations.
Corfu, within easy striking distance from the rest of Europe and endowed with some of the best that Greece has to offer, is an immensely family-friendly choice. Greece’s second-largest Ionian island does have its inevitable share of thumping disco destinations, particularly in the south, but it is a surprisingly rural, sleepy island, peppered with lovely little seaside villages and quiet coves. It’s also one of the country’s greenest islands, watered by winter rains and clad with pine forests and well over 3 million olive trees.
The north-eastern corner of Corfu, just a 45-minute drive from the island’s main airport, offers some stunning beaches and picturesque villages that make excellent bases for exploring the tiny fishing towns and secluded bays that fly largely under the tourist radar.
Kassiopi is the largest town in the area (but still has only around 1000 year-round residents), and while it does have a smattering of cheesy souvenir shops and perhaps more than a smattering of mostly British tourists, it still retains a lovely little working harbor and hides some fabulous beaches just outside of town. If you’re traveling with older kids, they’ll probably appreciate the livelier scene that Kassiopi offers.
But if you’re looking for serenity and seclusion, try Avlaki, a seven-minute drive south of Kassiopi. Virtually unknown to tourists, this long white crescent of Blue Flag shingle beach holds two tavernas, and you can rent sun beds, hire boats, and avail yourself of showers, toilets and changing rooms. The water is crystal-clear and calm, perfect for families with young children.
You can’t go wrong with either of the restaurants on the beach (Avlaki Taverna and Cavo Barbaro), which offer fresh seafood and spectacular views of the bay, and the kids can play on the beach while you wait for your food.
At the end of the beach, just past the car park, you’ll find a trail that takes you out onto the wooded and rocky peninsula and to some short walks along remote stony beaches. An easier alternative for touring the peninsula is by boat, which you can hire from Dimitris Boats for around 100 Euro/day.
The main beach right in Kassiopi, called Kalamionas, is nice enough but somewhat crowded and immediately adjacent to the main coastal road. Instead, head out of town toward the end of the peninsula, and you’ll come across two small coves separated by a low ridge, and in those coves absolutely lovely beaches. Both are pebbly (like most beaches in the area), so you’ll want some swim shoes to protect your feet – sport sandals don’t cut it since stones creep in the sides and you end up treading on them anyway. Both beaches are stunning, the Ionian Sea so transparent here that boats at anchor seem to hover in mid air.
Just above the beaches lies Trilogia restaurant, Kassiopi’s highest-rated on Tripadvisor and definitely worth a visit at lunch if you’re at the beach. While at night it’s all about upscale formal dining, at lunch you can sit on the outdoor terrace admiring the views of the sea and Albania in the distance, and won’t feel out of place in your shorts and sandals. Very highly recommended.
If you’re feeling the need for sand, then head on over to Kalamaki beach, rather less charming than many of the other area beaches, but a great massive swathe of sandy shore that slopes very gently into the sea, making it ideal for young children. It’s here that you can indulge in sandcastle building and wading in the blood-warm waters without stressing about the kids getting in over their heads. There are restaurants and bars on the beach, although as we brought a picnic I can’t vouch for their quality.
Kerasia is yet another long strip of pebble strand, about a ten-minute drive from Kassiopi or Avlaki, backed by sweeping groves of gnarled olives and well away from the trodden tourist routes. It has all the amenities you’d need, including sun beds, umbrellas, showers and toilets, and has an excellent taverna at one end. Our eldest got a mixed seafood platter that could have fed the whole family.
If you’re feeling up to it, walk to the far end of the beach and take the 15 to 20-minute hiking trail that winds along the coast to the tiny fishing hamlet of Kouloura.
The village is set on a peninsula, the harbor’s jetty curling around to shelter the fishing boats like the protective wing of a mother gull. About two-thirds of the way to the town you can stop off at a tiny cove for a refreshing swim, and just before you reach the village there is a small sandy beach shaded by towering cypress trees that is great for kids.
The one taverna in town sits above the bay, its waterside tables offering incredible views that only enhance the wonderful food. Keep in mind that in July and August you’ll probably be subject to searing heat – the day we went it was 46 Celsius/114 Fahrenheit – so bring lots of water and sun hats for the kids.
Where to Stay:
There are huge numbers of houses and flats for rent in the area, and HomeAway is a good place to start your search. We stayed at a place booked through HomeAway and couldn’t have been more pleased with it. Kassiopi.com has tons of information, including a wide range of rental properties. Agni Travel is a treasure trove of information, including accommodation listings. Strongly consider a place with a swimming pool – we spent almost every moment that we weren’t on the beach or in a taverna in the pool. There are many, many amazing Corfu Villas available, so take your time and fantasize about the offerings all of the island.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly beach holiday, or more specifically a Greek holiday that takes in the more traditional side of the islands, check out this little corner of Corfu. You’ll probably, like us, want to go back for more.