Charming Corfu: The appeal of the island's affluent northeast coast
Greece | October 17, 2023 | Erica Rich
Pretty ports, renowned restaurants and a slew of luxury villas - this is Greek island life at its best
The motorboat skims across the waves with ease, a frothy white trail of surf behind it, whizzing past rocky outcrops and verdant hillsides dotted with palatial homes. It’s that time of early morning in Greece where everything appears in soft focus – before the masses have taken to the water, before the wind has whipped up and the sun has reached its highest point in the sky. The sea is flat and buttery, extending far beyond the reach of the eyes and blending into a watercolour sky painted powder blue and lilac.
We’re exploring the northeast coast of Corfu – and boat is, of course, the preferred method of transport. This stylish corner of the island is particularly popular with affluent Brits – it’s estimated there are more than 450 villas in northeastern Corfu, and 95% of them are British-owned. Between the region’s capital, Kassiopi, and the coastal town of Barbati, around 45 villas are currently under construction, costing between €1 million and €3 million.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. In Kassiopi, tourists and locals mill between manicured gardens, chic shops and a cleanly paved harbour bordered by historic canons. The compact port is flanked by shops and pastel-coloured houses, the fresh fronds of bougainvillea starting to emerge around them. Tavernas majoring on fresh fish and cafes serving iced coffees and gelato are dotted along the waterfront, a clutch of little boats parked outside.
The holiday hamlet of Kelia is tucked into the hillside above, a short walk from the town. There’s smaller ports too, like St Stefano, colloquially dubbed Kensington-on-Sea in peak season due to the high concentration of affluent families that flock here every year during July and August. The unassuming inlet offers beachside tavernas, a couple of local supermarkets and a smattering of lively waterfront restaurants and bars – Greek island life at its simplest and most charming.
One brand has a monopoly on tourism in Corfu – and business is thriving. CV Villas was founded on the island 50 years ago and has since expanded through much of Europe and beyond, with a selection of properties in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean. But Corfu remains not only the brand’s heartland but one of its top destinations, with 120 villas scattered across all four corners of the island, supported by 15 members of staff who are based in the destination seasonally. In St Stefano alone, CV Villas has more than 30 properties, making it perfect for multigenerational families and large groups of friends who wish to spread out in one place. Its proximity to the port means it’s also a perfect base for clients who don’t wish to hire a car during their stay, and would rather – like us – flit from cove to cave on the waves.
During a fam trip to the island in partnership with CV Villas and the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO), our home for three nights is in Kassiopi – a sprawling, terracotta-toned eight-bedroom villa tucked amid the trees on a peninsula jutting out over the rugged coastline. The property is part of CV Villas’ exclusive Above range – a carefully curated collection of luxury villas that comes with a dedicated concierge and a range of other high-end services – and the experience starts as soon as we land. We are less than five minutes out of the airport when our minibus comes to a stop alongside a narrow, pebbled beach. The driver hops out and opens the passenger door, holding a bottle of something deliciously chilled. “Champagne, anyone?” he enquires.
A key factor of Above properties is excellent location, and Villa Soukia ticks all the boxes: direct beach access, a private jetty and just a 10-minute walk into Kassiopi. St Stefano and the quiet pebbled beaches of Coyevinas and Avlaki are also in easy reach. French doors in the large living room open out onto a spacious wraparound terrace, centred around an infinity pool flanked by loungers. There’s ample options for alfresco drinking and dining, with outdoor seating, a built-in barbecue, an outdoor kitchen and pizza oven. Another hallmark of Above properties is the view: for us, it’s a wide-reaching vista looking out over the Ionian Sea and the distant hills of nearby Albania, which glitter with light as darkness falls.
All Above properties come with a concierge – while they’re not based at the property, they’re contactable six days per week. Guests will also receive a welcome pack, daily breakfast and regular maid service. At an extra cost, additional cook service, laundry service, wine delivery, pre-arrival grocery shopping, fresh, cut flowers on arrival and a massage or beauty therapist can be arranged on request. During our first evening at Villa Soukia, we’re joined by a mixologist from one of Kassiopi’s top bars, who crafts a selection of cocktail pairings for the family-style barbecue feast we enjoy courtesy of two private chefs.
The villa concierge can also ensure guests are secured the best seats in the house when dining out – a must for nearby restaurants like Trilogia, an excellent modern Greek restaurant perched on a clifftop in Kassiopi offering commanding views of sunset. Advance bookings are also essential for the White House Restaurant, Corfu’s most famous eatery, where plates of freshly caught seafood are served beneath a leafy pergola overlooking Kalami Bay.
The restaurant, sitting on the lower ground level of the world-famous White House, where British author Lawrence Durrell resided between 1935 and 1939, is helmed by Lefteris Lazarou, the first Greek chef to receive a Michelin star for his restaurant, Varoulko Seaside. Back on the boat, we speed south towards Paxos for a lunch of feta-strewn Greek salad and grilled octopus, and further south still to Antipaxos to dive into deserted coves. The Greek isles have always been experts at mastering the summer holiday – CV Villas has just elevated it and made it that much easier to enjoy.
Ask the expert
Eleni Skarveli, director of GNTO UK & Ireland
“Corfu, the Aphrodite of the Ionians, captivates visitors with its vibrant Venetian architecture and Unesco World Heritage Site town. A haven for VIP guests, the island offers luxurious resorts, gourmet culinary experiences and exclusive yacht charters to pristine beaches and nearby Paxos island, solidifying its status as a top destination for affluent travellers. Arriving at Corfu airport, I am always enchanted by the picturesque islet of Pontikonissi. My cherished spot is the Achilleion Palace gardens, which never fail to mesmerise me, with the awe-inspiring statue of Dying Achilles completing the magical allure of this extraordinary island.”
Four agents and operators joined Aspire, CV Villas and GNTO for a three-night fam trip to Corfu. Here, two agents share their experiences.
Sarah Ives, Cartology Travel
“This was my first time visiting Corfu and I can see why people return year after year. What better way to experience the island than with CV Villas and the incredible team who make dreamy villa holidays a reality. The Above collection is simply perfection, with such a high level of luxury, privacy and connection with the island itself. One thing that really struck me was how many local, female‑owned businesses we saw during our time in Corfu.”
Emma Mackley, Emma Mackley Private Travel
“My highlight was our day sailing on the luxury Saxdor motorboat, stopping to swim at Antipaxos with lunch at Vassilis Taverna in Paxos. I was also enamoured with Corfu Old Town – steeped in history with its famous, wide, tree and cafe‑lined street Liston, constructed in 1807 during the French rule – a smaller copy of Rue de Rivoli in Paris.”
CV Villas offers seven nights at Villa Soukia for £31,818 based on 16 people sharing in June 2024. The price includes concierge, daily breakfast and maid service six days a week. cvvillas.com