On the day that UK travel restrictions are loosened, we publish recommendations for hungry and thirsty visitors to a popular Greek island, by Artemis Burger. See the end of the article for more about her connection to Corfu.
Corfu, the most charming of the seven Ionian islands, known as Kerkyra by the Greeks, is also the most historically diverse.
Its turbulent history can be charted from Homer’s Odyssey, through raids, attacks and conquests by Europeans. The Goths, Lombards, Normans, Venetians, the French under the Napoleonic empire and British have all been here. The Italians and Germans also occupied the island, in succession, for short periods during the Second World War.
Corfu was restored to Greece after the war and is now visited by millions of tourists annually, due to its luscious green landscape and rich cultural heritage. In 2007 the Old Town of Corfu, capital of the island, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Corfu continues to thrive and keep its Greek identity while incorporating diverse cultural influences from its past. The Venetians granted gold pieces for every grove of 100 olive trees planted, hence the four million olive trees currently on the island. The British gift to Corfu was cricket. (Our main picture is of an olive grove on the Theotoky Estate.)
It has also been the preferred destination of many famous historical figures such as the Empress of Austria, Sissy, who miraculously recuperated from her chronic lung disease on the island and in gratitude had the Achilleon Palace built in 1889. It was also the birthplace of the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1921. And of course, the island was made famous by Gerald Durrell’s novel My Family and Other Animals. The recent success of a TV series based on it drew many more tourists to the island.
In the north-eastern part of the island are the summer residences of the likes of the Rothschilds and Agnellis with their private docks and exclusive, inviting bays with turquoise waters.
A few words elevated this winery to global fame, specifically in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), when 007 replied to a villain who sought a Robola from Kefalonia, ‘Well, if you'll forgive me, I find that a little too scented for my palate. I prefer the Theotoky Aspro’. Since then, the winery sells thousands of bottles of its white Aspro, year after year. It’s produced from 60-year-old Robola vines that are actually less scented than those from Kefalonia. The founder John Theotoky studied agriculture at the Bodenkulturschule in Vienna and later was Prime Minister of Greece. He was mainly responsible for the plantings of Robola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The estate is the largest on the island spanning 300 acres (120 ha). The vineyard has recently converted to organic farming, and is partially biodynamic. It has won numerous awards.
The Grammenos Family winery is based in the village of Sinarades with a stunning view of the sandy beach of Aghios Gordis. It has all the essential state-of-the-art equipment but its key to success is the young, dynamic winemaker/owner. Panagiotis Grammenos is the second generation to run the winery. He studied oenology and is currently producing the island’s best wines from indigenous Corfiot grapes. Around the village of Sinarades they have 11 acres (4.5 ha) and also purchase grapes from local farmers. His white wine, produced from the Kakotrygis grape variety is light, fruit-driven, citrus-scented and refreshing. Panagiotis also cultivates the indigenous red grape variety Petrokorythos, which produces a fascinating rosé with a taste of pomegranates, red berries and roses. This revival of an ancient wine heritage deserves exploration.
Sinarades, 49084 Corfu; tel: +30 26610 54687; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ambelonas (which also has a restaurant – pictured above and described below) is the Greek word for vineyard. It’s a lovingly restored estate, with traditional winemaking equipment such as a basket press, old wooden vats and has an outdoor dining space adorned by floral pergolas and vines. The culinary part is run by owner and chef Vasiliki Karounou, described below. Her partner, Sotiris, who studied engineering in Glasgow, is responsible for the vineyard where vine and olive cultivation have co-existed for more than 400 years. Ambelonas produces their wine from the old indigenous Corfiot varieties, the white Kakotrygis, and red Skopelitiko. The best harvest was in 2019. I do believe this is as close as possible to the authentic Corfiot-Venetian wine, with intense purity and real terroir influence.
The oldest traditional restaurant in the Old Town, situated in Liston, a charming promenade constructed under Napoleonic rule that is a smaller replica of Rue de Rivoli in Paris. Aegli is a third-generation, family-run business. Currently managed by father Constantin Gisdakis and son Marios whose experiences in New York and at The Fat Duck influence his sumptuous traditional Corfiot dishes. Recommended are the traditional spicy fish stew bourdeto, a name derived from the Venetian word brodetto meaning broth; slow-roasted lamb shank in wine sauce; and the beef stew pastitsada with aromatic tomato sauce, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
Aegli – 23 Kapodistrou, Corfu Town, Liston; tel: +30 26610 31949; email@example.com
Located in the north-east of the island on a picturesque beach in Agni with its own private pier and boathand, who assists guests on and off their private boats which stay docked until the guests have finished their very lengthy lunches. Not only is the waterfront location stunning but each of its Mediterranean dishes is complemented by wines recommended by an outstanding sommelier, Fotis Stamoulis. This taverna is a haven for foodies and wine connoisseurs alike. Particularly recommended are all the seafood starters, especially the octopus carpaccio, and the taramosalata.
Michelin award-winning chef Ettore Botrini, the most charismatic chef in Greece, works his wonders in the idyllic village of Kato Korakiana here. His traditional Corfiot and Italian heritage is combined with cutting-edge molecular cuisine and organically sourced produce from the Etrusco estate gardens. The restaurant offers a dozen tables on a veranda, shaded by an ancient mulberry tree. The little side-treats of various home-made breads, offered with local white butter and award-winning Corfiot olive oil, are also worth mentioning. Recommended dishes include slow-cooked lamb, aubergine cream, couscous and Moroccan sauce and upside-down orange pie.
Ettore Botrini Restaurant – Kato Korakiana, Dassia; tel: +30 26610 93342; firstname.lastname@example.org
See above for details of the associated winery. Their motto is ‘Wine. Gastronomy. Culture’ and Vasiliki Karounou, owner and head of cuisine, certainly delivers all three in sequence. Vasiliki conjures up locally sourced, old traditional Corfiot dishes with a contemporary twist. She’s a science graduate from NYU who moved to Corfu in 2000, with a strong desire to search forgotten flavours and research bygone recipes. The restaurant is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and only by appointment. This can be combined with a cooking class. A speciality is an old Venetian dish, lamb cavraman with fennel and white wine. Ambelonas is a member of the Greek eco-tourism organisation.
The White House
Established in 1935, and made famous by the Durrell family, the restaurant has developed the motto Dine Like the Durrells. Recently, Michelin chef Lefteris Lazarou took over as head chef. He is renowned for his seafood creativity with dishes such as crab soup with cuttlefish ink, linguine with grouper fish and scorpion fish bourdeto. If you are not feeling that hungry, you can, like many tourists, content yourself with a light snack and swim like the Durrells. There is a Durrell gift shop within the restaurant and lots of original photos of the family.
Manchester-born, Vienna resident, fencer and WSET Diploma graduate Artemis Burger describes her relationship with Corfu It was after the Second World War when my great aunt of Anglo-Greek heritage decided to purchase a large estate on the island, a stone-built, unique, Venetian house with 72 hectares (178 acres) of land in the middle of the island. This was the house where I spent every summer holiday and even celebrated my wedding there. I have extraordinary memories of empty sandy beaches, the most picturesque sunsets among olive groves, local homemade wines, olive oil, breads, specialities and all the noteworthy everlasting memories of festivals, especially St Spiridion, the patron saint of the island. It was always fascinating trying the wines every summer from the local farmers, wondering why they were so acidic.
A few years ago, we sold the property but we visit regularly; it is wonderful to see the house and property cherished by the new owner who also strongly promotes biodiversity and the ecological sustainability of the island, which is so important for the local farmers, especially the wineries. This is where we, my husband and I, offer our support too.
My other link to Corfu is my middle name Nausicaa taken from Homer's Odyssey, a character in the book, the princess, daughter of King Alcinous, who found the shipwrecked Odysseus apparently on the west coast of Corfu. Another reason for my strong bond with the island.