A villa with advantages on the Greek island
The weekend: There’s so much more to the leafy Greek island of Corfu than its postcard-perfect beaches. While most Britons choose to fly and crash in seaside resorts, visitors who leave their deckchairs will discover stately palaces and museums, quiet mountain villages and rugged pine-clad mountains. All this and one of the most enchanting capitals of the Mediterranean.
Where? For a little more luxury and a whole lot more space, dodge the all-inclusive buffets and opt for a lavish villa where you’ll truly feel at home. If the thought of making the beds and doing the dishes fills you with (understandable) dread, the apricot-colored Villa 1870 is the answer. Ten minutes from Corfu Town and its airport, the majestic apricot-coloured mansion can accommodate 16 people over three floors for a private family getaway with all the benefits of a five-star hotel.
There’s a private chef to whip up sumptuous spreads you’ll never finish, a waiter, daily maid service and a heated swimming pool set in flower-filled tropical gardens. Spa treatments, personal training, swimming lessons, and wine from the well-stocked cellar are also available for an additional fee.
The stay: The family villa has been faithfully restored to its 19th century glory, but with Netflix, an Xbox One and a wi-fi sound system. There are antique chests of drawers, sumptuous floral fabrics and ornate carved beds, with shutters opening to reveal the shimmering Ionian Sea in every room. Grab the elegant top-floor suite if you can with its fireplace, opulent bathroom, and dual-aspect windows with sweeping views of the surrounding neighborhood and the brilliant blue bay below.
The food: With your own chef on hand, you can eat fish fingers all week if you wish – ideal if you’re traveling with children who will really only eat fish fingers. Anyone else should let the chef work his magic, producing tables full of flavorful Corfiot specialties at every meal. Breakfast will keep you going all day with cheese, meat and fruit platters alongside feather-light vegan chocolate cake, obscenely good loukoumades (cinnamon donuts), scrambled eggs with feta and homemade jams by the owner of the villa Nancy. At dinner, expect slices of grilled halloumi, fresh sea bass, platters laden with salads and a rich, bubbling moussaka, all eaten by candlelight on the long al fresco dining table.
What to see: Leave plenty of time to stroll around the charming old town of the capital Corfu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site guarded by two fortresses. The Venetians ruled the city from 1386 for four centuries, but the capital still feels quintessentially Italian with shaded squares filled with ice cream parlors, sherbet-colored buildings and arched colonnades lining the sprawling marble-paved Liston Boulevard.
Visit the sumptuous Church of Saint Spyridon with its distinctive red bell tower, then climb the towers of the ancient 14th-century fortress. Then, lose yourself in the maze of cobbled lanes where tiny shops sell olive oil soap, leather goods and kumquat liquor made on the island and locals chat outside the stacked bakeries of sticky baklava.
After that? Climb wooded hills from the gin-clear waters of Palaiokastritsa Bay, passing a 13th-century monastery, whitewashed tavernas and the mountain village of Lakones. If that sounds like hard work, Villa 1870 can organize a day on the water instead, cruising the coast of Corfu on a 40ft yacht.
Sail from the Old Town, then drop anchor in a shimmering turquoise cove south of Agni Bay, where tiny St Arsenios Chapel clings to the cliff just above the water and a hidden sea cave can be explored inside the rocks. Cruise further up the coast to the sleepy hamlet of Nissaki for lunch. Fragrant stefado (beef stew), Greek salad and chilled copper pitchers of local wine are served in the open-air Olive Press restaurant, overlooking the fishermen on the wooden pier below.
Must know: Rates per night start at €800 for up to 16 people, including private chef (ingredients excluded), transfers, waiter and driver (www.villa1870corfu.com).