Last updated on January 31st, 2023 at 01:26 pm
Corfu is not just a tourist spot, but it also has some very old, traditional villages scattered around the island, most of which preserve their history and customs and have not been touched by uncontrolled tourist development.
Corfu is not particularly large, it is the 7th largest Greek island, but it is very densely populated to the point that there are over 200 villages and settlements.
Exploring Corfu’s old villages is the perfect way to discover the unique charm of this Greek island.
From the picturesque mountain retreat of Old Perithia to the cobblestone streets of Koinopiastes, each village offers its own unique character and heritage.
Many traditional Corfu villages are still free of the tourist crowds and offer a glimpse into traditional Greek life, with traditional buildings and old mansions, traditional cuisine, and local culture.
The traditional Corfu villages of Agios Mathaios, Nymphes, and Pelekas are ideal for those looking to explore the culture and customs of the region. With stunning landscapes and charming streetscapes, each village offers a unique experience that must be experienced to truly appreciate.
Most visitors to Corfu are aware of only the tourist parts of the island. They still know the most beautiful beaches with the big hotels and the places of archaeological and historical interest, such as the old town and Achilleion palace, but they ignore the real Corfu which lives in the island’s old and traditional villages.
And there are many of them, mainly old mountain villages where time moves very slowly and which have been inhabited since ancient times.
They present an important and rich architectural and urban planning interest since they are influenced by the Venetian presence on the island.
The most difficult for us was the selection of the most beautiful among the dozens that were candidates for the title of the most picturesque traditional villages of Corfu.
But let’s take a closer look at the 11, in our opinion, most important and beautiful traditional villages of Corfu.
A village built at an altitude of 200 meters, on a slope of the Pantokrator mountain that dominates the northern part of the island. The first time that the name appeared in official documents was in 1347, therefore it is indeed a very old village.
The area is surrounded by lush vegetation with olive groves, oak trees, huge plane trees, and cypress trees. This makes it an ideal place for walking tourism.
However, the village owes its special character to its springs and waterfalls, which are unique on the island. These springs could sustain up to 21 watermills in the past but today we find only the ruins of them close to the village. The vegetation is vigorous and the waterfalls are simply beautiful.
The village took its name from these springs in which, according to mythology, water deities, Fairies, or Mermaids who in ancient times were called Nymphs were living here. Nymphes in fact means the place of Mermaids.
The Settlement is built according to the standards of Corfu architecture with Venetian, Frankish, and British influences.
If you visit the village, the souvenir you will buy will definitely be some Kumquat derivative, such as a sweet or a liqueur, since this traditional citrus fruit originating from China is cultivated here in large quantities due to the abundant waters.
Festivals and all kinds of cultural events and local festivals happen almost every day in the Corfiot villages, one of them is the Dance of the Priests which takes place simultaneously in the nearby village of Episkepsis and Nymphes.
The priest of the village starts the dance and all the men of the village follow each other in turn according to their age and their social position in the village, the chorus repeats the verse that the priest says without the accompaniment of music. See more here.
Lakones, is another beautiful picturesque old village on the northwest of the island. Perched on the mountain, Lakones is the village that gives Paleokastritsa half of its beauty.
Yes, don’t be surprised, from here the admittedly beautiful Paleokastritsa looks even more beautiful.
From Lacones one can enjoy the picturesqueness of the varied coastline which is, according to many, the most beautiful part of the island.
From the village, you can see both the beaches inside the settlement of Paleokastritsa and also the beaches further south which are the most isolated and beautiful, such as Rovinia.
There is no intense tourist development here, despite this thought, there are several restaurants and rooms for rent for those who enjoy the quiet of the old village better than the intense tourist traffic of the beach.
And always, let’s not forget the amazing view.
Pelekas lies 13 km west of the town of Kerkyra, on the west Corfu coast up on a hill.
It is indeed one of the oldest and prettiest Corfu villages.
Pelekas has a very interesting architecture. The old houses seem to be perched on the slopes with the main road running between them climbing towards the top.
But this isn’t all. From here one can enjoy spectacular views and magical sunsets, as this mountain village has a clear view of the west Ionian sea. If the weather is clear is possible that south Italy can be seen.
There are beautiful souvenir shops and cafés in the village, also traditional restaurants offering delicious Corfiot dishes aren’t missing.
The famous spot from where the whole of middle Corfu offers a spectacular view is the Kaiser’s Throne, on the top of the hill, it used to be the favorite spot for the German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. There is a cafe near the hill of the throne from where the views are unique.
The village has its own beach called Kontogialos, a very busy sandy beach at a close distance from some more famous beaches of the island, such as Glyfada and Myrtiotissa.
Benitses is one of the oldest traditional villages in Corfu.
According to official documents it exists since 1200CE with the name Penitise, but the ruins of the existing Roman villa with baths indicate that the place was inhabited since antiquity.
It is the perfect combination of mountain and sea as it lies in the middle of a valley at the center of Corfu’s east coast very close to the city of Corfu.
Today the traditional part keeps all its old-style glory with old renovated houses and all its natural beauty despite the intense tourist development which started back during the 60s.
This beauty coexists with excellent tourist facilities such as hotels of all categories, rooms, and studios.
Benitses village without a doubt is an idyllic place, worldwide famous in the past, with a current presence in tourism and great prospects for the future that every tourist to Corfu must visit.
Petriti is a very traditional Greek fishing village in the eastern gulf of southern Corfu.
The fishing boats return with their catch, so if you’re lucky enough to be there when the boat comes in, you’ll probably eat the freshest fish you’ve ever eaten in your life!
Many fish taverns exist along the coast here, and in recent years they have also adapted to the tastes of foreign visitors.
Across the bay are the saltpans of Lefkimi, and closer is a small island that a local resident has declared to be his own republic!
Petriti is accessible by two roads, one is the coastal road from Messonghi, which follows the relatively quiet coast right next to the sea, and also passes by Boukari, another fishing small location.
And the second starts from the main road to the south of the island, when you reach Argyrades you turn left, and in a little while you will reach Petriti.
Today, Petriti is a relatively large village, since in recent years it has expanded inland far from the sea, it remains, of course, a quiet village, which will remind the older visitors the old Greece, before the arrival of fast food and loud music.
The sea remains shallow for several meters from the shore and is therefore safe even for small children.
Perithia is built at an altitude of 450 meters on a plateau of eastern Pantokrator, near Kassiopi.
It is perhaps one of the oldest, if not the oldest, villages of Corfu, as the area was known since 300 BCE.
The village is said to have been built by devastated people who lived close to the beach when they were hit by a tsunami.
But also the fear of pirates during the Middle Ages forced many inhabitants to choose mountainous, inaccessible, and invisible places from the sea to build their villages.
The same happened to many other old mountain villages on the island too.
During the Middle Ages and up to 1400AD the population increased mainly due to this protection from pirates since the village is not visible from the sea at all.
There were very rich mansions and large schools here as evidenced by the ruins and in general the village flourished.
But despite the isolation, the village was affected very badly by the malaria epidemic that ravaged Corfu in the 15th century forcing almost all the inhabitants to abandon it. This was the start of the end of Old Perithia
Later, the advantages of isolation during the Middle Ages became disadvantages when piracy disappeared and the great tourist flow to Corfu began.
Life in the mountainous environment of the village became difficult and so the remained inhabitants moved down to the nearest tourist areas such as Kassiopi and Acharavi to find work.
Inevitably, little by little, the village was abandoned and began to fall into disrepair.
But in 1980 the whole of old Perithia was declared a preserved cultural monument, and this was the beginning of the rebirth of the village.
In 2009 Mark from London and Saskin from the Netherlands fell in love with the village and decided to invest in it.
They bought a dilapidated mansion and renovated it keeping its architecture intact, this house became a small hotel.
Their example was followed by many descendants of the old residents who started repairing the old houses, slowly bringing life back to the ghost village, because that’s what Perithia was called before 2009.
Today around 130 houses have been renovated, using the stone of the area, in accordance with the local Corfu style and preserving the Venetian elements.
There are still old mansions and the church of Agios Iakovos at the entrance of the village which is considered one of the most remarkable monuments. But also several taverns that attract people from other places and give life and income to the now permanent residents.
Please note that cars and swimming pools are prohibited in the settlement.
The village today is one of the most beautiful retreats of Corfu and many artists and writers live there.
Stavros is a small traditional mountainous village at an altitude of 400 meters, almost in the center of the island, it is an old and very picturesque village without tourist development.
Life here is typical of a small Greek village, and it is really worth a visit.
Nevertheless, there are some rooms for rent here and there and some cafes for a drink that offers a fantastic view of almost 70% of the island and especially many villages and landscapes located in the south part of Corfu.
Stavros is located on the mountain that hangs above the Benitses, the distance between the two does not exceed 1000 meters and there are many paths and also a normal highway that connects them.
These are ideal paths for hiking lovers, while houses or small churches pop out of the lush vegetation with a great interest for visitors.
Agios Mattheos or Ai Mathias, as the locals call it, is a large village in the southwest of the island near the beach of Halikounas.
It is built at an altitude of about 150 meters, behind Mount Gamelion (Wedding), a conical mountain with a peak of 465 meters, which completely hides the village from the sea.
Agios Mattheos is officially classified as a traditional village of Corfu.
Unfortunately, the population is constantly decreasing, in 1960 there were more than 2000 residents living here, which slowly decreased, in 2011 there were only 1000 and the majority of them were elderly.
We fear that today and after the 2021 census there will be even fewer.
The settlements of Chalikounas and Skala, both amazing beaches, also belong to the village.
There is no tourism here, and the inhabitants are employed almost exclusively in agricultural and livestock activities.
The village since many decades has had its own football team called OFAM, which comes from the acronym of the words Omilos Filathlon Agios Matthaios(Group of Funs of Agios Mattheos)
And there is also a normal field with grass, one of the few on the island that exists in villages.
The life of the inhabitants flows calmly through their agricultural pursuits, while during free hours and holidays the many coffee shops of the village, which are mainly located in the square crossed by the main road, are full.
Residents gather in them, play cards, discuss or argue, or simply laze around. It is a typical Greek rural village.
Tradition says that the mythical king of the Phaeacians, Alkinoos, got married at the top of Mount Gamelion.
There are also several attractions in the area, with the main ones being the Venetian alleys and the colorful houses of the settlement.
- The Pantokrator monastery on Mount Gamelion.
- The forest with pines on the way to the monastery.
- The Grava cave also on Mount Gamelion, is a cave of great importance since the findings there reveal Paleolithic and Neolithic settlements in the area which communicates with the sea through the so-called “Hole of Pelau” (The hole of the open sea)
- Finally, someone should see the Gardiki fortress, an octagonal castle with eight towers and three gates, dating from the time of the Despotate of Epirus built by Angelos Komnenos, at the same time as two other castles of Corfu, Angelokastro, and Cassiopi’s castle(13th century).
Chlomos lies on the East Southeast side of the island, about 20 km from the town, and is one of the oldest villages of Corfu and one of the most picturesque on the whole island. Some call it the “Balcony of Corfu” because from there, at an altitude of 270 meters, you can enjoy a wonderful view, both of the southern part of the island, and of the eastern coastline of Corfu.
Chlomos was built around the 13th century on the slopes of Chlomos mountain and has special architecture. Its houses are built around the central square and not along any central road. Most are of Venetian architecture and are painted in red and orange colors, giving the village a distinct traditional image.
If you wander through its cobbled streets you will discover many old mansions, including that of the Despot of Morea(Peloponnisos), Thomas Palaiologos, brother of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine Palaiologos. This mansion dates back to the 15th century.
Going up towards Chlomos you will have the opportunity to admire from above the Korission lake which extends over an area of 6,000 acres and is one of the most important wetlands on the island, as well as the wonderful Cedar Forest of Issos.
According to tradition, the name Chlomos(pale) came from the appearance of the inhabitants who were pale because the area had been hit by malaria at the beginning of the 19th century.
Lefkimmi is built around the river that flows out near the Lefkimi port and was one of the oldest villages of Corfu.
It is located in the southernmost part of the island, about 40 km far from the airport of Corfu.
Its name was used in the 11th century by the Andegavs to name the entire area of southern Corfu.
Until about 1980 it was the most neglected town of Corfu with dirt roads, old houses, and a sense of misery since it was almost the poorest area of the island.
But these are a thing of the past because, after 1980, vertical development began with the construction of the ring road that bypasses the city and ends at the port.
The large port of Lefkimmi is today the second largest port of Corfu. With a daily ferry service to the port of Igoumenitsa on the opposite mainland coast, the cost of the ferry is less than this of the port of Corfu and this may be of interest to those who want to travel cheaper.
So today Lefkimi is a modern city, the second in Corfu after the capital, while the old streets have grown in size and quality and the houses have been renovated.
There are narrow streets full of mansions and country houses as well as rooms for rent although the town has no tourist activities.
Lefkimi has many interesting Italian-style churches located in the upper town.
Very close by are also the salt pans that until a few years ago produced salt, today they are closed and the old buildings have become a wildlife refuge, where flamingos, egrets, and many migratory birds can be seen.
The sea in the salt flats is impressively very shallow, warm, and sandy, even for kilometers away from the shore, so it becomes ideal for children.
Historical detail: Lefkimmi was the scene of a daring rescue operation in World War 2 when a Lancaster bomber crashed. Some locals rescued the crew, hid them, and then drove them to Kontokali where they were picked up by a British submarine.
In this short list, we certainly can’t cover all the beautiful traditional villages of Corfu, maybe we did an injustice to some that are missing from our list.
We certainly missed many large, small, picturesque, or traditional villages of the northern and middle parts of Corfu. For instance, some of them are Avliotes, Karousades, Agros, Doukades, Upper and Lower Korakiana, Sokraki, Spartilas, Gastouri, Koinopiastes, and many many more. None of them is touristry and their inhabitants survive by agriculture and stock raising.
So, the choice was very difficult, after all, Corfu has more than 200 villages, most of them unknown to tourists. And our objective is to encourage you to leave the beaches and crowded tourist places for a while and try to get to know the real Corfu.
In the atmosphere of Corfu’s unique villages, the turbulent history, and the traditions and influences are still very much alive.