Travel

The Emerald Affair

The Greek island with the Venetian touch hides its most luxurious secrets in a private corner of the northeast coast

 By Cheryl Caira

As the plane crests Corfu’s rugged, undulating landscape on the approach to land, your vision turns to green. It’s something locals mention often and proudly – there may be other islands that would hotly contest to have played Cupid (or Eros) to tourists’ affection time and time again, but being Greek and winningly verdant has helped the ‘emerald island’ stay in pole position.

Heading due north of Corfu International Airport rather than to the slightly more hedonistic south will take you to classic Corfu, where traditional villages rub shoulders with towering villas and high-end resorts, and a golden age of relaxed glamour still reigns. The Ionian islands were ruled over by the Republic of Venice from the 14th to 18th century, a more than a moment period in history that lingers in the island’s architecture, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town of Corfu and the menus sporting a melange of Italian and traditionally Greek cuisine.

Poseidon of the bay: Corfu Imperial Grecotel

Deep-blue dreamer

If a location could give you a pleased-with-itself wink, the Corfu Imperial’s would certainly oblige. Presiding over a prime section of stunning, private peninsula on the island’s northeast coast in easy-breezy Kommeno Bay, there are swathes of Ionian Sea as far as the eye can gaze. It feels secluded, yet social, with a dolce vita vibe and plenty to keep you busy – or not, if you’re feeling more in the mood to lie back armed with sunglasses, a good book and an Aperol spritz in hand. There’s an Elixir Spa if you really want to boost your tranquillity levels, with a range of super relaxing treatments (the deep tissue massage comes highly recommended).

There are three sandy Blue Flag beaches, one pebbled beach, two freshwater pools and two indoor pools, so you can dive right in wherever you please. If you want to stay active, watersports are a big focus and can be arranged by the hotel, as can boat trips and horse riding. There’s also every fitness class you can imagine – isn’t yoga always so much better in a holiday setting? What’s particularly exceptional about the hotel is the concierge service, offered to every guest, where you have a staff member at your beck and call over WhatsApp, answering queries brilliantly and helping with anything you wish to arrange.

Italianate feel

Although it’s part of the luxe hotel group started up by Crete-born Nikos Daskalantonakis, the Corfu Imperial very much has its own distinctive character. It’s a five-star resort, and the interiors are accordingly representative: huge, colourful urns adorn the marbled lobby, while ornate leopards leap out of corners alongside Roman-regal furnishings in cream watched by golden sculptures. There’s no stuffiness to it – it’s all very light, airy and designed to draw you in with no pretension.

A wander round the hotel grounds is frankly stunning: it takes in immaculately landscaped Italian-style gardens surrounded by Cypress trees, courtyards, romantic pavilions and olive groves, not to mention sea views at every turn. It’s hard to decide whether to perch in one of the cabanas or see the vista from higher up on the rooftop terraces.

Dining hop

Providing more variety than your average resort, the hotel offers up a mezze (if you will) of dining options to ensure you won’t tire of the same menu. There are seven restaurants to pick from, across fine dining, gourmet, buffet-style and more casual venues, both indoors and outdoors.

Pan-Asian restaurant Kumquat is an atmospheric nighttime experience, while Trattoria is the place to while away the hazy lunch hours people-watching on the ‘promenade’, before heading to the on-site gelateria to cool down. Devouring shellfish with a glass of rosé atop the deck of the waterfront Yali restaurant is also a highlight. The hotel runs a Dine-Around scheme which means if you’re half board, you can have a peek at the nearby group hotels Eva Palace and LUX ME Daphnila Bay Dassia, with Tavernaki at the latter offering lantern-lit seating at the water’s edge and delicious contemporary mezze (and a tempting number of local wines).

Corfu Town is only around a 20-minute drive or taxi journey away (with the hotel also running free transfers at certain times) if you want to try out one of the many quality tavernas lining the cobbled streets. When you get back, drinks at the coral-decorated Alkinoos lobby bar or on the outdoor cocktail terrace are a must. There’s often a live band or DJ, although it’s about sleek, chilled beats rather than over-the-top party vibes.

Palazzo paradiso

Palazzo Sissy

The neoclassical-style bedrooms at the hotel are chic, spacious and boast dreamy sea views, and for ever more lounging room, you can book into a suite, bungalow, apartment or villa. If you want to go full Venetian princess, treat yourself to a stay in one of the four palazzos. The characterful Palazzo Sissy with its royal reds, plush furnishings, king-sized and incredibly comfortable beds, private pool and sweeping veranda with sun loungers makes you feel like you’re floating above the sea – if you’re not taking advantage of clambering onto the nearby rocks and jumping into it.

If you’re not a morning person, become one. The sunrise here is incredible, with views out across the gulf of Dassia and to the Greek mainland, and the odd solitary boat streaming gently across the water to greet the day.

Rates from around €187 per room per night for a Corfu Bungalow Garden View including American Breakfast. Go to corfuimperial.com

Watson Hogg