Travel Review: Corfu


Corfu’s holiday rentals are catering to an ever more elite crowd of travellers, with stunning properties like this exquisite, exclusive villa

Returning to a place that has held such a special place in your heart for so long is always a risky business. Having spent many years living there (but really LIVING there: learning the language, immersing in the culture) the worry for me when returning to Corfu was that it might somehow diminish the memory of those magical years – like revisiting a magical forest you remember from childhood, just to discover that it was only ever a dusty collection of scrubby trees, hardly even a thing at all to your adult eyes.

I needn’t have worried. The Corfu I left 10 years ago has thrived, retaining all its verdant charm and cultural depth, but emerging from the financial crisis that peaked during my years there in better shape than ever. In fact, the challenge for the island has been how to sensitively retain its unique character and sense of self whilst catering for a newer, ever more elite audience, one more used to the pizazz of the international playground that is Mykonos than the dusky olive groves and civilised cricket matches Corfu has to offer.

A part of this is practical; strict planning laws mean that much of the island’s lush, cypress-studded land is unable to be built upon, and whilst most would agree that the prevention of over-development is paramount, when faced with a demand for ever-more palatial villas that the land for sale cannot supply, ingenious solutions are bound to follow. Enter our villa – so exclusive I am forbidden under pain of death (almost) from revealing its name. Unable to fulfil the scale of the owner’s ambition on the plot of land that had been purchased, the ‘eureka’ decision was taken to excavate and create a lavish (and seriously impressive) home where most of the footprint is underground. The result is astonishing: an eleven-bedroomed palace that feels at once regal and intimate, a vast expanse of a property that retains a sense of homeliness and intimacy.

It’s also the setting for playing out your most extravagant property dreams. Twenty-two-seater cinema? You got it. Expertly curated whisky saloon, exquisitely-stocked cocktail bar and world-beating wine cellar? Why settle for anything less. A full-service spa, for heaven’s sake, with steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, eight-metre indoor swimming pool and Eastern-inspired treatment room, just for you? You get the picture. The twinkly opulence of this subterranean world is offset by an abundance of light in the above-ground parts of the house; floor-to-ceiling windows in a sitting room with world-beating views across the Ionian Strait of Corfu, a host of bedroom suites all positioned with the same viewpoint, meaning no fighting over who has the superior aspect (why yes, I had been imagining Logan hosting the Roy siblings here, and it absolutely works).

Abundant landscaping belies the relative youth of the gardens, and it’s here that lies the jewel in the crown, the infinity pool that stretches off towards the sapphire-blue seascape beyond. At night, the picture changes – thanks to a clever trick with embedded lighting and use of the light refracting quality of water – and its surface becomes a starstudded night sky, the perfect spot to sip cocktails, indulge in a feast lovingly prepared by chef, and wonder just how it is that you always suffer such rotten luck as to end up in such AWFUL conditions, ahem.

Needless to say, at this level the service provided goes above and beyond, and nothing has been left unthought-of. From the personal service offered by Oliver Bernard Escapes when booking to the in-house team and their tireless, seamless work, there would be no need to ever leave the grounds should you wish not to.

I’d ask that you do, though; for every memorable three-starred tasting menu I’ve enjoyed in my life, I could regale you with a multitude more of simple, freshly-prepared meals taken at the preposterously picturesque waterfront tavernas dotted up and down this coastline. Forever number one in my heart, Kerasia Taverna (Lord Rothschild’s local and also that of Villa Nafsika, one of OB Escape’s other superlative properties); the diminutive and picture-perfect taverna perched atop Kouloura harbour; the ever-popular delights of Galini or Kaparelli in Agios Stefanos (although my insider tip is for Eucalyptus or Kochili, bookending the village – less crowded, more authentic and a totally chilled vibe). And of course, the famous Battle of the Prawns in Agni bay: will it be Agni Taverna’s prawn saganaki, or Toula’s restaurant’s grilled prawns with rice? Both dishes with fewer ingredients than syllables, but both with legions of fans prepared to defend them to the death. There’s only one way to find out.

The biggest (only) hardship you will face during your stay is, sadly, leaving. Between the group of us who travelled together, some were Corfu first-timers, some had fond memories of teenage holidays and high jinks, others had considered the place home either in the past or, to some extent, still do, but as we left, the group chat was already buzzing with heart-eye emojis confirming that return visits had been booked. OB Escapes are perfect for fellow first-timers, given their depth of knowledge about the island and the standard of service that will help you enjoy it… they’re passionate Corfiots, and I am proud to join them in that. If you’ve never been, or think you’ve seen it all, I’d urge you – think again.

Guests can stay at this villa with OB Escapes from €100,000 per week based on 14 people sharing. To book, contact (07949 816458;