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Diving in Corfu, the emerald isle July 29, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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Known as the “Emerald Isle”, Corfu (Kerkyra to the Greeks) is one of the Greek Ionian islands off the north-west coast of Greece.

It is known as the Emerald Isle because of its lush vegetation, with olive, cypress, and citrus trees dotting the landscape. Corfu produces 3% of the world’s supply of olive oil, and also is the only place in Europe where the cumquat, a small Asian version of the orange, is grown. It is known internationally for its breathtaking views and wonderful natural beaches.

Under Venetian control for over 400 years, with a period of English rule during the peak of the British Empire. Corfu presents an interesting mix of European culture; the capital, Corfu town, is one of the best preserved examples of Venetian architecture and contains the only cricket pitch in Greece.

Although the effects of rampant commercialism over the last two decades has reduced many of the beach areas into hotspots for European package deals, much of the local culture has been preserved in the island’s interior villages, where women can still be seen wearing traditional dress. With Greece’s increasingly open views about recreational scuba diving, Corfu presents the perfect place to start exploring diving in the Mediterranean.
 
The Diving

Greece is not really known for its scuba diving. Until recently, the government warily restricted diving due to it’s paranoia of ancient artifacts and important archaelogical items being removed from underwater sites. Thankfully, the Greek government has loosened many of its regulations on scuba diving, although it is still restrictive for specialty dives like night and wreck dives.
 
Because there hasn’t historically been much recreational diving, much of Greece’s underwater expanse is largely unexplored. This is quite exciting because there are dozens of islands scattered around Greece in the Ionian and Aegean seas with hidden gems yet to be discovered.

Diving in Corfu (and most of the Meditteranean) centers less around the abundance and variety of fish and more on interesting rock formations, swim-throughs, and exploration of wrecks. The visibility is surprisingly good (averaged around 50 ft) and octopus, squid, starfish, and fire worms are quite common. Diving centers tend to be very informal operations, with a traditional Greek approach to planning dive trips. The local divers are very friendly though, and make up for their lack of organizational skills with their zest for diving. Most of the good diving in Corfu is along the western coast and north-eastern coasts; picking accomodation close to where you will be diving is highly recommended.

The attraction to Corfu doesn’t focus primarily on diving, but on the wonderfully green landscape, sunny beaches, and fascinating history. Many come to Corfu simply to lie on the beach and party the night away, but miss its subtlety; with a little bit of effort to uncover its treasures, a trip to Corfu can be a very rich experience.

Like most of Greece, civilization on Corfu is ancient, with the Corinthians of ancient Greece being the first to seriously settle there in the 7th century BC. As Greece faded into a backwater, Corfu was successively controlled by the Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and English. Much of the imprint left by these empires has been preserved, and provides insight into what life was like in Europe during these different periods of occupation.

Corfu has many coves and inlets; the terrain leads up sharply from the water to a mountainous interior. Kanoni is a famous beach on the east coast south of Corfu town known for a pretty Byzantine chapel, Pandokrator, standing on an island near the coast. Paleokastritsa is a gorgeous set of coves and beaches along the north-west coast with an incredible view from a lookout called “Bella Vista”. Benitses is a party beach, but can be visited during the day to avoid the revelers and examine the Roman baths and ruins. Dozens of small villages seem to hide themselves along the coast, and provide an opportunity for picturesque day trips.

Corfu has long been considered a world-class walking/hiking destination. Recently, the Corfu Trail (http://www.corfutrail.org/) has been established and provides organized literature for those interested in a walking holiday on Corfu. Over 200 km in length, the trail is varied, with special segments that can be hiked as a day trip. Two stops worth considering are Angelocastro, a Byzantine castle near Paleokastritsa, and Mount Pantokrator, the highest point on the island.

The hub of activity on the island, Corfu town is a bustling area on the east side of the island. With an international airport and scooters and cars whizzing down the streets of the confusing New Town, it can initially be a dizzying experience for visitors. However, it is definitely worth a trip, with its charming Venetian “Old Town” and two forts providing exquisite views of Agni Bay and the Garitsa. The old fortress is the more interesting of the two fortifications, standing on the point in Agni Bay on the east side of town. From its ancient walls, you can take in views of the whole Esplanade, a park that runs along Old Town and where cricket matches can frequently be seen. The streets of the Old Town are narrow and maze-like, and contain many little shops hawking jewelry, leather goods, and local specialties. The tower of Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu, is nestled in one of the little squares hidden throughout Old Town.

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