With its varied landscape and important landmarks, Western Greece has much to offer the traveller. In the north, the main focal points are gracious Corfu, for years an international holiday centre; the lively port of Igoumenitsa; and Yiannina, a city brimming with history and tradition. As you head south, there are other treats in store: Parga, the jewel of the northwest coast; the towns of Preveza, Vonitsa and Amfilochia on the shores of the gentle Amvrakia Gulf; and the unspoilt island of Lefkada just offshore. We'll start this section of our tour in Corfu, the island of the Phaeacians, which has had a multifaceted history from the seventh century B.C. up to our own day. Despite its enormous popularity with tourists, its has managed to presserve its own inimitable atmosphere and lively rhythm of existence ablended matchlessly with the beauty of its scenery and the "joie de vivre" of its citizens.
You can get there by ferry, either from Igoumenitsa or Patras (or directly from Italy's Adriatic ports), which docks at Corfu town, unquestionably one of the loveliest in Greece, as you'll soon discover the moment you set foot in its delightful, flagstoned streets or stroll around the Spianada, or Esplanade.
Bisecting the eastern coast of the island, Corfu consists of the old city - a romantic medley of vestiges of Venetian, French and English rule with an unmistakeably Greek touch - and the more modern outlying districs and vines masks the harsher lines of contemporary architecture.In the old districts, Venetian Churches and town houses, British palaces and monuments, French arcades and picturesque streets create "pictures" of enormous cherm. No need to wonder why so many people continue to flock to this tourist mecca.
There's so mush to see in, around and near the town. Buildings, for example, like the Town Hall. once the Venetian opera house; the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, the former residence of the British Governor - General; the church of St. Spyridon and the Loggia of the Corfu Reading Society, to name just a few.
And of course, you can't miss the castles, the "Old" Fort, still bearing the Lion of St. Mark over some of its portals, and the "New" Fort, finished in 1588, more reminders of the four centuries of Venetian occupation. Mon Repos, on the other hand, the summer residence of the Governor and the ruined temple of Apollo within its large estete.
Console yourselves with a glimpse of the scant remains scant remains of the Agora of Palaiopolis nearby. Corfu's history began as a colony founded by Corinth in the 7th century B.C. and quickly became an important and coveted commercial centre, powerful enough to found its own colonies. A quarrel over Corfu sparked the Peloponnesian War and as long ago as the Roman era, it was one of the most popular "resort" in the ancient world. The best preserved monument from those early years is the massive circular Tomb of Menecrates (7th c. B.C.), but on no account miss the extraordinary Gordon pediment in the Archaeological Museum - even if you hate Museum - even if you hate museums and antiquities. Except for the exhibits on display in the museum, there is very little left of Corfu's ancient grandeur; this lack can be attributed to centuries of enthusiastic looting.
Museum fans, on the other hand, will want to see the Orient art collection housed in the Palace of St. Michael and St. George and the wonderful and little know exhibition of post - Byzantine icons in the church of the Panayia Antivouniotissa. Other museums include the Solomos museum, the Municipal Art Gallery and the Corfu Reading Society.
Before leaving town, everyone has to make the ritual pilgrimage to Koroni, for a look at what must be the most photographed site in Greece, the islet of Pontikonisi and the Vlacherna monastery - Corfu's trademark.
Corfu has something for virtually every one, if you know where to look. Heading north out of town, you pass an area of intensive tourist development. Here are the districts of Alykes, Kondokali and Gouvies, once the Venetians' shipyard, now a marina. Go past the turn off Palaiokastritsa; we'll save that for later.
Continuing north, we pass green Dassia with its large hotels and the Club Mediterranée; Ipsos, lined with pretty, serene beaches; Pyrgi, with more pretty beaches, and drive up into the olive - clad hills, glimpsing tantalizing views of the sea and pastel coloured villas through the trees before arriving at Kassiopi on the northeast tip of the island. A fishing village turned into a popular resort, Kassiopi has a delightful port lined with inviting taverns, a Frankish castle and a lovely Venetian church.
If you head west along the coast you'll come to the splendid beaches at Roda and Karoussades and the fascinating rock formations at Sidari. Now turning down the west coast, you're entering the most spectacularly beautiful part of Corfu. The scenery on this side of the island is wild and dramatic, the beaches are broad and often battered by waves, and if you go to Agios Stefanos, Arillas, Afionas and Agios Georgios, you'll find far less development than on the east coast.
Now we're near Palaiokastritsa, Corfu's other most photographed beauty spot. If you approach it from above (via the villages of Troumbetas, Markades) at Lakones, you'll be able to view its splendid coves without seeing the hotels and buildings that have sprung up around the monastery. Lakones is like a balcony over the coastline; the panorama from its "Bella Vista" is truly unparalleled. And while you're in this area make a detour to Krini and Byzantine castle of Angelokastro.
There are still more gorgeous sights further south; at Ermones, for example, where the golf course is; and Ai Gordis.The beaches are long and sandy and set against an exciting back drop of rugged hills and lush vegetation, with the open sea stretching out to the horizon.
The drive down the east coast to the southern tip of the island presents a completely different image. But before you explore the coast, take the time to turn inland at Gastouri and visit the Achileion. A casino by night and a museum by day, this palace - which has been termed a monument to bad taste - was dedicated to Achilles and built by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria and later bought by Kaiser Wilhelm I. There is nothing vulgar about its gardens, however.
Near Gastouri, the former fishing villages of Benitses and Moraitikia has more pubs and boutiques than nets and caiques these days. The coast all the way down to Mesonghi is thickly built with hotels, restaurants, holiday villas and tourist shops. Here again there is such a profusion of flowers and trees that development has a gentler impact than at some of the areas closer to town. Though the coast is pretty, the beaches go on "forever" and there are sand dunes instead of hotels. Another Byzantine castle stands on a hill at Gardiki overlooking Lake Korission, a favourite with birdwatches.
Further south, the landscape changes. The green hills give way to wheat fields and vineyards, farmhouses replace villas. Lefkimmi, Corfu's second largest town, is the agricultural heart of the older woman wearing their traditional costumes and headdresses. There's nothing old about Kavos, on the other hand; this holiday village barely existed 20 years ago. then there was nothing but a vast stretch of beach and a fishing hamlet.