I know what you’re thinking: Why Corfu? The island is not usually the first one you think of when preparing for your Greek getaway. It’s not front and center of any ad campaigns, it’s not the island that floods your social media feeds. We have Santorini and Mykonos to thank for that.
I’ll be candid; Corfu wasn’t my first pick either. It wasn’t even on my radar. I knew it was an Ionian island, and assumed it was similar to the rest of the front runners. That there would be white domed buildings and sets that looked like Mamma Mia could break out at any moment. I was sorely mistaken.
The first thing that hits you in Corfu is the color green. The island is covered in it. There’s olive trees and orchids to wave to upon your arrival, as you drive to whatever five star stay you’ve booked yourself into. (We’ll get to that later) All this to say: it wasn’t what I expected.
Corfu may not be the current front runner for islands, but historically it was a quite the hot commodity. It didn’t even become Greek until 1864. Before then it was ruled by Venetians for four centuries, and had brief stints in the hands of the French and British.
The results? A European erosion of a place called Corfu town. When you walk the streets of the capital, you’ll feel like you were dropped into a Venice dream. It’s much more Italian than it is Greek. There’s cobblestone streets and narrow passageways, cracked window panes and pastel paint jobs. Plus, plenty of coffee and gelato shops to pass the time.
Corfu has something for everyone. It fits the adventure type and lures the luxurious. You can spend the time sunbathing or sightseeing, go for hikes or dig into history. The fashion is first class, and the food would make Gordon Ramsy relax into his meal. For my Bond boys who agree that Moore was the best 007, For Your Eyes Only was filmed here. There’s something for everyone, but I do want to mention some things that every one should try.
Get some tooth picks and post up at some local cheese shops. They won’t be too hard to find, there’s a few famous ones. My pick is Paramythia Traditional Cheeses. Try a few, but the feta made from goats milk is an absolute knock out. I’m not even that big of a cheese person and it had me taking notes.
Your taste buds will need to spend some time with the local kum kuats. Not familiar with the fruit? They’re those grape sized oranges that are much sweeter than their citrus sister. You may have them however you like, but it does make a mean liquor as well as a sweet summer ice cream. I’d opt for both.
Just make sure you leave a day, or two, to take a catamaran out on the water. Head for the hidden caves. And if you’re up for more island exploration, the six mile long island of Paxos is close by. This is why you come all this way. These waters have the power to wipe your memory of any western woes you might be feeling.
You won’t be unhappy wherever you find yourself in Corfu, but if you want to go somewhere that will really seal the deal, then let’s get back to that five star stay…
Why have one five star hotel, when you can have three?
The Mar-Bella Collection came onto the scene in the late 1960’s when Vassilis Dracopoulos senior (what a name) was on a fishing trip that led him to fall madly in love with the island. He bought a property to first host family and friends, but when his hospitality began to catch up with him, he decided it was time to expand.
He saw the untapped potential of a place like Corfu. How it boasts a balance of the things any traveller might fawn over: the blindingly blue sea surrounded by a bed of vast greenery. It was never a question of if he should stay, it was how he could get the world to, too.
MarBella began as 62 rooms on the Ionian Sea. Now, it has 362 rooms and welcomes thousands to the coast of Corfu every summer. The collection expanded into a neighboring property in 2018: an adults-only hotel called Nido. In 2021, they headed across the sea to the mainland of Greece on the western shores of Parga: Elix is the most recent addition to the impressive portfolio.
The Mar-Bella Collection is conveniently crafted for the phases of a family’s life. There’s the pre-family, pre-reality hideaway: Nido. The blossoming family, full of youngsters: MarBella. And the more evolved family, open to luxurious freedom for teens and tweens: Elix. All sun soaked and held together by the Ionian sea.
When I went, I stayed in one of the recently refurbished rooms at MarBella. You can spot what’s new at the resort from the colors of the buildings. The original parts of MarBella sport an ivory outer layer. The newer parts are more like a burnt brown, a bit more sun kissed. The rooms are spacious, and finely crafted in cream and sand colors, with touches of turquoise to remind you of the ocean just outside your door. They have single rooms, double rooms, rooms with view. You can opt for a private pool or a private garden, and a few choice suites do have jacuzzis. But bungalows are best.
The all inclusive tag always brings with it an air of wondering if the experience will be compromised on quality. I promise you, it’s not. I tried five of the six restaurants at MarBella. (the french restaurant, Celeste, was booked weeks in advance - you’re been warned.) Not one of them was a knock off. In fact, after every meal, I wondered how they could possibly make this place all-inclusive. If you need more convincing, they collaborate with some of the best Greek Chefs in the industry. Some stand outs are Sotiris Evaggelou, an Alain Ducasse student and Nick Molyviatis, the previous head chef of Kiln in Soho.
It’s more water than beach at MarBella. It doesn’t sit on top of sandy shores. It’s a bit more rocky, hence why they’ve built a semi-circle beach deck into the ocean. You can jump right off it. The water is crisp here, it’s like biting into an apple. Only your skin gets the sensation instead of your taste buds. It’s not cold in the summer, but look out for jellyfish. (Tip: they tend to sleeping at six in the morning) Why not go for a dip and watch the sunrise? I understand if you’re a sleeper, the AC is cool too.
If you’re looking for activities later in the day, a few steps down from the deck you’ll find the water sports station. I’d recommend some swim shoes if you have them. Here you’ll find paddle boards, kayaks, and pedalos to fill the time. Or simply stay on the deck chairs, and live close to the bar. We don't judge!
If you don’t want to know fish on a first name basis, they have three pools, and a water park, yes a water park. But don’t worry, they have a bar there too. You can post up with a novel and a negroni and let the kids turn to background noise. There’s a lifeguard always on slide duty, so you don’t have to be.
If you’re really looking for some lonesome time, they have complimentary childcare for children between the ages of four and twelve. My advice? Drop them there for a few hours while you spend time in the spa. You can get a massage, have a shower, and drink some of that mini bar wine before you pick the kids up for dinner! Or maybe your route to relaxation is through fitness? They have a fairly large gym on site, with all the basic equipment you need to get through a weights or cardio session. Plus, classes. Lots and lots of classes. Some highlights are the indoor cycling, aerial yoga, pilates, TRX and HIIT.
They have everything, and an app to go with it! Use it to help you navigate your stay amongst the islands. You can pre-book dinners. Explore the spa services. Or…extend your stay? MarBella isn’t the only family-friendly, all inclusive resort. Elix is only a short boat ride away. What’s a few more days?
Whatever the kind of travel you like to do; Mar-Bella Collection has a place for you.
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Ag. Ioannis Peristeron 490 84, Greece; Mar-Bella Collection