In October of every year, I start to wonder why more people don’t visit Corfu during the off-season. Having grown up in a colder climate, but lived more than 20 years on this little island, I’m endlessly fascinated by the beauty of a Mediterranean autumn. The light is more diffuse and the colours softer. The pace is decidedly slower. Better yet, after the high-season hot-weather crowds of summer have dispersed, locals start seeing friends again and have the beaches all to themselves.
More people really should see this side of Corfu. After all, between bouts of heavy rain and thunderstorms, the off-season weather in Corfu is usually still surprisingly sunny and warm, the atmosphere has a mildness to it. It can be warm enough that many Corfiots continue swimming and bathing in the sea in the winter. (You may want to join them by the windmill in Garitsa in Corfu Town.
By January, the mimosas starts blooming, followed soon after by the almond trees. In February, vibrant Carnival festivities take place, with all kinds of costume parties in the streets. Before you know it, spring is here, and that’s something you also really shouldn’t miss. Spring in Corfu has its own set of wonders and charms, including more music to be found everywhere.
In the off-season, even Corfu Town slows down. It becomes easy to find a table along the elegant Liston arcade and no one complains if you decide to spend hours and hours reading your newspaper while slowly sipping a coffee or ouzo. In the narrow alleys of Corfu Town, you can enjoy the small family-run tavernas that have been serving lunch to the locals for generations. They usually cook only a few dishes of Corfu’s traditional cuisine – different each day – so even if you choose to eat regularly at the same place, you’ll have something new to enjoy each time.
Remarkably, you have the beaches almost to yourself, free of crowds and tacky tourist activities. Off the beaches, Corfu’s lush nature is more enjoyable with less heat. A simple walk in the countryside will easily lift your spirits. Corfu is full of old footpaths and in some places the municipality has put up signs that make them easy to follow. You can also find footpath guidebooks with detailed maps and the Hikers Society of Corfu (phone 26610-39481) is happy to help you with information. Or why not try mountain biking? Corfu’s hilly landscape makes the island a paradise for mountain bikers.
Closer to home, many Corfiots own olive trees and harvest the olives in early winter, the ultimate local activity. If you’ve ever visited Corfu’s countryside, you may have seen the nets tidily folded up in the olive groves. During harvest, the nets are spread out under the olive trees and after the olives fall to the ground they are gathered and taken to be pressed. Ask around in the villages and you will see that you are more than welcome to join in and help out. You may even get a bottle of freshly pressed olive oil for your efforts.
Of course, throughout the off-season, certain high-season attractions are missing. There isn’t as wide a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from. Most resorts in Corfu that were full during the summer start closing down by mid October and don’t open again until May. Steer clear of them, especially since you will find you’re too far away from other amenities like supermarkets, banks and coffee shops, where you may want to meet friends on a rainy day.
What’s left, though, is the local scene! You get to eat in those small taverns and coffee shops that have been around for decades and where you can experience the authentic Corfu. For lodging, look for apartment rentals near Corfu Town, Acharavi in the north, the area around Gouvia or even near a village. If you don’t mind living a bit remotely you may even consider housesitting for a few months. Many of the larger villas on the northeast coast need looking after during the winter. In exchange, you get a place to stay and sometimes even compensation for a bit of maintenance.