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Corfu, Greece: Fortresses and Finds

Corfu Town, the historic port area on the island of Corfu and one of Greece’s largest medieval cities, lures walkers like us with its winding, centuries-old pedestrian streets. That, along with the mix of stores, cafes and an ancient fortress, made the city a favorite stop on our Mediterranean cruise.

Another plus: Corfu Town, while lively, wasn’t as shoulder-to-shoulder packed as Venice or Dubrovnik’s Old City, two more common, de rigueur ship calls on our itinerary.

Since we wanted to be outdoors enjoying the Greek sunshine, we traded culture for shopping, foregoing visits to the Archeological Museum, known for its pediment from the Temple of Artemis, and to the Museum of Asian Art, famous for its Chinese porcelains. Instead, we strolled along Nikiforou Theotoki Street, browsing the boutiques.

Admittedly, Corfu wasn’t the most interesting shopping port on our cruise. That said, there was still plenty to look at. Gold Star, 81-83 Nikiforou Theotoki, one of several jewelry stores, creates two-in-one rings; flip the two loops that go around your finger to reveal one of the two settings. We poked through stores selling olive wood carved bowls, salad servers and spoons; scented soaps; kumquat liqueur, an island product, as well as watercolor seascapes of the old port.

We watched as visitors got their feet beautified at the Fish Spa by dunking their footsies into tanks of gara rufa fish. Participants giggled, telling us that the two inch, dead skin eating critters’ nips felt like a cross between being lightly tickled and touched.

At Iroon Square on the way to Ayios Spiridon Church, which contains relics of Saint Spiridon, we paused for drinks and snacks at Café Chocolat. The umbrella shaded eatery serves smoothies, iced drinks, milk shakes, pizza, salads and light fare during the day. The welcoming owner allowed our cousin, tired from the heat, to sit there for hours while we explored.

Theotoki Street led us to the Liston, a wide pedestrian walkway lined with cafes on either side. Some bloom in the arches designed by Mathieu de Lesseps, the same architect who created Paris’ Rue de Rivoli and others edge the green Esplanade, a grassy park that hosts seasonal concerts and other events.

From the Liston, it’s a few blocks to the massive Old Fortress (Palaio Frourio) built into a hill. Dating to the 13th century, much of the present structure reflects Venetian design, established during their rule of Corfu from 1386-1797.

Moats, courtyards, tunnels, parade grounds, prison cells and panoramic views make the fort worth the trek uphill. Just be sure to start early in the morning when you’re fresh and the temperatures are lower than later in the day. At mid-level, relax with drinks and snacks at the café while ogling the old cannons and mortar displayed and enjoying the commanding views of the Ionian Sea. Continue to the top and you can see the lighthouse.

We left Corfu delighted by its mix of finds, friendly people and amazing views.

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