The weekend: There is so much more to the verdant Greek island of Corfu than its postcard-perfect beaches. While most Brits opt to fly and flop at seafront resorts, visitors who leave their loungers will discover stately palaces and museums, tranquil mountain villages and rugged mountains blanketed in pine trees. All this and one of the most enchanting capital cities in the Med.
Where? For a little more luxury and a lot more space, dodge the all-inclusive buffets and opt for a palatial villa where you can really feel at home. If the idea of making beds and washing up fills you with (understandable) dread, the apricot-coloured Villa 1870 is the answer. Ten minutes from Corfu Town and its airport, the regal apricot-coloured mansion sleeps 16 over three floors for a private family getaway with all the perks of a five-star hotel.
There’s a private chef to whip up lavish spreads you will never finish, a waiter, daily housekeeping and a heated pool set in flower-filled tropical gardens. Spa treatments, personal training, swimming lessons and wine from the well-stocked cellar are also available at an extra cost.
The stay: The family-owned villa has been faithfully restored in all its 19th century splendour, but with Netflix, an Xbox One and a wi-fi sound system thrown in. There are antique dressers, sumptuous floral fabrics and ornate carved beds, with shutters opening to reveal the glittering Ionian Sea in every room. Grab the elegant top floor suite if you can with its fireplace, opulent en-suite bathroom and dual aspect windows with panoramic views of both the surrounding neighbourhood and the brilliant blue bay below.
The food: With your very own chef on hand, you can eat fish fingers all week if you want – ideal if you’re travelling with children who really will only eat fish fingers. Anyone else should leave the chef to work his magic, producing heaving tables of flavour-packed Corfiot specialities at every meal. Breakfast will keep you going all day with platters of cheese, meat and fruit alongside feather-light vegan chocolate cake, obscenely good loukoumades (cinnamon donuts), eggs scrambled with feta and jams homemade by villa owner Nancy. At dinner, expect slabs of grilled halloumi, fresh sea bass, dishes piled high with salads and a bubbling rich moussaka, all eaten by candlelight on the long alfresco dining table.
What to see: Leave plenty of time to wander the charming Old Town in capital Corfu Town, an UNESCO World Heritage Site guarded by two fortresses. The Venetians ruled the city from 1386 for four centuries but the capital still feels distinctly Italian with shaded piazzas filled with ice cream parlours, sorbet-coloured buildings and arched colonnades lining the sweeping, marble-paved Liston boulevard.
Visit the lavish St. Spyridon’s Church with its distinctive red bell tower then climb the towers of the 14th century Old Fortress. Afterwards, get lost in the maze of cobblestoned alleyways where tiny shops sell island-made olive oil soap, leather goods and kumquat liqueur and locals gossip outside bakeries stacked high with sticky baklava.
After that? Hike up wooded hills from the gin-clear waters of Palaiokastritsa bay past a 13th century monastery, white-washed tavernas and the mountain village of Lakones. If that sounds like hard work, Villa 1870 can arrange a day on the water instead, cruising the Corfu coastline on a 40-foot yacht.
Sail from the Old Town then drop anchor in a shimmering turquoise cove south of Agni Bay, where the miniscule St Arsenios chapel clings to the cliff just above the water and a hidden sea cave can be explored inside the rocks. Sail further down the coast to the sleepy hamlet of Nissaki for lunch afterwards. Fragrant stefado (beef stew), Greek salad and icy copper jugs of local wine are served in the open-air Olive Press restaurant, overlooking the fishermen on the wooden jetty below.
Need to know: Nightly rates start at €800 for up to 16 people including private chef (ingredients excluded), transfers, waiter and driver (www.villa1870corfu.com).