BEACH BEACH BEACH!! It’s about damn time. My husband and I had been living in Stuttgart, Germany for about five months after moving from sunny San Diego. After a surprise pregnancy four weeks into the move and total absence of sun for nearly five months, my cravings for some salt water and vitamin D were serious. I researched direct flights from Stuttgart in June and came up with many tempting locations which included Greece, Spain, France, and Italy. Knowing how vegetarian friendly Greek food is and for the simple fact it was GREECE, that was my country of preference for this trip. Since moving to Germany and no longer gainfully employed, my job has become “Family Travel Coordinator”. It’s a little overwhelming since we’re so new here and the list of places we want to see continuously gets longer. However, we have nothing but time (and a small budget) on our hands, and I’m getting pretty good at my job. Luckily, my husband is easy to please and wants to see ALL OF THE PLACES as bad as I do, so there’s no wrong choice.
Why Corfu Island, Greece?
- It’s less than a 2 hour direct flight from Stuttgart, and the flights were cheap.
- It’s a fairly large island with a variety of beaches; sandy, rocky, cove-y, party-y, history-y, quiet-y, etc…
- Ancient mythology and historic relevance.
I picked the beach of Agios Gordios because it seemed to have a quiet beach area, yet not so quiet that there wasn’t a buzz. There is a small main street of restaurants, shops, and a tourist booth to book excursions and explore. Being pregnant, my party desire is moot. I still want to get out and have a good time, but since I can’t pound drinks and stay up past 12am, finding a place that has a tendency for being mellow was key for me. Agios Gordios turned out to be perfect.
We stayed at a little mom & pop hotel with a view of the Ionian sea booked through booking.com. This vacation and this location was exactly what we both needed.
When I say mom & pop, I must emphasis that everything in this town was mom & pop. There were no large chains of anything here and it was peaceful with just enough life to make some new friends and to get involved with the locals. We stayed eight days, but after only two we had already met many of the shop owners and residents. We passed each other on the street shouting out smart ass comments to one another like we had known each other for years, and my belly had been rubbed and blessed by at least a dozen people. We felt at home there quickly and learned a lot about the island life of the Corfu Greeks, and happily enjoyed their delicious local olive oil, figs, wine, and seafood.
Food and Drink!
Being obviously pregnant on this trip did not stop our new friends from telling me “wine is OK!” and shouting “baby needs Ouzo!” during most of our meals. As with any Greek restaurant, generous pours of Ouzo began and finished every meal that we had here and then continued to pile up on the table the longer we stayed. My husband stayed pretty lit up most days as I continuously passed my given shots upon shots to him. As for me, I was given a special drink at our favorite restaurant made with a touch of white wine, local ginger beer, sparkling water and lime. It was perfectly refreshing to sip while gazing out to sea, allowing me to forget for a moment that my life would be changing entirely in just a few short months.
Our favorite spot in town was Romantic Palace which is also a hotel, but honesty all of the food on the island was remarkably fresh, flavorful, and beautifully presented. The meat came from local farms on the island and the seafood was fresh caught from the Ionian. The vegetables that grew in the gardens around restaurants and local farms were picked and served to order. Each day when we walked by Romantic Palace, my husband would walk up to see what the specials were in their coolers. Freshly butchered kabobs and seafood lined up on the ice looking very tempting, even to a pregnant vegetarian. My husband always ordered the special of the day or the house recommendation, the family was happy to oblige. We never ordered off the standard menu and weren’t disappointed. One night, when I was stumped on what to order, the cook took it upon herself to make me a homemade vegetarian pizza from scratch using phyllo dough which turned out to be the most savory, flaky, unique pizza I had ever tasted. Not only was the food fantastic, they offered live entertainment as the family danced traditional Greek style, and had live music with talented guitarists and performers. The staff was always friendly and open to talk to us, or leave us be to enjoy the romantic sunset on the outside patio. It wasn’t boring, either. The nights we showed up for dancing we experienced fire dancing, plate breaking (and subsequently a bleeding yet happy onlooker) and group dancing which allowed me to link arms with some not-so-sober therefore not-so-coordinated strangers, hop around, and sing “OPA!” at the top of my lungs.
In other restaurants in Agios Gordios. I enjoyed vegetarian moussaka, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, saganaki, fresh eggs daily, greek yogurt with fruits and local honey, and greek salads. Coming from the vegetarian wasteland of Germany, this was absolute heaven for me. I must also mention the restaurant Sebastian’s (they also have accommodations) due to their vegetarian specific menu. They are a little bit inland from the beach, but still only a few minutes walk through the cute town. The restaurant is elevated and covered in grape vines so you can enjoy your dinner with a skyline view of the town and sea. Gorgeous.
As far as ambiance, Corfu is the greenest of the Greek islands and there are large olive groves, bougainvillea, palm trees, and grape vines crawling over every building and rooftop. We spotted goats wandering in the small streets and roosters crowed each morning. The availably of fresh fruits and vegetables at the local markets made for easy snack choices when we wanted to save some money. We moseyed around the local street stands picking up olive spreads, cheese, and freshly baked bread to pair with our fruit and enjoyed leisurely lunches at the beach or on the balcony off our room. The sky was consistently bright blue and the weather was dry and warm enough for sun dresses and flip flops every day in late June.
WINE – ok, so I’m pregnant and can’t really provide you with the best review at this time. I can say it was CHEAP and PLENTIFUL. Vineyards dominate this island and the few sips I did take off of my husband’s glass were teasingly delightful. Plus, it’s Greece. I don’t need to promote their wine, it’s done already. Enjoy!!
Activities and Excursions
The water temperature was a bit chilly the first few days, but we still went in and swam every day. The final days of our trip (last week of June) the water was substantially warmer, around mid to high 70s. We took advantage by getting out our snorkel gear and swimming in the waves for a good hour. The salinity was low in the Ionian making my pregnant self less buoyant than I thought I was, but the waves were big enough for fun and the visibility of the water was great. Being pregnant there was no SCUBA diving for us this time around, but there are dive shops on the island that can arrange that for you. With the amount of clarity and the warming of the water by mid summer, I would guess it’s a pretty good experience.
We decided on three mini-trips while we were there and booked them all through the only tour shop in Agios Gordios, located on the main drag up from the beach.
(1) Corfu Town: This was not a tour, but rather a bus that dropped us off in the city center to explore. This is where many cruise ships dock at and where you can find the dominate landmark of the Old Fortress. Chris really wanted to see the Anthropological museum and after walking around for about an hour trying to find it—we did—it turns out that it was closed from 2012 – 2015 for reconstruction. Funny, our 2013 guide book mentioned nothing about that… So, slightly overheated and a little annoyed, we ended up exploring the Old Fortress which was really entertaining to climb around and find old carvings, view the massive moat, and listen to the musicians play since there is still a music school located in the castle. We settled in for a mid-morning coffee at the fortress cafe and enjoyed one one helluva view.
The rest of our time in Corfu town was wandering around the old streets, taking in the sights and smells, getting a random fish pedicure, and rushing back to catch our bus at sunset. No nightlife reviews on this trip, sorry.
(2) Albania. Albania?? Sure, why not.
(3) Paleokastritsa: Our final trip outside of Agios and it was BEAUTIFUL!! Like postcard perfect beautiful. The bus dropped us off at the monastery on top of the hill which dates back to 1228. We walked through the monastery admiring the extremely serene and unique environment with typical white, Grecian styled stuccoed architecture, ancient mosaics in excellent condition, and oodles of cats lounging in complete bliss about every few feet. The grounds were clean, quiet, and flooded with color from the mosaics and flowers. I would highly suggest making this visit for the million dollar views, the peacefulness, and to pick up some monastery made olive oil reasonably priced and sold on-site. Note: Women do need to cover up shoulders and legs, but shawls are provided before entering the grounds free of charge.
Below the monastery, the town of Paleokastritsa is small and made up of rocky coves and crystal clear (and freezing) water. We decided to take a boat out to explore the caves, bays, and to get on the water. Seeing the area from boat is gorgeous and highly recommended. Many of the boat rides have a package that includes a visit to the small aquarium at the base of the monastery hill which my husband really enjoyed. It housed native reptiles, fish, and a few bits of educational info with eager staff who will tell you anything you’d like to know. This could be nice option if traveling with younger kids. They also offer the “glass bottom boat”.
One of the cheaper and more spontaneous ways to get on the water is to go down to the harbor where smaller boats are lined up and negotiate a rate. There are plenty of options to get out on the water here and you only need to walk around the small town to find them all.
We did go swimming because the water looked absolutely stunning and inviting. Holy crap was it cold. It’s a rocky beach for the most part so water shoes are a must and a thick skin if going in June. I happily gritted my teeth and swam for as long as I could tolerate it, but to be honest, it wasn’t that long. I’m not sure if the water warms up enough by late summer to make it more tolerable, but from what I understand, it stays pretty frigid all summer long due to the close proximity of deeper water providing the current.
Our final days were spent relaxing on the beach, playing paddle ball like the locals, swimming, and eating a lot of fantastic, cheap food. I loved this town and it was one of the few vacations in which I was not ready to return home. Waking up to a gorgeous sunny, cloudless sky and clear ocean every day is something I easily got used to.
Side note – this is also the first beach I have seen openly nude breasts in public. Keep in mind this was our FIRST trip to Greece and my first experience going topless, as well. As an American I assumed everyone was staring at me and I was red faced and nervous, but also determined to “do as the locals do” and blend in. After a few minutes of hiding under my towel, I let it fall and enjoyed the freedom of living and beaching in Europe, with my big ‘ol pregnant belly and all. No one even glanced twice.