The warm turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea are hard to beat. From tiny pockets of pebbled perfection hidden beneath firs and pines along the somewhat swanky yet still unspoilt northeastern coast to surprisingly long, wide swathes of golden sand to the west, there’s a beach to keep everyone happy. Families gravitate toward the larger beaches that are furnished with sun loungers, in easy reach of a taverna or two and replete with water sports. The more adventurous tackle rocky trails that lead to the island’s most secluded and astonishingly beautiful swimming spots.
Horseshoe-shaped Kalami Bay attracts beach-going families and sailing yachts to its protected waters and pebbled shores, fringed with olive and pine trees, and blooming with brightly coloured flowers in spring. In this natural playground that was so beloved of the Durrell family, youngsters dangle, mesmerised, at the edge of wooden jetties foraging for undersea life. Yachties tie their dinghies to the dock below The White House, the former home of the Durrells, checking into the onsite restaurant to relish steamed cockles in the sunshine. Hire a boat to visit quieter neighbouring bays or tune into the old world pace of a pedal boat.
Getting there: Green bus A4 to Kassiopi
Long, narrow Barbati beach is located at the foot of the imposing Pantokrator Massif – Corfu’s tallest mountain – which stands at 2,972 ft (906m). Barbati is known for its stark white flat pebbles that show off crisp, aqua-tinged translucent waters. Couples, in particular, frequent this beach, lazing about on the many sun loungers and ordering freddo espresso from beach bars that double as restaurants. Beachgoers can sate their appetite in the shade of eucalyptus trees. There is easy access by road and parking available. Arrive early to nab a good spot on the beach.
Getting there: Green bus A5 to Barbati-Nisaki
Simple cottages in hues of pale yellow and salmon huddle around Kaminaki beach in the homonymous hamlet, which has barely changed over the years. Strewn with pebbles and sand, this tiny beach has a smattering of umbrellas and draws devout regulars in search of an annual dose of sun-soaked serenity. Children spend hours snorkelling around the rocks at either end of the beach. Boat rental and water sports such as stand up paddle boarding and water skiing are on offer. Spiros Mavronas and his wife Sue run an old-school waterfront taverna, Spiros Taverna Kaminaki, which serves classic Greek fare such as his grandmother’s oven-baked vegetable dish briam.
Getting there: Green bus A5 to Barbati-Nisaki
Framed by a verdant hilly backdrop dotted with holiday apartments and two hotels, long, sandy Glyfada is one of Corfu’s busiest beaches. Families love it as there are ample umbrellas and sun beds, a couple of seafront tavernas and refreshments readily available. Locals and visitors flock to Pazuzu beach bar for sunset parties featuring international DJs. If you prefer a more serene scene, stick to the northern end of the beach, which is well protected from the wind that sometimes blows in from the Adriatic. Naturist-exclusive Myrtiotissa, which Lawrence Durrell enthusiastically described as the world’s loveliest beach, is a short drive north.
Getting there: Green bus B17 to Glyfada
A winding road descends gently through Pelekas village down to Kontogialos beach, past olive groves cascading down the hillside. Families adore this sweeping curve of a beach that measures some 98ft (30m) wide for its golden sand and shallow emerald waters. Once a hippie haven, Kontogialos also lures a young crowd thanks to its relative proximity to Corfu town. Umbrellas and sun beds abound though there is plenty of space to lay out a towel. To the north is a minuscule beach hidden in the shade of an impressive sheer rock face rising up out of the sea.
Getting there: City Bus 11 to Pelekas
Issos beach is, perhaps, the island’s most jaw-droppingly spectacular beach. Some one and a half miles (two and a half kilometres) long, this untamed stretch of fine, golden sand sits below high, rolling sand dunes. Explore the dunes, where sand orchids grow, and a rare cedar forest that reaches the shores of Lake Korission, Corfu’s most significant wetland habit. There are sunbeds at the southern end, however, it’s more peaceful the further north you go, which makes it popular with naturists. With its steady winds and flat seas, Issos is ideal for windsurfer and sailing catamaran newbies who can hire kit. Bring wine and treats to celebrate a sublime sunset.
Getting there: Green bus B6 to Issos
Seemingly endless Halikounas beach, separated from Issos by a small rocky cape, snakes along some two miles (three kilometres) and backs onto Lake Korission. Families tend to prefer the northern end, where there are a few sun loungers, whereas those seeking a little privacy head south. It's also one of Corfu’s best kitesurfing and windsurfing spots, so it attracts the more experienced, who bring gear or rent onsite. Visit in the late afternoon and wait until the sun casts a bronze glow on this narrow strip of soft fawn sand. You’ll find it hard to resist a solitary, soul-reviving run along a wild, near-empty beach.
Getting there: Best reached by car
Shortly after entering Paleokastritsa and before you reach the bustling main beach of Agios Spyridon, you will find picture-perfect Verderosa tucked below a cliff. Walk down stone steps lined with green and red railings to the small sandy sliver of a pebbled beach where orange and yellow chaise longues match the blazing sun and palms painted on the faded exterior of a restaurant that once was. If this beach had a soundtrack, it would be reggae. A favourite with couples for its tranquility, Verderosa enjoys views of Paleokastritsa’s small harbour, where boats can be rented to reach otherwise inaccessible beaches like Stelari.
Getting there: Green bus A9 to Paleokastritsa
Agios Stefanos Avliotes
The sheer length and breadth of Agios Stefanos Avliotes is guaranteed to stir the heart of even the savviest beachgoer. This open sandy expanse is more reminiscent of those in Australia. No matter that there are sun lounger and umbrellas aplenty, nature has provided infinite space so you can find your own slice of solitude. Shallow waters make it excellent for children and a regular, gentle breeze is welcome in the height of summer. Tavernas, restaurants and cafés are nearby, as are beach supplies. Small ferry boats depart from here for the Diapontia islets of Erikousa, Mathraki and Othoni.
Getting there: Green bus A1 to Agios Stefanos
It takes a good 20 to 25 minutes to navigate the twisting rocky path from Afionas village down to Porto Timoni but the reward is a lifelong memory of experiencing one of Greece’s great beaches. Many a young family with babes in arms barely flinches at the trek. It's composed of twin pristine sandy coves with crystalline aquamarine seas facing one another, meaning when viewed from a minute lookout ledge on the trail, they are knock-out astounding. The eastern facing beach is at its most gorgeous in the early hours of the day and the westerly side is, clearly, made for sunset and entwined lovers.
Getting there: Green bus A6 to Afionas-Arillas