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32km (20 nautical miles) W of mainland; another 558km (342 miles) NW of Athens

Cast aside the package tour and you will find Homer's "rich and beautiful land" of olive groves and rugged mountains, 32km (20 miles) off the west coast of Greece. The sunny beaches and ouzo-fueled revelry are there if you want, but this island has a unique history and culture that rewards even the casual visitor. Wander Venetian Corfu Town as the grand fortress lights up in the evening, visit the beach associated with Odysseus, or relax while reading the works of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, to get a feel for the real Corfu.

Corfu Town

There's Corfu the coast, Corfu the town, and Corfu the island, and they don't necessarily appeal to the same vacationers. Corfu the coast lures travelers who want to escape civilization and head for the water -- whether an undeveloped little beach with a simple taverna and rooms to rent, or a spectacular resort. Then there's the more cosmopolitan Corfu Town, with its Greek, Italian, French, and British elements. Finally, there's a third and little-known Corfu: the interior, with its lush vegetation and gentle slopes, modest villages and farms, and countless olive and fruit trees. (It should be admitted that there's now a fourth Corfu -- rather tacky beach resorts, crowded with package tourists from Western Europe, who can be extremely raucous.)

Whichever Corfu you choose, it should prove pleasing. It was, after all, this island's ancient inhabitants, the Phaeacians, who made Odysseus so comfortable. Visitors today will find Corfu similarly hospitable.

Beaches -- Paleokastritsa deserves its excellent reputation, with its several bays flanked by cave-riddled cliffs and bluer-than-blue sea. Moving south, Liapades has a sublime backdrop, while secluded Myrtiotissa attracts nudists. Families like Sidari, up on the north coast, with its sandstone formations, and Ayios Georgios, with its fine sand and shallow water. On the northeast coast, amid cypress and olive trees, is crescent-shaped Kalami Bay, where the Durrells spent their childhood. For watersports and partying, there's Kavos on the southern tip.

Things to Do -- With its Italianate buildings, French arcade, and English remains, Corfu Town provides a history lesson. Visit one of the great fortresses to be reminded that the island was long fought over, or the Archaelogical Museum to realize it was once important to Greek sculpture. Northeast is the deserted Byzantine town Old Perithia, on the slopes of Mt. Pantocrator from which Albania can be viewed. Leave time for shopping for fine handicrafts such as olive wood and needlework.

Eating and Drinking -- Authentic Greek food, English breakfasts, gyros to go, fine Italian cuisine -- you'll find it all in Corfu Town. In tavernas, you'll have your choice of local favorites such as bourdetto, spicy fish in a tomato sauce, or pastitsada, beef stewed in tomato sauce. Family-run tavernas serve simple but delicious fresh fish. So-called house wines are never that great in Greece, but Corfiots are particularly proud of their island wines; among the best are wines such as Robola, Liapaditiko, and Theotaki.

Nightlife and Entertainment -- Do as the Corfiots do and begin your evening with a volta (stroll) under the Liston's elegant arcades in Corfu Town. The younger set may prefer to join the revelers at one of the bars and clubs lining Ethnikis Antistaseos. Elsewhere on the island, at seaside towns such as Ipsos, Roda, and Sidari, you can find English pubs, karaoke bars, and "Greek nights" with fast-paced sirtaki dancing. Those whose holidays include some serious partying will want to try Kavos, at the island's lowest tip.