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Travel: Falling head over heels for the deep blue of Corfu

La Grotta cliff-side bar.
La Grotta cliff-side bar.

We first catch sight of Corfu, the verdant Greek jewel in the Ionian sea, from above. In the huge horseshoe bay below, boats drift soundlessly through the strait that separates the island from Albania to the north and the Greek mainland to the west.

Corfu, on the northwestern edge of the great patchwork of islands and archipelagos that make up Greece, is one of the country’s greenest and most fertile islands, thanks to the mild Mediterranean climate. It is also hilly, and our plane circles down between Mount Pantokrator in the north and the olive-green hills in the south, ever closer to a runway that juts out into the sparkling azure waters.

As we land, we glide just feet over the heads of visitors to the Vlacherna Monastery, a small white stone church topped with terracotta tiles that sits at the end of the runway and gives evidence to the island’s rich cultural and religious history.

Our destination is the five-star Angsana Corfu Resort and Spa, the first European property of the renowned Banyan Group, an Asian hospitality group which specialises in luxurious destinations with a focus on enhancing the local area and sustainable tourism.

Just under 20 minutes away by car, the hotel is built into the lush green hillside above the village of Benitses, and the luxury is immediately evident as a valet smoothly takes our keys and our luggage, allowing us to check in completely hassle free.

When we arrive at our room – well, it is actually an enormous villa that boasts its own infinity pool, giant bed, gorgeous marble shower room and a sound system that plays our music, audiobooks or podcasts wherever we are in the property, inside and out – our luggage is neatly stored and waiting for us.

The pool overlooks the village of Benitses.
The pool overlooks the village of Benitses.

With uninterrupted views out to the glistening Ionian sea, it is difficult to leave the villa but the hotel staff have made dinner reservations at Angsana’s Greek restaurant, Sofrito. The Greek taverna-style restaurant serves a fine dining version of traditional Corfiot dishes, and we enjoy incredible lamb kleftiko, moussaka and souvlaki.

Everything at Angsana oozes effortless style, including Anna Myrha, the resort’s marketing and communications manager with movie star good looks. She gives us a tour of the resort and tells us about some of the daily complimentary experiences on offer, such as olive oil tasting, face mask making and yoga. We book into the face mask and body scrub workshop, where Dimitris Skevoulis, the hotel’s supervisor and spa therapist, takes us through a horticultural journey of Corfu. He explains the benefits of using the island’s natural ingredients, such as olive oil, fresh herbs and kumquat instead of harsh chemical products on our skin.

The focus on local resources is everywhere at Angsana and across Corfu. We take a drive into the green hills behind the resort, passing olive groves as the road twists and turns through the steep mountain terrain. Everywhere, Corfu’s rich history is evident and we visit Achilleion Palace, a beautiful 19th-century neoclassical mansion with opulent gardens looking out to the sea, that is just five minutes’ drive from Angsana.

Close by, we stop at a tiny pottery and watch as a woman crafts clay tableware in mesmerising aquamarines and shimmering metals from her tiny workshop behind the store’s counter.

We travel further afield and 40 minutes later arrive at La Grotta, a cliff-side bar on the west coast. We navigate the steep stone steps that snake through the leafy vegetation and are greeted by a seascape of immaculate beauty. Soaring cliffs driving down into crystal clear water that soaks up the searing sun and reflects back a kaleidoscope of turquoise and deep aquamarine. On its edges, people sip cold drinks and listen to soft beach music as others do backflips off a diving board built out of the rockface. If Instagram could design a seafront HQ, this would be it.

We are fortunate to visit on the very first day of the season, as I suspect this place could get very busy. As it is, we spend a glorious few hours in the sun, dipping in and out of the water and watching silvery fish flash under the water like sequins on a dress.

And we do dress, for dinner that is, back at Angsana. The hotel’s other dining option is the Oribu restaurant, which takes the flavours of the Banyan Group’s Asia heritage and places it in the context of the Corfu environment.

Oribu, which means Olive in Japanese, treats us to fantastic sushi as well as incredible chicken noodle yakisoba. There is so much on the menu that looks good. If you are a fan of Asian fusion, this will be your restaurant of choice.

The next morning, we make use of the excellent gym facilities before breakfast in the Ruen Romsai restaurant. This may have been my favourite part of the holiday, with the huge selection of fresh food and drinks. I highly recommend the iced lattes sipped as you look out on the sweeping infinity pool.

Enjoying the Angsana infinity pool.
Enjoying the Angsana infinity pool.

After breakfast, we rest on one of the luxurious poolside cabanas and enjoy the early-morning sun.

In the afternoon, we take the short drive to Corfu Old Town, a twisting labyrinth of ancient forts, shops, markets and cafes. You could easily spend days browsing the local produce or learning about the island’s battles between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. We take a more sedate approach and people-watch over a coffee at one of the many cafes.

Back at the hotel, Anna takes us to the resort’s private beach. The sea laps onto the white sand as guests sit under cabanas or eat at the beach front restaurant. Anna introduces us to Dimitri A Bellos, a creative food and drink consultant who is working with the resort. Dimitri explains the idea for the Angsana beach.

“We are going to offer simple traditional Greek small plates for guests. Not in the fine dining way that you will get at the main hotel restaurants, much more laid back. We will also have a more chilled vibe with a mix of authentic Greek music and pop music. We will hold small fiestas on the beach, offering guests a little taste of a party.”

They leave us to enjoy some of the fabulous grilled chicken souvlaki in the glorious sunshine. In front of us, people are splashing in and out of the water, while a few don masks and snorkelling along the rocky coastline. Angsana, it seems, is a microcosm of the perfect Greek holiday.

P.S. If you are the type of traveller who likes to tick off countries, you can take a 30-minute ferry ride from Corfu to Albania. Make sure to book a ticket if you plan to do it in high season, as the queues can be very long and you have to go through passport control to enter Albania. The reward is a beautiful, old world day trip that can take in national parks and delicious restaurants.


An Achilleion Woodland View Grand Room starts from €315 per night (£268), including breakfast, taxes and fees. An Ionian Sea View Room starts from €383 per night (£326), including breakfast, taxes and fees.