From mythical Ulysses, who was shipwrecked here in the Homer’s Odyssey, the oldest travelogue of all, to Roman Emperor Nero, who sang here be¬fore the altar of Zeus; from European travellers and writers of the early Renaissance to package tourists of the 21st century, Corfu has always been a reference point of travel chronicles.
Greek mythology holds that Arete, Queen of the Phaeacians, presided over the marriage of Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, with Medea in a Corfiot cave.
Rich Romans would build sumptuous villas within large estates across the island. During Medieval times Corfu was the first port of call for pil¬grims on their way to the Holy Land through the Adriatic Sea.
Giacomo Casanova joined a Venetian regiment at Corfu in 1744. In His¬toire de ma vie he recounted his relationship with Madame F, a great figure of the Venetian society in Corfu Town.
Travellers of the 18th and 19th centuries mused in their letters and jour¬nals on the natural beauty, the mild Mediterranean climate, the azure of the sea, the hospitable inhabitants and the quality of Greek light. Others tried to capture these qualities in paintings and engravings.
The painter and poet Edward Lear loved Corfu. He visited the island no fewer than nine times and spent more than three years here in all. In 1866 he wrote in his diary: “Can I give no idea of this Paradise island to others?”
Empress Elizabeth of Austria (better known as Sissi) came to Corfu to¬wards the end of the 19th century, fell in love with the island and built a palace here called the Achilleion. Following her assassination, Kaiser Wil¬helm II of Germany bought the Achilleion Achilleion, where he would stay during his frequent excursions to springtime Corfu.
Oscar Wilde responds to Greece, beginning with his arrival on the is¬land of Corfu, in Santa Decca, a poem titled after the Corfu mountain.
And yet—perchance in this sea-trancèd isle,
Chewing the bitter fruit of memory,
Some God lies hidden in the asphodel.
The British have loved the island for centuries. After all, the Duke of Edinburgh—Prince Philip, husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth—was born here, at Mon Repos, in 1921.
The British writers Lawrence and Gerald Durrell settled on Corfu with their family in the 1930s. Gerald, the younger, narrated their lives on the island, with a keen eye for nature, manners and morals, in My Family and Other Animals, the first book of The Corfu Trilogy. Lawrence transformed his diary of life on the island before the Second World War to produce Prospero’s Cell.
By 1954 the Club Méditeranée had started to build its reputation, and one of its first “villages” near Ipsos. In later decades direct flights from major cities in Europe, and the construction of a dedicated cruise port would bring travellers from all the world to Corfu. A good many of them were to love this island so much that they would stay for ever and make it their home.