The imposing presence of Corfu’s Old Fortress, spanning architectural periods from Byzantine, Early Venetian and the Late Venetian eras, is the first thing you notice when your ship docks here. But the other reason to venture here is to experience the water itself. From Corfu to Croatia, the crystalline sea swirls around rock islands and jetties as if it were an enormous river flowing straight from the Alps to the Mediterranean. For the record, Corfu is an Ionian Island, but it lies just off the west coast of mainland Greece where the Adriatic blends into the Ionian Sea.

Those who appreciate architecture, fine jewelry and a fabulous street scene might be tempted, as I usually am, to simply hang out and explore in Corfu Town. But there’s more to experiencing the island. In particular, beaches tucked between limestone cliffs, coupled with water so clear and blue you feel compelled to touch it to make sure it’s real, make Paleokastritsa a draw for visitors. And it’s a draw for Windstar guests, too, on Corfu, Paleokastritsa and Boat Trip, that gets you out to the beaches and onto those waters. With its heart-shaped bay and views of the island’s central mountain range, Paleokastritsa is said to be the spot where Odysseus met Nausicaä in Homer’s Odyssey. It’s a tale of unrequited love that adds to the enchantment of the region.

What’s the tour like?

Writer Melinda Crow, on the island of Corfu.

The guided part of the tour is around four hours long and includes two stops plus just over an hour total on the tour bus. The visit to Paleokastritsa includes a 45-minute boat ride and roughly an hour of free time. The second stop is for wine and snacks included in the tour, also lasting about an hour. The tour ends in Corfu Town for independent exploration and a return to the ship is via shuttle bus, not the tour bus.

Always up for a boat ride of any kind, my husband and I chose this tour on our last Windstar cruise that included Corfu. The experience began with a drive, a roughly 30 minute ride along the coast road to the north of the port. We passed through tourist areas and had a view of the former Venetian leper colony on the Isle of Lazaretto. Once the road turned away from the sea and into the mountains, the population dwindled. Farms, mostly olive groves, dotted the mountainside.

There are several beaches in Paleokastritsa; our tour took us to Agios Spiridon Beach. To appreciate the beauty of the water here, you must get out on it. The shore excursion boats were small wooden outboards. Each carried around 12 passengers on bench seats under a shade canopy.

Corfu’s beautiful Paleokastritsa has lots of caves to explore/Melinda Crow

We spent 30-40 minutes touring several shallow caves (more like grottos). The first was Nausicaä’s Cave, named after Odysseus’ love interest. The most famous cave is called Blue Eye Cave, because there’s an underwater hole in the rocks that lets sunlight shine through, making the water glow a brilliant blue. Our captain sang to us. We fed fish, took selfies, and admired the scenery along with the variety of boats in the two bays we visited.

During our free time, we wandered the beach, found a gelato stand (because I must) and shopped in a small market where I bought some local olive oil that turned out to be some of the best of the trip. Our second stop on the tour was a restaurant perched on the cliffs above the bay, offering views of the beaches below. We had a tasty snack of Greek cheeses, olives, breads, and local wine. The restaurant used in the tour may change seasonally.

Returning to Corfu Town

Corfu Town, in the Greek Isles

In English, most say Corfu Town. In Greek, it’s Kerkyra (pronounced KER kee rah). It’s home to both a new and an old fortress. Venetians built or added on to both. The strength of the fortifications allowed Corfu to be the only part of Greece not conquered by the Ottomans. After your Paleokastritsa adventures, you should still have time to see the old fortress, even just from across the moat, called the Contra Fossa.

Or consider walking through a bit of Old Corfu Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site). It’s a bustling area and quite touristy, with a definite Italian vibe that you can credit to its long period of Venetian occupation. The bougainvillea grow thick over doorways and across walkways throughout Old Town. Expect a few shops featuring local artisans, but these are outnumbered by the trinket sellers. As in most old-world old towns, you can almost always walk far enough to escape the shopkeepers and into a more residential area where the pace slows considerably.

We found Spianada Square, near the ship’s shuttle pick-up, to be an idyllic spot to sit and sip a Mythos Lager (as one does on a lazy afternoon in Greece, right?) Near the center of the square close to the fountain, there are a handful of eateries along the street facing the park with outdoor seating. Menus range from Italian and Greek to seafood. There are also coffee houses. The park provides a bit of respite from the frenetic confines of the Old Town streets. We enjoyed people watching while we waited for the bus back to our ship.

Inside tips

Adorable pedal boats in Corfu/Melinda Crow

What to wear: You aren’t likely to get wet on the boat ride. (You’ll walk out onto a dock and step down into the boat.) But if you plan to swim or splash around on the beach, water shoes are a good idea. There are restrooms where you can change in to or out of swimwear. I wore fast-drying swim shorts with a rash guard that was suitable for all parts of the tour.

What to bring: For the boat ride, it’s best to use a lanyard on your sunglasses. One of our travel companions lost hers leaning overboard staring into the clear water. A dry pouch for your phone would make taking photos on the boat a bit safer, and a lanyard for that makes it even better. Bring a beach towel from the ship if you plan to get wet. If your water shoes aren’t comfortable for walking, you may need to bring an alternate pair for sightseeing in Corfu Town, especially in Old Corfu, where the streets are uneven cobblestones. And don’t forget your sunscreen.

More info: The tour is available on most cruises that stop in Corfu, including onboard Wind Surf between Athens and Venice and on Star Legend itineraries cruising between Athens and Barcelona or on its Star Collector: Winter Muse in the Mediterranean.