7 REASONS WHY YOU HAVE TO VISIT BENITSES, CORFU
Being only 7 miles from Corfu Town, Benitses is a fantastic destination for those looking to get away from the capital. While there are certainly better beach destinations for your Corfu holiday, Benitses village has a magical charm that must be experienced to be understood.
Situated on the east coast of the island, Benitses consists of one main road, several tourist shops, Benitses beach, and dozens of fantastic restaurants. There are a few bars, some ancient Roman baths, and plenty of places to rent cars or book tours.
While the village may be more than welcoming today, it has had an on-off relationship with tourism since it exploded in popularity around half a century ago.
History of Benitses: the good, the bad and the ugly
Benitses was one of the first Corfiot villages to experience the tourist boom. It went from being a tiny fishing village to a tourist party strip within a very short space of time.
It could be argued that it was celebrities that caused it. Most of The Beatles used to visit Benitses before it was famous, as well as Laurence Olivier, Doris Day, Audrey Hepbrun and a whole range of other popular stars of the day. They came for the beautiful scenery and good summer weather.
And it’s hard to blame them…
It wasn’t long after that the village started to cater more towards tourism. Musicians and DJs would come in, and before you knew it, the entire village was pimped out for profit.
For the locals, there were mixed feelings. On one hand, the incessant wave of tourists had money. Lots of money. At the time, Greece used the drachma, and it was nothing in comparison to the pound (most of the early tourists were British). The villagers found that the tourists would pay good money to drink all night long, and so many bars and nightclubs formed in a small area.
In fact, the area was so small that the main street of Benitses was overflowing with people every night. Nightclubs were built on the beach without a permit, and restaurants popped up all over the strip.
During the summer holidays, the population of Benitses would swell to a point which it simply wasn’t built to handle. It got so bad that, despite its popularity, the whole village reeked of shit because the sewage system simply wasn’t built for that many people. There were even years where the sea surrounding Benitses was full of floating human faeces because the locals had taken to emptying their septic tanks in the sea.
While the tourists boosted the Greek economy and made many locals unthinkably rich at the time, it left behind a devastating legacy. Not only did the onslaught of tourism change the physical layout of the village, it also changed the mindset of the young people growing up there.
The fishing village was home to traditional families with long-held conservative cultural beliefs. In the 70s, and the 80s in particular, the locals found that these traditions and beliefs had been mostly abandoned and the youths of the day were adopting the holiday customs of foreigners. Where a group of British teens might come and party for a week, many of the local Greeks were starting to party all summer.
It shifted the culture so rapidly that it tore many families apart. Eventually, a group of local people became so enraged at the lack of respect given to their livelihood, they complained. The three main tour agencies of the time, believing themselves to be above complaints, abandoned the village of Benitses overnight.
The very next morning, tours to Benitses were redirected to Kavos. Kavos suffered a similar fate, switching from a traditional village to a party haven in mere moments. Still today, Kavos welcomes swathes of partying Brits. In fact, it’s such a popular resort that there is even a TV show that follows Brits in Kavos called, What Happens in Kavos. I can save you the time: they get drunk, make lots of noise, and have sex with strangers.
Relics of the past
Back to Benitses, there are dozens of relics from its party past still abandoned on the main strip. Spiros on the Beach, which regularly pulled in 3,000 tourists per night at its peak, was hailed as the “undisputed king of Corfiot nightlife”. It was even voted the second best club in the world by a British newspaper in the 80s. Now, you can find its run-down remains on the main road through the village. It’s a stark reminder of Benitses’ love-hate relationship with tourists.
Nowadays, Benitses has reclaimed some of its previous popularity, but for more sustainable reasons. Benitses village is delighted to welcome tourists, but it has developed a more chilled out vibe. It’s particularly common for couples, and, in the shoulder seasons, hikers.
7 Reasons You Should Visit Benitses, Corfu
Benitses village is a beautiful place to visit and makes a great base when you want to check out the wider sites of Corfu island. Only several miles south of Corfu Airport, it’s super easy to get to, whether you’re arriving by ferry or plane.
There used to be a world famous Corfu Shell Museum in Benitses village, but the sea museum has since closed. It once contained a huge collection of shells from the Mediterranean Sea.
1. Hike to see authentic Greek villages
Benitses is one of the best places on Corfu island to go hiking. There are plenty of trails that lead up to the traditional villages in the mountains that start directly from the village. If you don’t mind some steep paths, Benitses makes a great base. You’ll pass by lots of lush vegetation on the way too, especially olive groves and Corfu’s famous cypress trees.
Unlike most holiday resorts on Corfu, Benitses is still fairly busy in the shoulder seasons as this is when the most hikers tend to come. It’s not too hot but not too cold, making it the ideal temperature for long walks.
If you want to walk from Benitses to a traditional village or two, check out Gastouri, Agii Deka or Stavros. They are all authentic Corfiot villages with traditional houses and stunning panoramic views. When you’re there, you’ll get a real taste of authentic village life in Greece.
2. Explore the Achilleion Palace
Talking of hiking, you can walk to the Achilleion Palace if you’re feeling active. It’ll take you about 45 minutes to an hour from the village centre. The road is around 3.5 kilometres uphill.
Alternatively, you can catch a regular bus from a little north of Benitses (at the foot of the road that goes up the mountain).
The Achilleion Palace itself is a magnificent building that used to be home to Princess Sisi of Austria. She used her Corfiot mansion as a retreat from her affairs back home and she named the palace after her favourite Greek hero, Achilles, who features prominently in the statues displayed throughout the palace gardens.
The dramatic building is now a museum about the princess, sometimes featuring other quirky exhibitions. The building and surrounding grounds are also used for events such as weddings and conferences.
3. Rent a car and use Benitses as a central base
Benitses’ central position on the east coast makes it an excellent place to rent a car and see more of the beauty that Corfu has to offer. If you want to see all the best sites of Corfu, Benitses is in the perfect location. Not only can you go for a dip in the crystal clear Ionian Sea from Benitses beach in the morning, you can rent a car and go on a road trip in the day, hitting all the best beaches along the way.
A trip to the north-west can include Paleokastritsa, Porto Timoni, Peroulades and even Sidari. The north-east has Kassiopi, Old Perithia, Mount Pantokrator, and other seaside villages like Kalami. Down south, you might want to go to Kavos, Halikounas Beach, or Lefkimmi. Or if you’re feeling lazy, you could head to the west coast and relax on Glyfada Beach.
Only thirty minutes away by bus from Benitses, Corfu Town is easily reached for a day trip too. You can get the blue bus (number 6) or you can drive if you have a car.
No place is far away from Benitses.
4. Attend the lively festivals
Benitses can be a lively place when a festival rolls around. While the village is small compared to Corfu Town, it can still get quite busy.
Saint Marina Festival (July 16-17)
This two-day festival is one of song and dance. People from all over Corfu head to Benitses to celebrate. There will be traditional food like loukoumades available from street vendors, as well as a whole host of other foods like fresh corn on the cob. The shenanigans usually go well into the early hours of the morning. There are plans to make the festival even longer in the future, but who knows if or when this will be implemented.
Together We Dance Festival
This is a relatively new festival which focuses on local community dances. Generally, a large group of traditionally dressed Corfiots will all link hands and dance in a circle to music. Everybody is encouraged to join and it usually takes place in the main Benitses square or on the harbour.
Festival of Sardines
During the first ten days of August (though not every August), there is a Sardine Festival. Unfortunately, I’ve never been in Benitses when this sardine-loving week was going down. In fact, I think it hasn’t happened much in recent years at all.
As a fishing village, the locals take time out to celebrate this small fish which was the most popular all over the island. As I’m not sure when the next Sardine Festival will be, make sure you double check before arranging your sardine-loving holidays!
Last, but certainly not least, if you’re in Benitses, you’ve got to try the food.
Benitses is famous all over the island for its traditional Greek cuisine. As an east coast village, Benitses has mouthwatering seafood. There are dozens of great restaurants in the village that are worth a meal or two. Here are the top 5, and our picks for what to try.
5 Best restaurants in Benitses, Corfu
1. Klimataria N.Bellos
Klimataria is a restaurant that you simply have to visit. If you’re going to Corfu in peak season, you’ll want to reserve your table at least a few days in advance. It’s a small place and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk in and find a free table during the summer.
And there’s a reason why it fills up. The food is absolutely delicious.
Yelena always mocks me for rambling about their tomatoes, but they’re sooo good. I never thought a tomato could hold so much taste. And pro tip secret – they buy their vegetables from the Corfu Town fruit and veggie market, so make sure you check that out too. We got two big bags full of fruit and veg, including some of the juiciest figs we’ve ever tried, and it was only a couple of euros.
Klimataria has great seafood too. We both recommend the grilled octopus. Just be prepared for raising the bar to a level that is pretty difficult to match.
Oh, and don’t sleep on their cheesecake. It’s a tough call between theirs and Paxinos’ but it’s mind-blowingly good. In fact, we found that cheesecake was so good in Corfu in general, that we got an easy cheesecake recipe from a local there so we could make it anywhere in the world!
Paxinos is one of the oldest restaurants in the village. It was around during the hectic 80s and it’s one of the only restaurants that remains open during the off-season. It’s a fairly big place, but during the summer they can be quite packed. There are often traditional singers that come in with local dress.
Another seafood specialiser, their fish soup is incredible. They also make a great stifado (which we also learned the recipe for), saganaki, and pretty much anything you ask them for. They do a selection of mezes too (platters of a variety of dishes) if you want to sample a whole range of different delicacies.
The great thing about Paxinos? They give you a dessert for free when you ask for the bill. You have a 50/50 chance of getting a cheesecake (a strong competitor for best cheesecake on the island) or a local wet orange cake.
I’ll be honest, even when it’s free, it’s hard to appreciate the orange cake. It’s weird and wet. And I look over to other tables and see them with one of the best cheesecakes ever made and I can’t help feeling disappointed. Luckily, if you sweet talk the waiter and hint at cheesecakes, they may be receptive when it comes to bill time. 😉
3. Big Bite
Run by an English-Greek couple, Big Bite is the perfect takeaway place. I’m not a huge burger fan, but Big Bite burgers are pretty irresistible. They also do a selection of Corfiot delicacies, from sofrito to stifado, pastitsada to moussaka, and they’re all great. I particularly love their souvlaki which comes with wedges, pita and a cheesy sauce.
If you don’t want to take away, they have a great seating area on Benitses beach. The family-run owners are friendly and welcoming and the food is filling and tasty!
4. La Pergola
La Pergola would’ve been higher but they stopped doing pastitsada. It was once the best pastitsada on the island so I have no idea what convinced them to abandon it, however they still have other good food.
An Italian restaurant, they specialise in pizza and pasta. They have a proper pizza oven and they have quite a few options. They also make good sofrito.
The place is quite large and you’ll usually be able to find space as it’s a short walk away from the main strip of restaurants in the centre.
5. The Kebab House
Just outside of Paxinos, round the corner from Klimataria, you’ll find a little kebab shack. Don’t underestimate it. If you’re looking for traditional Greek gyros, go here and you’ll be happy. The guy who works there is great and remembers me every time I return.
They have a few places to sit but in general it’s better to take your pita to the beach just across the main square. During the day, there are seats there that you have to pay for, but in the evening, after dark, the seats are usually still there and there is nobody charging for them. It became a routine for us to get gyros from the Kebab House, and then go and sit on the beach to eat it.
6. Enjoy the sea
Benitses beach is a pebbled beach, but that doesn’t mean that the water is any less clear. In fact, the stonier the beach, the better it tends to be for snorkelling and underwater activities. As it’s traditionally a fishing village, there are lots of different species of fish in the water surrounding Benitses. Grab a snorkel and jump in. You can find octopi, various fishes, and even jellyfish. Just be careful when stepping on the floor as sea urchins also live around the area.
If you want to be out on the sea, you can take various boat trips from Benitses. Whether you just want a banana boat ride along the coast, or a proper boat trip to a neighbouring island like Paxos or Antipaxos, Benitses is a great place to start. The village also features a marina with lots of sailing boats.
There are also various water sports that you can do from Benitses. Corfu has lots of water sports activities, but in Benitses you can do paddle boarding, rent jet skis, or arrange high-speed fun rides in the sea.
I personally like to swim at sunrise in Benitses. As it’s situated on the east coast, the sun comes up over the water, towards mainland Greece. In the summer, the water is warm even in the early morning, and the beach is completely empty.
7. fruit picking!
You can get plenty of fruit and vegetables from the local shops, of course, but there are two downsides to this:
- They are expensive. When I was last there, they were charging more than 1 euro for a cucumber!
- They aren’t fresh.
Benitses might not be well-known for its fruit, but it could be! There are dozens of fig trees scattered throughout the village – one of our favourite fruits – as well as pomegranates, blackberries, plums and even bananas. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can find fruits all over the place, even on some of the trees on Benitses beach!
Bonus: Play with the cats
If you’re a cat lover, Greece is for you. But more importantly, Benitses is a cat haven. They’re not only everywhere, but they’re super friendly and ready to jump on you at a moment’s notice. If you go to the outskirts of Benitses beach, you’ll most likely meet a whole handful of cats, each one keen to introduce itself.
Corfu has a lot to offer and Benitses makes a great base. On its own, there aren’t any must-see sites, but as a cosy little village, it’s a lovely place to stay, eat, and watch the sunrise as you go for a morning swim. It’s also perfect for hikers.
Whatever you decide to do on your trip to Benitses, make sure you enjoy it. And if you do go, we recommend you stay at Bella Vista Hotel – the hotel where we both worked and met. Their buffet breakfast is a perfect introduction to traditional Greek cuisine – they serve homemade spanakopita every morning among a wide range of other Greek goodies.