June 2014 (see below)
Corfu International Airport lies on the Kanoni peninsula, just 2 kilometres south of the island's capital. It was built on a narrow strip of land between the sea and an artificial lake. The airport was founded in 1937 and during the Second World War the occupying German and Italian forces based transports and fighter aircraft here. The first commercial flight took place on 19 April 1949 from Athens but it wasn`t until 1962 that a small passenger terminal was built. It still survives and today houses the Corfu Aero Club. In April 1965 the airport became International and the first flight was operated by Olympic Airlines, the national carrier of Greece. The current passenger terminal opened in 1972.
The runway is almost totally surrounded by water making Corfu one of Europe's most dramatically situated airports for aviation photography. The lagoon on the west side of the airport is separated from the open sea by a concrete causeway which affords a view straight down Corfu Airport's single runway. The aerial shots above aren`t great quality but show the airport`s location, and just how close it lies to Corfu Town.
It`s not only dedicated spotters that are impressed with the spectacle - even 'ordinary' tourists can't help snapping away as the airliners either zoom past overhead just seconds from landing or, for visitors on the terraces of the local hotels or tavernas, fly by at eye level, or below. Even a compact camera or smartphone can produce impressive results here.
Although, once through security, the terminal building affords some views of the apron and a small section of runway, the prospects for photography are far from ideal. The windows are prone to reflections which are very difficult to reduce even on an overcast day. A polarising filter helps only slightly here. Rather than using an air-bridge, the holiday jets tend to park out on the apron with passengers either walking or being bussed from/ to the terminal which allows anything close at hand to be snapped on exiting the aircraft. This is Airbus A320-214(WL) OE-LEY of Fly Niki.
The village of Kanoni, on the east side of the lagoon, is about 100 metres above sea level, and a superb vantage point. The Royal Boutique Hotel, formerly the Royal Hotel, and adjacent tavernas, including the Cafe Kanoni are recognised as outstanding locations for aviation photography as any planes approaching from the south can be captured against the hills and houses on the opposite hillside just seconds before touch-down. The full length of the runway is visible from most of the terraces and a 100-200mm should be more than adequate for airliners lining-up on the threshold for take-off. Once they`re rolling, however, a 300-400mm would draw-in the mountains for a really dramatic effect although heat haze can often cause problems.
For dedicated aviation enthusiasts probably the most tempting place to stay location-wise would be the Pension Anna Bouzi, especially for those who are hard of hearing as it's balconies are only 80 meters (230ft) away from aircraft revving up on the Runway 35 threshold!
The Lake Chalikopoulou wetlands bordering the lagoon has recently officially been allocated nature reserve status. The large body of salt water is fed by several streams that trickle fresh water for most of the year to create a diverse habitat for wildlife. Numerous birds flock here on passage during Spring and Autumn migration although I only spotted herons, egrets and a few ducks. Locals can often be seen rowing across the lagoon or wading through the shallower waters with nets, presumably collecting crabs or other shellfish.
On the causeway, as well as low-flying aircraft, you need to watch out for low-flying motorbikes! Even pedal cyclists get in on the act. The busy crossing point is well used by tourists and locals alike, many of the latter on motorbikes or scooters and they don`t hang about. The causeway is also a popular perch (no pun intended) with anglers.
From the west end of the causeway, the Nisos Taverna, which sits in an elevated position beside the main Corfu Town-Benitses road, can be reached in a few minutes. This is another great spot from which to photograph the planes but seats offering the best views are limited and fill up quickly in peak season. Even one of the restaurant`s signs features a plane on the runway. Nsos also overlooks tree-covered Mouse Island and the whitewashed Vlacherna Monastery. This is probably the most photographed spot in Corfu. The light for shooting the aircraft is best from the Royal Hotel (east) side in the mornings and the Nsos (west) side in the afternoons.
In this typical view from Nsos, 4X-EMB, one four Embraer ERJ-190s in the Arkia fleet, is moments from touchdown. Arkia is Israel`s second-largest airline.
Back on the east side of the causeway, a larger beach, which looks onto Mouse Island, can be found at the foot of the heavily-wooded slopes marking the Kanoni peninsula's southernmost point. There's also a small cafe here offering an alternative view to the more popular, elevated vantage points.
With often very little wind to contend with, the runway allocated to landing and departing planes seems to be selected at random by the air traffic controllers, however, the decision is more often than not based on the requirements of each individual aircraft. For example, the optimum direction can reduce fuel consumption and limit the number of low approaches by landing airliners over Corfu Town which are understandably unpopular with residents - the take-offs are bad enough! Most planes appear from the south for an 'over-the-water' Runway 35 touch-down and although take-offs alternate between 35 and 17, I never saw an aircraft approach from the north at all during my stay. Any about to leave from 35 are required to backtrack from the terminal area as there is no parallel taxiway then spin around on the turning circle at the 35 threshold.
A busy road runs past the northern perimeter of the airport and although I didn`t check it out, good close-ups of the aircraft, including the light aircraft ramp, can reportedly be obtained through the fence. There`s no place to park though - pedestrians only.
Corfu is very fertile as it receives far more rain than most of the other Greek Islands. Afternoon and early evening thunderstorms occurred on the last couple of days of the holiday and, in addition to clearing the humidity, provided impressive balcony views of the airliners generating a spray trail when landing or taking-off.
Base for a fortnight's holiday in June 2014 was the excellent Molfetta Beach Hotel, located on the waterfront at Gouvia, on the island's east coast, just 7km north of Corfu Town. I`d made a brief stop on the west side of the lagoon on a Saturday afternoon, at the end of a drive round the southern part of the island in a rental car. I parked beside the Nsos Taverna which is stands on the main Corfu Town - Benitses road and strolled over the causeway. Saturday is classed as one of the busiest days of the week for aircraft movements here, however, things had began to quieten down by the time I arrived. The other shots were taken on departure day.
Finally, the following views were taken from the grounds of Achilleion Palace which occupies a superb position high on a tree-clad hillside near the village of Gastouri, several kilometres south of Corfu Town. Achillion (also spelt Achilleion) is one of Corfu's most popular tourist attractions and consequently gets chaotically busy once the hoards of coach passengers start to arrive. So, if you can, its best to get there either just after opening time, or late in the afternoon.
The Palace was built in the 1890s by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (24 December 1837 -10 September 1898) as a retreat and in tribute to her hero Achilles. Although the statues at the Achillion are modern reproductions they succeed in creating an impression of an opulent classical mansion. The Empress Elizabeth, also known as Sisi, was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and also Queen of Hungary. While travelling along the shores of Lake Geneva in 1898, she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist who had missed his chance to assassinate Prince Philippe, Duke of Orleans, and wanted to kill the next member of royalty that he saw. Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) bought the palace in 1907 and added the towering statue of Achilles Triumphant which now gazes out over the island's east coast, across the sea to the mountains of mainland Greece.
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