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A Traveler’s Perspective on Wheelchair Accessibility in Corfu island in Greece by Olga Agafonova

I traveled to Corfu for several days in early June 2024. I use a small manual TiLite wheelchair

and have a fair amount of upper-body strength but no ability to stand up or walk at all. While I typically travel solo at home in the United States, on this trip my Mom came with me, which will become important because the physical obstacles we encountered required the help of one or more people.

The staff at the Corfu airport were incredibly helpful: a disabled traveler is accompanied by a

staff member who helps them navigate the facility for both departures and arrivals. The

contraption the airport uses to get wheelchair-bound people on and off the aircraft is

interesting and something I have not seen before: it is essentially a box that sits on top of a

small truck. The box goes down to the ground to load the passengers, the truck then moves and parks right by the side of an aircraft, and then the box goes up and is positioned directly across from the aircraft door. A person can then enter the aircraft using an aisle chair that is maneuvered by an airport staff member. The whole process of loading and unloading is a little slow and not as efficient as what you’d see at a big airport in the US but it certainly works. The airport does have clean, spacious family/special needs bathrooms, which was a relief.

Our hotel was in a town called Dassia, about 25 minutes from the airport.

The hotel room was accessible with a small shower chair in the bathroom. There is a long

walkway alongside the beach: however, getting to the water is a little complicated as there is

no rubber mat or wooden walk that would go straight to the water. We discovered that a hotel next to ours had a beach wheelchair and they graciously allowed me to use it– the water in the Ionian Sea in early June is chilly at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so I did not stay in for longer than 15 minutes (and that’s in a 3-millimeter wetsuit that I brought with me). The water is clear and calm, so there are no waves to fight, and had I come later in the summer, I would have most likely spent hours in it swimming alongside the beach.

A second way of accessing the water, which we did not test, would be to do wheelies all the

way to the sea – the beach was made of small rocks and little sand, so it if you only use the back wheels of the wheelchair and do not allow the front wheels to dig into the rocks, you could get to the water.

My reason for coming to Corfu was to visit the Church of St. Spyridon as well as other religious sites of interest for Orthodox Christians. So, the day after we arrived to Corfu we headed straight to Old Town, which is the big tourist attraction on the island. Old Town has streets made of cobblestone, some of which are more uneven than others. For manual wheelchair users, I would recommend looking into an attachment like the FreeWheel, which a big fifth wheel that attaches to the footrest of a wheelchair and lifts up the front wheels, so that you can roll on uneven surfaces more easily. I brought the FreeWheel with me and put it to good use throughout my time in Greece.

To get to Old Town, we took a regular taxi that our hotel called for us – getting in and out of the taxi was not a problem and the taxi drivers in Corfu were not fazed by the extra time it took me to get in and out of the vehicle. We found the Church of St. Spyridon quickly and someone who perhaps volunteered with the church brought out a small portable ramp so that I could get in.

Once on the inside, we did have to ask for help so that I could venerate the relics which are in a separate area with an additional set of stairs leading up to it. The Greek people are very friendly and are willing to help out, so it didn’t feel like a big imposition to ask someone to pick up the wheelchair.

On a different day, we also visited the Church of St. Theodora which was a few streets away and also needed help to get both into the church and to venerate the relics as there were stairs there also. I will note that the newer churches in Greece do have permanent ramps attached to a side entrance but that is not universally the case with the many older churches.

After spending time perusing souvenir shops, we wanted to grab a coffee and use the

bathroom. This is where things were disappointing in terms of access because even the

Starbucks in Corfu Old Town was not wheelchair accessible. If there was a ramp to get into the Starbucks, I certainly did not see it and if there was a side entrance hidden somewhere, there was no sign pointing to it.

We looked for an accessible bathroom at a different café and eventually found one that sort of worked but it was not, strictly speaking, accessible because the stalls there were so tiny, you couldn’t be in a wheelchair and close the door behind you, so we had to lock the door to the entire bathroom for privacy (which was not very good since it was a busy café). Long story short, there are no accessible bathrooms on Old Town in Corfu and a wheelchair-bound traveler needs to keep this in mind and plan their outings accordingly.

My favorite part of being on the island was going to the monasteries in the villages of

Κynopiastes and Skripero, about 30 and 15 minutes away from Dassia, respectively.

We got there by booking a private tour with a local guide who picked us up from the

hotel. My general impression is that to go places you either have to rent a car or have

someone drive you, as public buses are not equipped with wheelchair lifts and

sidewalks are narrow, crumbled or non-existent and rolling around on the main roadway

is not for the faint of heart.

The island is big and has plenty of things to do and see and we only experienced a small part of it. For a traveler spending longer than a few days in Corfu, I would recommend looking into a private boat/sailing tour so that you can go and see places that are only accessible by a boat.

The important takeaway is that if you have a mobility disability and you plan on going to Corfu by yourself, be prepared to ask for help, as there will be steps and other barriers.

Learning a little Greek will go a long way but you will also be okay with English and a good attitude! As I mentioned, people are friendly and they will want to help you get wherever you want to go.

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