ZANTE. The word made me think of lager lout lads looking to pull fit birdz and dolled up ladettes who’d give the Geordie shore lasses a run for their caked-in-makeup money. Post A Level/pre-uni spring-breakers dancing on tables, wrestling in paddling pools of jelly and trying to win wet T-shirt competitions. Zakynthos? A whole other story. Even though it’s the exact same island.
Turns out the Zante 2K14ers head to Laganas, a strip of nightlife, hangovers and beer bellies which, although one of the island’s biggest resorts, doesn’t as I’d initially believed define the entirety of the island.
Located around 20km from the mainland and stretching just 40km, Zakynthos is one of the Greek Ionian islands and it’s actually a place of real natural beauty – endless mountains, beautiful beaches and aqua-coloured sea. In Laganas bay in the south there are even a host of loggerhead turtles, vying for our attention almost as much as the aforementioned holidaymakers partying on down in the bars next door.
In a unanimous decision to get away from the aforementioned, we stayed in a beautiful traditional Greek villa in Agios Dimitrios, aka the middle of nowhere – the type of village where raised eyebrows and heello miss comments greet you as you walk past old traditional Greek men named Stavros, sitting outside dusty tavernas with a shot of Oozo in their hand and acting like they haven’t seen a real living being in centuries (they probably haven’t to be fair).
I couldn’t have loved it more. Getting away from the crowds and pitching up in a place surrounded by green landscapes and mountains spanning 360 degrees under a blanket of blue sky sometimes is really as idyllic as it sounds. The village had one shop with all manner of Greek snacks, a dusty road and – the centerpiece – a clock tower which you can (well technically not sure if you can, but we did) climb up.
The villa was like a Greek version of a quaint English cottage – all traditional stone, low ceilings (just waiting to give you concussion with an almighty head-bang; nearly happened) and marble tables – which my haphazard dad managed to break in a Basil Fawlty-like attempt to rearrange the furniture, much to the pleasure of the owner.
We ventured over to Smuggler’s Cove in the north west of the island, one of Greece’s most famous spots where a shipwreck still remains after it reportedly smashed into the rocks in 1983. It’s an area where craggy, Corwnall-like coastlines meet beautiful walks and mountains, and it was once again a pretty far cry from the table-dancing teens I’d imagined the whole island heaving with. The shipwreck wasn’t quite as I was expecting (from the ‘viewing point’ at the top of a cliff I actually had to ask where the shipwreck was, appearing a bit bigger than a finger nail) but the views over the vivid, aqua blue sea and across the entire island were spectacular. And instead of the jelly wrestlers I’d foreseen there were goats. Yes, goats, chilling out on mountain-tops and encircling us to the point I felt the need to run back to the car somewhat hastily – goats can be scarier than one might assume…
While over near the shipwreck we stopped at a tiny mountain village where, after having been scolded in Greek by an old woman for not choosing her taverna despite utilising her car park, we enjoyed a peaceful lunch surrounded by locals. Again, about as authentic as you can get and definitely not what I’d always pictured when I’d heard the word ‘Zantaaay’.
We did some other exploring and checked out Zante town, a cool, big place which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 and then rebuilt. It has a harbour which looks beautiful by night and the whole strip is lined with fishing boats, impressive yachts and (surprise surprise!) Greek tavernas.
Alykes and Alykanas, two fairly touristy towns, had good beaches and great watersports. The closest we got to the aforementioned Laganas crowds was in Tsivili, which is pretty much your typical Mediterranean tourist resort – brightly lit up cocktail bars, music (approximately ten years out of date) blaring, and tourist trap tavernas lining the streets. But that was as touristy as it got – all in all it Zante was a lot less touristy than some of the other Greek islands like Corfu and most of it had a real authentic Greek feel with windy, dusty roads and mopeds cruising along its pretty coastal roads. My only tip would be try not to drive up mountains in the middle of the night and then get lost to the point you genuinely feel you’re going to be the subject of the next big blockbuster (I speak from personal experience).