Holidays to Zante are your gateway to family-friendly resorts, party hubs and quiet hideaways – all bound by one of the best coastlines in the Mediterranean.
The Flower of the Orient
The Venetians once dubbed Zante – or Zakynthos as it’s also known – ‘The Flower of the Orient’, thanks to its top-class countryside. And it’s a nickname that still rings true today. Olive groves, lemon trees and bougainvillea cover the whole island, peeking out from between rolling hills.
A spectacular shoreline
Zante’s coastline is just as impressive as its interior. Sandy shores give way to turquoise sea caves, and hidden coves and rugged cliffs offer up grandstand views of the Ionian sunsets. Smuggler’s Cove leads the way as far as beaches are concerned. Overlooked by soaring cliffs, this sandy bay is one of the most beautiful in Greece.
It’s loggerhead turtles that really put Zante on the map, though – the island is the most important nesting spot in the Mediterranean for them. If you’re here between July and August, head to Laganas Beach, where you’ve got the best chance of spotting the creatures.
Best of both worlds
Another part of Zante’s appeal is the fact it caters for all sorts of holidays. Laganas is the place to go for the big clubs, while Tsilivi’s streets are brimming with bars and pubs. Head for the likes of Alykanas and Kalamaki, meanwhile, and you’ll find soft sands and a more go-slow pace.
Things to See and Do in Zante
A bumper crop of beaches
Beaches on Zante come in all shapes and sizes. You can take your pick from hidden coves cloaked in ice-white sands, to pebbly stretches backed by steep cliffs and pine forests. Better still, lots of the beaches here proudly flaunt Blue Flags.
The big beach
Laganas Beach is Zante’s queen bee. The most popular resort on the island pulls in the full spectrum of visitors – you’ll come across insomniacs sleeping off their hangovers on the sands, and children paddling in the calm waves. To cater for such a large guest list, there’s a long list of facilities – everything from ice-cream parlours to banana boats.
The secret beach
Bouka Beach is right next to Tsilivi Beach, but because the latter is so popular, the former tends to slip under the tourist radar. As such, it’s really quiet, with no watersports, bars or restaurants to disturb the peace. It’s a good idea to pick up a snorkel from one of the shops on Tsilivi’s main road on your way here – the waters are really clear, and you’re likely to spot a turtle or two among all the fish.
If you’re looking to pick up a bargain, head to the Anafonitra Market, about 40 minutes west of Tsilivi. Here, you can stock up on the likes of embroidered tablecloths, handmade rugs and leather sandals. Alternatively, check out the shops around Laganas and Kalamaki’s beaches – they’re good for fake Ray Bans, and ornaments moulded out of local materials.
Laganas town centre is the best place to buy faux designer handbags. You’ll find lots of big names, like Chloé and Prada, and some of the copies are pretty good. Make tracks for Zante Town, meanwhile, and you’ll come across a few familiar names from back home – The Body Shop, Benetton and Diesel all have stores here.
Zante Town has plenty in the way of clothing boutiques, plus a few treasure chest stores displaying unusual antiques in their shop fronts. Make your way to Alexander Roma for the best choice. This street is also really good for gold – it’s full of stores where you can get quality jewellery featuring stones like emeralds and rubies.
Alykanas’ main road is dotted with authentic tavernas and a couple of low-key music bars. There are also a few restaurants down by the seafront, if you like the sound of eating within view of the water. The tavernas across the cliff tops in the town of Kampi, meanwhile, are really romantic. And, because the town sits 300 metres above sea level, it offers the added bonus of fantastic sunsets.
Laganas wears the party crown in these parts. The main strip is the place to go for neon-lit discos and thumping clubs, and you’ll find well-known hotspots like Linekers here. For something a little more sophisticated, Zante Town hits the right note, with its open-air cafés and sleek cocktail bars. Try pretty San Marco Square for the best variety. SingStar fans meanwhile, should check out the main roads that lead into Tsilivi and Kalamaki – the karaoke bars in these towns come ten-a-penny.
Spetsofai, otherwise known as stuffed rabbit, is an island favourite, and it’s served in tavernas all over Zante. The tender meat is stuffed with the likes of creamy cheese and tangy herbs, before being cooked in rich wine and served with vegetables.
This is Zante’s answer to a Cornish pasty, and it’s great as a mid-afternoon snack if a round of meze seems like too much. This flaky puff pastry is served nice and warm, and it’s crammed with crumbly feta cheese, spinach, ham and spicy meat.
You can’t visit Zante without trying Ladotyri. Roughly translated, it means ‘oily cheese’, and it’s mainly used in island casseroles. It’s great on its own, too, and has a tangy, spicy flavour. Try a big chunk of it with a glass of the local mastelado wine.
The Greeks don’t tend to fry or scramble their eggs – instead, they opt for this method of preparation. Tomatoes, garlic and onions are tossed into a pan, before an egg is dropped in and poached. Once it’s all cooked, it’s served with chunky chips or sweet potatoes.
This crisp white wine is made from a blend of local grapes such as Pavlos and Robola. It’s harvested early in the season and is designed to be drunk when it’s about a year old. The wine is high in acidity and citrus flavours, and goes really well with fish and seafood.
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In Alykon Bay, on Zante’s north coast, Alykanas is a small beach resort where the pace of life is as easy-going as the horse-drawn carriages that clip-clop through its streets. There’s a new part of town right by the beach, with little shops and relaxed tavernas. And just along the coast is Old Alykanas, with its church and quaint main square, surrounded by olive groves and orchards.
Eleven kilometres southwest of Zante’s capital is one of the island’s most beautiful villages. Aghios Sostis has kept a grip on its traditional charm so you’ll find chapels and old-style Greek tavernas. Its most handsome feature, though, is the quiet coastline, dotted with little coves and pine trees. And when you fancy a change of pace, party town Laganas is just a kilometre’s walk away.
This village on Zante’s northeast coast isn’t as developed as those in the south, but there’s still plenty here, from motorbike rental places to cocktail bars. Alykes is packed with charming touches, such as the old stone bridge over its river – and even a horse and carriage that will ferry you to tavernas for free. There are wildlife-filled salt flats to explore, too, along with a sweeping golden-sand beach.
Stretched out along a calm bay, Limni Keriou is a laid-back little village down in southern Zakynthos. It’s a tranquil spot where everything happens along the turquoise sea – there’s authentic Greek food in the waterside tavernas and even a couple of café-bars close by the charming pint-sized port. The bay is connected to the hilltop village of Keri, a few minutes up the road, and there are lots more places to eat and drink up there.
Lithakia is a tiny inland hamlet in southern Zante. It sits at the foot of Megalo Vouno hill, with green plains stretching all the way to the coast a few kilometres away – so it makes for a charming rural escape. Nightlife revolves around a couple of traditional tavernas housed in old Venetian mansions. You’re not cut off here, though. The brights lights of Laganas are just up the road, and the capital is only 15 minutes away.
Agios Dimitrios is a mountain village tucked away right in the heart of Zante. It’s a peaceful setting, with an historic windmill and chapel steeping it in old-world charm. The place is out of the way enough to offer a really relaxed vibe, but bars and tavernas are within an easy drive, as are some great sandy beaches and the island capital.
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