If I mention the Greek island of Zante I’m pretty sure I’ve got a good idea of what springs into your mind. I was the same before I started researching venues for our wedding. Zante is famous for being a party island; a place where school leavers go to get pissed and do whatever school leavers do (I wouldn’t know as I never went on one of those raucous holidays)! Zante tends to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons, drunk Brit-kids spilling out of bars, quadbike accidents and General bad behaviour. However, this beautiful Ionian island deserves a lot more recognition than it gets credit for. The partying is pretty much exclusively contained within the town of Laganas in the south of the island, and the rest of Zante is largely unspoilt mountains, rural areas and stunning hidden beaches. There are a few main towns where you will find the regular tourist traps, but if you step outside the hotel-land and explore the island, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Last time we were in Zante it was for our wedding (!) so when we returned this year we made it our mission to see more of this beautiful island and find out all of it’s secrets. Here are my top picks for a different kind of holiday on this paradise island.
Rent a motorboat and find your own turtles in Keri
Zante is all about the turtles. It’s famous for it and the popular beaches and harbours are packed full of ‘guaranteed turtle spotting trips’. You probably will see a turtle on one of these excursions however, they are generally large boats full of tourists so you are unlikely to get anywhere near the turtle, let alone get a photo of it. It’s much better, and not much more expensive, to take a short drive to the quiet southern harbour of Keri where you can rent a small motorboat of about 100 euroes. No experience needed, not even a driving licence! Apart from being an amazing experience and great fun, your chances of seeing a turtle are pretty high at the right time of year. Once the boat is hired you can take it for a spin to the beautiful Keri caves and across to the famous ‘turtle island’ where the turtles lay their eggs (these are all roped off to make sure they are kept safe). For the best chance of seeing these amazing creatures we recommend heading to the opposite side of the bay to the caves, close to the Harmony Hotel and sticking close to the coastline (it’s deep so no worries about the boat!) just cruising up and down on the lookout! We saw about 5 turtles in this area and there was literally no one else there! We jumped in and snorkelled with the turtles without worrying about crowding or upsetting them with too many people. It was a truly magical experience.
Dine with the most stunning view in Kampi
The town of Kampi is set in the West of the island and is somewhat off the beaten track, but it’s famous for having several clifftop restaurants with the most incredible views! They get booked up in advance for evenings as the sunset there is apparently gorgeous, however we stopped there for lunch – kind of by accident during a drive! We ate at one of the clifftop venues and even in the daytime the view of the rugged coastline and the crystal clear blue water was absolutely incredible. The restaurants all serve traditional Greek dishes and are set up with stunning shaded outdoor areas to enjoy the view whilst tucking in!
See the famous ‘Shipwreck beach’ before the crowds
The incredible image of the rusty shell of a shipwreck washed up on the white sand is probably familiar one. In fact, Navagio or shipwreck beach is repeatedly included in roundups of the most picturesque beaches in the world! It’s definitely worth seeing, but going on a tour boat can lead to disappointment when you can’t get a picture without thousands of people crawling all over the place! I’m not exaggerating when I say that hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists pour on and off this beach all day. As it’s only accessible by boat, the first large tour comes in at about 9.30am – so to get the place to yourself you need to beat it! We were up at 7.30am and drove north for an hour to a small harbour called Porto Vromi where we hired a private boat to take us to the beach before everyone else! It does cost a bit more but as there was four of us the cost of 4 tickets on a tour boat would have been nearly as much as the fee for the private boat. It was so much fun because the boat went super fast and to get there when there was only a handful of people on the beach was simply amazing! The boat hire is also for 3 hours so after an hour of so at the beach our driver took us to some other beautiful swimming and to some of Zante’s famous ‘blue caves’. For a slightly higher cost it was more than worth it.
Eat traditional at hidden restaurants
One of the best things about holidaying in Greece is the delicious food! The authentic local meat, fish and vegetable dishes are simple and yummy, the more home cooked the better. Like anywhere, eating on the main tourist drags will likely result in disappointing meals which are neither authentic nor fresh. My main advice would be to check TripAdvisor and do not be afraid to stray a long way off the beaten track for an incredible meal! There are a lot of tavernas in Greece which are literally almost set up in someones back garden! A few evenings we ended up driving along rickety roads, following dubious directions to find a tiny authentic taverna! Eating at these types of restaurants not only guarantees awesome food, but are also much more reasonable too. I can particularly recommend Votsalo in Keri and Peppermint in Argassi.
Watch the sunset from a beach bed at Porto Roxa
Being perfectly situated on the West Coast means that Porto Roxa sees the most beautiful sunset, it’s famous for it. We new this tiny beach had a nice beach bar and a lovely setting to watch the sunset so we set off there (about an hours drive from Keri) in the mid afternoon. We were delighted and pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous hippy beach bar serving yummy cocktails and allowing guests to relax on swinging mattresses rather than sunbeds! It may sound odd, but kicking back on a double bed with a mojito to watch the sun go down was incredibly relaxing. There are the traditional sunbeds too for those who want them, but the hanging beds were something different that I’ve never come across before! And the sunset was just….wow. Worth a visit.
Zakynthos will always hold a special place in my heart, but I truly believe it is an amazing holiday destination for couples, families, and has something for everyone! I hope if you decide to make the trip to this idyllic Ionion island that you find these top picks helpful! Have fun in paradise!