'Zakynthos': The Other Side to Zante
'Which Greek island did you visit?'
'I've never heard of it'
'I went to Zante’
'Oh! Yes, I know Zante'
Move away from the notorious strip and you're in for a stunning inland experience.
Zakynthos, or Zante is one of the largest Greek islands. Surrounded by the Ionian sea, it is beset with natural beauty of coves, caves and leveled mountains that cut through a sun that Britons wish frequented our skies more. With a population of around 45,000 people, a sense of tight-knight community is retained throughout different parts of the island, as is the recurring hospitality of locals. I did not spend long here, but had enough time to see some great places.
So where did I visit?
Shipwreck beach was a 'must visit' for tourists when I did my research. There are plenty of boats that take you here which sail frequently. We took one from Porto Vromi (see below) which toured us around caves on the way. This was particularly fun since it was my first time seeing anything like this in person, let alone so close up. The journey was around 25 minutes and a reasonably straight sail. As the boat steered, the opening of the cave grew and we were greeted by tall, domineering cliffs. The view was sensational. We only had an hour on the beach so we went into the sea, explored the shipwreck itself at the back, sunbathed and tried to take creative photos. Don't be misled by the photo I took for it gets incredibly busy here, particularly as tourists often visit in batches via boat tours and arrive together. Relaxation levels were therefore lower than the other beaches I visited in Zakynthos, but the view was uncompromised. The best views were from the boat as it approached the cliffs or from swimming further out to admire them fully against the turquoise sea. The beach is made up of white rocks rather than sand, which got very hot due to the blaring sun.
Kampi, a village in the Western Coast, is a hidden gem cornered away from the majority of tourism. This was our choice of accommodation which did at points seem silly due to the inconvenience of outbound transport. Despite the occasional travel frustration, it was a blissful stay and is a lovely place for relaxing. Given this was the sort of holiday I envisioned, I would not have chosen to stay anywhere else. The views from our hotel were beautiful. We stayed at the Mabely Grand Hotel which only opens in the spring-summer time. There are many return visitors and the hotel feels very homely. Its luxurious design sitting on the edge of the cliff reminded me of a secluded estate. At points it was like having a piece of your own island. The staff were very kind, highly attentive and well-mannered. I found the food to be excellent and as expected, more expensive than eating out at many other places here. There are several outdoor pools and I loved spending parts of the day sunbathing outside with a book. The crisp sound of guests talking, birds chirping and the sun shining on my back could have sent me to sleep. We sometimes listened to live Greek music after dinner at the lounge. Lots of people would gather at the lounge in evenings, making it easy to meet others, as this was the only place where wifi was accessible in the hotel. Unfortunately there wasn't access in the rooms but this forced us to stay off our phones.
There's also a beautiful tavern in Kampi called 'Cross Taverna' which provided an intimate dinner setting through its quiet location and coastal views. Unsurprisingly, for lack of dining options in this village, it might already be on many travellers' lists! Aim to visit during sunset for a romantic view.
What I liked about Porto Vromi is the feeling of simplicity. There are several spectacular views, beginning from driving down the mountains and seeing the meander, to being on the sand, standing where the waves lapped at your feet, or climbing up some rocky steps to look down at the display. It was very quiet here, and still, like a painting. The locals at the port were also very friendly. The sound of light sea waves is one of my favourites, as is the mental imagery of slow sailing boats at sea and to see this in person was incredible. Thoughts such as 'what if I just stayed here?' would pop into my head. This was the total opposite of my day-to-day life in London, yet places like this do exist in real life and not just mentally as a get away thought. It helped me to let go and appreciate for a moment that simple things can be enough and that these are often great pleasures.