Zakynthos and the most famous beach in Greece

by Jane McDonnell

Set in the warm waters of the Ionian sea, this beautiful island has stunning beaches and breath-taking scenery. Your summer holiday starts here...welcome to Zakynthos (Zante)

Zakynthos is a beautiful Greek island famous for its pristine beaches, rugged seascapes, lush vegetation and loggerhead turtle nesting areas. Previously occupied by the Venetians the island is also known by its Italian name of Zante. It attracts holiday makers from all walks of life during the hot summer season where temperatures soar to +30 degrees. There are several resorts to stay in, from Laganas which attracts the young and lively revellers, to Kalamaki, Argassi and Tsilivi which enjoy are more relaxed atmosphere.

Rambling through the narrow streets of the thriving capital town, also called Zakynthos, you can discover the charming pavement cafes and pleasant shops or take a walk along the picturesque quayside lined with fish restaurants from which you can see the comings and goings of the busy port. Bochalli Hill is loftily perched several hundred metres above the town and enjoying some fresh ice-cream from one of the cosmopolitan cafes while taking in the beautiful views of the harbour below is highly recommended.

Smugglers Cove is one of the most famous beaches in Greece and is situated on the north coast of Zakynthos. This spectacular beach takes about 2 hours to get to by boat and the sea can sometimes be a little choppy as you round the northern tip of the island. Arriving into the sheltered bay your eyes will widen as you take in the achingly beautiful scene before you. The towering chalky white cliffs completely surround the bay and are a stark contrast to the almost luminous blue water. The white shingly beach is surprisingly long and wide and it effortlessly accommodates the scores of tourists that visit it at the same time. The crystal clear water is pleasantly warm but gets deep quickly and the coarse shingle is a little uncomfortable underfoot. Sitting in the centre of the cove, as if it was carefully placed there, is the washed up rusty wreck of a large cargo ship. While sailing from Africa to Italy about 20 years ago, the vessel, which was smuggling cigarettes, was washed ashore during a bad storm. The Greeks, being very laidback, decided to leave the ship on the beach and it is now one of the top attractions on the island.

The Bay of Laganas is home to hundreds of loggerhead turtles that come to Zakynthos every summer season to nest. Hiring a pedalo at Kalamaki beach is a great way to have an up close and personal experience with these fascinating creatures and diving into the warm blue water to swim alongside the surprisingly large turtles, is a real privilege and not to be missed. This golden sandy beach is the longest in Greece and stretches for several kilometres between the resorts of Kalamaki and Laganas.

If its seclusion you are looking for then hiring a car and going off the beaten track to get to Dafni beach is a must. As you travel along the bumpy, winding dirt road you can catch tantalising glimpses of the tranquil beach below. The friendly family owned beachside tavernas serve sumptuous Greek dishes and freshly caught fish. The sweeping sandy bay is perfect for enjoying a stroll and there is some excellent snorkelling on the shallow reef.

The west side of the island is a real scenic treat. The Cliffs of Keri, created by countless years of erosion, offer dizzying views of the shimmering water below and is a popular sunset viewing point. There is a short track you can follow to the edge allowing you to cautiously peer down at the shallow turquoise water lapping gently against the rocks, several hundred feet below you.

The little inlet of Porto Vromi was one of the most stunning spots on the island but unfortunately it was devastated by forest fires in 2009. The previously verdant countryside is now burnt black and feels a little eerie as you weave your way along the twisted road through the newly scorched forest ending at the isolated inlet. It has a small shingle beach but walking the narrow track along the rocks is well worth the effort as you can dive straight into the crystal clear waters and swim back to shore. The only sounds you will hear is the low hum of the electricity generator powering the solitary beach shack selling cold drinks and the occasional chatter of the few local fishermen.

If you can tear yourself away from the coastal views there are many traditional villages to visit where you can sample the local produce including feta cheese and olive oil from one of the many stalls which also sell handcrafted rugs, delicate pottery and olive oil soap in brightly coloured wrapping. The villages of Exo Hora, Anafonitra and Volimes are well worth passing through and all have a few sleepy tavernas in which to have lunch.


Accommodation, Restaurants and Nightlife:

There is a great range of accommodation in Zakynthos, from the luxurious 4 star beach side Caravel Hotel in Tsilivi to many smaller family owned studios. In Argassi, the Admiral Apartments are newly renovated and some offer nice sea views. They are located at the top of a long but gentle hill lined with restaurants, bars and shops.

If you stay in the resort of Argassi be sure to go to the Peppermint Restaurant. The intimate outdoor dining area is sheltered from the road by colourful trees and flowers. The food here is exquisite and the house wine is delicious. The restaurant is always busy but the friendly staff are sure to welcome you and find you a table. Another must is the quirky Ethnic Restaurant. The stuffed pork here is divine. There are several bars in Argassi including the Magic Mushroom where if you are lucky enough to get an outdoor seat on their terrace you can people watch while sipping a wonderful cocktail. The Avalon bar is another hot spot. Shaped like a medieval castle, its hard not to miss on the main street of Argassi.

If you are over the age of 20 it’s advisable to stay away from the resort of Laganas in the high season as the hectic and often wild nightlife is not for the faint hearted. The lively resort attracts school-leavers in their droves between the months of June and September. The brightly lit main strip is home to several clubs all next door to each other including Cocktails and Dreams, Club More, Zeros and Cherry bay.

Zakynthos is a fantastic destination and is a veritable potpourri of sights, sounds, colours and experiences. Its Italian influenced architectural style disappoints some looking for the “real Greece” - traditional whitewashed villages perched precariously on the side of rocky mountains, however, you cannot fail to be impressed by this charming, friendly and beautiful island.