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 lush 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.