Zante is what the Italians call it; Zakynthos is its Greek name and it's one of the most southerly of the Ionian chain of holiday islands that sidle down the coast of western Greece.
One of the most popular of the Greek holiday islands, Zante features strongly in travel brochures and the island is a firm favourite for firms offering cheap package holidays deals.
Zante is an island mix of busy downmarket beaches, quiet family coves, wild and rugged cliffs, green forested hills and fertile plains in roughly equal measures.
The notorious beach resort of Laganas, for example, has been justifiably likened to a stage set on the bleak SF movie Blade Runner while the idyllic Port Vromni beach is a haven of peaceful tranquillity.
Two major events shaped modern-day Zante. The catastrophic earthquake of 1953 destroyed almost all of the island's elegant Venetian mansions while the construction of the airport precipitated the rise of Zante's reputation for cheap package holidays.
The busiest beach resorts are north-west of the capital city of Zakynthos Town and along the huge bay of Laganas, to the south. Elsewhere, visitors can expect pretty village tavernas, quiet beach coves and lots of finr scenery, especially along the wild western coast.
On such a large island as Zante you'd expect a wide variety of beaches and Zante certainly lives up to expectations. The biggest beach strips are north-west of Zakynthos Town and around Laganas Bay. Those who savour big screen TV will find little wrong with big Zante beach resorts like Alykes and Laganas. Those seeking more sedate spots will head south-east to the peninsula at Vasilikos or point their hire cars at resort like Keriou Limnou in the south-west.
The small, scruffy port resort of Zakynthos Town has made few concessions to tourism. Rebuilt after the 1953 earthquake with a sterile formality, the capital town has little charm, despite a magnificent setting in a large bay and the Bochali hills behind. Quake-wrecked Venetian buildings were bulldozed for solemn edifice.
The atmosphere improves inland, especially in the main Solomu Square, thronged by strollers on mid-summer evenings, with tavernas and cafes lining the triangular marble-paved piazza.
A statue to the island's favourite son, Dionysius Solomos, dominates the square. He wrote the Greek national anthem but, although born here, he lived and died on Corfu.
Tavernas also line the maniacally busy Strada Marina, part of a petrol-fumed one-way system and the main route to the ferry port.
Zakynthos Town has three interesting museums. The Byzantine Museum, arguably the best, has some 17th century paintings of the Ionian School and some very good icons.
The renovated church of Agios Nicholas dates from 1561 and the spectacular Agios Dionysius, often lit up lat night, has a magnificent silver coffin said to house the relics of the island's patron saint.
The road north out of Zakynthos Town runs behind a disappointingly shabby beach backed by vineyards and orchards.
The long stretch of coast north-west of Zakynthos Town is one of the most commercialised. Good, sandy beaches and shallow waters make it popular for family holidays while the large hotels bulk up the travel brochures. It may be downmarket, but it's more Bournemouth than Blackpool, and a firm favourite of those who crave little else from a Greek holiday than sun, sand and karaoke.
North from Zakynthos Town is Tsilivi, a family type resort increasingly favoured by package tour operators.
The long, wide beach of good sand has plenty of loungers and some showers and toilets. The sea is very shallow and safe for children.
Heavy winter rains can wash sand away from the western end to reveal rocks and stone; much better sand is to be found at the eastern end of the beach.
There are the usual watersports and, being north facing, it can get windy enough for windsurfers to let rip. Low dunes and scrub help give Tsilivi beach a wide-open feel.
Some visitors complain of litter and recommend heading the small cover below the Alexandre Hotel that gets regularly cleaned.
Tsilivi resort is packed with restaurants and menus lean towards burger-Brit tastes - you will find a chip shop and a McDonald's here.
There is plenty of family-type entertainment too here too - karaoke bars, crazy golf, bowling and so on.
Transfers: Tsilivi is about 10km from Zante Airport
To the north of Tsilivi is a clutch of pretty beaches at Tragaki, Limanaki, Ampoula and Bouka. The low-key attractions of beach tavernas and music bars help make this area of Zante increasingly popular with families.
The proximity of capital and a regular bus service promises visitors a quiet day on Tragaki beach and a lively night in Zakynthos Town.
The village of Tragaki is built on the side of the Kavelaris hills, set amongst olive groves and with panoramic views over the bay. Most holiday accommodation, however, is in nearby Planos which backs onto a beach below Tragaki where there is also a camping site.
Bouka has a long and pleasant stretch of sand with an attractive little fishing harbour at one end and there is camping close to the seashore on the long, thin sand and pebble beach at Ampoula.
The water at Ampoula is shallow near the shore, so its fine for children, but there is a steep incline a little way out.
Beaches get quieter as you head west. The road to Bouka also leads to the remains of a Venetian observatory, which is worth a visit. Inland at Sarakinda is a small water park.
Transfers: Tragaki is about 12km from Zante Airport
The resort at Alykanas sits at the head of the huge sandy bay that sweeps around to neighbouring Alykes.
Soft sand shelves gently and the beach is backed by low dunes, some scrub and several olive groves. The sand narrows and turns to pebble nearer Alykes.
Good facilities and shallow water make Alykanas good for family holidays. Fishing boats use the small harbour at one end of the beach; a large hotel complex dominates the other end.
Bars, tavernas, shops and mini-markets, line the resort's main street. Many restaurants are English-owned, serving up fish and chips and full English breakfast. Some Alykanas tavernas have a a free horse and carriage taxi service to take you home after your meal.
The resort has a relaxed atmosphere and those who prefer a more lively time can walk allong the shore to Alykes in 10 minutes.
The popular 'Trainaki' train tour that runs between Alykes and Alykanas takes in the hill village of Katastari, the Vertagias Caves, the folk museum at Pigadakis and the church of Ag. Panteleimona with a snack stop at the Kaki Rahi taverna. Details here at Trainaki
Transfers: Alykanas is about 18km from Zante Airport.
Alykes is a three kilometre stretch of golden sand that sweeps around the bay from Alykanas and called by many the best to be found north of Zakynthos Town.
Alykes, sometimes spelt Alikes ,gets it name from the large, flat salt pans that lie behind the sand sat the southern end.
The water is very shallow for several metres out but then dips sharply, making the beach fine for children close to the shore, and great for surfers who ride big breakers whipped up by northerly winds.
The centre of Alykes beach is the busiest but those looking for a more peaceful spot need only walk in either direction for crowds thin out, although pebbles are more prevalent to the east.
Alykes village is very compact, just a couple of streets with the usual tourist shops, tavernas and cafes. Alykes may be more developed than its neighbour Alykanas but bars are still generally low key and most close around midnight. There is even a tourist train from Alykes to Alykanas (see Alykes report).
Transfers: Alykes is about 17km from Zante Airport.
Beyond Alykes the north coast of Zante shifts into a long series of cliffs and rock, dotted with small pebble coves, many of them difficult to reach except by boat.
The cliffs get wilder and steeper until they reach the tiny port of Agios Nikolaos about 30km from Zakynthos Town. Don't confuse it with the more resort of the same name in the south of Zante.
This Agios Nikolaos has a small pebble beach and nearby rocky coves found off any of the many tracks that snake along the coast.
The setting is idyllic, but the drab cement buildings are a disappointment. The port has ferry links to Kefalonia and caiques often pull in on their way to the famous Blue Caves of Zante.
Agios Nikolaos is also a popular mooring point for visiting yachts and boats and a good place to wander off the tourist trail. There are tavernas and cafes in the village and on the coast road outskirts.
Volimes is the largest of Zante island's hill villages, actually a conglomeration of three smaller hamlets, but all within a few minutes walk of each other.
Prepare for the step back in time that the brochurees promise as each village is a cliche living museum, with some of the best preserved buildings on Zante, survivors of the 1953 earthquake.
Road improvements have made Volimes a must-see stop for coach parties and villagers take every opportunity to flog the local embroidery, the cheese and the exceptionally good honey. There is a very pleasant cafe opposite the school.
Independent visitors should try to leave before the coach parties arrive as they can flood the place out.
The west coast of Zante is as dramatic and solid as the east is plain and soft. As a result, few Zante visitors make their way here. Those that do can enjoy sheer limestone cliffs, sometimes plunging 1,000 feet or more straight into the sea. But roads on the west coast are often steep and winding and driving can be tiring, so trips are only for the more adventurous Zante holidaymaker.
Steep limestone bluffs rise on each side of a narrow inlet at the small and beautiful, village of Porto Vromi. A sheltered harbour is flecked with fishing boats and the inlet is tipped by a narrow beach strip of white sand and shingle.
Porto Vromi means 'Dirty Port' and the name derives from the natural tar that stains the beach here and there. But this is no real problem for visitors and the flecks of tar are easily avoided. Porto Vromi is far enough off the beaten track to ensure that visitors are few.
Above the Porto Vromi harbour is the 15th century monastery of Panagia Anafonitria, noted for its fine frescos, and there are regular boat trips to the nearby Blue Caves of Zante.
High on the western cliffs perches Kampi, another big target of day trip coach parties. Clifftop tavernas offer romantic sea views from the 300-metre-high cliffs and many visitors come to watch the sun setting over the waves.
Kampi is remote enough to ensure the views can usually be enjoyed in comfort but visitors may be unlucky if a trip coincides with an evening coach party. The tavernas can quickly fill up, especially on the popular Greek nights held regularly for the coach visitors.
Kampi village is little more than a cluster of stone-built houses linked by narrow streets. The are attractive alternative cafes and tavernas here away from the sunset watching crowds on the clifftop. Kampi village also has a small and interesting folk museum stuffed with domestic and agricultural paraphernalia.
The huge bay of Laganas accounts for most of the south coast beach resorts, along with the peninsula at Vassilikos which is characterised by picturesque coves and rich vegetation. Vassilikos has been 'discovered' of late and each year hotels sprout to meet the growing demand but there are still rich pickings for those willing to explore this part of the island.
Limni Keriou, also called Keri, sits on the southern tip of Zante on the western side of Laganas Bay. There was a lake here once, now drained, and the area is often referred to as Keri Lake.
The steep, narrow beach has more pebble than sand but it is still very attractive, with warm shallow waters and a small river running into the sea for added interest.
The picturesque village has many pre-earthquake buildings and the view from Limni Keriou beach is impressive, with high cliffs flanking both sides and the turtle nesting islet of Marathonisi lying offshore.
Paths along the coast that lead to secluded coves and a rough track lends at a clifftop lighthouse where a small car park near the taverna offers spectacular of nearby limestone sea arches.
Boats can be hired to visit the turtle nesting islet of Marathonisi but ecologists warn that the swarms of visitors frighten the shy loggerhead turtles away and fewer nest there each year.
Marathonisi has reefs that link it to the cape of Marathias and there are two small beaches on the islet. Turtles nest on a long sand bank and it's a protected part of the marine park but that doesn't stop turtle watchers scaring the creatures off before they get there.
Just inland of Keriou is the pretty village of Lithakia, one of the oldest on Zante and built at the lower slopes of Megalo Vouno. Lithakia has been little touched by tourism even though it lies between the resorts of Keri Lake and Laganas. The church of Agios Ioannis is a fine example of traditional Zakynthian church architecture.
The quiet resort of Agios Sostis has attracted holiday development as a viable overflow to the hugely busy and popular Laganas which lies two kilometres around the bay to the east.
This pleasant resort has a wide gently shelving sand and pebble beach backed by a couple of tavernas with low cliffs at the southern end where the beach turns to rocks before meeting meets the wall of the substantial harbour.
The beach is named after the chapel on the picturesque islet that sits out in the bay to the south, connected to the resort by a dramatic wooden bridge. The resort is pretty uncommercial so there are no clubs and discos and there is the large Laganas campsite inland.
Tour operators tend the sell Agios Sostis as more lively than it actually is but Laganas is only a 20-minute walk along a coastal track and five minutes by car or bus.
Excursion boats offer turtle spotting trips to the offshore islet of Marathonisi but tourists do no favours to the shy creatures. They are seriously disturbed by the daily swarms of trippers and often fail to lay their eggs.
Transfers: Agios Sostis is about 10km from Zante Airport.
By far the biggest and most commercialised resort on Zakynthos, Laganas heaves with bars, cafes and shops for more than a kilometre, all offering an indiscriminate diet of junk food fry-ups, bargain booze and tacky souvenirs.
Laganas is not the place for a peaceful break; they party around the clock here. Evening neon flashes along a Golden Mile of deafening music bars full of 'out for a larf' revellers. There are at least 100 bars on the main Laganas strip and they outnumber restaurants by about ten to one.
The beach is the biggest on the island and stretched for nearly nine kilometres. The sands are firm, hard packed where cars roll over and littered with touts plugging the clubs and flogging pirate DVDs.
The shallow water makes this an ideal beach for families and for nesting turtles. The meeting of nature and tooth-and-claw businessmen has not been a happy one.
Happy to cash in with tacky turtle trinkets and t-shirts, the ruthless of exploitation of the rare turtles is slowly killing them off as nests are bulldozed to make way for loungers and glass-bottom boat trips scare the she creatures away.
Stung by repeated criticism from the Council of Europe, Laganas has at least banned motorised watersports, but protection laws are widely ignored, nest sites are dug up and law-breakers go unpunished. As one commentator said “the animal will be killed off, only to live on as a Laganas fridge magnet.”
Frankly, anyone who cares about nature should avoid Laganas. There are plenty of places to stick a beach brolly other than through a clutch of turtle eggs or preventing them nesting just to get a photo.
Transfers: Laganas is about 8km from Zante Airport.
Basically the upmarket end of Laganas beach, the dark sands of Kalamaki are equal to its neighbour but the atmosphere on the beach is nowhere near as raucous.
The sand is soft on the long beach and the water very shallow, with some impressive rock formations along the shore. Less busy and less crowded than Laganas, Kalamaki is a family holiday destination.
The resort is enclosed by olive and citrus groves with the backdrop of Mount Skopos in the distance. Planes fly in low over the beach to land at the nearby airport but they are not a problem.
Kalamaki nightlife mainly consists of touring the tavernas and bars and those looking for something more lively will head for the lights of Laganas just down the coast.
Kalamaki beach is also a favourite with egg-laying turtles and tracks lead from the village to protected nesting sites at the back of the beach. Visitors are asked to stick to designated paths.
Wildlife protection is more in evidence here than at nearby Laganas but depressing reports still come in of nest sites being bulldozed or used as illegal waste dumps.
Transfers: Kalamaki is about 5km from Zante Airport.
The maze of unmarked roads that once criss-crossed the Vassiikos peninsula were once a recipe for getting lost but things have improved following an influx of holiday development. Vassilikos has some of the best countryside on Zante and great beaches too. Tourism used to be upmarket, but big tour companies are taking over, although conservation status has stemmed Laganas-like development.
On the eastern side of the peninsula at Gerakas, also spelt Yerakas, is a long, crescent of golden sand and shallow water backed by sandstone cliffs and views across the bay to Laganas.
Often voted among the best beaches in Europe, Gerakas gets it share of tourists during the day but, being also a major turtle breeding ground, it is off limits from dusk to dawn.
Wardens based at the information centre above patrol the nesting areas where sunbathing is banned. There are no watersports and visiting hours are limited.
Its conservation area status has spared Gerakas the ugly fate of resorts like Laganas. A trio of tavernas provide the basics and there is parking near the mini market on the way to the beach.
The cliffs at the southern end of Gerakas turn to white clay that visitors once used as a natural sun block but they have been closed off following several rock falls. Venture there at your peril.
At the tip of the Gerakas peninsula is the tiny cove of Porto Roma and a narrow sand beach with tavernas overlooking the sea.
A sublimely beautiful spot with olives and pines touching the shore below cliffs covered in rich vegetation, the beach takes its name from a former Zante notable, Alexandros Romas, who lived here.
The waters are shallow and the shore gently shelving and, although remote, the small beach can still fill up quickly with visitors in the high season.
Porto Roma has a couple of beach bars, three tavernas and some small shops. Luxury apartments have been built behind the beach but they are not particularly intrusive.
Agios Nikolaos is a small, attractive stretch of good sand split by an outcrop of rock and crowned by a chapel. It is also a very popular watersports centre.
The resort is named after the striking chapel that sits on the bluff above the beach and shouldn't be mistaken for its namesake port in the north-west.
There was a fishing port here once but sailing is now pretty much confined to windsurfing, pleasure craft and excursion boats.
Agios Nikolaos beach has a wide arc of soft, sand normally packed with sunbedswith a scattering of apartments and hotels behind. The bare landscape around Agios Nikolaos makes it feel rather more remote than it is but things improve inland where there are pine forests and olive groves.
The area around Ano Vassilikos is reached by a very scenic drive through pine patterned hills to a tiny hamlet above a narrow beach of sand and pebble.
Island maps are vague on the exact spot of Vassilikos village but all the hamlets here come with picturesque bays and coves attached.
The main hotel development is confined to the north where the popular Banana Beach owes more to the bulldozer than to nature.
The Vassilikos area has long been a nature reserve and efforts have been made to combine tourism and conservation. Watersports, for example, are either banned or sharply curbed.
Vassilikos is a quiet resort with entertainment limited to that offered by hotels. For nightlife many head for the clubs and bars of Argassi.
Transfers: Vassilikos is about 17km from Zante Airport.
Porto Zoro is one of the most spectacular beaches on the peninsula and is reached off the main road north out of Vassilikos and before the turn to Argassi.
A narrow winding road leads to a small crescent of sharp sand with clutch of offshore rocks to the east that are ideal for snorkelling.
The Porto Zoro beach is gently shelving but can be steep near the rock formations where there are plenty of stones offshore.
A new hotel has been built behind the beach and sunbeds now cram the shoreline while recent visitors warn of the daily thump of disco from the hotel beach bar.
Hotels crawl up the hillside overlooking the shingle beach at Argassi, so narrow in places that visitors are hard put to lie down without getting wet feet.
The water is very shallow for many metres out making Argassi a safe beach for children. Beyond the shingle shore it is sandy underfoot.
Argassi is a popular family resort with a good selection of shops and tavernas. Argassi hotels opt for family rooms and there is lots to occupy children, from mini golf to a small farm.
Smarter hotels hug the shore intertwined with tavernas and bars, althugh greater choice can be has in Zakynthos Town which is only three kilometres north.
Transfers: Argassi is about 6km from Zante Airport.