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 with Zante among the most popular of the Greek islands. The biggest beach strips are north-west of Zakynthos Town and around Laganas Bay where many are heavily commercialised and a favourite of families.Those who savour big screen TV will find little wrong with 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 Keriou Limnou to the south-west. Zante beaches regularly notch up Blue Flag awards for their clean waters and well kept sands.
The small, scruffy port of ZAKYNTHOS TOWN has made few concessions to tourism. Rebuilt after the 1953 earthquake with a sterile formality, the capital town of Zante has little charm, despite a magnificent setting in a large bay and the Bochali hills behind. Quake-wrecked Venetian buildings were bulldozed and replaced by solemn edifice.
The atmosphere in Zakynthos Town improves inland, especially in the main Solomu Square, thronged by strollers of a mid-summer evening, 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, this wasn't his favourite island; he lived and died on Corfu.
Food served in the square may be marginally better than the burger-and-chips staple of many Zante resorts but waiters have adopted the annoying habit of touting for trade and the meals can be expensive.
Tavernas also line the maniacally busy Strada Marina seafront road - part of a one-way system that suffers from screaming mopeds and is thick with petrol fumes. This is the main route to the ferry port so expect Strada Marina to always be busy.
Zakynthos Town has three museums, all of them fairly interesting. The Byzantine Museum is probably the best, with a few 17th century paintings of the Ionian School and some very good icons.
A couple of churches survived the 1953 earthquake. Agios Nicholas, which dates from 1561, has recently been renovated, and the spectacular Agios Dionysius, often lit up like a fairground at night, contains some good icons and a magnificent carved silver coffin said to contain 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 coastline north-west of Zakynthos Town has become, apart from Laganas Bay, the most commercialised part of the island. Good, sandy beaches and shallow waters make this part of the Zante coast very popular with families while hotels based here make up the bulk of holiday company brochures.
We are definitely in burger-and-chips territory, although nothing like the downmarket den that makes Laganas such a notorious byword for boozed-up holiday Brits abroad. More Bournemouth than Blackpool, this area is a firm favourite of families who want little more from a Greek Island holiday than sun, sand and karaoke.
About 6km north-west from Zakynthos Town is TSILIVI, a family type resort increasingly favoured by package tour operators.
Tsilivi has a long, wide beach of good sand with plenty of umbrellas, showers and toilets, although the latter are not the cleanest on the island and you may be better off using any of the many tavernas that back onto the sands.
The sea is very shallow and safe for children. Heavy winter rains can wash away sand at the western end to reveal rocks and stone; there is much better sand to be found at the eastern end of Tsilivi beach.
There are the usual watersports you expect on a popular family beach and Tsilivi, being north facing, can get windy enough for windsurfers to let rip. Low dunes and scrub help give Tsilivi beach a wide-open feel.
But it's fags, not flags, that Tsilivi beach suffers from - thousands of fag ends litter the shore. Readers recommend heading for the stretch below the Alexandre Hotel, set in a small cove that gets regularly cleaned.
Tsilivi resort itself is packed with restaurants, reasonably priced but nothing special. The 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 - karaoke bars, crazy golf, bowling and so on.
A busy main road carves its way through the middle of the resort at and there are no pavements and little light, so take care of the children when walking in Tsilivi at night.
Transfers: Tsilivi is about 10km from Zante Airport
To the west of Tsilivi are a whole clutch of pretty and slightly less populated beaches at TRAGAKI, LIMANAKI, AMBOULA and BOUKA. The string of fine beaches has made this part of the north-east Zante coast increasingly popular with package tour companies.
This is still very much family holiday territory, with low-key attractions such as beach tavernas and music bars. The proximity of Zakynthos Town and a regular bus service allows families to have a quiet day by Tragaki beach and a more lively night in town.
The village of Tragaki is built on the side of the Kavelaris hills and set amongst vineyards and olive groves with panoramic views over the bay. Many package holiday tourists however are shacked up in cement hotels at nearby PLANOS or PLAGOS which backs onto a beach below Tragaki. The beach at Bouka has a long and pleasant stretch of sand with an attractive little fishing harbour at one end.
There is camping here close to the seashore on the long, thin stretch of sand and pebble at Ampoula beach. The water at Ampoula is shallow near the shore, so its fine for children, but there is a steep incline a little way out offshore.
The beaches on this part of the Zante coast get much quieter as you head further west. The road to Bouka also leads to the remains of a Venetian observatory, which is worth a visit. Offshore, in the distance, holidaymakers may get a glimpse of the southern tip of the neighbouring holiday island of Kefalonia.
Inland at SARAKINDA is a small water park, but few recommend a visit - most, although not all, think it a disappointment.
Transfers: Tragaki is about 12km from Zante Airport
The resort at ALYKANAS sits on the headland of a huge sandy bay that sweeps around to neighbouring Alykes. Less busy than Alykes, Alykanas was a very quiet resort and there was little to do other than subathe until watersports operators relocated here from Alykes and beach activities are now more extensive.
Soft sand shelves gently into the sea at Alykanas and the beach is backed by low dunes, some scrub and several olive groves. The sand narrows and turns to pebble as you approach Alykes. Cigarette ends and seaweed are a bit of a nuisance, as can be the pirate DVD sellers that tout for trade among the sunbeds.
There are all the usual facilities you'd expect on a popular beach and the shallow waters make it good for children. 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, so don't expect to find much authentic Greek here. Some Alykanas tavernas have a horse and carriage taxi service which is free if you dine in the taverna.
The resort has a relaxed atmosphere and Alykanas is a popular destination for families and for young couples. Youngsters can use the main road at night as an impromptu race track so care must be taken on poorly lit roads with no pavements.
For those who like their beach holiday resorts a little more lively, the more popular Alykes is only a short walk away from Alykanas - about 10 minutes walk along the shore.
· The very popular 'Trainaki' train tour 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. There is a meal stop at the pleasant Kaki Rahi taverna. Details can be found on Trainaki
Transfers: Alykanas is about 18km from Zante Airport.
The holiday resort at ALYKES or ALIKES gets it name from salt pans that lie behind the eastern end of the village and a walk outside the village can take you through some quite creepy moonscape areas.
Alykes beach is a 3km long stretch of golden sand that sweeps the bay from Alykanas to the salt pans and many describe the sands as quite the best to be found north of Zakynthos Town.
The seashore at Alykes beach is also very shallow for several metres out but then dips sharply, making it fine for children if they stay close to the shore, and great for surfers who can take full advantage of the big breakers that roll in whenever the wind is from the north.
The centre of Alykes beach is the busiest and most of the sunbeds are located there, as are most of the cigarette ends. Alykes beach can seem like a bit of an ash tray by the end of the summer season. There are also some large lumps of underwater concrete near the jetty, so swimmers must take care.
Those looking for a more peaceful spot on Alykes beach don't have very far to walk in either direction before the crowds thin out, although pebbles are more prevalent to the east of the beach.
Alykes village is very compact, if a little scruffy. It is just a couple of streets with the usual tourist shops, tavernas and cafes. Tavernas are plentiful but you may not learn to love the chips served with every meal.
Alykes may be more developed than its neighbour Alykanas and there are plenty of pleasant tavernas and bars, but none are brash or noisy and most of them close around midnight. There is even a tourist train from Alykes to Alykanas if you are too idle to walk (see Alykes report).
Transfers: Alykes is about 17km from Zante Airport.
North-west of Alykes the coastline shifts into a long series of cliffs and rock, dotted here and there 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 this Agios Nikolaos with the much more popular resort in the south of Zante.
Here the setting is idyllic, let down only by the drab cement block buildings and a shanty town appearance. Agios Nikolaos has a small pebble beach and nearby rocky coves to explore if you follow the many tracks that lead along the coast.
Agios Nikolaos is the main port linking Zakynthos to Kefalonia and there is a daily ferry service. Caiques also venture to the nearby islet of the same name and to the famous Blue Caves of Zante, a favourite with visitors (see Zante Highlights).
Agios Nikolaos is also a popular mooring point for visiting yachts and boats and a good place for those who prefer to wander off the tourist trail. There are tavernas and cafes on the coast road, both in Agios Nikolaos village itself and on the outskirts
VOLIMES is the largest of Zante island's hill villages, actually a conglomeration of three smaller hamlets within a few minutes walk of each other.
Prepare to take a step back in time around Volimes as each village is a cliche living museum, with some of the best preserved buildings on Zante, they having survived the 1953 earthquake.
Road improvements have now 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.
If you do visit Volimes try to leave before the coach parties arrive as they can flood the place out. There is a very pleasant café opposite the school.
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 sometimes steep andf winding and driving can be tiring, so trips are only for the more adventurous Zante holidaymaker.
Two steep limestone bluffs rise each side of a narrow inlet at the small, but beautiful, village of PORTO VROMI. Here is a sheltered harbour for a few fishing boats tipped by a narrow 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 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 from the harbour to the nearby Blue Caves of Zante.
High on the western cliffs perches KAMPI, another target of Zante day trip coach parties. Visitors usually arrive to watch the sun setting over the waves from one of the clifftop tavernas. The tavernas along the cliff tops at Kampi offer stunning vistas from the 300-metre-high cliffs and the sunsets can be quite spectacular.
Kampi is far enough off the beaten track to ensure views are rarely marred by the shadowy heads of tourist crowds craning for a look but you may be unlucky to be greeted by an evening coach party. Some tavernas host Greek nights for the coach visitors.
Kampi village is little more than a cluster of stone-built houses lining the narrow streets, but there are attractive cafes and tavernas here if you prefer to escape the sunset watching crowds on the clifftop. Kampi village also has a small and interesting folk museum stuffed with domestic and agricultural paraphernalia.
Most of the south-facing resorts of Zante line the huge bay, of which the Laganas is the central resort. Heading east around the bay, the quieter become the beaches and the atmosphere. Eventually you reach the splendid peninsula at Vassilikos which is characterised by somesuperbly picturesque coves and rich vegetation.
The peninsula at Vassilikos has now been 'discovered' and each year more hotels sprout up to meet the growing demand. The region's poor roads are enough to keep Vassilikos a little off the beaten track but there are rich pickings for those willing to explore this part of Zante island.
KERI is on the southern tip of Zante, west of Laganas Bay, and the area boasts several picturesque pre-earthquake buildings. There was a lake here once, now drained, and the area is sometimes referred to as KERI LAKE or LIMNI KERIOU.
The steep, narrow beach at Limni Keriou is more pebbles than sand but it is still very attractive, with warm shallow waters that make it great for children and a small river running into the sea for added interest.
The view from Limno Keriou beach is impressive, with high cliffs flanking both sides and the much-visited turtle islet of Marathonisi lying offshore.
There are many paths along the Limni Keriou coast that lead to secluded coves. A rough track leads to a whitewashed lighthouse above the cliffs where a small car park near the taverna offers spectacular views of nearby limestone sea arches.
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 with houses reaching down to the gulf of Laganas. Lithakia has been little touched by tourism even though it lies between the popular resorts of Keri Lake and Laganas. The church of Agios Ioannis is a fine example of traditional Zakynthian church architecture.
Boats can be hired at Limni Keriou to visit the turtle nesting island of MARATHONISI which lies just offshore. Boat trips do tend to get booked early so late arrivals can miss out.
Marathonisi island has two reefs that link it to the cape of Marathias. There are two small beaches on the island, one sand the other pebble, and both are pristine, with crystal clear blue water. The turtle nesting beach is a long sand bank that stretches out to sea and it's a permanently protected part of the marine park.
The quiet resort of AGIOS SOSTIS, between Laganas and Limni Keriou, has been taken up by a number of UK tour operators recently as a viable overflow to Laganas which lies further along the bay to the east.
Agios Sostis is a pleasant enough resort with a narrow sand beach shelving gently into the shallow sea, good for children and for snorkeling. Decent tavernas overlook the beach and waiters will even bring drinks to your sun lounger.
The beach is named after the islet that sits out in the bay. The islet is easily visited and once had a small chapel to the local saint Sostis. The resort is pretty uncommercial so there are no clubs and discos.
Tour operators tend the sell Agios Sostis (near Laganas) as more lively than it is. Laganas is about 30 minutes walk away but the coastal track is only for those who are physically fit.
Also offshore from Agios Sostis is the uninhabited island of Marathonisi, or Turtle Island as the tour boat call it. You can take boat trips to view the turtles but you will be doing them no favours. The shy creatures are seriously disturbed by the daily flotillas of boat trippers.
Transfers: Agios Sostis is about 10km from Zante Airport.
LAGANAS is by far the biggest and most commercialsed resort on Zakynthos. Bars and cafes line Laganas beach for over 1km and a similar length inland, offering an indiscriminate diet of junk food fry-ups, bargain booze and tacky souvenirs.
Laganas is not the place for a peaceful break or a quiet night. They party around the clock here. In the evening the neon flashes along a Golden Mile of deafening music bars, frequented by young '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 in Laganas bay is the biggest on the island, stretching for the best part of 9km. The Laganas sands are firm, hard packed in places and jeeps and cars roll over it day and night. Nuisance touts patrol the sunbeds plugging the Laganas clubs and flogging pirate DVDs.
The shallow water at Laganas makes this an ideal spot for holiday crowds - and for nesting turtles. Laganas beach is biggest breeding ground in Europe for the endangered loggerhead turtle 'caretta caretta'. The meeting of nature and tooth-and-claw businessmen has been a serious problem for years.
Happy to cash in with tacky turtle trinkets and t-shirts, the Laganas locals are less than happy at measures taken to prevent killing the turtles off, particularly when it eats into profits.
Stung by repeated criticism from the Council of Europe, Laganas locals have seen some sense in recent years and at least motorised watersports have now been banned.
But many complain that protection laws are widely ignored, nesting sites are bulldozed to make way for sunbeds and those who ignore the laws go unpunished. As one commentator said “It's possible that the animal itself may be killed off, only to live on as a Laganas fridge magnet.”
Frankly, anyone who cares about nature or the environment should avoid Laganas. There are plenty of other Zante island beaches where you won't end up sticking your beach brolly through a clutch of turtle eggs or driving the creatures off with pedaloes and trips in glass-bottomed boats. For more on the threat to Laganas turtles see Holiday Threat to Turtles
Transfers: Laganas is about 8km from Zante Airport.
KALAMAKI is basically the upmarket end of Laganas beach. The dark coloured Kalamaki sands are just as good as those of its neighbour but the atmosphere nowhere near as raucous.
Kalamaki is still not a terribly quiet place to stay, least of all because of the airport noise which can be considerable when the planes fly in. But the sands are soft on the long beach, although it's hard to avoid the cigarette ends in the sand and litter can be a problem.
The waters at Kalamaki are very shallow with some impressive rock formations out at sea. Doughnut and fruit sellers patrol the sunbeds selling their wares. For those that like the company of others but need to escape the raucous downmarket atmosphere of Laganas, Kalamaki can seem like heaven.
Kalamaki beach is also a favourite with egg-laying turtles and several tracks lead from the village down to the favoured nesting site at the back of the beach. Visitors are asked to stick to the shoreline to protect the nest sites.
Parts are now classed a National Marine park, giving turtles and other wildlife protection that is a lot more in evidence here than that at nearby Laganas. Most of the development in along the main road to Laganas, leaving the turtle nesting grounds relatively untouched.
The Kalamaki resort has the stunning backdrop of Mt Skopos and citrus and olive groves to add interest. Kalamaki nightlife is mainly tavernas and bars and those looking for something more lively will head for the lights of Laganas.
Transfers: Kalamaki is about 5km from Zante Airport.
It was once a case of burn your maps and buy a compass before heading into the maze of unmarked, badly marked roads that crisscross the VASILIKOS peninsula. The roads have improved somewhat following an influx of holiday developments. Take an inhaler too, for the lovely landscape will take your breath away. Beautiful countryside, virgin forest, and some of the best beaches on Zakynthos can be found here.
Tourism used to be upmarket, but the big tour companies have started to take over. The area's conservation status however has prevented Laganas-like development and the area is scenic enough to hide the worst examples of cement hotels.
On the eastern side of the peninsula at GERAKAS or YERAKAS is one of Zante's finest beaches. Here is a long, sublime crescent of golden sand backed by sandstone cliffs curves around the bay offering good shelter and shallow waters, with views across the bay to Laganas.
Often voted among the best beaches in Europe, Gerakas heaves with tourists during the day but, this is also being a major turtle breeding ground, it is off limits from dusk to dawn.
Wardens patrol the nesting areas at the back of Gerakas beach where sunbathing is banned. There are no watersports here and visits are limited to three hours, making the sunbeds a very expensive option. There is an information centre on the turtles on the hill above the beach
Its designation as a conservation area has spared Gerakas the ugly fate of resorts like Laganas. A trio of tavernas on the road to the beach provide the basics. There is parking near the mini market on the way to the beach, handy as the beach car park was closed some years ago.
Gerakas is a wonderful place to enjoy early in the day or in the off-season when the crowds disappear, although the tavernas and snack bars will shut down the moment the season ends.
The white cliffs at the southern end of Gerakas are of white clay, which visitors used to use to paint their faces as a natural sun block. The cliffs have now been closed off following several rock falls and you venture there at your peril.
Around the headland and set on the tip of the peninsula at Gerakas is the tiny cove of PORTO ROMA where there is a small, narrow sand and pebble beach, tavernas overlooking the sea, and precious little else.
Porto Roma is a sublimely beautiful spot with olives and pines kissing the shore of clear blue sea below cliffs covered in rich vegetation. The beach has taken its name from a former island notable, Alexandros Romas, who had a house in the hills nearby.
The waters at Porto Roma are shallow and gently shelving. Despite being small, Porto Roma can still attract many visitors in the high season so it's wise to get there early if you want a good spot.
Most of the year though Porto Roma beach is virtually empty as many visitors to this area head to the bigger Gerakas beach just over the headland. Porto Roma has two 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 crowned by a chapel. Agios Nikolaos is very popular with visitors who mainly come to enjoy the wide range of watersports on offer.
Agios Nikolaos is named after the striking chapel that sits on the bluff above the beach and should not be confused with its namesake port in the north-west. There was a fishing port here too not long ago but sailing is now confined to tourist pleasure craft and excursion boats.
Agios Nikolaos beach has a wide arc of soft, sand normally packed with sunbeds. There is no village as such, just a scattering of apartments and hotels. 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 has seen considerable hotel development in recent years. It is reached by a very scenic drive through beautiful pine clad hills to a tiny hamlet above a narrow beach of sand and pebble.
Island maps are typically vague about the exact spot of Vassilikos village with as many variations as there are maps but, no matter, all the villages around here, and particularly on the east coast, have picturesque bays and coves attached.
The main Vassilikos hotel developments are confined to the north of the area where a more popular beach called Banana owes more to the bulldozer than to nature. A few tavernas and bars are dotted on the coast road through Vassilikos.
Unlike Laganas, the Vassilikos area has long been declared a nature reserve and some efforts have been made to combine tourism and conservation. Watersports, for example, are either banned completely or sharply curbed.
Vassilikos is a quiet resort with entertainment limited to that on offer in the 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 also one of the hardest to find. Porto Zoro beach is reached off the main road north out of Vassilikos and before the turn to Argassi. The main road gave out and, not long ago, you had to abandon the car and trek on foot. Now there is a steep and narrow winding road to the beach and a car park at the end of it.
The Porto Zoro beach is very attractive. A small and perfectly formed crescent of sharp sand has a clutch of offshore rocks at the eastern end that are ideal for snorkelling.
The beach is mostly flat and quite gently shelving but can be steep near the rock formations and there are plenty of stones to negotiate offshore.
Porto Zoro used to have a couple of basic beach bars and a few rooms to let in the hills behind. Recently 'discovered', the beach is now a place you will have to share with many others as more sunbeds cram the shoreline and a new hotel has been gone up behind the beach.
Recent visitors to Porto Zoro beach warn of the daily thump of disco noise from the beach bars as well as overpriced food and sunbeds. That's what you pay for progress.
Plenty of package tour firms have focused their efforts on the thriving beach resort of ARGASSI or ARGASI on Zante's east coast. Concrete slab hotels crawl up the hillside overlooking a very small Argassi beach, so narrow in places that you are hard put to lie down without getting your feet wet - mostly just a metre or two of shingle.
There are small patches of sand here and there but you may have to ignore the rubbish and fag ends. Most Argassi visitors opt for one the sunbeds that cram most of the beach.
The gobs of seaweed don't help, although the water is very shallow and warm for many metres out, attracting many shoals of fish and making Argassi a very safe beach for children. Beyond the shingle that lies along the shoreline, it is at least sandy underfoot.
Argassi has become a popular family resort and visitors will find the usual tourist facilities and a good selection of shops and tavernas. Argassi hotels opt for family rooms and there is plenty here to occupy children, such as mini golf and an animal farm.
Smarter hotels hug the Argassi shore and there are plenty of snack bars and toilets. Tavernas generally dish up food that is, at best, mediocre. Anyone who enjoys good food will probably head for Zakynthos Town in the evening as it is only 3km away.
Tavernas get steadily more authentic as you head inland. Argassi is also home to a trio of discos, a magnet for the young who hardly seem to care what they eat anyway. There are plenty of small, secluded coves to be explored further along the Argassi shore to Vassilikos.
Transfers: Argassi is about 6km from Zante Airport.