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.
Whilst some people think they need to travel to the other side of the world to experience the best beaches, the bluest seas, tropical conditions and the finest food, we think we have found a destination a lot closer to home, which delivers in abundance on each of the above points.
Zante, also often known as Zakynthos, is just over 3 hours from Newcastle airport, and gives holiday makers everything they can get from faraway holiday, without the extra expense or hours added on to your journey!
Zante is the most southerly of the Ionian Islands, a small group of islands just off the West Coast of Greece, and is one of the most popular Greek islands. Triangular in shape, the island of Zante has three distinct geographical areas. The north-west is mountainous with quaint traditional mountain villages, the central region is a fertile plain rich with olive groves and vineyards and the south-east is characterised by beautiful beaches.
There is something for everyone on the island, with numerous sandy beaches, mountain villages preserving the traditional Greek way of life, beautiful natural scenery, water sports and good quality restaurants, bars and nightclubs to more than cater for all your entertainment needs. The locals welcome tourists with open arms, and offer them the hospitality which Greece is famous for.
Zante’s coastline is just as impressive as its interior. Sandy shores give way to turquoise seas, caves, and hidden coves, with rugged cliffs offering up grandstand views of the Ionian sunsets.
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 restaurants. Head for the likes of Alykanas and Kalamaki, meanwhile, and you’ll find soft sands and a more go-slow pace.
The resort we will focus on is Tsilivi, a resort which has grown in size and popularity over recent years, yet has still kept its Greek charm.
Tsilivi is located just 6km from the capital of the island, Zante Town, on the East coast of the island, and is around 15 minutes via transfer from the airport.
The resort has expanded over the last decade or so due to its popularity with couples and families alike, but has still managed to maintain its traditional Greek feel and picture postcard surroundings of olive groves and vineyards.
The beach at Tsilivi is one of the best on the island, and is a 2km stretch of soft sand, shallow clear waters and beach side bars and tavernas. It definitely deserves the prestigious Blue Flag it has been awarded! The beach is child friendly and safe for the kids to enjoy, as the sand shelves gently in to the sea and the water is shallow for over a hundred meters. There are numerous wathersports on offer for the more energetic, and the beach is ideal for families, couples and anyone feeling adventurous.
The old resort centre has beautiful stone lines streets, an old chapel, and many gift shops catering for all your needs.
In recent years the resort has also gained a reputation for its nightlife which, although is nowhere near the lively Laganas, has an abundance of friendly family run bars, restraunts and tavernas on offer, providing a fantastic night for everyone.
There are a fantastic selection of tavernas, all of which are family run, with many growing their own produce, making the traditional dishes even more unique and flavoursome.
Tsilivi has a real family friendly atmosphere, beautiful scenery, a spectacular beach, wonderful food, great nightlife, not to mention endless hours of sunshine! In short, it has everything you could wish for from a holiday destination!
PLACES TO STAY
St Johns Villas
Ideally situated on a grassy hill on the outskirts of Tsilivi, St Johns Villas offer panoramic views of the Ionian Sea, the village itself and the long sandy beach.
The complex consists of 21 villas in total, all with panoramic stunning sea views.
There are two types of villas, three bedroom villas measuring 130sqm, or two bedroom villas measuring 100sqm and all have their own private entrance, private parking, gardens and swimming pool.
The villas themselves each have their own private pool, with many benefiting from a landscaped lawn area, and all have plenty of sunbathing areas. Each villa is constructed to a high standard and decorated throughout in a modern contemporary design.
All of the two bed and three bed villas are luxuriously furnished, with all the facilities that will make your stay enjoyable and comfortable. They all have air-con, individually controlled in each room, multiple shower rooms, a full kitchen, TV’s, a DVD and a secure safety deposit box.
The complex also includes a snack bar, a more traditional restaurant, a gym, a beauty salon, a pool table and a mini market.
The villas have recently
undergone modernisation upgrades to maintain their 5 star standards, and the complex itself has new features and services. One fantastic new addition is the breakfast buffet which, for 8.50 euros, represents excellent value for money given the quality of the food!
The only thing to note is the hill is quite steep, so car hire is recommended. If not, please allow around 7 euros per trip to the village centre by taxi.
The modern 90 bed hotel has a modern, contemporary feel, yet has still managed to maintain its Greek charm. The hotel is ideally located, only a 2 minute stroll from the beautiful beach, with the main strip of shops, bars and tervernas a 2 minute stroll in the other direction. Don’t worry though, in the evening you cannot hear the noise from the bustling strip, as the hotel is well set back and the evening sounds do not travel to the hotel.
The rooms are quite large, with ample sized balconies and most look out on to the pool and bar area. The pool is large enough to accommodate the amount of guests, and there is a pool table, cinema style screen showing movies and sports, and a pool side bar serving a very good standard of food.
This is a very high standard Greek hotel for the price, and represents really good value for money given the quality of the rooms and location.
PLACES TO VISIT
The waterpark is situated on the outskirts of Tsilivi, just off the main road at the North end of the village. There are a good selection of waterslides on hand to suit everyone, from those young in age, to the young at heart! There is a lazy river and a dedicated children’s area. Sunbeds are a plenty, and the park is never too busy, so there are always plenty available, and this also means the queues are never too long for each ride.
When you think of a beach holiday, indoor ten pin bowling is not something that immediately springs to mind! However, Bowl’m Over does offer a nice alternative to the normal holiday activities and, especially when the sun becomes that little bit
too much, or the kids are reaching boredom thresholds, can provide a real fun afternoon or evening.
Bowl’m Over is a state of the art bowling centre, offering 4 bowling lanes and so much more! There are also a good number of pool tables, air hockey tables, a dart board, amusements, a children’s play area and an indoor bar.
Once you have expelled all of your energy, there is also a manicured lawn at the front of the centre, with relaxing seated areas for you to while away the evening with one of their renowned cocktails! Oh, and if you are a dog lover, be sure to say hello to the owners friendly sidekick!
Set in the heart of Tsilivi, just off the main road, you will find the very well maintained Fantasy Mini Golf. There are 3 fun packed 18 hole crazy golf courses, which are fun for all the family.
Each course is beautifully laid out, with water features, fun obstacles and challenging undulations, all making for a challenging fun round.
The staff are really friendly and will advise you as to which is the best course for you and help you out with the rules and any questions you have. There is even a fully stocked bar to help you either commiserate or celebrate your victory!
PLACES TO EAT
Set just outside the centre of the village, with easy access from every direction, Romios is an idyllic traditional Greek taverna full of character. The view at sunset from the top tear is spectacular, and the food is a perfect match.
They do a full traditional Greek menu, and you will find all of the classic favourites, mixed with a nice selection of seafood and meat dishes. The stand out dish is the traditional shared Meze for two, which consists of the usual selection of meze dishes, plus a few little extra additions, all with Romios unique ingredients and flavours. This is one of the finest restaurants in the resort, and a must visit on your stay.
Set off the main road, and only about 200 yards from the Contessina Hotel (turn right when you leave the Contessina and walk the 200 yards and you will see it on your right), this fantastic little family run taverna is a real hidden gem.
The restaurant benefits from stunning views over the Ionian Sea, and the staff make you feel welcome from the minute you arrive, until the minute you begrudgingly leave! The food is traditional Greek (why would you eat anything else!), and the stand out dishes are the Beef Stifado and the Lamb Kleftiko, both cooked with home grown produce giving it that extra special freshness.
Situated on the Southeast part of the island, and around a half hour car journey from Tsilivi, Vassilikos has some of the most spectacular beaches on the island. The drive itself takes in some beautiful coastal views and, once you have arrived, you will be greeted with miles of unspoiled, uncrowded golden sands and turquoise waters.
There are a handful of eateries set back from the beach, all of which serve a great selection of traditional Greek dishes and beach side snacks. The chef salad comes particularly recommended!
Laganas has a lot more to it than its endless array of pubs and clubs. The beach and surrounding bay and islands are home to spectacular sea life, non-more so than the endangered and rare loggerhead turtles.
The turtles migrate to Laganas Bay each year during the months of June, July and August to lay their eggs. The beach is protected during this time with ecologists watching the area round the clock. You can take boat trips around the bay and marvel at these beautiful, peaceful animals, without spoiling their natural habitat. Just off the bay there are the beautiful mini islands of Cameo Island and Marathonisti (nicknamed turtle island because of its amazing likeness in shape to the animal), and the spectacular blue caves. You can pre-book trips to any or all of these from a number of local agents in and around Tsilivi.
The beautiful Keri Caves are located in the South-West of the island and are only accessible by sea. There are many boat trips available and booking early is advised as, especially in the Summer months, they are extremely popular.
Along the coast there are many caves which entrances scarcely are barely wide enough to seim in to, others are broad enough to enter directly with a boat. While visiting the caves, it is possible to stop to swim or sunbathe in one of the many small beaches of Marathia Cape or to reach by boat the Mizitres.
Mizitres are two crags very close to the cliffs that form a small beach of very fine sand, reachable only by boat. You can get really up close and personal with the sea life, so remember to bring your snorkel! Keep a particular eye out for the huge array of starfish.
On the North West coast of the island you will find Shipwreck Cove or Smugglers Cove, also called Navagio Beach, which is probably the most famous beach in Greece, and can only be accessed by boat.
This picturesque beach has been photographed and featured in many holiday brochures, travel books and televised advertisements. The boat was shipwrecked back in 1980 after hitting rocks in bad weather while being pursued by the Greek Navy who suspected it was carrying contraband cigarettes (an accusation found to be untrue).
Shipwreck Beach is enclosed within large steep cliffs, which give it this remote, inaccessible feel. Because of that, it is impossible to walk to the beach, instead you will need to take the boat. Frequent boat services are available from nearby ports and harbours and excursions can be booked from a number of outlets in Tsilivi.
One thing to note however, if you are planning to lounge in the sun whilst you visit the shipwreck, bring all necessities with you as there are no facilities in this secluded bay. A sun umbrella is a must, as the heat radiates off the white cliffs and there is no shade on the beach to get away from it, especially at midday and through mid-afternoon..
For this reason, and the fact it is so popular and can get VERY busy, the best times to visit are either early in the morning or after 4pm.
So, whether it is a relaxing break in the sun, an action packed adventure, or a fun family holiday you are looking for, no need to travel to the other side of the world – give Zante a try, the only problem is you won’t want to leave!