Zakynthos, a small, Greek, Ionian island, is just a forty minute flight from Athens. On arrival we caught a 20€ taxi ride to the coastal town of Tsilivi. In our opinion this is the best place to stay on the island. It is much quieter than Zakynthos Town and doesn’t have the brassy, wicked edge of Laganas, home to the local nightclub strip, frequented by many a young lad and lass on holiday from the UK and other parts of Europe.
We stayed at a well run family hotel, The Pantheon Hotel, a ten minute walk out of Tsilivi and only 700 metres from the nearest beach. Father and son Yiannis and Dimitris made us feel very welcome. The hotel was built in 2009 and it is set among hundreds of olive trees and has a large enticing pool. To make the best of our stay in Zakynthos we hired a car from the very handsome Nick, who operates Caretta Car Rentals.
On our first day we made the short drive to AbraCatDabra Beach Bar. With easy parking, free sun beds, a picturesque small beach and a few cute, well tanned hunks, this beach was a superb find. Later that evening we returned to the AbraCatDabra area to eat at a Greek taverna (Ellison Pelagos) across the road. We chose delicious grilled stuffed sardines, the local specialty of braised rabbit in a rich tomato sauce and a Greek salad which we enjoyed while looking out over the Ionian Sea. What a perfect first day in Zakynthos.
South of Tsilivi is Zakynthos (Zante) town. It is a busy old seaside town with a large, impressive central square, wonderful Greek cake shops and many restaurants and bars lining the waterfront, adjacent to the port. We had lunch at Nostimon, a traditional Greek Taverna on the port front. The homemade taromasolata and pitta bread were a perfect start to our meal and the lamb kebabs with mint were divine.
Argassi Beach and the popular Banana Beach are further south of Zante town. We had heard how special Dafni Beach was and as we were in the area north of Banana Beach we thought we would give it a try. We drove up an incredibly steep, mountainous, gravel road to get to Dafni to find nothing very special at all, mainly families and dark coloured sand, certainly not worth the effort when there are so many beautiful spots along the coast north of Tsilivi.
We also made an effort to find the only nude beach on the island (Vrontonero Beach) but the access to the beach is now closed off for wildlife protection as this is an important and vulnerable turtle nesting area. The best advice for good beaches is to look for places along the coast displaying signs ‘free sun beds’.
An absolute stand out was Vardiola Taverna on Pachia Ammos Beach in the village of Kipseli, a few kilometres north of Tsilivi. Here you will find a fantastic fish taverna which sits high above the beach and has spectacular views of the coastline. It serves outstanding seafood, offers free sun beds on the grassy area below and is located right on a small, quiet beach with crystal clear water and safe swimming.
For a larger beach with a choice of beach bars, Alykes Beach is one of the best on the island. Here we hired beds and an umbrella for 7€. This Blue Flag beach is very, very popular with a large expanse of fine golden sand, good clear, clean water and plenty of European hunks to keep you entertained.
The highlight of our stay on this island was our day trip to the lighthouse at Skinari where we caught the Potamitis Brothers boats to famous Shipwreck Beach and the Blue Caves. We arrived there by taking the winding, scenic, mountainous coastal road to Port Agio Nikolaos.
Then about three kilometres further on we found the glass bottom boats just down from the lighthouse. A self drive option is far better than catching one of the large tourist boats from Zakynthos which are ladened with hundreds of people who are crammed into the overburdened boats. It did not look like the best, or safest mode of transport to us.
Shipwreck Beach (Navagio Beach) is one of the most photographed beaches in the world and is incredibly stunning with its turquoise water, white limestone pebble beach and an old rusty shipwreck which washed ashore after a violent storm several decades ago. However, in August, the huge numbers of tourists on one small beach will ensure you only want to stay for the allocated hour. There are no shops or amenities so a brief visit is the best type.
On the return journey the glass bottom boat tour along the Zakynthos coast calls into spectacular limestone caves and stops for about 20 minutes so you can have a swim in the sublime, sapphire blue water. A late lunch of delicious Greek gyros at a seaside taverna back at Port Agio Nikolaos was a perfect choice to appease peckish adventurers.
In the evening we found so many excellent places to dine in Tsilivi. The Olive Tree Restaurant, one of the oldest Greek restaurants on the island, serves high quality traditional Greek food. We had the pork loin marinated for 24 hours and slowly baked, the slow cooked lamb shank in rosemary and garlic and, to finish off, a homemade orange custard pastry. Lakis the owner is very proud of the food he has been serving for the last 34 years. For a change of pace the Beijing Chinese Restaurant across the road from the Olive Tree has good quality Chinese food at reasonable prices and nearby Calypso Restaurant serves a juicy ribeye steak with all the trimmings. You can find some more suggestions for local dining here: https://www.authenticgreece.expert/recommended-zakynthos–authentic-greece
We found the whole island to be reasonably gay friendly and on many of the beaches there was a sprinkling of gay men. Hot Lips in Laganas is Zakynthos’ only gay bar. Unfortunately, we were unable to make it there but Facebook comments like “amazing place, best bar, Lady Gaga acts were amazing, Loved it here! and Can’t wait to go back” all sound like a fab night out.
Zakynthos is an island full of beach culture, stunning rugged scenery, seaside tavernas and even a gay bar. We can’t think of a reason why we would not put Zakynthos towards the top for our choice of Greek islands. However, next time we will plan our visit for after the August rush.
Know Before You Go
- Best time to travel to Zakynthos is in June and September (not August)
- Tsilivi is the best choice for accommodation and location on Zakynthos
- We stayed at The Pantheon Hotel but check out Agoda.com for more accommodation options
- A car is almost essential for seeing the island thoroughly
- Don’t miss seeing Shipwreck Beach and the Blue Caves