Zante’s best bits
For an island that’s just 40 by 18 kilometres – about the size of the Isle of Wight – Zante manages to cover a lot of bases. Inland, you’re looking at vineyards, mountains and hamlets to explore. On the coast, meanwhile, it’s just one great beach after another.
To get to grips with Zante’s authentic side, Alykanas is the one to watch. Along with a quiet beach, it’s got the full Greek deal – whitewashed tavernas and cafés that operate at a snail’s pace. Kalamaki has a similar vibe. There’s no obvious centre – just a sprinkling of tavernas and bars, and a huge sandy beach. Best of all, it’s backed by olive groves and the slopes of Mount Skopos.
Upbeat Tsivili and Laganas
For more up-tempo kicks, try family favourite, Tsilivi. Along with fine sands, this fully-fledged resort has its fair share of shops, restaurants and pizzerias. In saying that, it’s got enough Greek charm to mean you won’t miss out on the genuine experience. And for the biggest holiday hangout of all, it’s got to be Laganas. A 24-hour party playground, it’s home to a lengthy strip with the full line-up of neon-lit pubs, clubs and bars.
Things to See and Do in Zante
The Greek Islands run the gamut when it comes to beaches, and Zante is no exception. The island packs in all sorts, from beaches lined with bars to quiet spots that play host to nesting turtles. If you’re after a sandy stretch, Tsilivi is a good bet. If a pebbly cove is more your thing, head to Navagio Beach.
The big beach
The most popular stretch is Laganas Beach in the south of the island. It’s a nine-kilometre swathe of sand, edged with bars and tavernas. It’s popular with the party crowd, but the soft sands and shallow water make it a top spot for families, too. On the watersport front, you’ve got things like pedalos and canoes. The beach is also a nesting ground for turtles, and you’ll sometimes find one of the creatures gliding past when you go for a dip.
The secret beach
For sands with a side-order of peace and quiet, head to Bouka Beach. Most people miss this hideaway spot as they make a beeline for busy Tsilivi Beach next door, so the flour-soft sands are yours for the taking. The shallow waters are perfect for paddling, and there’s some good snorkelling further out, too. There are no noisy jet-skis or banana boats to shatter the peace here either – the only water action comes from the fishermen unloading the day’s catch at the tiny harbour at the far end.
If you’re looking for shopping paradise, head to Alexander Roma in Zante Town. The street lines up everything from little boutiques to top-drawer antique shops. Plus, there’s a handful of high-end jewellery shops.
You’ll find plenty to keep your purse occupied in Tsilivi town centre – it’s full of little shops selling everything from hand-painted plates to silver jewellery. If you’re after names from back home, take a 10-minute taxi ride to Zante Town, where you’ll find old favourites like the The Body Shop and Benetton on Alexander Roma.
Ask any local where to get the best bargains and they’ll point you in the direction of a village market. Try Anafonitra, a 20-minute drive from Alykanas, where you can pick up shaggy rugs and olive-oil soap for next to nothing. If that’s not your thing, head to Laganas town centre for kitsch jewellery and wannabe designer sunnies. In Kalamaki, you can pick up things like ornaments and sweets in the shops on the main beach road.
Fancy an old-school Greek night out? Make your way to Alykanas, where you can listen to folk music in a bar, or fill up on seafood in a family-run taverna – the best are in the old village on the outskirts. In Zante Town, a ten-minute drive from Kalamaki, you can work up an appetite walking up Bochalli Hill. At the top, you can nibble on mezes in a café while taking in the views of the harbour.
Laganas’ nightlife isn’t for the faint-hearted. You’ve got wall-to-wall clubs on the main strip, all competing for the loudest bassline and brightest neon sign – try Cocktails & Dreams or Cherry Bay. In Tsilivi, you can belt out hits in a karaoke bar on the main road leading to the beach, or just work your way down the menu in one of the cocktail bars.
This is Zante’s take on egg and chips. First up, tomatoes are fried with garlic and onions until they’re soft. An egg is thrown in at the last minute to poach in the thick, tomatoey juices, and it’s served with a steaming pile of chips – if it’s done right, you should be able to dunk them in the runny egg yolk.
Zante’s speciality cheese is big competition for feta. Literally meaning ‘oil and cheese’, it’s made from sheep and goats’ milk, and marinated in a clay pot with loads of olive oil until the flavour has developed. The end result is pretty spicy, and it’s best served up on a hunk of rustic bread.
These little parcels of feta-stuffed flaky pastry are really addictive. You can buy them from street stalls, where they’re lined up against spanakopitas, the spinach-stuffed version. Eat them piping hot – the feta should be gooey in your mouth.
The French reckon they’re the best at cooking meat in red wine, but Zante’s locals know better. In this dish, local rabbit is stuffed with cheese – usually ladotyri or feta – and a handful of fresh herbs. Then, it bubbles away in red wine for a few hours, and is served with a handful of veg.
This mix of honey, sugar and almonds looks and tastes a bit like nougat. It’s been eaten since ancient times, and it’s said that the Byztantine Emperor Justinianus wooed his future Empress, Theodora, with the stuff. These days, locals slice it up and serve it with cups of strong coffee.