My husband and I are not the best at forward planning. Particularly when it comes to holidays, that are usually booked within touching distance of jumping on a last minute flight. This laissez faire attitude is looked upon with horror by the other members of my family: I was raised on Christmas planned in January, and holidays booked a year in advance, whereas our holiday prep generally consists of trawling the internet for two days in panic before booking, then spending two more days before departure worrying that we've made the wrong choice. And it doesn't end there- we have managed to reach our mid forties promising ourselves that we won't be packing at midnight before a trip: My husband's 30th birthday road trip across America involved us hosting a party the night before without packing, then waking to a house strewn with people, with an hour to get to Heathrow. And no, having three children, and developing a serious holiday habit when living in Singapore for four years didn't improve things at all.
Last Summer we were able to blame covid as an easy scapegoat for this serial lack of organisation. This time my 72 hour ahead holiday requirements were basically: A. must be a Greek island, and B. Must have aesthetically pleasing decor and feel barefoot chic-like whilst costing approximately a tenth of an actual barefoot chic resort. So directed by a suitable looking airbnb, off to Zakynthos we set, with little knowledge of what to expect, bar a week 14 years ago, where I lay pregnant in a hammock for 98% of the time inhaling baklava.
What we discovered was a total revelation. Yes the island was still recovering from covid, and quieter than can generally be expected of the majority of Greece in normal times. But it felt like whereas previously Zakynthos's rep had been primarily hen and stag party based, a new vibe is being set, with stylish boho destinations slowly edging in, including the long running but suddenly very hip Peligoni club. It feels a little like how I imagine Ibiza in the 1970's was before it became IBIZA. Yes there are still areas of Zakynthos you don't want to linger too long in unless you're under 25. And if you are wanting typical Greek villages, and pretty beach resorts to wander around, the island doesnt really perform as well as some of it's neighbours. But the island's natural geography is TOO beautiful. And if children allow it, and your idea of heaven is staying in the middle of nowhere, scrambling down to pristine pebbly beaches, boating to undiscovered bays, and dinnering at tiny local hilltop restaurants, then Zakynthos could be one for your last minute hit list this summer. Here's what we loved:
We stayed in at Villa Leia through airbnb, without researching the island, and on paper the South Western side where we were located looked more party heavy than our requirements. But our place turned out to be a gorgeously remote finca style brick cottage, only minutes from the sea and styled in Ibiza worthy style- with olive trees, hammocks and outdoor pallett sofas. There are some beautiful hidden houses to be found all over; after visiting we earmarked the south western tip, and the far north as our future return to locations.
The beaches on Zakynthos are the real pull: Not the main strips of tourism (of which there are a few) but the off the beaten track, scramble to reach them spots of pebbly baked white gorgeousness, that make you feel you have been transported back to a 1960's Fellini film. we visited Xigia (with its Sulphur spa), Gerakas, Dafni , and Korakonissi, each one outdoing the previous. More pebble than sand, the snorkling is on another level. Disclaimer: You need transport to reach these beaches, and nerves of steel for the mountain drives.
Each day we would spend the morning at our pool then throw a change of clothes in the car and after a daily afternoon beach discovery would stop sunburned and salty at a hilltop taverna for dinner ( our french airbnb hosts didn't falter in their recommendations) Our favourite was the idyllic Dafni Taverna on Dafni beach ( amazing fresh fish) and Votsalo in the hills with traditional greek dishes and a view of dreams.
The Beach Clubs:
It feels like suddenly you can't go to Zakynthos without visiting the Peligoni club. Set in the wilder north of the Island, the club has been open since 1989 but in recent years a slow growing buzz is turning it into must visit destination. However other hotspots are popping up- a few minutes walk from our cottage was the Cotton Club, an outpost of the original Ibiza version. Suitably swanky, my 14 year old was all over it. Teenage box ticked.
The shopping opportunities were fewer than some Greek islands ( as per above, it's about the BEACHES guys) But obvs that didnt stop me trying. Zakynthos town had a few gems if you sifted, like Isabel Marant-esque shell jewellery and artisanal slippers. I also picked up a brilliant embroidered table cloth and some religious iconography ( clearly essential) from one of our drives through the traditional inland village Volimes.
A private boat trip one day from Keri proved a highlight, exploring tiny coves that you can't access by car and 'turtle island' Marathonisi. (The south of the island is a breeding ground for the loggerhead turtle). Elsewhere the Blue Caves are touted as a must do, along with the Captain Corelli shipwreck on Navagio beach. We didn't manage either due to covid, but actually were more than happy with our romantic week of coastline exploration. (OK romantic may be pushing it with three children in tow).
Zakynthos hasn't entirely ditched it's party reputation, and there is an element of avoiding the well trodden paths particularly in the south. But go off road, and the place is a total joy- more rugged than many Greek islands, and with a retro romance that totally had us at hello. Go before everyone realises those hen and stag do's are on the way out.
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