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The most southerly Ionian island, to the west of mainland Greece, spectacular Zante (aka Zakynthos) is a holiday destination of mesmerising extremes: resort beaches and remote reaches; blissful caves and 24/7 raves; chic shops and ancient picnic stops. The most southerly Ionian island, to the west of mainland Greece, spectacular Zante (aka Zakynthos) is a holiday destination of mesmerising extremes: resort beaches and remote reaches; blissful caves and 24/7 raves; chic shops and ancient picnic stops.
The busiest pockets are all clustered along the well-developed eastern and south-eastern coasts – particularly at Laganás, where package-holidaymakers descend en masse in summer, enticed by cheap all-inclusive holiday resorts with world-class facilities and wild, non-stop partying. The reason for this coast’s popularity is simple: it contains some of the Greek Islands’ finest beaches.
Nearby, some of the very best shores are found along the forested Vasilikos Peninsula. On the golden sands of Gerakas Beach, families can enjoy a gently shelving, sheltered bay, while St Nicholas Beach majors in water-skiing, scuba diving, paragliding, and other water sports.
The lovely Gerakas also sees congregations of rare loggerhead turtles come ashore at night. They are protected by a National Marine Park, so take a boat trip out to visit them on Marathonisi island.
Explore inland and you’ll find a different place altogether. Central Zante features beautiful plains characterised by olive groves, bright butterflies and the reliable spring blooms which earned Zante its ancient Venetian nickname: ‘the Flower of the East’.
Further north and west, mountains and far-flung hamlets like Kampi or Lithakia provide wonderful hiking, before suddenly giving way to more incredible shores. Hotels are few and far between here, but you can find a cheap one if you look hard enough. Nearby, the tiny Shipwreck Beach (aka Navagio Beach) has a rusting ship of dubious origin and a supposed Mary Magdalene footprint which add romance to soft powder, straight-backed cliffs and impossibly-turquoise waters. Regularly included in lists of the world’s most picturesque shores, this castaway-style paradise is only visitable by water.
Leaving from Cape Skinari, boat tours also serve the Blue Caves, in whose beckoning waters visitors can snorkel.
Dotted with bougainvillea, capital Zante Town is the place to stock up on Popolaro wine or honey-sweetened mandoláto nougat. It’s also an excellent base for island explorations, and an attractive home to jewellery and fashion shops along Alexandrou Roma street.
Wherever you stay on Zante, you’ll have no problem tracking down classic Greek experiences. Plenty of traditional tavernas serve old-fashioned Greek plates like moussaka and souvlaki, while almost every village boasts a pretty church or ruined historical site of significance.
More than 200 inhabited islands draw millions of visitors to Greece each year, yet it's surprisingly easy to escape the crowds... if you know where to look.Read moreabout Secret Greece: How to escape the tourist trail
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