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Shipwreck cove (Navagio)

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To visit the Zakynthos picture gallery - click HERE

 

Video Presentation

Introduction

We visited in September 2007.

Zakynthos is the most southerly of the Ionian Islands. The island is also known as Zante, the Venetian name meaning “Flora di Levante”, the flower of the east. Much of the island was destroyed by the 1953 earthquake.

It is a very popular destination. Some areas make places in Corfu, for instance, look positively undeveloped!

The eastern side of the island is green and fertile and is where most of the tourist resorts can be found. The west is mountainous with the coastline dominated by towering white cliffs.

Arrival

Landing at Zakynthos International airport “D.Solomos” our passage through arrivals was relatively straightforward. This is a new building – departures are via the original airport building. Leaving the island would prove to be a different matter all together.

There are flights into Zante at all hours of the day. Many people coming from the UK had a flight leaving at midnight – arriving at their accommodation in the early morning. It is usual that rooms are booked from midday the day before and up to midday on the day of departure. Effectively this means that the first night is ‘lost’ and if a room is required for the final night (pick-up time is 03:00am), it needs to be booked locally at an additional cost. This of course is standard practice but unfortunately it came as a surprise to quite a lot of people at our studios, who had to vacate their room at 12:00 noon.

Many people complained (it was quite entertaining). It was clear that the Rep had heard it all before – probably every week. My advice – avoid booking a night flight!

Akis Studios and Apartments

We stayed at the Akis studios and apartments. The accommodation consists of four 2 storey blocks around a large pool area. To the rear are nice views up to the village of Katastari and to Mount Vrachionas. The beach and the village of Alykes are a 5 – 10 minute level walk either around or across the salt pans.

The rooms were of a good size with a large balcony or terrace. Air conditioning costs extra at 40€ per week. The pool bar serves snacks and is open from 9am to midnight. Packs of 6 bottles of water were on offer at 2€ - which saves the bother of carrying them from the supermarket.

There are numerous rules posted about the place about what you can and can’t do. For instance, the pool is open between 9am and 6pm only. However, this ultimately meant that the Akis was a quiet and relaxing place to stay.

Some pictures of the Akis can be seen HERE.

Alykes

The village is named after the salt pans that dominate the area behind the beach and village. The pans are no longer in use but are occasionally flooded.

View south to Alikes/Alykanas - Click to enlargeGiven the flat terrain around the village and the surrounding countryside, bicycle hire is a realistic option at €4 per day.

There is a nice sandy beach and the sea is very shallow. To the north the beach becomes narrow and stony but does provide an option for a quieter non-sunbed beach experience. An isolated Fish taverna can be found about 2 kms along the beach.

There is plenty of choice and even an Indian and Chinese restaurant for something spicy. Menus are very much orientated for the British and whilst a good fry up at breakfast is OK, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch is not to our taste. I suppose it is just a case of supply and demand but I do find it odd that people travel all the way to Greece and then spend their evenings seeking out something familiar to eat for their evening meal. Some bars stay open late into the night but generally this is not a place to visit if you are looking for hot nightlife.

A good way of seeing Alykes and the mountain villages is to take a trip on “ToTrainaki” tour train. For 10 euros each the Trainaki ventures up into the mountains to Katastari and then onto Pigadakia. A stop at a museum is included to glimpse a view of the old Zakynthian way of life. Evening trips to a taverna for a ‘Greek night’ are also available. Tickets can be purchased from the Trainaki kiosk located on the main road in the centre of the village. More information including details of the route can be found HERE.

Another alternative method of transport readily available is by horse and cart. Many people use then as a taxi. As an example it costs 18€ to be taken to the Greedy Greek taverna in Alykanas – this amount is then deducted from the taverna bill.

A free ‘Sky Map’ is widely available which covers both Alykes and Alykanas. This clearly shows the locations of the bars, tavernas and other attractions – including where to go for mini golf. An online version can be found HERE.

For a change of scene the neighbouring village of Alykanas is within easy walking distance.

Alykanas

Alykes is separated from Alykanas by the river Skourtis. The river area has recently been landscaped and is a very pleasant stroll up to the main road leading down to Alykanas. Alternatively it can be reached by walking along the beach.

The main street is lined with the usual mix of tavernas and bars. The village centre did seem to be some distance from the beach.

Old Alykanas can be found just around the headland. This is a low key area with a series of much quieter small beaches.

Around the Island

We hired a car from Dragon Car Hire at 28 € per day – the going rate via the tour rep was 45 € per day.

Despite having a good map, poor road signs meant that it was quite easy to end up on the wrong road.

Katastari

Katastari is a pleasant walk from Alykes up through the vines and olive trees. There is a taverna in the village - but it was closed on the evening that we decided to try it.

Xingla

The first known beach heading north is at Xingla. A very small beach tainted by the smell of sulphur from the nearby springs.

Kokkinou - Click to enlargeMakris Gialos

Just around the corner is Makris Gialos. This is a much better beach (stony) with a taverna across the road. A swimming stop for some of the round the island cruises. Just up the road is the pleasant hamlet of Kokkinou.

Agh. Nikolaos (north)

A very pleasant fishing village with a beach and a few tavernas for the pre or post boat trip meal. This is where you can find the best choice of trips available to the blue caves and the shipwreck (Navagio).

Cape Skinari Lighthouse

Closest point to the blue caves – boats leave from the jetty below the lighthouse. This is also the closest point on Zakynthos to Kefalonia – about 8 miles away. The view is dominated by Mt Aenos, the spine of Kefalonia.

Cape Skinari Windmills

To the right before the track down to the lighthouse are a couple of windmills. Both are available to rent, which is fine as long as you don’t mind your holiday home being photographed all day long. There are steps down to a series of sunbathing platforms. When it is windy the trips to the Blue Caves leave from here instead of the lighthouse jetty. There is a Café bar with excellent views.

Blue Caves

The Blue Caves are best visited in a small boat – this allows the captain to take the boat into some of the caves. The bigger, round the island boats cannot enter the caves.

There are trips available from almost anywhere on the island. The nearest points to the caves are Agh Nikolaos and Cape Skinari.

We chose a trip from Agh Nikolaos, which lasted about 1 hour and cost €5 each. It was quite an interesting ride around the cliffs and we were able to see how, by a ‘trick of the light’ items placed in the water (stick, hand etc) turned an amazing electric blue.

Shipwreck

Shipwreck beach - Click to enlargePick up a holiday brochure for Greece and the chances are there will be a picture of Shipwreck beach; this is the postcard image of Zakynthos.

In 1980 the freighter, named Pangiotis, was suspected of carrying contraband. With the Greek Navy in hot pursuit the ship ran aground in stormy seas. It could not have ended up in a more picturesque setting if it had been picked up and placed there.

One of the main reasons for visiting this island was to photograph Navagio. It was certainly a highlight of the holiday. It was so good we went there twice.

There is a very good tarmac road from Volimes down to the main viewing area, although parking is limited. Facilities consist of a taverna, which appears to have been closed for some time, a snack cantina and a man strategically placed to sell honey to people on route to the viewing platform. The taverna building does have a toilet but its use is strictly for the desperate.

Although pictures portray a stunning scene it is difficult to capture the overall beauty and the absolute exhilaration of standing near the cliff edge to take in the view.

Our first visit was late afternoon on what had been a very windy day. The beach below was deserted except for the rusting shell of the Panagiotis.

Shipwreck beach - Click to enlargeThere is a viewing platform, a maximum of 4 persons at a time, which extends from the cliff and allows a view to the beach and straight down to the sea below. When we arrived we could see people standing on a cliff to the right – we thought that they must be mad !. However, to get the best view it is necessary to walk over a rough rocky path out onto the ridge to the north. From some precarious vantage points there are excellent views back into the bay. The sea is an incredible blue. The shipwreck actually enhances the scene.

Our second visit was in the morning and consequently the whole area was far less crowded. For a change of view we decided to see what the beach looked like from directly above. It was not long before the track degenerated into a rough and at times a precariously steep path. Having got to a point at the cliff edge just above the wreck, the next challenge was to actually take some pictures. I managed to get pictures by holding the camera out over the edge of the cliff – it was just too scary to get any closer. At least with a digital camera I could check to see that I had actually got pictures with the shipwreck in the view.

I had left Noreen some way behind up the cliff. Our agreed communication technique was somewhat primitive. Essentially silence meant everything was OK. She only needed to be concerned about my welfare if she heard any screams.

On the way back up we met a young couple coming down the slope – he had a young child on his shoulders. They asked if this was the way to the ‘beach’. As they did not seem to have any rope with them we directed them to the viewing platform. Sometimes a little bit of research goes a long way – the actual beach can only be reached by boat (or with a very long piece of rope). I suppose in their defence the signs do direct you to ‘Shipwreck beach’. As we neared the top there was a steady stream of intrepid beach finders. As we past them we just said hello. This route is not recommended for children, anyone with walking disabilities or those of a nervous disposition. However, the views are spectacular.

Caretta Caretta

As we all know, the Loggerhead sea turtle is an endangered species. It has nesting grounds on the beaches around Laganas bay. Some areas of the beaches are closed from dusk until dawn but given the volume of tourist development in these areas there is a clear clash of interests. A National Marine Park has been established to help protect the turtles.

Villages

Many will have stalls set out at the roadside selling local crafts, including carpets, olive oil, wine, honey, table cloths, pottery, herbs etc.

Volimes

Not the prettiest of places but the most populated village on the island. This is the roadside selling ‘capital’ of the island with all manner of local products for sale.

Maries

This is a nice village on the west of the island with a number of tavernas promising the ‘best sunset view’.

Vromi

West coast colours - Click to enlargeFrom Maries there is a very good road that descends down to Vromi bay from the southern side. There is a small beach served by a cantina. The road is a dead end, which is when we discovered that there are actually two inlets within the bay. To reach the other side of the bay involves driving all the way back up to Maries, on to Anofonitria and then down again. Both journeys are worth the effort. Watch out for a parking area on a hairpin bend – there are some more excellent coastal views from the cliff edge.

Exo Chora

This is famous for the oldest olive tree on the island. A large taverna is conveniently located near the tree.

Kambi

Here there are a number of tavernas located on the cliff edge with spectacular coastal views and perfectly situated for the ‘best sunset view’.

Keri

Mizithres from Cape Keri - Click to enlargeAt Cape Keri there is a lighthouse and good coast views to the north. Just before the Cape is the Keri Lighthouse taverna. From the terrace there are wonderful views out to the small rocky islands known as Myzthres. The taverna is also the home to the biggest Greek flag raised on a permanent pole, with an area of 670 square metres. On our visit only the pole was on view. For more information about the flag visit HERE.

Keri Beach

This is a small village with a nice beach backed by trees and a sprinkling of bars and tavernas. Good views to Marathonisis island, also know as Turtle island.

Tsilivi/Planos

This is the main package holiday resort on the east coast. The resort is very developed (KFC, MacDonald’s etc) and very British.

To the north there are a number of less developed areas with pleasant beach areas such as Amoudi and Drosia.

Zakynthos Town

Zakynthos Town - Click to enlargeAs with most visitors to the town we headed for the main square of Solomou which is also the location of the Church of St Denis. Saint Denis (Aghios Dionysos) is the patron saint of Zakynthos and his mummified remains are housed in the church. If you are lucky enough to be there in August, the mummified body is paraded through the town.

Behind Solomou are busy streets lined with bars and shops.

Overlooking the town is a Venetian Kastro and an area known as Bochali. Here there is a large car park and Café bars with views down to the town and across the sea to the mainland.

The town also has one of those little tourist trains and is a good way to explore the town.

From below the ‘Best View’ café is prominently signposted. The very enterprising owners had managed to provide a multitude of signs to direct you to their café. From the café there were great views of the town and south to Vasilikos and Laganas bay.

Argasi - Click to enlargeArgasi

This is another very busy resort just 4 kms south of Zakynthos town. The main road through is lined with the usual tourist fare but with less ‘neon’ than say Tsilivi. The beach here is sandy but narrow.

Vasilikos Peninsular

This is probably the most picturesque area of the island and home to some of the best sandy beaches. The beaches themselves are not always signposted; instead use the signs advertising tavernas and bars to identify the beach. Our first stop was at Kaminia which consisted of a café, taverna, a few rooms for rent, a large lawned area and a serviced beach. Our next stop was at Porto Zorro, bigger than Kaminia with a large taverna and over 100 sunbeds crammed onto the sandy beach.

Porto Zoro - Click to enlargeBanana beach was distinctive for its many beach bars all with huge palm roofs. There are lots of sunbeds and plenty of opportunities for watersports. For a more sheltered beach, venture just around the headland to Agh. Nikolaos, named after the small chapel located at the northern end of the beach. Agh. Nikolaos is dominated by a big beach club and is also a stopping off point for boat trips. The south facing Gerakas beach is very popular and gets busy early. The beach is also one of the main nesting grounds for the loggerhead turtle – there are numerous restrictions on development in the area and tourist activities to help protect the turtles.

A short drive through the hills to the south coast of the peninsular leads down to Dafni beach. There is a large car park. From the hillside we could also see another apparently deserted beach, possibly Sekania, but never did find the track down to it. Perhaps that is why it was deserted.

Kalamaki

The resort is at the far eastern side of Laganas bay. It is quite spread out in a grid like fashion with no particular central area. The beach is big, sandy and popular. The beach here shelves gently making it an ideal spot for families. The area had a more Greek feel than some of the east coast resorts. Make the most of it as just along the coast lies the infamous resort of Laganas.

Laganas

This is the party capital of the island and one of the liveliest resorts not just on Zakynthos but in all of Greece. There is over 5kms of sandy beach and all the bars and clubs you could possibly wish for. Don’t go here if you want a quiet or peaceful time. We did not visit.

Eating out

We found most tavernas to be very good value. The basic cost of a meal plus a couple of beers and half a kilo of house wine costs about €35.

AmstelAmstel Cost of Living Index

Taverna 2.00€

Supermarket – 500ml bottle 0.74€, can 1.10 €

Cigarettes

I had always assumed that the price of cigarettes in Greece was Government controlled i.e. the price charged is the same wherever they are purchased. However, I discovered in Alykanas that the price was negotiable. Which now makes sense given the hundreds of lighters that have been given away ‘free’ to me during the many years visiting Greece. So instead of 3€ per pack I paid 2.83€. Not sure you could get this deal anywhere but this was in a shop (Tobacco Station) that only sold cigarettes!!

Leaving

The departure hall is located in the original airport building. It is far too small to accommodate the numbers and consequently it is necessary to queue outside. We were able to queue in a shaded area but be prepared to stand out in the sun. Once inside it gets even worse as there is limited seating unless you are prepared to sit on the floor. We found the food and drink to be particularly expensive even by normal Greek airport standards. Our experience means that Zakynthos now takes over from Corfu at the top of the ‘airport hell’ league.

Update: As of April 2008 the new airport building is complete and operational. This will hopefully resolve the overcrowding problems and provide a more pleasant way to leave the island. The old terminal building will now be used for domestic flights only. Corfu airport is back to number 1.

Conclusion

We enjoyed our holiday and found Alykes a pleasant place to stay.

For something livelier then Tsilivi or Argasi would be a better choice. For the full on party experience, then just head for Laganas.

However, for a more traditional Greek holiday then Vasilikos would be the best bet. It is also the most picturesque area of the island and home to the best beaches.

To visit the Zakynthos picture gallery - click HERE


Book holidays to Zakynthos with Thomas Cook HERE

 

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