This Greek beauty can keep clubbers, couples and kids happy, finds Katie McGonagle
Any story that starts with a high-speed chase across the waves and ends on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches is bound to be a good one, so Zante should have no problem capturing your clients’ attention.
It was October 1982 when smuggling ship the Panagiotis, said to be ferrying contraband Turkish cigarettes for the Italian Mafia, was spotted by the Greek Navy and pursued across the seas, running aground in a tiny bay on the island’s northern shore.
Its rusting shell remains there to this day, lending it the name Navagio (‘shipwreck’) Beach, now one of the most photographed spots in Greece.
This isn’t the only thing attracting holidaymakers to Zante, the third-largest of the Ionian Islands, known to locals as Zakynthos. It’s one of those rare destinations that really can cater equally to fun-loving families, the 18-30 crowd, and even those in search of a quieter getaway.
Stay: Beach Beauty
Zante has been a tourist haven for decades, so if there’s one thing it has plenty of, it’s hotels – mostly three-star, with some notable higher-end openings over the past few years.
Thomas Cook alone features 84 hotels across eight different resorts, from Greek brand Manos’ small self-catering properties to the all-inclusive resorts of its mainstream Thomas Cook and Airtours brands.
Most beach towns are dotted along the eastern and southern coasts as the north and west are more mountainous, putting the tourist areas within easy reach – generally less than half an hour – of the international airport.
Alykes and Alykanas: These neighbours are the quietest and most traditional resorts on the island, with the tourist bars and watersport-heavy beaches of the south still in the minority. With that comes relatively basic accommodation, including Olympic Holidays’ two-star entry level property, the Elpida Hotel, and a handful of three-diamond-rated hotels and apartments from Cosmos Holidays.
Tsilivi: With a water park and bowling alley on hand, Tsilivi is the most family-friendly resort. Mavrikos Hotel & Apartments is Cosmos Holidays’ top seller here, offering a flexible choice of rooms – studios and two-bedroom apartments – and board bases ranging from self-catering to all-inclusive, so clients can tailor it to suit their budget.
The four-star Filoxenia Hotel is another popular choice with a separate children’s pool, practical extras such as free cots and high chairs, and all inclusive ice cream from 10am to 6pm.
Image credit: jet2holidays.com
At the upper end of the market, it’s also home to Olympic Holidays’ leading five-star property, Lesante Luxury Hotel & Spa, and this year’s new opening, the four-star-plus Azure Hotel Resort & Spa (pictured above).
Argassi: Despite a small beach, Argassi has prospered thanks to its proximity to the capital less than three miles north, so visitors will find the usual array of bars and shops here along with numerous mid-range resorts.
Olympic Holidays has added the 120-room Diana Palace to its Summer Sun brochure this year, sister property to Filoxenia Hotel in Tsilivi.
Vassilikos: Set on a peninsula at the island’s southeastern tip, this quiet area embodies a more relaxed, rural feel – think olive groves and traditional architecture rather than jetskiing and watersports.
Jet2holidays has introduced the resort this year, featuring the Belvedere Hotel Luxury Suites with its pool, Jacuzzi, on-site tennis courts and wine bar.
Kalamaki: This is close to the airport, so its short transfer times should be weighed against potential disturbance from early morning flights.
Yet for families who want the facilities of Laganas minus the late-night clubbing crowd, it’s a good choice. Hotel Caretta Beach is Thomas Cook’s best-selling property across Greece, boasting an on-site water park, seven swimming pools including two for children, a Lollo & Bernie kids’ club for three to 11-year-olds, and a shuttle bus to the beach 850m away.
Laganas: Welcome to party central. Laganas put Zante on the radar for clubbers and few nights go by without its neon-lit strip of bars and clubs teeming with party-goers and big-name DJs.
That doesn’t mean it’s beyond the pale for other clients – family resorts such as the value-driven Smartline Margarita from Thomas Cook boast all the facilities you’d need for children, but be sure parents know what to expect.
The beach gets busy during the day, but it’s large enough that it won’t necessarily feel crowded and watersports are limited thanks to the presence of loggerhead turtles in this area of protected marine life.
There’s clearly significant demand for this resort: it’s home to Olympic Holidays’ largest Zante property, the 249-room Poseidon Hotel, plus Cosmos has added the all-inclusive Zante Plaza Sun, Village Inn, and self-catering Splash Studios this year.
See: Call of Nature
Natural beauty is definitely the island’s strongest selling point – there’s a reason why the Venetians christened it ‘Flower of the East’ when they ruled from the late 15th to 18th century.
Lacking the ancient ruins of other Greek islands – even the architecture left by Venetian, French and English settlers in Zante Town was flattened by a massive earthquake in 1953 – most visitors will spend their time exploring its coastline, looking for loggerhead turtles, or venturing into the hills to see charming churches and monasteries.
If visitors take only one excursion, it should be to Shipwreck Beach on the northwest coast and accessible only by boat. The small cove gets crowded, especially in the middle of the day, but that doesn’t make the sight of that ruined, rusty hull abandoned on the golden sands any less striking.
The cove’s bright azure waters are matched only by the similarly remote Blue Caves at the northern tip of the island, where a curious trick of the light, combined with brilliantly clear waters, means anything below the surface appears bright blue – a sure fire hit with kids and grown-ups alike.
Attraction World’s full-day Island Cruise of Zante, its best-selling excursion here, departs from Zakynthos Town for both the Blue Caves and Shipwreck Beach, followed by swimming stops at Keri Caves and Vassilikos (£33 for adults, £23 for children aged two to 12).
No visit would be complete without glimpsing the endangered loggerhead sea turtles, which lay their eggs along the south coast in July and August. They can be spotted from Kalamaki and Laganas, but it’s worth the extra effort to get to the quieter Gerakas Beach, where they can be seen from shore or by swimming just a few metres out. There are strict protection measures in place to aid conservation efforts, so warn clients to pay close attention to the rules.
There is plenty of sightseeing to enjoy on land too. Zakynthos Town is well worth an afternoon stroll – stop for an ice cream in Bochali for the best views across the town – or escape the tourist bubble and head for the hills.
Robert Goodwin, head of product and commercial at Cosmos Holidays, says a day is enough to hire a car and get a feel for the tiny, traditional villages of Louha, Porto Roxa and Limnionas.
Meanwhile, Olympic Holidays’ Photis Lambrianides has a soft spot for the 16th century monastery of St George Krimnon near the village of Volimi, which not only offers an insight into religious history, but also sports breathtaking sea views from its lofty location.
Sell: Easy does it
With great UK flight connections and product to suit all pockets, Zante is a strong seller for holidaymakers both young and old.
The addition of new flights – easyJet has just added a weekly service from Liverpool John Lennon, and Jet2.com begins flying from Newcastle and Belfast International next month – on top of existing services from 10 other regional airports, means nowhere is out of reach for the Greek island.
Alan Cross, general manager of trade sales for Jet2holidays, says: “The new flights from Belfast and Newcastle, as well as the new hotels and resorts, make our Zante offering our best yet. It is easy to see why this Greek island is so popular, with its beautiful beaches, abundance of family activities, lively party scene and quiet coves.”
While Zante definitely has mass appeal, it shouldn’t be overlooked for niche visits too.
Game fishing is popular – Zante Big Game Fishing can arrange private charters to catch tuna, dorada and swordfish – as is scuba diving around Keri Caves and, for real thrill-seekers, base-jumping at Shipwreck Beach.
Jet2holidays offers seven nights’ bed-and-breakfast at the four-star Belvedere Hotel Luxury Suites in Vassilikos from £402, with flights from East Midlands on May 27, 22kg baggage, and transfers.
A week all-inclusive at the four-star Filoxenia Hotel in Tsilivi starts at £667 with Olympic Holidays, with Germania flights from Gatwick and transfers, departing June 28.
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