What’s wrong with hating a beach that has been voted one of the best in the world? Don’t get me wrong, the rusting hull of the MV Panagiotis on Navagio Beach – where she ran aground during a storm in 1980 – is an iconic sight. But it is spoiled by the dozens of tourist baths that float in the bay like an encroaching sea and the hundreds of tourists.
We made it about five minutes on the small boat we rented for the day before turning around and speeding away.
Fortunately, Giannis, our pilot, knew better and in just a few minutes we were heading down the northwest coast of Zakynthos into an awe-inspiring natural cauldron where not a soul was to be seen. Cliffs rise hundreds of feet above the desolate sandy beach.
Our teenage daughter was the first in the boat and jumped off the back of the boat into the glassy water, soon followed by a cry of joy and big splashes from me and our son. My wife decided it was more decent to laze on board while we tinkered and hoped those falling cliffs wouldn’t come crashing down today.
It was proof that anyone can find their perfect corner of Zakynthos – if they know where to look.
Enjoy the view: Mark Sampson and his family checked into the Lesante Cape Hotel (pictured) on the east coast of Zakynthos
Mark says the Navagio beach in the photo is “iconic”, but admits it is “contaminated” by the large number of tourists who flock to it.
Before the trip, I asked friends if they had any tips for charming taverns or dream beaches. What I got was an amused raised eyebrow and the reply that the only people she knew who had been there recently were post-high school teenagers headed straight for the Laganas strip on the south coast, a charming one night drinking fest with dance music to feast your ears.
But that is only one part of the story. Because it is an island with a dramatic history, breathtaking landscapes and, thanks in part to the efforts of a local family, a growing reputation as a place where you can choose a luxury hotel that suits you, whether you have children have or not
As a rule of thumb, the further north you drive – it’s about a 90-minute drive south to the northern tip – the more the landscape becomes a beautiful patchwork of forest and farmland, with small roads winding through olive groves. and over the island’s crest to the west, where unspoiled villages lead the way to one of the Ionian’s most dramatic coastlines.
There we visited Navagio Beach – if you want to judge for yourself boats leave from St Nicholas Beach on the north east coast.
Two worlds confronted each other there. Next to the local tavern is a charming little pebble and sand beach where well-to-do locals of a certain age rowed steadfastly in the shallows.
Just a few meters away is one of the best – and most expensive – restaurants on the island. We sat and watched beautiful people walk from their motorboat yachts to a gourmet lunch at Nobelos under a canopy of cicada infested pine trees.
It’s the only organic restaurant on the island, and the chicken sticks – the limit of our budget – were a delicious treat before we stretched out like millionaires on the sun loungers on the private beach.
The base for our explorations was the Lesante Cape Hotel, recently opened by the Vithoulka family, who built three hotels a few kilometers apart along Zakynthos’ dramatic east coast.
Mark and his family ate juicy chicken kebabs at Nobelos (above), the island’s only organic restaurant
Nobelos is “one of the classiest – and most expensive – restaurants on the island”
Tasty dishes served at Nobelos by the sea
There is Blu (for couples), Classic (for families), and now Capes. The latter requires you to push the boat out, but it is a heavenly bubble of opulence in an olive grove that runs down to the clear sea.
On the short drive from the airport, our venerable driver, Mr. Panagiotis, recalled how almost all the Venetian-style buildings in Zakynthos Town were leveled by an earthquake in 1953. But now Lesante Cape has recreated these elegant arches in local stone as part of its laudable effort to create a new ‘old’ village resort.
There is a brand new chapel, a vineyard that will mature over the years and a central square with restaurants and shops. Maybe because it’s newly built, the place was pretty deserted most of the week, but maybe that’s because this compact resort, with just 52 rooms and a few villas, never feels crowded.
The Lesante Cape Hotel, recently opened by the Vithoulka family, has 52 rooms and a few villas
Mark describes the Lesante Cape Hotel as a ‘divine bubble of luxury’
The Lesante Cape Hotel’s Elea restaurant (pictured) serves Greek dishes from a different region every night, reveals Mark
Mark looked out over the green slopes of Kefalonia from the hotel’s seafront terrace (above)
Our teenagers weaved their way through a game of padel while my wife and I gently swayed in the hammocks next to the upper pool high on the cliff overlooking the green slopes of Kefalonia.
Sitting in the Noble Bar with a cold beer at the end of the day and watching the sun go down was one of those moments that made a holiday, well, a holiday.
We had lunch at the pool bar throughout the day, Caesar salad at €21 for us and burgers and fries (€23) for the kids. And in the evening we dressed up for Restaurant Elea, where it was €50 every night for five courses of Greek dishes from a different region: onion pie, beef frito and Lefkada milk pie (delicious) from the Ionian Islands; or dolma with bonito fish and seafood from Zakynthos.
Mark and his family had lunch at the pool bar at the Lesante Cape Hotel during the day
During his stay, Mark and his family boarded a taxi to Tsilivi Water Park (above)
Mark ate at the quiet tavernas in Tsilivi Bay as pictured above
Some evenings we walked through the roadside olive groves in Tsilivi Bay for dinner and found a quiet taverna a stone’s throw from the brightly lit bars and restaurants, all busy but no deer or chickens in sight.
One day we jumped in a taxi to Tsilivi Water Park, where we raced down dizzying slides and screamed like banshees before being tossed around in a spaceship and ejected through a giant drainage hole. Such is life.
My advice is: try Zakynthos. You may find friends asking you for recommendations next year.
ITC (inspiringtravel.co.uk) offers seven nights B&B from £5,429 for a family (based on two adults and two children) including return flights from London Gatwick and private transfers, saving 20 per cent if you book before 31 May 2023 Price based on early departure on 27 May 2023.
James is an author and travel journalist who writes for The Fashion Vibes. With a love for exploring new cultures and discovering unique destinations, James brings his readers on a journey with him through his articles.