First Stop: Zakynthos, Greece!
Zakynthos, Zakinthos or Zante, “it’s all Greek to me”!
Zakynthos is the 3rd largest Greek Ionian island. It is an island of natural beauty, beaches, adventure, culture, countryside, and agritourism and if that isn’t enough let the history and let the music show you the way! Since this was my second trip to Greece, I decided to change up the itinerary and to add islands that are really not marketed as well as Mykonos and Santorini.
Zakynthos was our first stop. It is one of the most famous destinations of the Ionian Islands but also of Greece visited mainly by Greeks and Europeans. Conde Nast Traveler gave the island some fame last year when it named “Shipwreck Beach” (Navagio Beach) one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe. That is what sparked my interest.
Arrival in Zakynthos
We arrived one day late due to some very delayed flights. Originally set to leave out of Ft. Lauderdale to Athens non-stop on August 21 at 5:05 PM, we did not take off until August 22 at 4:10 AM. Long wait and very tired but the aircraft which was a wet lease with a Rolls Royce logo was worth the wait. The airplane holds 471 passengers, there were only 71 passengers. We were upgraded to a personal suite. Not too bad and the best part of all is we slept the entire flight and landed quite rested.
And then all was forgotten the minute we landed. The colors, aromas, amazing and diverse landscapes created a uniqueness that I did not see in Mykonos or Santorini on a previous visit. Our driver met us at the arrivals hall and he was more than happy to accommodate my one thousand questions on the 45-minute ride to the hotel.
The Colors of Zakynthos
Zakynthos is an island with an Italian influence given its proximity to Italy. It’s known as the island of poets, painters, theater, music, and songs. Is the birthplace and muse of many great artist and poets like Dionysios Solomos, a native of Zakynthos and Greece’s national poet. The ancient Greek poet Homer mentioned the Zakynthos in the Iliad and the Odyssey.
It is where the island’s patron saint, Saint Dionysios once lived and we happened to arrive on the day of one of his celebrations August 24 when the Greeks commemorate the return of the relics from the Strofadia Islands to Zante. He was born in 1547 to an aristocratic family and became known as the Saint of Forgiveness because he was able to forgive his brother’s murderer. The church of St. Dionysios dominates the southern part of the coastal road and is Zante’s unique church.
In 1953 an earthquake destroyed and split the island in half. The quake led to a massive fire but to the surprise of many including myself, the main cause of death was heart attacks. Today you will see remnants of old Zante and the new modern Zante built-in 1955 with small streets, many neighborhoods, each one with its own history. The most significant square is Solomos Square with many stories to tell.
Walking around Zante Town
The island is only 400 km and 50,000 residents call it home. The season begins May 1 and ends Oct. 15 and that is when the population doubles and has over 4 million olive trees, hence the aroma of the island. Originally from Athens, I asked my driver why he chose to call Zakynthos home. He said “people here dance and they sing, they write poetry and make music. They eat, they drink, and they keep their traditions strong.”
Checking into Lesante Blue
And then we arrived at the newly built Lesante Blu Exclusive Adults Only Beach Resort. It is the only 5-star resort on the island and a member of “The Leading Hotels of the World.” According to the locals, this resort will finally start to give Zante the notoriety it deserves. It is located in the picturesque village of Tragaki Zakynthos in a beachfront plot on Zante’s Northern Coast.
The entrance is very non-descript but on the inside, the Resort tells a different story. The allure of the resort are the views from the back of the hotel which overlook the Ionian Sea and the Infinity Pool is the true “wow factor.”
All facilities face the sea with an incredible backdrop of blue, green, gold and reds. The colors of Zakynthos are breathtaking.
Claire, the charming and very knowledgeable concierge who left Mykonos to live in Zakynthos was expecting us. She handed us a welcome cocktail and a plush seat in the lobby and then before you know it, we were checked in. I had informed her that the purpose of my visit was to choose a resort and to learn as much as I could about the island so that I could make it a part of my next luxury itinerary to Greece. One of her first comments was you don’t come here for the Mykonos lifestyle. Here it’s more about tradition, a relaxed atmosphere, and exploring the beaches and wild nature. I would soon find out how right she really was.
I told her about my daughter Alexie, 29 years old who might not like the peace and quiet. She said it was no problem at all. The millennials looking for a little bit of the Mykonos lifestyle can still find it in Laganas, a village in the southern part of the island, home to the largest beach on Zante and the hottest spot for overnight clubbing, lively bars, and tavernas. Truly not recommended for those seeking a relaxing holiday.
It is also home to the endangered Caretta-Caretta turtles who lay their eggs, and for that reason, Laganas beach is a part of the National Maritime Park of Zakynthos. My wheels began to spin. This itinerary could be designed for families with adult children – something for everyone.
She introduced us to the Owner and Managing Director, Dionysys Vithoulkas who was born into the hotel industry, moved to the USA and then came back to Greece to take over the family business. We would see him on the property many times during our stay – he is hands-on for sure, the reason the resort is run so well.
Our room, The Lesante Blue Signature Suite
Next up we headed to our room with proud staff in tow. We chose The Signature Suite with the most amazing view of the sea and our own private pool. Just what the Doctor ordered after our very long hours of travel. The proud staff wowed us with their thorough instructions on how to use all of the electronics in our room. They left nothing to chance – Thank Goodness because for those of you who really know me, technology is not my forte.
Our Signature Suite had the most amazing view of the sea and our own private pool.
The inside décor follows a sleek, modern theme, marble tiles, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Just what the Doctor ordered after our very long hours of travel.
Lunch at Osteria
Time for lunch. We chose Osteria so we could enjoy the pool. The resident Sommelier chose the perfect bottle of Greek wine, Gentilini Robola from the neighboring island of Kefalonia. Crisp and clean, and the perfect partner to our seafood and oyster appetizer and of course Greek Salad, Zakynthos style. A swim in the pool and a quick dip in the ocean and the day could have been complete however our time was very limited, so we needed to take advantage of every minute.
Dinner at Prosilio
We decided to head into Zante town armed with a recommendation from the concierge and dinner reservation at Prosilio, a restaurant located in the town center next to Solomos Square. George, the owner, was waiting for us and he led us to a table outside in the beautiful garden. At first, the menu was a little confusing but with George’s help, we were well on our way to one of our best dining experiences ever. As George explained, the concept of Prosilio is a new twist on their traditional food and old recipes.
It’s the new way in the gastronomic life of Zakynthos. His team of creators in the open kitchen, organic products of the island combined with the purest ingredients, unique dishes of fine flavors and amazing wine from his very extensive wine cellar offered us an unforgettable experiential night out experience. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that on my next visit to the island to learn that Prosilio has earned Michelin Star status. It would be well deserved.
After a tour of the incredible wine cellar, we bid farewell to George and his team and wandered out into the streets, alleys, and squares of Zakynthos. Wandering around aimlessly is not something I suggest. Taking in the sights and sounds of the town was fun but not knowing where exactly I was or what we were seeing was not. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the time to hire a private guide. I did interview a few guides at the hotel the next day to guarantee that the second time around will be better than the first if it is at all possible!
It is a canvas of natural beauty in the Ionian Sea. It has many shades of green and blue, the sunset is red and the sunrise is gold – Zakynthos is somewhere over the rainbow.
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