17 June 2022

After two entire years of lockdown, cabin fever had well and truly set in. As fellow travel enthusiasts I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of pent-up desire to wander freely again! Since the initial travel restrictions came into place in early 2020 we only managed to take advantage of a tiny window of opportunity to travel, so the last time Fin and I had travelled together was twenty-two months ago!

We had originally planned to go on a cruise as a family with our boys, but restrictions in place with the cruise lines meant that our unvaccinated toddlers wouldn’t be able to leave the ship for ten days – not our idea of a holiday really. We toyed with the idea of going without them – we are lucky enough to have multiple sets of Grandparents willing to babysit - but I couldn’t face leaving them for so long. However, the offer of babysitting remained so, of course, we had to take advantage somehow.

May is always an excellent time for a late-deal and after narrowing the choice down to Mykonos or Zante we flipped a coin. And so, it was decided.

We flew from Leeds, right at the peak of the airport security chaos, on a Saturday morning flight. Let me say first, the best decision of this holiday was to book Fast Track! We queued for 45 minutes instead of the three hours some passengers complained of. We also took advantage of the Twilight Check-In with Jet2Holidays, so we didn’t have to queue at bag drop in the morning. The departure was delayed allowing people time to reach the flight. All aboard and three hours later we landed in Zante.

We arrived at our hotel after forty-five minutes on the coach – and a thorough tour of all the hotels of Tsilivi. We stayed at the Contessina Hotel, a cool and contemporary hotel with lots of design details and stylish interiors. Friendly check-in staff greeted us with typical Greek hospitality and generously offered us an upgrade to one of the brand-new Superior Suites in the newly constructed wing of the hotel. When I say ‘brand-new’ I mean we were the first to sleep in the sheets! Some of the rooms were still being dressed when we arrived.

Our room on the first floor overlooked the new swimming pool next to the restaurant. The rooms below us had swim-up access to their own section of the pool. The rooms in the new wing are all decorated in earthy tones – large stone tiles on the floor and off-white walls create clean lines and contrast warm wooden furniture and pale linens. There was a walk-in shower and separate toilet. The black marble sink stretched along the wall with ample space for both of you to get ready comfortably!

Contessina Hotel offers two swimming pools with chill-out music all day – perfect for reading and sunbathing. There are two restaurants – one serving breakfast near our room, and the other between the main pool and lobby which is perfect for lunch by the pool! They also offer a gym and spa at their sister hotel, Contessina Suites, a few hundred metres away.

I’d love to tell you that we went exploring every day, but the truth is we spent two-thirds of our holiday horizontal on a sun lounger. I read four entire books on my Kindle – I wasn’t entirely sure it would even turn on after two years in a drawer – the last book I had read was on our babymoon before Rudy was born!

The only place I really wanted to visit was Navagio – the Instagram-famous ‘Shipwreck Beach’. We booked a day tour with Nefi’s Travel called ‘Above and Beyond Shipwreck’ for fifty euros each and were promptly collected in Tsilivi at 8.40am by minibus, headed straight for the viewpoint high above shipwreck bay for incredible photo opportunities. The path to the viewpoint is rugged and dusty, and when we visited a colony of bees had made their home amongst the shrubs. Ten minutes on top of the vertigo-inducing clifftop then we set off to Agios Nikolaos to catch our speedboat to experience this mesmerising location from the ground.

Our speedboat reached the dramatic limestone cove in around twenty minutes. The beach itself is actually made from millions of tiny white pebbles, not sand, and the white cliffs are incomprehensibly high, surrounding the rusty wreck itself.

After spending 45 minutes marooned in the scorching midday sun we hopped back on our boat to sneak into more secluded and beautiful coves and caves along the mountainous northern coastline, including a stop at the blue caves.

Back on the minibus we headed for a late lunch and a swim at our final stop, Xigia, a natural sulphurous beach where it is rumoured you’ll emerge 10 years younger after a dip in these milky waters!

After another day of sunbathing, we decided we ought to go and discover some more of the island, so negotiated a days’ hire for a quad and zipped off to Zakynthos Town to begin our explorations. Much of the architecture is built in typical Venetian style, though most of the architecture is replicated since a devastating earthquake in the fifties decimated most of the structures on the island.

We buzzed on to Argassi, then over to Kalamaki. I was surprised to see how quiet the resort actually was – a total contrast to its lively neighbour along the bay, Laganas, next on our hit-list. We pulled into the eastern edge of the resort and headed along the wide sandy beach, past numbers of chic beach bars, gradually becoming more bustling as we reached the central ‘strip’. During the daytime the main road offers cheap breakfasts and lunches, souvenirs and mini-markets. There’s even a McDonald’s – is there an island that doesn’t have one now? I am certain that the street is an entirely different affair between midnight and the small hours of the morning – the sleeping nightclubs surely aren’t so discreet.

Heading south-west out of Laganas, winding through acres and acres of olive groves brought us eventually to the southernmost peninsula of the island. Fin is forever on a mission to seek out ‘viewpoints’, so we dropped a pin on the map at Myzithres Viewpoint and began the bone-chattering climb on the quad up the dirt track to reach it. The view from here is astounding – the sea is indescribably blue, crashing onto the distant shoreline below. Sunset would be special here – had we arrived later in the afternoon there would have been no question about staying to enjoy it.

But, we had more to see – on our route back we stopped in Keri Village, the cutest little square with a few tiny cafes and quirky buildings, a labyrinth of alleyways leading off through traditional houses, slithers of Ionian Sea glistening between the buildings in the distance.

Not content with one viewpoint, my driver picked out another destination on the map on the opposite side of Laganas Bay, named simply ‘Lookout Point’, with other points of interest such as a Monastery and a Byzantine Church very close by.

Confident with our single bar of petrol remaining in the quad, me a reluctant backseat passenger, we embarked upon another bone-shaker dirt track road. Thankfully, the path became completely impassable before we ran out of fuel, and we were forced to turn around and head back to return the quad to the office in Tsilivi.

A final day of sunbathing to brown us off nicely before our flight home and we were both ready to get back and see the boys.

We had just a week to turn around the suitcases before we headed back to Greece with them on our big family holiday to Crete. After two years in lockdown I am taking every opportunity I can to explore new places, we have a lot to catch up on.

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