As a Greek who lives and works abroad, a conversation I often have with people here* is about their amazing vacations in one of the 6.000 Greek islands. And while it is very satisfying to hear that people have a positive impression of Greece, that they loved the sun, the sea and the food, I must admit that every time someone talks to me about their vacations there, I can’t help but think to myself:
I have no idea what this person is talking to me about… I have never been in ‘insert_name_of_island_here’
God forbid they come to me before their holidays asking for tips!!!!! A lightning round of the following questions come to my mind immediately:
🤔 Can I pin point this island on the map of Greece?
🤔 Is this island a part of the Ionian sea or the Aegean sea? Is it part of the Kyklades complex or not ??? Where is the Kyklades complex again?
🤔 What is the local cuisine like over there? Oh boy… This is definitely embarrassing…..
I remember once blacking out completely in a conversation, saying:
“No no, there is no time difference between Belgium and Greece”
Spoiler alert, there is.
The island they call Zante
Zakynthos, or Zante as some call it, was always one of the islands people talk to me about. Now, I know, that this is an island in the Ionian sea. I remember the postcards we used to sell in the tourist shop I worked in as a teenager in Halkidiki.
Do not ask me why we were selling those over there, almost 400miles away from Zakynthos, it probably has something to do with the fact that the Shipwreck cove is the most well known, most photographed beach of Greece. And the summer of last year, I had made a decision: Time to see the Shipwreck up close!
Thankfully, Brussels has a direct flight to Zakynthos during the summer and in about 3.5 hours, it was vacation time!
We spend the first couple of days in Argassi, a touristic village next to the city of Zakinthos, in a “relax au max” modus. Breakfast was followed by sitting by the hotel pool with a café frappé at hand, reading stupid magazines. After lunch, you know it, I was back to the pool and in the evening we all walked under the florescent lights of the souvenir shops of the village, amongst the fluffy turtle toys, the unicorn & flamingo sea mattresses and by the sea -side next to the tavernas, the fishing boats and tourist bars.
Now, Argassi as well as the city of Zakinthos, are not your typical “white house – blue rooftop” places with tiny streets and cute little donkeys roaming around. Although, we did see lots of cats just like in these cheesy summer postcards your aunt sends you “from Greece with love” and there was the occasional Greek yiayia sightings aka the tiny old women, dressed in total black.
After these much needed relaxing first days, it was time for some island exploration. Which out-of-this-world beach would we visit first? The answer was obvious, with the keys of our rented car in hand, we were off to the Monastery of St. George to admire the Shipwreck cove from above.
Visiting the Shipwreck
No matter what I could write here and even if I had any sort of talent with words, there is literally no way to describe what I felt when I was up there in the clifftop, seeing the shipwreck cove for the first time ! A clean view of white, blue and green, a smell of fresh summer air and a surprising sense of quiet and calmness. It is no wonder people are lining up under the hot sun, in 30+ degrees celsius, just to get a glimpse of this breathtaking view for just a few minutes. Yes, it was really hot and waiting in line to reach the safe designated point where we could see the beach from the top, was literally hell…. but was also definitely worth it.
After that, we descended to Porto Vromi to take the boat that would take us to the shipwreck beach so that we could finally swim in the clear blue waters we admired a few minutes before from the top. As expected, the previously known as St.Geroge beach, was full of people. Everyone was trying to find a good spot to take a photo with the rusty remains from the ship that washed up on this shore in the early ’80’s. The sun was burning hot and the immense rocks surrounding us, white as snow, were reflecting the light onto the refreshing cold turquoise sea. While it was almost impossible to swim without stumbling upon other people, I could stay there forever.
More turquoise seas, please!
Boat trips are a must in Zakynthos. Of course you have to choose well and for this, the tips from locals and my sister who visited the island a year before me, were really important. Thanks to these boat trips, we got to dive in the water of the blue caves, we visited the famous turtle beach, spotted a giant turtle that from the distance looked like a rock and got to enjoy just the simple fact of being on a boat. Let me tell you, nothing beats sitting on the bow having refreshing sea water falling all over your skin. It is good for your health, trust me on this one.
Every place we visited the following days, mostly on the north the east side of Zakinthos, was yet another blue heaven. Driving from Argassi all the way up to Agios Nikolaos, we made stops to any place that looked promising for a good refreshing drink, swim or delicious lunch. Yes, this is the way to experience real Greek blue summer. Exactly what I was hoping for. And you get to apply this no matter the island you are visiting – I am pretty sure but do not quote me on that last one –
From Makris gialos beach, all the way to Alikes and the Xigia sulphur beach every place delivered memorable experiences. Although the smell of sulphur on that last one did not make a good impression, it surely made an everlasting one.
Not to sound like everyone else does in these situations, but the food was indeed delicious and the wine was great. The sea was amazing and the welcoming people really made a difference for our stay to be as enjoyable as it could be.
Needless to say, we did avoid the really busy touristic places that drunk English teens visit – see: laganas…. like how can these people be and act like this??? Anyway….. no, thanks
Fast forward a year later…..
Sitting here in my living room table -slash- office -slash- dinner table, Zakinthos seems to be an entire world away. The only swimming I did in 2020 was in the sea of my digital island in Animal Crossing. Can’t complain, I got a lot of fish….
I don’t know, there is something irreplaceable about feeling the sun and sea salt on your skin. There is something calming about looking into an endless horizon not being able to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins, it just recharges you. Being someone who grew up next to the sea, I can really feel an absence this year and it makes me wonder, can I even live away from the sea for so long without going insane? In some extend do I need to touch base with “my people” to be able to recharge? Can we at least recognise that holidays are essential ?
Well, in the meantime there is always the Belgian coast I guess, and soon this too, shall pass way.
*here of course refers to Brussels, if you do not know that by now….walk away…. 😀