Wild and mountainous in the north and west, the contrasting central and southern plain is a delightful mix of shady olive groves, fertile valleys and vineyards. In springtime the hillsides are ablaze with wild flowers, and enormous brightly coloured butterflies can be seen everywhere. The Venetians romantically called the island Il Fiore de Levante (‘the flower of the east’), a name which would not be undeserved even today.
The south lays claim to the island’s best sandy beaches, many of which lie within the Marine Park set up to protect the nesting grounds of the endangered loggerhead turtle.
Limni Keri is a small seaside village tucked away on the western side of Laganas Bay and enjoys fine views to the island of Marathonissi. The area holds most appeal for families and couples desiring a tranquil, very Greek escape in unspoiled rural surroundings, close to a beach. Its beach is long (albeit narrow), mainly sandy and shelves gently into a safe sheltered sea.
The village has some half-dozen authentic local restaurants, a café and mini-market or two, and a bakery. Backed by a green valley (once a lake, now a nature reserve), with wooded hills to either side, there are some good walking opportunities, perhaps to the traditional village of Keri a few kilometres inland. Boats will take you to explore the nearby Keri Caves and Marathonissi (Turtle Island), or motorboats may be rented by the hour.
Just a kilometre to the south of the popular small resort of Alikanas on the east coast, Old Alikanas is a quiet countrified area on an oliveclad hillside above a narrow sand beach. Between here and busy Tsilivi 10 kms to the south a bewildering network of lanes leads one through undulating countryside to a string of generally quiet sandy beaches, little hamlets and scattered tavernas. It is perfect cycling territory!
Old Alikanas is very small and has a couple of well liked restaurants, a very nice upmarket snack/wine bar and a mini-market. For more choice the bright lights of Alikanas (bicycle rent here) are just a 15 minute walk. But we think most people won't want to stray very far from the laid back charm of Old Alikanas. Please note that the hillside location would make a holiday here unsuited for anyone with limited mobility.
The north of Zakynthos is peaceful and unspoilt, having no established resort areas here once you venture above Alikes. It is an area of rolling green hills (becoming more mountainous to the west), traditional inland villages, and a dramatic coastline hiding shingle beaches, limestone cliffs, arches and sea caves. The sea here is almost impossibly blue.
Boats depart daily from the small port of Agios Nikolaos for the Blue Caves, a must-see. Most then go onto the much-photographed Shipwreck Cove, where you can swim from stunning Navagio beach in view of the aforementioned hulk. Ferries also run to Kefalonia making a day trip easy, but you will need a car. Agios Nikolaos has three tavernas, cafes and a mini-market arranged behind its attractive little beach, and motor boats for hire.
A few kms to the south brings you to Mikro Nisi, a delightfully peaceful little cove with a pair of tavernas above, and then to Makris Gialos, the most popular beach of the area. Inland the hill villages show the traditional side to Zakynthos and are a delight to wander around, Volimes being the largest.
Wherever you stay on Zakynthos we'd recommend the Sunflower Guide to walkers and those with a car.