I found it very odd that the promotional plastic bags of Zakynthos (every even moderately touristy location should obviously have its own promotional bags) affectionately call it the Island of Culture. Perhaps it’s the already mentioned ubiquitous presence of Dionysios Solomos permeating the island air, for otherwise Zakynthos is probably one of the least cultural Greek islands I can imagine. That is if we do not consider the culture of yoghurt as in the silly American joke, for the yoghurts are indeed splendid. But that’s a general Greek trait, not only Zakynthian. Thus the plot thickens.
Sure enough, we’re close to the hotbed of Greek myths- Ithaca is only a few island hops away, and there’s a couple of Venetian campanili lying around- some were literally doing just that after the earthquake of 1953, which flattened a good bit of island’s infrastructure. But they are very meagre campanili, and Zakynthos town is winning the race for the most underwhelming Mediterranean town I’ve seen by an in immense margin, something like Celtic in the running for the Scottish Premiership. The entry about the eventful past of the island looks quite impressive on Wikipedia, but after a few paragraphs you start getting the impression that Zakynthos always hovered at the margin of history, and whatever grand events might have shaken it are not visible anymore.
Which is perfectly alright, some places are perhaps too small to change the world, but at least they’re pretty. Not breathtaking pretty either- well, maybe Shipwreck bay is, but then again that is the one thing we haven’t seen. The thing which Zakynthos does very well is being an island where you can simply do nothing. I am not joking nor am I demeaning it in any way. I often find myself a bit stressed when travelling to the seaside, because there’s this castle I do have to see, and a couple of ancient ruins, and that beautiful medieval town, and oh my god I have to fly home and I hardly spent some time on the beach. Whereas in Zakynthos I managed to sail through a 700 page breeze block and get the best tan I ever had- which, due to the absolutely disgusting autumn weather in Budapest, no one will ever get to see.
For the beaches of Vasilikos are lovely, and perfect both for more seasoned swimmers but also aquatically impaired individuals like me. They are sandy and shallow close to the shore- our favourite was Porto Roma, which is the last stop on the Zakynthos town to Vasilikos line, and we only got off accidentally because Alexis the Great screamed at us to do so. It lies in a small bay, and has only a limited number of sunbeds, but an excellent restaurant nearby and an olive orchard in the proximity- which sometimes also contained chicken, sheep and goats. Exploring this area in the soft autumnal light of the afternoon is something I’ll always prefer to a selfie on a tourist infested beach.
Gerakas beach on the Western tip of the Vasilikos peninsula has the added excitement of it being a loggerhead sea turtle nesting area, which does however mean that it is a bit basic when it comes to showers, changing rooms and food options, since only minimal human intervention is allowed. Good food is however to be had at the restaurants in the proximity, and there is also a small area dedicated to Mediterranean wildlife, plus a lot of stalls with manifold turtle souvenirs. Because you’ve obviously always dreamed to pop your beer open with the beak of a cutesy Caretta caretta tortoise.
Gerakas beach does however have a nudist portion- as a general rule most beaches might just have a nudist or two at their extremities, so better be prepared. Those who like adventure or wildlife or both can go on turtle watching tours, which reach Marathonissi- the so-called Turtle Island. Each beach in this area has several offers on display, with many boats having a glass bottom for closer sea inspection. Similar glass bottom boats are also used for exploring the Blue Caves at the northern end of the island (most boats depart from Cape Skinari) and the Keri caves at the western end of Laganas bay. Prices vary by the size of the boat and number of people attending, but generally go from 10 euros for a shorter trip to up to 25 euros for the whole island tour.
Banana Beach seemed to be a big favourite with the Argassi crowd- free buses would pick people up at 9:50 and take them to what is a pretty large sandy beach with several bars (though only one is to be frequented by the riders of the free bus, as otherwise they cannot return with the evening one) and water sports facilities, but we found it to be somewhat crowded and lacking the pleasant view of other beaches in the area.
A much better choice is the one at Agios Nikolaos (not to be confused with the Agios Nikolaos port on the northern side of the island, as there are obviously never enough Agios Nikolaoses on any Greek island), as it comes equipped with a scenic little church and has more sheltered waters. Boats can be rented here as well, and water sport silliness is to be had too. For those keen on visiting our nemesis, the Shipwreck beach, boat tours will nevertheless start from the town or Cape Skinari, though you can book them in basically any resort, and transfer buses will be provided. Another choice is to go by car to the beach area, peer into the abyss first, and then find a small boat that will take you there- all of this provided the gods of wind like you and let’s hope they will.