Review of a walking holiday on Zante

The Greek island of Zante is not just about sun, beaches and nightlife. If you go to Zante outside the main summer months when the is not as intense then the island makes a great destination for a walking holiday. One of our customers has just returned from a walking holiday on Zante and here he describes what he found.

Having got used to the quieter Greek islands, which require a ferry crossing, and therefore tend to discourage families with young children, our coach transfer on Zakynthos, through brightly lit seaside resorts, seeming to consist of little more than tavernas, bars and souvenir shops, left us wondering what on earth we had let ourselves in for.

Our destination of Alikes too, at first seemed built to a similar plan but at least by then we knew it wasn’t a one-off. Our accommodation at the Lofos Studios was, if anything, better than the brochure description had led us to believe and though built adjacent to a relatively busy local road, proved to be sufficiently well away from the “main drag”, to offer the prospect of some peace and quiet. Our room even had a good view of the sea, (though most others hadn’t) contrary to what we had been told to expect.

Though relatively quiet when out of the centre of town, any peace was often disturbed by the local sport of seemingly removing the silencers from motorbikes and impressing the tourists by performing wheelies in front of them. What could possibly go wrong? No doubt it often ends in tears, much to the improvement of the gene pool, but it’s something to be on your guard against if you don’t want to be claimed by the local kamikaze.

Despite our earlier misgivings, we soon got the hang of the place and providing we gave the busier parts of town a miss, we eventually came to like Alikes. The food at all the tavernas we visited was good, the main delineator being location and attitude to customers, and eventually we found a couple of crackers, the Anatolika (which grows its own veg, sheep and cheese) and the Paradosiako, each at opposite ends of town. There was also the Lemon Tree at the other side of the adjacent resort of Alikanas which, though quite a way away, operated its own minibus to take its customers home and even to collect them if required. The meal there wasn’t that special, but it was somewhere different to go.

Similarly, there was the Kaki Rachi in the nearby village of Pigadakia, to which the enterprising owner, Spiros Vertzagias, ran a road-train to take interested parties to both his farming museum and taverna during the week and an authentic Greek Night on Saturdays. Good value at €25 (including train fare) and not half as tacky as it could have been, as rather than establishing a venture to soak the tourists, Spiros seemed to be inviting us to a big party which he can only afford if he charges us for the privilege.

What should have been the most interesting bit, though, turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. You may have heard that there was a 6.5 earthquake in Greece whilst we were there. Though on the Peloponneses, it was only 50km or so from Zakynthos, where the ground shook violently, people couldn’t walk and the water in swimming pools did “silly things”. We missed it all, I’m sorry to report, as we were out on speedboat on a tour of “the shipwreck” and the blue caves. I must admit that the sea got very lumpy and the boat was clearing the water at some stages but we just put it down to the weather and the boat’s owner showing us what his craft could do. After a couple more caves he got a message about the quake and brought us home at a more leisurely pace. Good job there wasn’t an accompanying tsunami or a rock fall in a cave we were in at the time. Others had tales to tell, though, and nobody left or entered the island by air for the rest of the day, as the air traffic control went down.

The main attraction of Alikes to us, however, turned out to be the walking. Just behind the town is a range of mountains, about a third of the way up which there is a track, constructed as a fire-break, with good access from each village along its route for fire fighting. It also provides an excellent hiking trail with panoramic views over that whole side of the island. Due to the many access points, the track can easily be broken down into short sections, to provide many separate days’s walking. The more adventurous can follow the fire-break up above Kallithea where it meets a path up and over to the village of Giri, where there is reputed to be a taverna for lunch. We didn’t have time to prove that theory this year, so we’ve saved it for next time. We only met one other person the whole time we were up there and she lived on the island and had ridden to Giri and, having fallen out with her friend, decided to walk home via the mountain pass. I don’t know who was more surprised to see who.

Further details of more walking and the island as a whole can be found in the recently published (April 2008) book in the Sunflower series, which contains an excellent map of the island, but though I am prepared to agree with its author is the best available, is still far from perfect. The book lists only one walk in the Alikes area (the central section of the fire-break) and we had to take the walk’s extended route down as the earlier one could not be found. It’s still worth having the book, though.

The local bus, though not very frequent, proved both reliable and inexpensive but with Alikes being at the end of the line you would have to travel into Zakynthos town (€1.50) and out again to see much more of the island, but any waiting there has been greatly improved by the new (and well serviced) bus station.

Overall, it was a very good holiday, once our initial misgivings had been overcome, and a good opportunity to enjoy good food in some excellent walking country. Not bad for a bargain.

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