There are certain bits of Zakynthos that you’ll want to stay far away from unless you’re a teenage boy. In truth, I expected much of the island to have that feel. But then I found Vasilikos, which feels like a completely different island but is a mere 30 minutes’ from the airport.
Vasilikos is firmly in the ‘hidden gem’ category. It’s not entirely undiscovered – being mainly loved by posh villa companies who have properties tucked away throughout the peninsula and particularly the easternmost coast which has a very exclusive vibe. It has a bit of a hush-hush vibe and I almost feel bad letting the secret out.
THE VASILIKOS PENINSULA – WHAT AND WHERE?
The Vasilikos Peninsula is the long hilly strip of land to the east of Zakynthos, the airport, and the central Laganas/Kalamaki beach and party zone. It’s so close that I actually walked here from Zakynthos Town – although it did take a few hours along roads with no pavement so I don’t recommend it).
True, there are some blockbuster beaches that attract crowds from elsewhere on Zakynthos – mainly Italians who zip over on their quads to enjoy Porto Zorro beach, or busloads of Brits heading for Banana Beach, the watersports at Agios Nicholaos, or the turtle beach. But once these groups have arrived at their intended beach destination, they rarely seem to leave it. And the rest of the peninsula is quieter than you might imagine.
In fact, it’s decidedly sleepy. Steep hills separate the peninsula from the rest of the island, but as it flattens out it becomes a landscape of gently rolling hills and rural vistas. No noise but the deeply relaxing song of cicadas. Vasilikos is home to olive farms and wine estates. Sometimes it feels more like Tuscany than Greece.
Vasilikos itself is down near the tip of the peninsula, although you’d hardly call it a village. Around the tip are various collections of buildings along roads. Self-catered accommodation rules in this area and the roads are punctuated by bakeries and tavernas, many selling local produce. Menus tempt you in from the roadside.
The tip of the peninsula is walkable, just about, but you’re better off with wheels of some description – especially if you want to explore the quiet beaches on the more rugged south side of the island. Quads are popular, and not just with the Italians. Bicycles are not as popular as they should be, and you can currently only rent them from Zakynthos Town (though I believe they do deliver for a charge).
GEREKAS (TURTLE BEACH)
At the southernmost tip of Vasilikos is Gerekas Beach, one of the most famous on the island thanks to the presence of turtles. Here, unlike at Laganas and Kalamaki, the protections are enforced by crews of volunteers. Nests are zoned off. The Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue & Information Centre is located just before the beach, which makes it a popular day trip for families – along with the big blustery waves when the wind. The centre is worth a visit – as well as information about the various species of turtle that it hopes to protect, it also educates about the problems with waste and illegal development on the island.
To complete the family-friendly lineup there are numerous tavernas (though they’re not directly on the beach), a big car park, and plenty of toilets. There are some rooms for rent down at Gerekas but it wouldn’t be my pick of places to stay on the Peninsula.
If you’re now looking at Google Maps thinking it’s an easy walk north along the coast to Porto Roma beach then stop right there because this road is private and has unhelpfully been closed off by the development of the swanky Periyali Villas. You have to walk back into Vasilikos to reach Porto Roma.
But it’s definitely worth it. Not because of the beach – there is one, but it’s not the best on the island – narrow and the sand is a dark golden grey with pebbles.
No, the best reason to visit Porto Roma is Nikos Beach Bar. Consider this my hot tip. Walk in the opposite direction from the beach and take the first right – it should be signposted. This road will bring you through a field and deposit you at Deep Blue Villa. The beach bar is underneath. It’s on a beach of sorts – a slightly dubious and unnecessary man-made one – but that aside, in this little spot was my favourite place on Zakynthos.
It has some of best food on the island. In fact, this is some of the best food I’ve eaten in Greece. Remember that scene in Ratatouille where the inspector melts whilst eating Remy’s version of the classic French dish? Well, that was me eating the gemista (stuffed peppers). It’s not usually one of my favourite dishes, and I don’t know what they did to make it so tasty (rosemary crack??), but I know I came back the next day just for seconds.
It was served with wine and olive oil from the farm around the corner, home-made bread, and finished off with a creamy local pie. So good. The menu is charmingly illustrated by a local artist, ditto the ceramics.
Also if you’re one of those people who hate music in beach bars then you’ll love the silence here. It’s just you, the view and the sound of the sea. Bliss.
There are smatterings of self-catered accommodation and rooms to rent everywhere if you want seclusion and have a car. But if you’d rather stay somewhere (relatively) lively then my pick is Agios Nicholas on the top tip of the peninsula (don’t confuse it with the village of the same name in the north of the island).
This one might just about qualify as a small village. It has a few mini-marts and souvenir shops, car rentals, tavernas, beach bars, a bus stop, and a handful of hotels. It still feels relatively discrete though, and most buildings are tucked away in pines. But the best thing is the location – there are a few lovely beaches within a short walk through pines. It’s all rather lovely.
The biggest and most popular beach is the aforementioned Agios Nikolaos beach, which is popular for watersports. The enterprising businesses here have put on a free shuttle bus from the busier resorts, so it’s not a quiet and serene beach. There are a few beach bars with music. In high season (July/August) it might get a bit packed with daytrippers, but outside this window, it hits a pleasant note – and is perfect for teenagers, in case that’s what you’re looking for).
On the other side of Koukis Holiday Club is a quiet unorganised section of beach with delicious green waters. Or head north to the two small coves at Plaka Beach or the far end of Banana Beach, near to 5-star The Bay Hotel & Suites – one of the best beach hotels on the island. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far then Hotel Vasilikos Beach, Plaka Beach Resort (and a few cheaper domatia) are less than 5 minutes’ walk from either beach
For more places to stay check out Where to Stay on Zakynthos: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide.
Popular beach Porto Zorro is about halfway down the peninsula, with a signposted turning off the main road (and served by a bus stop too).
In all honesty, the beach itself isn’t as nice as it looks in photos – there’s a high clay content in the sand. Nevertheless, it has a lively beach club feel with serviced sunloungers, two restaurants and a big car park. The setting is scenic with lots of pines and rock formations. It’s particularly popular with Italians and doubles up as a wedding venue.
Probably the biggest draw on the Vasilikos Peninsula is the vast golden sands of Banana Beach. Here you’ll find large organised sections of beach with all kinds of watersports including the motorised varieties. The landscape here is windswept and open and there’s only modest development behind the beach, with a few large beach bars and toilet blocks. It’s just 20-30 minutes from the bigger resorts and is a popular day trip for visitors staying elsewhere on the island.
OTHER NICE BITS OF ZAKYNTHOS
Good news – the Vasilikos Peninsula isn’t the only nice part of Zakynthos. It’s just the one that I liked the most.
If your scene is cocktails rather than wine then head north from Zakynthos Town towards Alykes. I liked Alykes more than I expect (and more than neighbouring Alykanas) – it’s bigger than anywhere in Vasilikos and has more of a resort feel, but is super chilled and has amazingly soft sand lined with relaxing beach bars (pictured below). Anywhere north of Alykes is quiet and picturesque (it gets increasingly rugged). Or on the other side of the island is narrow pebble beaches of Limni Keri, a favourite of older couples.
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