When someone says “Greece” my mind immediately jumps to the list of Gods/Goddesses I was taught in Primary school; Zeus, Hermes, Aphrodite – the whole glorious gang! Greek culture, to me, is a deeply and enviously highbrow history of the arts, literature and architecture… that is except for when it comes to the third largest island in the Ionian Sea – Zakynthos, known more commonly by its Italian given name; Zante.
Now this is going to sound truly miserable and as I’ve said before I always really try to find the beauty everywhere and there are some really lovely things to see, so perhaps let’s start there before we get to the heavy moany stuff;
The water is undeniably the bluest I have ever seen. For once Instagram actually seemed to reflect some modicum of reality because you could not wish for more sparkly clear water. The west coast especially; Porto Limnionas and Korakonissi are ideal swimming, and for those who like a little more zing in their coffee, cliff jumping spots. The sea is warm and the sun ever shining. Zante Town comes alive at night and the port proudly boasts boats that compete to be the biggest.
But… now … what else? As I sit here on the veranda on this beautifully hot Sunday I’m genuinely struggling to think of anything else to note. Instead all I seem to recall of these past few weeks is the insane plastic pollution that extends to even the most remote of areas, the deadly quad bikes driven by bikini clad idiots that twist and turn through the traffic at shocking speeds, the overpowering smell of diesel fumes from the tourist boats pulling in and out of Shipwreck (Navagio) beach and … Laganas.
When I found out I had a month on a Greek island for work I imagined spending days off soaking up history and culture like a hummingbird at Kew Gardens – flitting from monument to museum, taverna to olive groves, overdosing and indulging on facts and figures. But I’m saddened to say it appears to be in short supply. To me at least it seems Greek heritage on this island has been replaced with neon signage and home brands. Zakynthos has entirely bent at the knee to accommodate Brits abroad to the extent that any small business must sell replicas of the same plastic tat just in order to stay as relevant as their neighbour. Restaurants must offer the same five recognisable dishes so not to miss out on the hungry passers by that want chips with every meal – although the restaurant will still call themselves a “traditional Greek taverna” allowing the tourist to kid themselves they are experiencing a new cuisine whilst still expecting Heinz Ketchup with their Souvlaki.
It’s not Zakynthos’ fault. If anything it’s ours! We Brits asked for Blackpool pleasure beach but with more sun and cheaper booze and that’s exactly what we got… but at what cost? What did we tear down here so that “G Spot” or “Lit” bar could be built? What food are we missing because 1€ a slice pizza is a thing? How many more turtles could flourish here if we stopped chasing them in “rent a day” speedboats and leaving our cans on their nesting beaches.
Maybe I’m just too old for Zante… maybe if I was 18… maybe if … actually, no. Not even then would a “headfucker” cocktail on Laganas strip at 05:00 appeal. Call me old fashioned but I’d take remote isolation on Hydra or home cooking on Paros any day rather than a week all inclusive on Zante.