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Zante - a magical island

Travel journalists are not going far at the moment but that hasn’t stopped them sharing their stories, and love of Greece, with Olympic Holidays. From a return to Crete and the ‘poetry’ of Corfu to the foodie heaven of Kefalonia and Zante’s magical beaches we hope you enjoy the expert observations of our favourite islands to inspire your next journeys.

It may have a reputation for cheap drinks and an all-night party scene, but Zante (or Zakynthos, to give its Greek name) is a magical island to visit. I should know - I spent four summers working here when I was in my 20s and I still make frequent pilgrimages to the 'Flower of the Levant'.

Beyond nostalgia, what draws me back is the limpid sea and the smell of the pines, plus the chance to wander traffic-free lanes through groves of twisted olives. Away from buzzing Laganas (the south coast resort behind Zante's non-stop party image), the island's appeal is way more laid-back and authentic than one might think.

The third largest of the Ionian Isles, it has a lively capital, sleepy interior and stretches of untouched coast to discover. Even Laganas Beach has surprises: leave behind the beachfront bars and tourists roasting on rows of loungers and you'll find the wild, empty sands of a National Marine Park where sea turtles crawl ashore to nest.

Laganas Beach is the island's biggest. Filling a sweeping bay, its calm, shallow waters are perfect for swimming and its resorts (Laganas at one end, Kalamaki at the other) provide a heady blend of lazy days and late nights. Other shores worth seeking out include watersports-friendly Argassi , or lovely Gerakas (possibly the prettiest) at the island's south-eastern tip.

All, however, are trumped by Zante's most famous beach, Navagio. Tucked beneath sheer, white cliffs and fronting a vivid, cobalt-blue bay, it's instantly recognisable for the shipwreck plonked picturesquely on its pebbles, in doing so creating one of the most enduring and iconic snapshots of Greece. Inaccessible by land, the only way to get here is by boat, so either take a group tour or upgrade the experience by hiring your own vessel and beating the crowds.

Other highlights elsewhere on the island include somnolent villages such as Keri, which sits on a pine-covered headland in the south, not far from Laganas. Closer to Navagio at the other end of the isle is even sleepier Ano Volimes, which is home to Kaminaki, one of my favourite ever restaurants. The food - mostly organic and produced in the village - is fantastic, and the charismatic owner, Dennis, turns simple suppers into memorable events. Make the experience even more special by raising a glass of Verdea, Zante's indigenous wine that's made from local grape varieties.

Yamas!

Follow freelance journalist James on Twitter  and find more of this work at telegraph.co.uk and independent.co.uk.

Beach cafe in Laganas, Zante
Beach cafe in Laganas, Zante

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