A Travellerspoint blog

Greece

Get Her to the Greek: Day Seven

The Great Greek Wine Experience

We wanted to visit the peninsula on the western portion of Kefalonia and knew that would make a long day, so we agreed to get up early-ish and have a quick breakfast and hit the road.

I made pressed cheese sandwiches that we wolfed down so that we could be on the road by 8:30 a.m.

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Our original plan was to rent a boat and visit the hard to reach beaches, but halfway there, the boat guy called. He spoke almost no English. We spoke no Greek. We couldn’t understand one another AT ALL. After a very frustrating and awkward conversation he finally said, “No boat. Sea no good. No calm.”

Ah….we were not renting a boat.

On to Plan B: we decided to pick one beach we could reach by car and head there instead.

It took an hour to reach Petani Beach, and we savored every beautiful moment of it. Sweeping vistas, goat filled hillsides, and amazing sea views met us at every turn.

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When Petani Beach came into view, we were mesmerized.

Petani Beach was an expansive horseshoe shaped cove with limestone cliffs surrounding it. There were a few small beach bars and some loungers set up on one end. A steep road led down to the magnificent beach.

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After we walked around for a bit, admiring the beauty of the beach and had ourselves settled on a couple of sunbeds, it was about 10:30 a.m. Matt went in search of liquid sustenance.

In the Bahamas or the Caribbean, this is a perfectly acceptable time to start day drinking. One starts early with a little mimosa, champagne, maybe a bloody Mary…transitioning as appropriate as the day progresses.

Apparently, ordering an alcoholic beverage at this early hour is as uncouth in Greece as throwing toilet paper in the actual toilet or refusing the obligatory plate of watermelon at the end of a meal.

Matt returned with two cocktails, but a sheepish and puzzled expression on his face.

“When I went up to the bar and ordered two drinks, the bartender looked at me funny, shrugged, and said, ‘Whatever you want.’ I thought that was weird until I looked around and EVERYONE else was sipping a coffee. We are now the boorish drunkard Americans.”

Winning!

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We enjoyed being the tacky Americans on the beach for a couple of hours before we finally became hungry enough to pry ourselves off our loungers and go in search of food.

We had to stop at look at the view from above one more time. It was stupid beautiful. Ridiculous.

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In anticipation of a boat day, I had packed a picnic. We decided we’d drive and see if we could find a quiet, shady spot to eat. We saw some beautiful vistas on that drive.

But we never saw a quiet shady place to eat. Every beautiful spot we found was in the blaring sun and it was HOT.

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We decided to save the picnic and stop at the famed “fisherman’s hut” on Agia Kyriaki. I remembered reading about a simple shack where there was no menu, homemade wine, and you simply got what they had: fried fish, bread, salad, and potatoes.

You didn't even order. You simply sat down and, eventually, someone brought you food.

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I was certain the wine was not FDA approved.

Frankly, I’m still not sure what it was.

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The food was simple, fresh, and delicious.

That evening, I had booked something that had the potential to be cheesy and horrific or one of the most amazing experiences of our life. I was giddy with anticipation.

I had booked “The Greek Wine Experience,” a private wine tour. All I knew was that it would last several hours and would include several locations and tastings. The rest was a mystery.

It would turn out to be the single most amazing and memorable experience of our entire Greek vacation.

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Dimitris Lolos picked us in in a shining black SUV promptly at 6:00 p.m. He drove us to the Robolo wine making region of the island. Kefalonia is the only place in the world where the Robolo grape variety is produced. On the way there, the conversation was easy and comfortable, as he educated us on Kefalonian wine making. His passion for it shone through.

After a drive that was a feast for the eyes, we found ourselves nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains where the Robola Wine Cooperative has a beautiful wine making facility. It sits at 1345 feet above sea level, below the verdant slopes of Mount Ainos and beside the beautiful monastery of St. Gerassimo, patron saint of Kefalonia.

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He toured us through the facility, explaining each part of the process. It wasn’t stiff or uncomfortable, the way I had imagined. It was like being with an old friend.

After the tour, we entered the tasting room and sampled 4 wines – each one a heavier pour than the last.

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At this point, Dimitri told us he was taking us to his private vineyard for a sunset wine tasting.

When we stepped out of the SUV, we found ourselves in the middle of a large vineyard high atop a mountain, looking down at the sea. The entire world was bathed in golden light from the setting sun. A small stone farmhouse with a large veranda was nestled intimately in the vines, and the only sound other than our feet in the rich soil was the tinkling of the bells on the goats’ collars far off in the neighboring fields.

It was so beautiful I wanted to weep.

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Dimitri seated us on the patio, with an old wine barrel for a table. We faced the sunset as he brought out 4 different food/wine pairings over the next couple of hours. Each wine was thoughtfully selected to accompany a platter of fruits, meats, cheeses, nuts, breads, fresh tomatoes, and olive oil. He would set the food and the bottle of wine before us and retreat to the interior, leaving us in privacy.

He didn’t pour a tasting. Each time, he poured a glass. And then refilled the glass. Again and again. We went through bottles. Many, many bottles.

As the sun died in the horizon, leaving nothing but a thin line of orange stretched across the mountains and the sea, he brought out a 5th bottle, a bonus wine, which the 3 of us proceeded to drink together in the beautiful darkness.

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At the risk of sounding cliché, it was magical. Truly magical. Every note was simply perfection.

Matt and I agreed later that it was one of our favorite travel experiences of all time.

Dimitri has created something unique and special on his little mountain and we felt blessed to have been lucky enough to experience it.

Greek Wine Experience, indeed.

We had so much wine, I don’t even remember the drive back. The only thing I remember is that I nearly peed my pants. I had consumed an inordinate amount of wine over a 4 hour period without a single bathroom break.

Old ladies drinking wine need bathroom breaks.

Other than that, the night was perfection.

Telia, Dimitri!

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Posted by vicki_h 06:45 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Six

Just me and my BFF (best feta forever or big fat fanny...both were appropriate)


We enjoyed a huge breakfast on the terrace, overlooking the calm blue sea.

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I have to say I loved making breakfast each day. The Greek fridge looks so simple and fresh, nothing like my refrigerator at home with stacked up re-used butter containers holding God-know-what, at least 7 different half empty jars of mustard, and an excessive volume of condiments. This refrigerator made me excited about making food.

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We decided to start our day by finding Pessada Beach.

All I knew was that it was beautiful and hard to get to.

I didn’t know we had to trek down 9,857 steps in the blazing sun to reach it.

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We stood at the top looking down. “Do you want to do it?” I asked Matt. “I won’t be mad if you don’t want to do it.” I was desperately hoping he’d take this generous offer and proclaim he’d rather find some easy loungers that would require no more than 10 steps from the car door.

“Let’s do it,” he said with enthusiasm.

Damn his enthusiasm.

We were about halfway down when we reached a man who was bent over at a 90 degree angle at the waist, clutching his knees, heaving for breath. Sweat was pouring down his back and his face was an unnatural shade of pink.

I knew I was in trouble. Later. Going down was easy.

The beach was beautiful. And SMALL. But beautiful.

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We found a little place to spread out on a large flat rock and took a swim. After drying back out and enjoying a bit of sun, we decided to head to lunch, as this beach had no facilities, food, or drinks.

This meant it was time to go back up those 12,986 steps. I know I said 9,857 before, but I was pretty sure more steps had been added while I was napping on a rock.

After stopping approximately 14 times, each time pretending I simply needed to adjust my sandal or wanted to look back out at the view (secretly hoping Matt couldn’t hear my ragged breathing), I made it back up.

We drove down to Lourdas Beach to find Klimatis Tavern. What we found was a delightful restaurant with the beach in front and towering mountains in back. We passed through a garden to reach the entry. The tables were set under a grape arbor that hung thickly with purple grapes. Of course, several cats played nearby, hoping for a dropped bit of fish or a tidbit of chicken.

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We had one of our favorite meals that day: delicious cheese stuffed peppers, mussels in a mustard garlic broth, a fresh salad with tomatoes and barley rusk, baked halloumi cheese with tomatoes, meatballs, and a tomato and basil risotto.

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On the way home, we stopped at Klimatsias Beach and enjoyed drinks at Waterway Café, overlooking the beach and group of large topless women below.

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With such a stunning villa view, we had wine on the deck before heading to dinner.

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Not wanting to make another mistake and eat at Denny’s Acropolis, I had made a reservation at Cavo Liakas, an enchanting little restaurant in the nearby village of Spartia. This adorable tavern in the center of the village was dripping with ivy and glowing with warm light.

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Our dinner came with cats as well as traditional Greek sausages, mushrooms baked with cheese, and two fish dishes – a bream for Matt and salmon for me. For dessert, we had their crazy good custard pie.

Yes, we were getting very fat, indeed.

Posted by vicki_h 07:43 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Five

It’s All Greek to Me

We couldn’t believe our 5 days on Zakynthos were already over. It was up at 6:00 a.m. to catch a flight to the next island: Kefalonia.

We had a moment of panic when we reached the small airport, checked our bags, and then realized the wine we had bought the day before was in Matt’s backpack.

I thought seriously about running into the bathroom and seeing how much of it I could drink out of the bottle before we boarded, but, in the end, we simply left it with the rental car guy as a “thank you” for upgrading us from our economy car to the Jeep (that we nearly destroyed). We also hoped he’d remember our generous gift if he happened to notice any odd ….scratches…that might not have been there before…..

The flight was short and sweet. We found ourselves standing at the single, tiny bag belt at the Kefalonia airport at 9:00 a.m.

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Kefalonia (or Cephalonia…it was maddening how everything seemed to have two names…Zakynthos or Zante? Daphne or Dafni? Kefalonia or Cephalonia?) is the biggest of the Ionian islands. The island is dominated by tall mountains, dramatic cliffs, picturesque beaches, and quaint waterfront towns. It is a more natural beauty, filled with winding roads that snake through olive groves and wild cypress, revealing hidden coves around every turn. Even the beach on the road to the airport was beautiful.

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Kefalonia retains more rural charm than the other islands. It hasn’t seen some of the vast development that Zakynthos and Corfu have seen, but is instead filled with flowing vineyards, quiet villages, and gorgeous beaches.

We jumped in our little Fiat Panda and headed toward our villa, thankful that the villa manager had agreed to a very early check in.

Villa Quarda was part of Vardiola Beach Villas, a set of private houses situated right on the water in Svoronata, about 20 minutes south of the airport, on the southwest portion of the island. With four bedrooms, it was far bigger than we needed, but that infinity pool had called my name. The villa was outstanding, and the hospitality of the staff was exceptional.

We were welcomed inside, given a tour, and left with a food basked and wine.

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We arrived so early that, even after taking time to unpack, we had time to hit a beach before lunch. We decided to try to find Paliolinos, which was fairly close to the villa. The first few miles of the drive were fine. We passed goats and stone houses and numerous olive groves. It was when the road started to become narrower and narrower and the pavement started to get rougher and rougher that we got a little uneasy.

When we found ourselves on a single lane dirt road, we immediately thought back to That Day We Almost Died on a Beautiful Greek Island because of the Great Driving Disaster on Goat Hill. We shouted a collective “Hell no!” and immediately turned around.

We headed to nearby Avithos Beach instead, where we found a charming seaside tavern, a beach bar, and ample loungers.

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We feasted on bread, olives, hard cheese soaked in olive oil, tzatziki (a garlicky cucumber-yogurt dip), and amazing salad and beef stifado (Chunks of tender beef cooked with whole pearl onions in a rich tomato sauce that is served with a good supply of crusty bread to mop up the sauce).

In case you were wondering, yes, we were getting fat.

We enjoyed post-lunch cocktails at Cavo and beach lounging for the rest of the afternoon. Avithos was a beautiful beach with towering cliffs behind it and warm golden sand with shallow water that barely got above knee high no matter how far out you went.

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We returned to the villa and cleaned up for dinner. With a little time to kill, we headed to Gentelini Winery, in hopes of replacing the wine that we had to hand over to the Budget guy for fear of being arrested as we went through airport security.

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The winery was charming and served us a sampling of cheese and tomatoes with soft bread and olive oil to accompany our tasting.

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I had planned for us to eat dinner at a highly recommended restaurant near the villa called Espirides. We had driven by it earlier in the day and it looked lovely. What I didn’t expect was to be told “No reservation, no eat.” They were completely booked for the entire night.

This led to a frantic search in the dark for somewhere to eat. As an uber planner….THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME. It was late, we were unfamiliar with the area (having just arrived), we were hungry, and it was dark. The area we were staying in wasn’t heavily populated with restaurants and “town” was more like a market and a café.

We saw a brightly lit restaurant and pulled into the parking lot.

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And that is how we ended up eating at the Denny’s of Greece, folks.

We couldn’t have picked a more boring, basic, overly typical, tourist trap restaurant. This was not an authentic experience.

Acropolis Restaurant was Shoney’s with Greek columns and feta cheese.

Cheesy Greek music (basically the CD that would be called “Cheesy Greek Music” if you ordered it on Amazon) poured through the restaurant. We ate a very blah dinner with the world’s meanest cat sitting at our feet.

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Posted by vicki_h 10:36 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Four

Let’s Hear it For Grampa’s Wine

Our vacation had finally stopped turning on us, and we woke up feeling refreshed. Our plan for the day was to visit the beautiful Cliffs of Keri and Grampsas Winery.

But first….BREAKFAST.

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After breakfast, we drove to the southwest portion of the island to find the famed Cliffs of Keri. You see some interesting things driving around the rural streets of a Greek island. This guy gets my vote for "best hitchhiker."

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We didn’t plan it, as we didn’t even know what the hours were (actually, I didn't even know there were "hours"), but we were the first to arrive as they opened the café overlooking the cliffs. I suppose the vacation fairies had decided to take pity on us, since we’d endured some, ahem, “difficulties” to that point.

Being first meant we got the ABSOLUTE BEST TABLE with THE ABSOLUTE BEST VIEW.

Winning!

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Much to the chagrin of the flood of professional bloggers that herded in after us. Seriously…they had EQUIPMENT with them. These 20-something year old girls would pull up, way overdressed for the setting, pull all kinds of selfie contraptions out of their trunk that they piled onto some absurdly patient boyfriend/husband/friend and then would spend the next 20 minutes working to get the ideal shot with their phones, only to run off as soon as they had it. Were they even able to see the place before them?

We took the time to take a few photos (with an actual CAMERA), but spent the next hour simply sitting in the sunshine, sipping wine, eating olives, and staring at the view. We watched as countless young couples showed up, spent the entire time there consumed with their phones and all of the selfies they could take, and as soon as they snapped the perfect shot, they were off to the next view, the next Instagram moment, the next selfie. They never even looked at the way the water turned from turquoise to cobalt to indigo as it moved farther from the shore, or the way the sun hit the waves, sending showers of sparkles rippling through the tide.

They didn't pause long enough to feel the warm sun on their skin or taste the crisp chilled rose.

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It made me a little sad for them, these “dash and go” tourists. They were so consumed with showing someone else what a good time they were having that they failed to actually have a good time. I’m all for snapping a few great photos, but do it, be done with it, and then savor the moment. Be in the place. As I sipped my chilled rose and munched on a tangy olive, I heard the sound of the waves below. I nodded at the old man with the kind eyes who was reading a tattered book under the grape arbor. I watched the woman who was sitting under the portico sewing a flag as her needle went in an out with lightning speed. I held Matt’s warm hand and was simply happy to be in that place. I took the time to enjoy the simple beauty of the moment.

And in case you were wondering, NO Matt did not go out on that little finger platform that hung precariously over the end of the world.

We finished our wine and moved on to lunch in the nearby Keri Village. Keri Village was a tiny spot on the road filled with colorful buildings draped with ivy and cute little tavernas with brightly painted tables sitting in the street.

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We settled on Sunset Taverna. Even though it wasn’t sunset, the view was lovely. With the ever present carafe of red wine, we enjoyed stuffed peppers, fresh bread, salad with grilled halloumi cheese, and shrimp wrapped in bacon.

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Anyone have a guess as to what a Piza Toy Boynoy is? I really wanted to know.

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“Where to next?” Matt asked as we savored the last bit of wine.

“I thought we’d stop by Grampsas Winery on the way back to the villa,” I replied.

“Grampa’s Winery? Are you serious? That sounds like something we’d have in Bean Station,” he said.

“GRAMPSAS,” I chuckled.

Located at the foot of a mountain in the village of Lagodopo, Grampsas is a small, family run boutique winery that produces some very good wines. We were greeted by a surprisingly professional 12 year old boy and Fred the cat, who couldn’t be bothered to wake up from his nap to acknowledge guests.

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We were set up with a tasting and some snacks and left to enjoy the quiet courtyard.

Which came with KITTENS. Which was amazing.

Wine + kittens.

Baby animals make everything better. It was like the Cuddle Bus in Knoxville that lets you hold a puppy and drink a beer for $5 or that new baby goat yoga. Even I might do yoga with a baby goat.

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The rest of the day was spent on loungers by the sea not doing much of anything and drinking our newly acquired bottle of “Grampa’s Wine” on our daybed.

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We ventured to Lofos for dinner, a small restaurant not far from the villa that offered a commanding view of the valley below.

We started with sautéed mushrooms and a salad with sundried tomatoes and cheese, followed by a baked spaghetti and the “Lofos Special” pizza, all while discreetly feeding the cat under the table.

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We couldn't believe it was already the end of our stay on Zakinthos. Next up...Kefalonia.

Posted by vicki_h 07:03 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

Get Her to the Greek: Day Three

It Isn’t Easy Being [s]Green[/s] Greek

It was our 3rd day in Greece and, while it had been LOVELY thus far, each day had been slightly fraught with disaster. I guess that’s what happens when you are a do-it-yourself traveler. We lacked the safety of a tour or a trip planner. There was no bus waiting for us each day to tell us where to go.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The previous days had left us a bit exhausted, so we spent an entire, lazy, decadent, luxurious morning at the villa. We started off with breakfast.

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Then we hit the seaside loungers and listened to the waves and did a whole lot of nothing.

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Batteries sufficiently recharged, we headed into Zakynthos Town to see if we could find something to repair the car with. We were hoping against hope that the gazillion scratches that covered the entirety of the Jeep were superficial and could be buffed out.

Zante Town is the capital of the island and definitely the commercial center. Much of the island was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1953, and Zante Town was not spared. However, it had been rebuilt with lovely Venetian style houses, buildings, and shops. Visiting Zante Town hadn’t been on our “list,” but I’m glad the Great Driving Disaster on Goat Hill had happened, otherwise we’d have never seen it.

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Narrow streets were lined with cafes where beautiful women sat sipping frappes as scooters whizzed and darted between the traffic. Fresh fruit stands sat in the dappled sunlight and bougainvillea spilled out from random entry ways.

Finding an auto parts store proved more difficult than we expected. There was no Auto Zone. We couldn’t even read most signs. We asked and didn’t get much help.

FINALLY, we were told where there was an auto parts store a short drive away. We drove. We entered. The sole individual in the small store was an elderly man propped on a stool that didn’t speak a word of English. Matt gestured. He drew pictures. He grunted. Nothing.

Finally, Matt brought him out to the Jeep and showed him the sides.

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“Ah!” the little man laughed and went back inside the store. He produced some rubbing compounds, but didn’t have any buffing cloths or rags. He sent us to the cleaning store.

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Because we couldn’t read the signs, we picked the store that had buckets in the window. We figured that was a good bet.

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Success!!

Then we saw a car wash and thought, “It can’t hurt, right?” We paid our $6 and “went in the tunnel” as we were instructed.

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The Jeep already looked 50% better just from the wash. We were hopeful.

Since we had driven this far, we ventured to the “NO GO ZONE” known as the southeast end of the island, aka Party Central. It was indeed over commercialized, and the difference between it and the quiet north end of the island was striking. Clubs besieged the street offering cocktails, dreams and cheap, low-quality booze. Swarms of excitable young people stumbled, scuffled, and fumbled their way from one bar to another as girls in hot pink thong bikinis trekked down the sidewalk with floats shaped like unicorns bouncing in their arms.

Thankfully, I knew of a lovely, out of the way spot at Dafni Beach. Despite being wedged unceremoniously between the hundreds of sunbeds jammed on Banana Beach and the champagne spray parties on the quarter mile stretch of neon beach clubs in Laganas, Dafni is a part of the Zakynthos Marine Park and is nesting ground for loggerhead turtles. It maintains a quite simplicity, even in the midst of the MTV Spring Break vibe of southeast Zante.

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The drive down to Dafni was stupid beautiful.

It is also home to Porto Mela, a super chill open-air beachfront restaurant that boasts the best bread on the island.

The restaurant was super laid back. Bohemian surfer types sat at mismatched tables underneath shady trees having deep conversations as they sipped a frosty Mythos and smoked. I could already smell the bread from the wood fired bread ovens.

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The bread was to die for. It was all chewy dense and moist inside and crispy outside, served with a bowl of freshly crushed tomatoes and garlic.

We had a simple salad of greens with lemon, olive oil, and sea salt, grilled chicken souvlaki, moussaka, and feta with olive oil, tomatoes, and peppers.

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After lunch, we decided to hit the posh beach club at Porto Azzuro. When in Rome and all that, right?

While beautiful, it was not our scene. There were far too many people. Although, their drinks were outstanding. We sipped caipirinhas and watched with amusement as about 20 bikini clad girls jockeyed for position on the beach by the rocks trying to get their perfect selfie.

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We finished our afternoon buffing the Jeep, because that is what everyone wants to do on the third day of their Greek Island vacation.

Can you believe every scratch came out??? Woo Hoo!

It was celebration time.

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We had dinner reservations near Zante Town and I had seen an odd little bar nearby that looked like it would either be awful or amazing. Of course I made Matt try it out.

It turned out to be amazing.

Portofino Bar sat on the water’s edge and was basically a mish mash of odd furniture, bottles, and strange nick knacks, but it somehow worked beautifully and created an eclectic, relaxing space with a super Bohemian vibe. When they brought me a handwritten menu on thick brown paper, I knew it was my kind of place.

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After enjoying a couple of drinks in the fading light, we headed to Bassia for dinner. Touted as one of Zakynthos’ best, it lived up to the hype.

Set on the water, surrounded by beautiful trees and lights, it was lovely. It was also windy. And chilly.

Before I was barely seated, the waiter had brought me a lap blanket and a glass of wine.

We shared steamed mussels in garlic and white wine; the Bassia salad with local rye rusks covered with crushed tomatoes and large chunks of feta; the linguine with sundried tomatoes and feta; and grilled shrimp.

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We didn’t get lost today, no one forced us onto a bouncing boat, and we fixed the Jeep.

We were settling in and starting to do Greece right.

Posted by vicki_h 05:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (2)

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