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Get Her to the Greek: Day Two

That Day We Nearly Died on a Beautiful Greek Island

The day started innocently enough. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast on our balcony, listening to the surf crashing against the rocks below.



Our plan was to drive to Porto Limnionas, a unique swimming area carved into the rock on the other side of the island. Zykanthos is a fairly large island (156 square miles) and the interior is wild and untamed, filled with mountains and rocky expanses.

Armed with nothing more than Google Maps on our iPhones, we set off, blindly trusting.


I think visual aids are in order to fully explain what happened to us that day.

I present Exhibit 1: an innocent looking Google map that we are all familiar with, offering multiple routes and highlighting the shortest route, which is obviously the right choice. I mean, obviously.


What I didn’t know was that the shortest route (indicated below in red) included a HUGE section of road that doesn’t appear in Google Street View.

Wanna’ know why? BECAUSE IT’S NOT A FLIPPING ROAD. It's a goat path.


But we didn’t know that yet.

We started merrily on our way, marveling at the pretty sights.

La te da. Here we go.




We had a second chance to PAY ATTENTION when we reached this intersection and the route turned us toward a very rangy road. Very. Rangy.



Instead of noticing the increasing deterioration of our “road,” we were too busy “ooooing” and “aaaaahhhing” over the beautiful olive groves that lined the “road.” It was truly beautiful.

Until it wasn’t.



The semi-paved road gave way to dirt. The dirt gave way to loose soil and rock. It got narrower and narrower.

We made our final, and fatal, mistake when the map told us to make a sharp left turn, over a giant gravel pile, up a steep hill, with drop offs on either side. That was our last chance to turn around.

We didn’t take it.

We powered on.

And soon found ourselves on a footpath, lined sharply with dense shrubbery and thorns, too narrow to drive through without hearing the continual screeeeeeeech of the branches tearing down the sides of our vehicle (it was a very expensive sound in case you were wondering). To add to our delight, it was steep, with sheer drop offs on one side and a sheer dirt face on the other, going up endless switchback turns.

We were going to die.

It was very quiet in the car.

Well, except for the sound of the shrubbery eating all of the paint off of our rental vehicle. This shrubbery:


We couldn’t turn around.

We couldn’t back up.

All we could do was continue to inch forward and hope the path stayed wide enough to pass and didn’t eventually peter out into nothing.

For the final exhibit I show you THIS:


Our path is in red dots. See that bit in the middle? That’s where there wasn’t even a road.

At this point, we simply stopped the car. We didn’t know what to do. Matt got out and silently cursed. I was repeating a silent prayer in my head, like an endless mantra.


There was nothing to do but keep going.

After the most nail biting, miserable hour of my life, we saw this:


It was the Church of Agia Marina and it meant we had found a road. And a village.

And our sanity.






We got back onto the road, found the first place to pull over, and stopped. We didn’t know whether to vomit, weep, or kiss the pavement.

We both stood beside the car, simply breathing deeply, eyes closed, feeling like we might pass out.

We were badly shaken and the Jeep…..oooooohhhhh nooooo….don’t even ask about the Jeep.

We heaved a sigh of relief as this donkey looked on in sympathy.


We continued on down to Porto Limnionas. What else could we do? We sure as hell weren't turning around and going back.






Desperately in need of a stiff drink, we made it to Porto Limnionas, found two loungers, and promptly ordered 2 caipirinhas. We finished them before the waiter could even walk away and ordered 2 more as he quietly looked at us and exclaimed, “Oh my.”

He had no idea what we’d just been through.

Somehow, we managed to shake the morning off and enjoy ourselves. It was probably the liquor. We decided not to worry about the Jeep. We’d try to buff it out later, and if we couldn’t, so be it. There was nothing we could do at this point.

So why not drink, lounge in the sun, and swim? We were in Greece on holiday, after all.

Porto Limionas was gorgeous. Not a beach, Porto Limionas is a narrow inlet fringed by limestone. More of what we used to call a “swimming hole” than a beach, the hillside is covered with stone terraces and sunbeds with umbrellas, where you can waste a day away sipping caipirinhas and forgetting about your scratched up Jeep.

















There was even a horrific and rusty old jumping platform that I simply couldn’t keep myself off of.

Tetanus be damned.






When our nerves were finally numbed by alcohol, we drove a short way to Porto Schiza where we had lunch with the most stunning view.









Greek salad; toasted bread with crushed tomatoes, capers, and feta; and pasta with a rich meat sauce went wonderfully with the red wine and the view to the sea.

It was time for Navagio Beach, aka Shipwreck Beach, the one obligatory tourist moment I insisted we have on this island. A beach only accessible by boat, the blinding white sand is dominated by the hulking rusty skeleton of a wrecked ship.

The first time I saw a photo of that beach from above, I was smitten. I didn’t care if I had to push my way through three busloads of senior citizens, I was going to see that view.

Matt was less than enthused. It is important to note that, 1) Matt hates anything crowded, 2) Matt hates anything touristy, and 3) Matt hates heights.

For Matt, my burning need to see Navagio from above was a trifecta of wretchedness.

We arrived and, as expected, the overlook area for Navagio was like Disney on steroids. It was like someone was giving away free puppies and money, there were so many people.

Technically, there are 2 overlooks for Navagio Beach. There is the official overlook, where most people go and patiently stand in line for their 10 second photo. Then there is the “you’re not supposed to go there” overlook that requires a 10 minute hike on a scrubby path with all the other people who have absolutely no concern about their own safety. This is the overlook at least one tourist falls to his or her death from each year. Of course this was the overlook I wanted to see. I’ll have none of your official, let’s put up a metal barricade so no one can die taking their picture, thankyouverymuch. I preferred to risk my life for my selfie.

What I didn’t anticipate was just how many other fools were willing to walk out on the same ledge. While the vast majority of people were waiting in the official line for the crap view, there were still an awful lot of rule breakers trekking out the path that led to the alternate view. I fully realized that I had been sucked into the Instagram Vortex when I passed an Asian girl in a sparkly ball gown and heels…on a treacherous cliff walk, for goodness sakes.

I almost turned back. I hate to be “one of the crowd,” but ooohhhh, I wanted to see that view.

Matt. Hated. Every. Moment.

He walked about 50 feet back from the crumbling edge, filled with all manner of loose rock, grumbling the whole way.




“Come see this view,” I would pause and shout.


“Matt, this is AH-MAZING…come look!” I’d scream enthusiastically.

Grumble. Grumble.








Eventually we made it out and Matt glowered as I got my requisite shot. I made him get in one too. I think his face says it all.


We pushed our way through the hordes of bloggers and social media junkies, and the occasional girl in a prom dress, and hopped in our Jeep to high tail it back to the villa. It had been a long and nerve wrenching day. We needed some down time.

Oh…but look SHOPPING!

I was exhausted UNTIL I saw several beautiful shops with gorgeous jewelry, rugs, and dishware.











And then we stumbled across the most amazing little winery. Art & Wine was located in a lovingly restored stone building, surrounded by vineyards, olive trees, and lemons. In their own words, they offer "fine Greek wine from the Ionian, made in the old ways and certified by the modern. In our winery you will find not regular, commercial labels, but only varieties provided within the history and culture of the Heptanese: rare, red Avgoustiatis and lively, golden Robola."

Not only does he make wine, but Giannis Giatras also does religious painting in his nearby creative workshop.

The place was serene, raw, and authentic.











We were so tired when we finally arrived back that we decided we didn’t want to get back in that Jeep. We spent the evening with wine down by the sea. When we finally got hungry, we made the leisurely walk back over to Ammoudi and grabbed a light dinner of stuffed peppers, chicken salad, and garlic dip.










So far, this vacation had not been as relaxing as we had hoped.

Maybe we could crank down the excitement factor in the days to come….

Posted by vicki_h 05:59 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 One

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger...Doesn't It?

Unless you are talking about getting hit by a bus, in which case, you certainly wouldn’t end up stronger. You’d end up with a funny limp and a medical assistance border collie named Fergus.

But I digress….

Back to the story at hand.

I was drowsing lazily in a fluffy white bed, gauzy curtains breezing around me as a ceiling fan slowly whump-whump-whumped from the ceiling. I could hear the ocean waves just below the villa. I rolled over languidly when…

….suddenly I heard a screeching like a bat and a fire alarm had an unholy baby. What is it Lassie? Is it a hurricane flood warning? Are tornadoes coming? Is the villa on fire???

No. It was just the alarm clock. The 6:00 a.m. alarm clock. On my first day of vacation. In Greece.

This was so WRONG.

In our exhausted stupor of the night before, we had apparently agreed to pay Antonia’s nephew to take us out on his boat IMMEDIATELY. No unpacking, no settling in, no buying food. Just jump up, get dressed, and get on the boat. Antonia has been so insistent and we simply didn't have the heart to hurt her feelings.

I didn't even WANT to do a boat trip on Zakynthos. It wasn't part of the PLAN.

Y’all know how much I hate interrupted plans.

My itinerary (of course there was an itinerary…who do you think I am?), included sleeping in, making the short 2 minute drive to the market for food, and lazing around the villa until lunchtime, when we would pry ourselves off our chairs and make our way to a beach.

It did not include getting up at some profane hour and jumping in a boat to God Knows Where with no breakfast.

And no coffee.

Oh, hell to the no……I didn’t have any coffee!!!

We had 20 minutes. That was just enough time to run to the market before getting on the boat. We could make it. We ran out of the villa before remembering we didn’t have the car keys.

Or any keys.

We had locked ourselves out.

We wasted our beautiful 20 minutes getting the housekeeper to let us back in.

I was cursing under my breath...…when Antonia came out of her little cottage with a complete breakfast tray. AND COFFEE. That gained her a few points back that she'd lost for the whole you-get-on-boat debacle.


“I knew you had no time for food or grocery. I make breakfast. Eat. Then go.”

Lovely, beautiful, blessed Antonia.

Jackie O stood sentry while we had crispy toasted gouda sandwiches with basil and a plate of fresh tomatoes.

She won points for breakfast, but I was still secretly wishing upon Antonia that every chocolate chip cookie she ate for the rest of her life turned out to be raisins – because really…the boat? I didn’t want to go out on any boat.

For one thing, there was nothing I wanted to see by boat. For another, it was WINDY and the boat was SMALL. I know what that means.

I was having flashbacks to the ill-fated whale shark tour we had done in Roatan where the boat bounced so violently that the captain had to move me to the front and tether me to the seat with ropes for fear that I would be catapulted into the waves. My tailbone never recovered. And I'm pretty sure I'm still an inch shorter than I was.

Our captain spoke little to no English. As Matt tried to extract from him exactly where we would be going, we climbed in and our fate was sealed.

“Caves?” he asked us.

Matt looked at me and shrugged.

“Caves are good,” I said.

Whew. I was afraid he was going to try to take us to Shipwreck Beach. While I wanted to see it from above, I had no desire to see Shipwreck from below. THIS is not my idea of a fabulous vacation moment:


I'd sooner shave my head in exchange for a McRib Combo Meal than go to that beach. Or go back to middle school.... with a bad haircut and the wrong shoes. Heck, I'd rather sleep naked on a gas station bathroom floor than go to that beach. Me and crowds don't mix. Especially on beaches.

The caves were actually supposed to be quite phenomenal. I knew the caves were close by and would keep us close to the shore where the water was calmer. I also assumed it would be a short trip and get us back before lunch. Maybe this wasn't so bad.


















Despite being torn from my beautiful villa so early on my first day, the boat ride was lovely. The water shimmered in every color of blue and the cliffs rose dramatically beside the boat. The caves were beautiful and mysterious and we felt we had this liquid world to ourselves.

Except when he decided to go INSIDE one of the caves. And got the boat stuck. And knocked the bimini top off. But we made it out. All good.

I was feeling pretty good about the boat ride, assuming that we’d spend these couple of hours in the morning looking at the caves and we’d be back before lunch and could resume our day, uninterrupted.

That’s when the captain abruptly turned the boat to open sea, cranked it up to high gear, and headed north.

As my body was slammed onto the hard seat again and again, and my spine literally lost inches with each minute that passed, I looked at Matt, stricken. I was going to be 4'8" by the time this ride was over and I was pretty sure I had just bitten my tongue.

“Where are we going?” I mouthed to Matt.

He shrugged. “What else is out here?” he mouthed back.

Oh dear sweet baby Jesus in a manger….we were going to Shipwreck Beach. That meant at least a 1 hour body pounding ride that would take us around the north tip of the island to the other side. If it was this rough in the calm bay, I could only imagine what would happen to us when we left the protected coast and traveled around. I already felt like I had been shot out of a canon onto a very wet, bucking bull ride.

Not only that, I looked out to sea and saw several MASSIVE boats loaded with hundreds of people heading to the same place.

Um…no. I hadn't traveled 33 hours to spend my first day getting beat to death on a small boat for 2 hours just to see a beach covered with ten thousand people.

“ABORT! ABORT!” I used every secret hand signal and mind control effort to send my thoughts to Matt and he picked up what I was laying down. God bless 19 years of marriage. He can read me like a cheap paperback.

“Hey, buddy,” Matt said in his perfect southern drawl, “Exactly where are we headed?”

“Shipwreck. You go Shipwreck. Everyone go Shipwreck,” he replied.

“Nah…” Matt said, “We don’t want to go to Shipwreck. We’d just like to poke around the bay here and head back.”

The captain looked at us like we had just sprouted 4 heads, but he turned back, saving my sanity and my spine.

Instead, we made a leisurely stop at the beautifully deserted Xigia Beach. This was more my speed. We enjoyed the pebbled beach and crystal clear water before jumping back into the boat and asking him to take us back.

The beach had two sides, separated by an outcropping of rock. One side had loungers, umbrellas, and quite a few people. Our side? Blissfully deserted.










As we pulled back to Ammoudi, we had a beautiful view of our villa from the water:


We made it back just before lunch and had time to explore our digs a little bit. It had been too dark the night before and too rushed that morning.

Paradisso Beach Villas is essentially a beachfront mansion that has been divided into a trio of incredibly lovely properties. We had rented Villa Antonia, the top floor of the main house. It was simply exquisite.















We wanted to head to lunch and the beach so we did the only thing we could, for fear that Antonia would realize we had bailed early on the boat trip…we hid behind bushes and ran to our Jeep.

We relied heavily on Google Maps on our iPhones on this trip. Sometimes it worked (like the night before in the dark, thankyoujesus). Sometimes it didn’t.





At some point, we found ourselves on a terrible dirt road, littered with the occasional discarded mattress and lots of goats but not much else.

“Are you sure this is right?” Matt asked.

“Heck if I know, it’s where Google said to go.” It was then that we saw the REAL road (i.e., the paved road with no dirty mattresses or fear of lurking hobos) running parallel to us, just down the mountain a bit. Live and learn. At least it got us there intact.

We had seen the beautiful Xigia beach from below, so we decided to enjoy it from above, stopped at the Xigia Tavern, perched precariously on the cliff’s edge with a bird’s eye view of the stunning shoreline.








We selected a table with a view (they all had views….) and ordered our first Greek feast: olives and wine, bread with fresh tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese, a tomato salad, pasta with meatballs, and grilled shrimp. We ate while watching the huge boats pull up to the beach below, the beach that was uninhabited except for us just hours earlier was now crawling with hundreds of desperate, sweaty bodies.


Do you see that HUGE boat? Do you know how many people are on that? Do you know how small that beach was? Madness.









We smiled and sipped our wine, lazy cats twining around our ankles (We learned on day one that every restaurant came with cats. Lots of cats. Lots and lots of cats.)

With the bill came the ever present little plate of watermelon. They simply couldn’t bear to see you leave without offering you something sweet, more like a kind friend than a proprietor.

Even though we’d had sufficient beach time, we decided to make the drive to Makris Gialos Beach and see if it was worth the fuss. En route, we saw a fresh orange juice stand. I’m a sucker for a painted van, so we stopped. The views alone were worth the stop, but that juice….oh my.








Makris Gialos was beautiful, but we were both hankering to get back to our own place and stretch out in privacy.





We headed back to the villa and traded time between our seafront daybed and the loungers down by the sea. We were joined by a wet Jackie who stood sentry while we read books and sipped wine.









After a lazy afternoon, we cleaned up and walked down to the Ammoudi Fish Tavern for cocktails (and cats). Their caipirinha was spot on. It was quickly becoming a favorite spot to end the day.










As the sun began to set, we drove the short distance to To Petrodosiako for dinner. I loved the quiet rural simplicity of the villages.

And I loved this GOAT!




Dinner was a gluttonous affair, with garlic dip, arugula and parmesan salad, baked feta, stewed beef, and pastitsio, a baked pasta dish with gooey cheese and béchamel. It was like mac n’cheese on steroids.







As usual, they couldn’t let us leave without a small gift of food or drink. This time is was a frozen limoncello, so delicious it made me want to cry.


Posted by vicki_h 05:31 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: Travel Day

Keep Going…..We’re Getting There

T.S. Eliot said, “The journey, not the arrival, matters.” Obviously, T.S. Eliot never flew American Airlines from Tennessee to Greece in a coach seat.

I had, but, inexplicably, I found myself doing it again.

Apparently, flying coach to Greece is like having a baby. You forget how bad it is until you find yourself panting and screaming for an epidural.


We left our house at 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, only to arrive in Philadelphia at 7:30 a.m. for a 12 HOUR LAYOVER.

Yes. You read that correctly.


That was American Airlines' way of making sure we were exhausted when we finally boarded our 7 hour overnight flight later that day.

The only silver lining in this very dark cloud was the fact that my childhood BFF lives in Philadelphia and I got to spend the day with her. We dropped Matt off at a cheesy downtown casino and we spa’d, sipped champers, and laughed like we were still 13 years old. We picked Matt up and enjoyed our final non-airport meal for a while, then headed back to the airport to endure the next 24 hours of abject misery.




How miserable?

We enjoyed a delightful 7 hour overnight flight in crap coach seats only to arrive in London….an overnight flight where we did not sleep but instead watched lots of movies and drank lots of beer and wine (which we thought would make us sleep, but which only made us have to get up to pee a lot). I did get one brief moment of joy when my meal turned out to be vegetable lasagna. Who doesn't remember "vegetable lasagna" from Seinfeld??? Matt had to endure an hour of punchy vegetable lasagna jokes.



Once in London, we waited 4 hours to board a 4 hour flight to Athens. Once in Athens, we waited 2 hours to board a quick 1 hour flight to the island of Zakynthos.

Funny enough, all of that travel was forgotten when we neared the tiny Zakynthos airport, the sun setting over the mountains. We'd been in transit for 2 solid days, but here we were.


When we landed in Zakynthos, we were rumpled, cranky, and bleary eyed. We had been awake for 33 hours, other than a few sad, wine-soaked hours trying to sleep in an upright position while listening to the guy eating pretzels in the row behind us. All we wanted to do was fall into a soft bed and sleep. Unfortunately, we had to get our rental Jeep and make a 30 minute drive in the dark, on twisty roads, with signs we couldn’t read.

“What did that sign say?” Matt asked.

“Anapafseos?” I muttered, staring with hope at the Google map on my iPhone and hoping it knew where we were going.

“Bless you,” Matt replied.

Somehow…we made it. In the dark. Starving. Exhausted.

Paradisso Beach Villas was a welcome haven. A complex of 3 villas set on an oceanfront cliff, the property was an oasis of rest and peace. The ornate villas were only 25 feet from the sea.

As we swayed with exhaustion in the breezy oceanfront air, our exuberant hostess, Antonia, came running out of her small cottage with open arms, followed by Jackie O, a giant schnauzer, bouncing cheerfully like an overgrown child.

This first stop on our Ionian journey was the island of Zykanthos, often called Zante. It is known for the famous “Shipwreck Beach,” or Navagio Beach, one of the most over-Instagrammed locations on earth, but beautiful nonetheless. I am not ashamed to admit it is what drew me to the island.

Zakynthos is deserving of the moniker ‘schizophrenic’. The southeast end of the island is heavily commercialized, littered with overcrowded beaches and 20somethings jacked up on Red Bull and hormones. Jet skis and giant inflatable sofas pulled behind speed boats fill the water as techno beats pump through the air. Thankfully, this part of the island is easy to avoid. Paradisso Beach Villas sat on the northeast corner of the island, where more common sights were street side tables selling locally made olive oil and wine , livestock, and low key beach tavernas.

“Vicki, Vicki, Welcome!” she said, hugging me and planting a kiss on my cheek as though we were old friends.

It was 8:00 p.m., so she gave us the world’s fastest tour (knowing we were exhausted) and showed us the little footpath that would take us just a moment down the beach to several restaurants. As we were walking away, she was shouting something about a boat ,her nephew, tomorrow morning….we were too tired to listen.


We found ourselves at Ammoudi Fish Taverna in just moments. It was a simple seafront restaurant with the most delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. We literally fell into chairs and enjoyed a dinner of goat cheese and arugula salad, mussels, pasta Bolognese, and seafood pasta. As we were paying our bill, they brought out a little plate of watermelon and limoncello. I never tired of Mediterranean hospitality.







When we arrived back at the villa we had a note.

“Arrive at boat below house tomorrow. 7:00 a.m.”

WTF? (which obviously means, “What the Feta?”)

Posted by vicki_h 05:40 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: Intro

Five years after our trip to the whitewashed enchantment of the Cyclades Islands in Greece, I found myself dreaming of a return to those idyllic islands. The simplicity, the food, the stunning beauty….it had been intoxicating and it was luring me back with its siren song.

I was ready to do it.

But….WHERE to go???

One minute I’m all like "time to hit the Greek islands ," and the next I was faced with the daunting task of choosing a tiny smidge of some 227 inhabited islands, each one as beautiful as the next. It was like being at an exquisite buffet and being told I can put 3 things on my plate.

The struggle was REAL. With so many beautiful islands to choose from, how were we supposed to settle on just a few? I Googled. I Binged. I Instagrammed. I read every article, blog, and book I could find. I even put together a powerpoint of options and made Matt watch it. You think I’m joking don’t you?

At the end of my search, I found what I was looking for. Once Matt and I saw it, we knew it was where we wanted to go.

Just barely west of mainland Greece, the Ionian Islands are a far cry from the Cyclades Islands. Flat, dry landscapes are replaced by towering green mountains vaulting out of the sea. Simple whitewashed block structures with striking blue doors are swapped for anything from Italianate villas and beautiful neoclassical mansions to stone built houses with tiled roofs and vivid colors splashed on their walls.

This verdant sprawl of striking landscapes clutching to the northwest bit of mainland Greece caught our eye, filled with seaside towns, endless breathtaking vistas, and lush mountains, dense and overgrown with olive, cypress, and fig trees, plunging into shimmering turquoise waters. It appeared to be a true Garden of Eden. But with lots of feta cheese.

With only enough time to visit a few islands, we settled on beach-blessed Zakynthos, naturally beautiful Kefalonia, and cosmopolitan Corfu.

It’s time to go back to Greece, y’all!


Posted by vicki_h 18:10 Archived in Greece Tagged greece corfu zante kefalonia greek_islands ionian_islands zykanthos shipwreck_beach navagio_beach cephalonia Comments (0)

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