The swanky side of the Jekyll and Hyde island: Inside Zante, the Greek haven with idyllic seclusion and a thriving party resort
I had been forewarned that Zakynthos (or Zante, as it’s also known) was an island with a split personality.
Indeed, one only had to board our budget-airline jet to sense why – half the cabin echoed to cut-glass Sloane accents, the other to the cadences of Coronation Street and EastEnders.
We were headed for Kapari Bay, a villa complex in the refined north of the island. The English owners, Pedro and Emma, bought the land in 2004 and spent six months on the development, building three separate villas containing a total of ten double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, all set on a secluded five-acre estate overlooking the Ionian Sea.
The gardens and terraces brim with fig, lemon and ancient olive trees. There is an infinity swimming pool, a bar and dining terrace, and there’s Pedro and Emma, who are its heart and soul.
Emma is the hostess from heaven: she’s very posh and cooks like a dream.
Pedro used to be the lighting man for the band ELO – famous, but not quite in the same league as those who have signed the visitors’ book at Kapari Bay: royalty, film stars, household names, and CEOs.
Suffice to say that David Cameron and family, and the Duke and Duchess of Wessex, have enjoyed the surroundings before us.
During our stay, our hosts organised a yacht trip on a 60ft sloop skippered by a freelance mariner, Alex Foat.
We felt like royalty as we sunbathed on the deck and glided past red-stone villas hugging the shoreline, each one slightly larger and grander than the last.
One stop on our trip was to a once-beautiful beach where ‘The Shipwreck’ now lies rusting on the sand.
This hulk of a cigarette smugglers’ ship that beached there in the 1970s has been elevated as a must-see visitor attraction on the island. Boatloads of tourists make the two-hour journey by sea from Zakynthos harbour just to take snaps of the wreck.
Alex steered our sleepy sloop for lunch to a small family seaside tavern – the Porto Roulis at Kypseli – that seems to have mimicked a film set of a small family seaside tavern, right down to Mama in the kitchen and her strapping lads helping out as waiters. It just needed Anthony Quinn to hurl a few plates, accompanied by the theme tune from Zorba The Greek.
We had morning-fresh whitebait, prawns the size of small bananas, and a plate of salad big enough to hide behind.
And yes, the wooden tables had paper tablecloths, the service was instant, and the price modest.
The north of Zakynthos is classic Greek isle, with pine forests and dry shrubs, surrounded by the occasional olive vine and cypress groves.
The coastline is largely indented with small sandy coves. One feels that the age of Twitter, vroom-vroom Maseratis and cheap bars has passed it by. So what about the other lobe of the split-personality island?
We drove south to the Laganas district, referred to in the official guide book with modest understatement as ‘the island’s largest resort attracting primarily the younger set, with hotel bars and nightclubs cheek by jowl’.
The truth is that if you love the smell of cooking fat, and like casinos, discos, nightclubs and sweaty pubs glued together in one strip so you can party all night, then this is your nirvana.
It helps to be young here but, as I discovered on the beach, even septuagenarian ladies shamelessly disrobe to sunbathe without embarrassment.
Later we fled into the pretty harbour town of Zakynthos. This was once a Venetian city and some original houses, frozen in time, are still standing.
The town has a relaxed charm, no flash or glitz, just the standard, warmly welcoming open-air cafes, tavernas by the sea, and dusty old squares with statues of heroes long gone.
Yes, Zakynthos is an island with two distinct personalities – but there’s ample room for both.
Travel Facts: Plan your own Zante stay
Kapari Bay (kaparibay.com, 07802 439751) costs from £12,500 a week for the six-bed villa in September/October, £3,500 for the three-bed and £2,000 for the one-bed. Individual rooms can also be booked.
EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies to Zakynthos from Bristol, Liverpool and Gatwick, with prices from £30.24 one way.