By Ching Lee
Zakynthos, or Zante as it is more commonly known, is the most southerly of the Ionian Islands. Its beautiful scenery and excellent sandy beaches make it an ideal holiday destination.
But while the 18-30s brigade head to Laganas, the biggest and busiest resort, I was in search of a more natural Zakynthos, somewhere where my children could see for themselves the importance of travelling responsibly.
As one of the last nesting sites of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Carreta-carreta, the Gerakas Peninsula is the first protected Marine Park in the Mediterranean. Google ‘relaxing holidays’ and you’ll find a group of villas, cottages and studios in the peaceful, south-eastern tip of Zakynthos.
Managed by Yannis Vardakastanis, an ardent conservationist who grew up on Gerakas, Ionian Eco Villagers provides a quieter, more tranquil alternative, away from the mass tourist resorts.
The verdict: a simple and relaxing break in an enchanting part of Zakynthos.
Ionian Eco Villagers is ideal for families and couples seeking a ‘get away from it all’ holiday with a difference.
With the picture-perfect beach, a few tavernas and a mini market only a 200m stroll away from your accommodation, there’s no real need to go anywhere else if you’re after the simplest of holidays.
Accommodation: We stayed in one of the four 2-bedroom apartments in Gerakas House. Our upstairs apartment was simply, but comfortably furnished. A double bedroom, a twin bedroom, 2 shower rooms and a kitchen, it’s ideal for a family of four. Each bedroom is air conditioned and both have a balcony with table and chairs where you could sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The kitchen is equipped with a twin hotplate, toaster/sandwich maker, a fridge, an electric kettle and enough utensils and pans to make a simple meal. The garden with olive and citrus trees offers a relaxing alternative to the beach, with its sun-loungers, hammocks and even swings for the more energetic.
Places to Eat/Shops: The 3 tavernas/bars and mini market are a short stroll from the villas and apartments. The tavernas offer excellent, traditional Greek food and the mini market was surprisingly well stocked; as well as food provisions, it was a useful place to get ice creams and inflatables!
Leisure Activities: Gerakas Beach is a stunning, natural beach. With clear waters and soft sand, this shallow beach is ideal for young families.
Away from the beach, the spectacular scenery and rural charm makes Gerakas the perfect place for mountain biking and walking whether you are a serious walker or just fancy a relaxing stroll.
A highlight is to join one of the eco-tourism catamaran cruises (bookable though the Earth Sea & Sky Information Centre) and enjoy a day cruising in the southern waters of Zakynthos, visiting stunning snorkelling sites. There is a chance to spot the turtles, but, as a ‘sensitive’ tour, the crew makes sure that the rules of the National Marine Park are adhered to eg. stay for a maximum of 10 minutes if a turtle is spotted.
The Information Centre, set up by Yannis, was a great place for us and the children to learn about the Loggerhead Turtles and their plight to survive. Guests and tourists are encouraged to find out more about the turtles and other endangered species.
Service: Yannis is always on hand to help you with any aspect of your stay. One big plus is that your booking with Ionian Eco Villagers includes transfers on arrival/departure, so there really isn’t a need to hire a car. As the tavernas and mini market are family run, the welcome we received was wonderfully warm.
Best time to go: May, June or September, outside the turtle egg hatching months, when the weather is warm (25°C) and there are less crowds. The hottest, busy summer months of July/August are peak season for visitors and daytrippers. Although the National Marine Park limits your stay on the beach to 3 hours in Summer to protect the buried turtle eggs, it’s probably best to avoid this time altogether.
Why choosing this holiday makes a difference:
By choosing to stay in these locally-owned, small, individual villas and apartments, you are helping local families to make a living. With mass tourism all too evident in Zakynthos, the temptation to sell their land to developers is never too far away, further endangering the survival of the Caretta-caretta.
Many of the villas and apartments are solar- or wind- powered and use energy-efficient lightbulbs.
£10 from your booking is donated to Earth Sea & Sky to support their impressive work in protecting the nesting beaches of the Loggerhead turtles.
Your further donations will also help the current development of a Sea Turtle Hospital in Zakynthos, which will drastically cut the transport time for injured turtles.
The Earth Sea & Sky Information Centre is a great education for visitors, adults and children alike, on why we should think more responsibly when making travel choices.
Gerakas was week 1 of a two week trip in Summer 2009, part holiday, part research, to explore how feasible and enjoyable a green family summer holiday could be. You may also be interested to read: Greece to London by train and ferry: Leg 1 – Zakynthos, Greece to Ancona, Italy