Inside a new hotel on party-island Zakynthos that's calm and collected

Hideaway heaven: Greece’s Zakynthos is known as a party island – but this chic new resort is cool, calm and collected

  • Mark Sampson stayed at Lesante Cape Hotel, newly opened by the Vithoulka family, on Zakynthos’s east coast
  • The resort is a ‘divine bubble of luxury’, with just 52 rooms and a few villas
  • READ MORE:  Jaw-dropping private islands around the world that you can rent from just £73 a night 

What’s wrong with hating a beach voted one of the best in the world? Don’t get me wrong, the rusting hulk of MV Panagiotis on Navagio beach — where it ran aground in a storm in 1980 — is an iconic sight. But it’s spoiled by the dozens of tourist tubs bobbing in the bay like an invading navy, and the hundreds of sightseers.

We lasted about five minutes on the little boat we’d hired for the day before we turned round and chugged away.

Happily, Giannis, our pilot, knew better, and just a few minutes up the north-western coast of Zakynthos, he steered us into an awe-inspiring natural cauldron with not another soul in sight. Cliffs rose hundreds of feet above the deserted sandy beach.

Our teenage daughter was first in, plunging off the back of the boat into the glassy water, soon followed with howls of delight and giant splashes by me and our son. My wife decided lounging on board was more decorous, while we thrashed around and hoped those lowering cliffs wouldn’t choose today to come crashing down.

It was proof that anyone can find their perfect corner of Zakynthos — if they know where to look.

Soak up the view: Mark Sampson and his family checked into Lesante Cape Hotel (pictured) on the eastern coast of Zakynthos

Mark says that Navagio beach, pictured, is ‘iconic’ – but admits that it’s ‘spoiled’ by the volume of tourists that flock there 

Before the trip, I took a straw poll of friends to see if they had any advice on charming tavernas or dreamy beaches. What I got was an amused raising of eyebrows, and the retort that the only people they knew who’d been recently were post-A-level teenagers who’d made a beeline for the Laganas strip on the south coast, a lurid all-night boozefest with dance music to make your ears bleed.

But that’s only part of the story. For this is an island with a dramatic history, astonishing scenery and, thanks partly to the efforts of one local family, a burgeoning reputation as a place where you can choose a luxury hotel to suit you, whether you’re with children or not.

As a rule of thumb, the farther north you go — it’s about a 90-minute drive from the south to the northern tip — the more the landscape becomes a delightful patchwork of forest and farmland, through which little roads snake off through olive groves up and over the spine of the island to the west, where unspoilt villages point to the way to one of the most dramatic coastlines in the Ionian Sea.

That’s where we visited Navagio beach — if you want to judge it for yourself, boats run from St Nicholas beach on the north-east coast.

There we found two worlds cheek by jowl. Alongside the local taverna, there is a charming little pebble-and-sand beach where well-padded locals of a certain age paddled stolidly in the shallows.

Just a few yards along is one of the most chic — and expensive — restaurants on the island. We sat and watched as beautiful people strolled off motor launches from their yachts for a gourmet lunch at Nobelos, under a canopy of pine trees full of cicadas.

It is the only organic restaurant on the island, and the chicken kebabs — the limit of our budget — were a succulent treat before we stretched out like millionaires on loungers on the private beach.

The base for our explorations was the Lesante Cape Hotel, newly opened by the Vithoulka family, who have established three hotels a few miles apart along the dramatic eastern coast of Zakynthos.

Mark and his family dined on succulent chicken kebabs at Nobelos (above), the only organic restaurant on the island

Nobelos is ‘one of the most chic — and expensive — restaurants on the island’

Tasty dishes served by the sea at Nobelos

There’s Blu (for couples), Classic (for families) and now Cape. The last of these will see you push the boat out, but it’s a divine bubble of luxury on an olive grove that slopes down to the limpid sea.

On the short trip from the airport, our venerable driver, Mr Panagiotis, recalled how virtually all the buildings in Zakynthos town built in the Venetian style were flattened by an earthquake in 1953. But now Lesante Cape has recreated those elegant arches in local stone as part of its laudable effort to create a new ‘old’ village resort.

So there’s a brand new chapel, a vineyard that will mature as the years pass, and a main square complete with restaurants and shops. Maybe because it’s newly built, most of the week the square was all but deserted — but perhaps that’s because, with just 52 rooms and a few villas, this compact resort never feels crowded.

Lesante Cape Hotel, newly opened by the Vithoulka family, has 52 rooms and a few villas

 Mark describes Lesante Cape Hotel as a ‘divine bubble of luxury’

Lesante Cape Hotel’s Elea restaurant (pictured) serves Greek dishes from a different region each night, Mark reveals 

Mark gazed across to the verdant slopes of Kefalonia from the hotel’s seaside perch (above) 

Our teens puffed their way through a game of padel tennis while my wife and I rocked gently in the hammocks by the top pool high on the clifftop, where we gazed across to the verdant slopes of Kefalonia. 

Sitting in the Noble bar at day’s end with a cold beer as the sun set was one of those times that made the holiday, well, a holiday.

During the day, we ate lunch from the pool bar, — Caesar salad at €21 for us, and burger and fries (€23) for the children. And in the evening, we dressed up for the Elea restaurant, where it was €50 for five courses of Greek dishes from a different region each night: onion pie, beef sofrito and Lefkada milk pie (yum) from the Ionian islands; or Bonito fish and seafood dolma from Zakynthos.

During the day at Lesante Cape Hotel, Mark and his family ate lunch from the pool bar

During his stay, Mark and his family hopped in a taxi to the Tsilivi water park (above) 

Mark dined in the quiet tavernas that can be found in Tsilivi Bay, pictured above

Some nights we loped through the olive groves down the road for dinner in Tsilivi Bay, finding a quiet taverna just a few steps away from the brightly lit bars and restaurants, all busy but not a gang of stags or hens to be seen.

One day we hopped in a taxi to the Tsilivi water park, where we raced down vertiginous slides, all yelling like banshees before being flung around inside a spaceship and shot out through a giant plughole. Now that’s living.

My advice is: try Zakynthos. You may just find that next year, friends ask you for recommendations.


ITC ( offers seven nights’ B&B from £5,429 for a family (based on two adults and two children), including return flights from London Gatwick and private transfers, a saving of 20 per cent if you book by March 31, 2023. Price based on half-term departure on May 27, 2023.


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