Our hearts sank when our transfer coach rolled into town. Uptown Kalamaki consists of what we called ‘The Strip’. It comprised mostly of neon lit bars and restaurants serving pizzas, pasta, or burgers. They had names like ‘Sizzle and Grill’ or, our favourite, ‘Drunk Corner’. And many gift shops and excursion sales offices. Ideal if you are young and looking for a jolly good drink up and dance into the wee hours or to watch football in the ‘sports’ bars. But I guess we’re a bit past that kind of holiday.
We arrived at The Kalamaki Beach Hotel at around 8 p.m.
An issue greeted us at reception since we’d left our ‘accommodation voucher’ at home.
‘We need that to be paid!’ we were told. A ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome to the Kalamaki Beach Hotel’ would have been a better start. We could hardly fly back and get it. In contrast, our ‘Rep’, from Olympic Holidays, Roz was faultless and un-flappable and sorted it out for us. We were directed to our room, and crikey it was hot in there.
In fairness we had been alerted that air conditioning and the use of safe and fridge would cost extra, but only via this trip advisor site. The Kalamaki Beach Hotel’s own website promotes these facilities but does not mention a cost. So be prepared to shell out a surprising €183 for 2 weeks. Granted the safe and fridge were non-essential, but hang on, I was coming to Greece as a student 35 years ago when we’d often sleep on beaches or local roofs for some cool(er) night air. Surely with the huge expansion of the Greek tourist trade and its increasing appeal to older generations and families since then, air conditioning in a hot country (that’s why we come here) ought to be a given. (They could go some way to resolve the loo paper business too.) Paying an extra 20% on our total holiday cost for A/C is a little like ordering a restaurant meal and then being expected to hire the knives and forks.
I am aware of the Greek economic problems, but we do spend a lot more money while we’re here than we students did in1977, when all we spent was on a cheap flight, a cheap airless room somewhere indeterminate, and lived off watermelon, street vendor souvlaki and the occasional treat of a deep fried fish.
Since it was pitch dark beyond our hotel lighting, and us in a place we’d never been to before, our evening meal would have to be at the hotel bar staffed by the very friendly Maria. The souvlaki was a bit tough, but it was primarily a bar after all, we ought not to expect anything more than bar snacks anyway. It was little worrying that banging music was coming from the Hotel Marelen next door and there was a karaoke night going on across the street.
And these are the only negative things I could say about the hotel (and all out of the way in the first few hours of arrival.)
We needn’t have worried. After our hotel breakfast of coffee (PG Tips tea also available) fruit juices (choice of three), ham, cheese, toast and hard boiled eggs, followed by yoghurt, tinned fruit cocktail, peaches and more coffee, we discovered in daylight that our hotel was less than a stone’s throw from the beach, it had a clean pool a short distance, and hidden from, the main hotel with plenty of space around and a bar that served basic lunches too.
Our double room with a balcony was cleaned very well every day and sheets changed every other day. My wife and I could, on occasions bump into each other moving around it, and the shower was small but, hey, you’re only in it to sleep and shower!
For a more ‘greek’ lunch there is very good ‘Authentic’ Taverna just beyond the pool, facing onto the beach. Staffed by friendly waiters Marco, Spiros, Dimitrios, and Nikos who, all except Nikos, respond when you attempt to speak greek, even if it is only ‘Parakalo’ or ‘Efaristo’.It serves all the greek favourites along with the ubiquitous pastas, pizzas and kids menus, but it stops serving food at 5 and closes at 7, respecting the ‘protected’ status of the beach as a nesting site for sea turtles (caretta caretta) who lay and bury their eggs there in the evening. Don’t be offended when Nikos (the eldest waiter) ignores your requests, only dropping bills at tables, collecting the money and tidying chairs and tables. He’s not being grumpy, he is just deaf. Top Tip: Opt for a minimal walk to the pool loos, rather than the Taverna’s own.
We had noticed signs to a ‘Greek family restaurant’ called ESCAPE and ate there on our first evening. Outside seating was in a garden with trees with a view towards distant mountains, and not crowded. The Lamb Kleftico was ‘melt in the mouth’ stuff and the Moussaka was so delicious we were tempted to pester the manager, Georgia, for the recipe.
We ventured up to The Strip with varying success. ZAKAMATHI was good too. Its entrance was on the Strip but the seating was way back from it and at a lower level, so we weren’t aware of it. Top Tip: Go there as it gets dark as they light pretty lanterns on the tables. Although when it gets really dark these are the ONLY sources of light. If you sit away from the main restaurant building, as we did, it is difficult to actually see what you’re eating! My wife had the Lamb Shank which, literally, fell off the bone.
On the basis that if you like something. . .do it again, we made two more trips to each of these.
Milo’s on The `Strip’ had been recommended to us, but we preferred our favourite two. A little unfair perhaps as it is known as a fish restaurant and we’d eaten well at a late lunch, and over-ordered non-fish things.
Paulo’s at the quieter, bottom end of The Strip was pleasant enough, if you prefer shop bought deep pan Pizza bases, rather than the thin crust ones we do.
Some shops will allege ‘faulty’ PIN machines, so be prepared to pay in cash. If they do accept your card payment, there will be a charge of €1 for each transaction.
Top Tip: Be careful handling tightly stacked items on shelves – Olive oil to take home, vinegars etc. If you break anything you will be charged. Unlike at Tesco.
There is a Citybank cash machine up near ‘Sizzle and Grill’ at the top of the Strip – it will charge €2 for each withdrawal.
Top Tip: When booking excursions from agents on The Strip, try to get as much information from them about your trip (which will leave from Laganas a few miles along the coast.) If you want a newer glass bottom boat to go see some turtles and have a swim out at sea, try to make sure that’s what your getting for your €20. We made the false economy of opting for a €15 alternative, and ended up being guided onto an ancient diesel smelling rust-bucket (no glass bottom) and when the on board barbeque was fired up, the cabin filled with smoke. We did see a turtle though.
The Crystal Beach Hotel is a nice stroll away, along the beach for an interlude between a beach/pool day and an evening meal. The view from the bar situated high over the sea and beach is a photo-opportunity and well worth either the wade through the sea AROUND the quartz laden rocks (only knee deep) or ducking off the beach at the orange arch and upturned canoe to go over the top of them, especially if wives have important shoes on! Their restaurant on a higher level over the sea is good too.
Top Tip: If you need it, check whether bars, hotels or restaurants are offering simply WiFi or FREE WiFi. Stanis restaurant is free, and good food too. Crystal Beach charges a couple of Euros for half an hour.
We were attracted by an ad for a barbeque with entertainment at Hotel Marelen, next door. But it was very busy and a tad Butlins. We arrived during the kids entertainment. We didn’t have any, but suspected the ones there were a bit over-tired or hyperactive. But, in fairness, that hotel promotes itself as a ‘family’ hotel, and they were kind enough to refund our €20 as we left.
Banana Beach is a must, in our opinion. Greece has very clear waters but these were especially so. And Kalamaki Beach has weeds and can be a bit rocky getting into the water. There is a FREE bus service taking approx. 40 mins. at 11.15 from opposite ‘Paulo’s’, and we went there three times too. The sunbeds were €6 for the day as usual, but there are also a few four-poster style cushioned pergolas with drapes all round, at €13. Both having waiter service, saving you a regular walk up the hill to the bar and restaurant. The bus is waiting to return at 4. Top Tip: Considering bus travel times, you will only be there for 4 hours. I’d suggest taking a picnic (there are plenty of supermarkets near the bus stop selling fresh fruit, bread, cheeses and hams-I’m sure the hotel won’t mind/notice if you ‘borrow’ a knife!) rather than taking an hour out of your time at the restaurant, good though it was, (and had freshly caught fish to chose from its iced display) maximising beach time. Everything was very clean including the toilets. Top Tip: It gets busier at weekends.
We were very sad to leave. The hotel staff had all been courteous and helpful, as was our rep, Roz. We’d had a fantastic holiday, the odd hiccup ought to be expected. Ours were rare.
Our progress through the airport, and its passport, luggage and security checks were comparatively smooth for a Greek airport.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Welcome to the luxurious Kalamaki Beach Hotel situated right on the beach of Kalamaki, on the south coast of the picturesque island of Zakynthos. The complex was created in 1981 and it includes 2.5 acres of beautiful gardens, three buildings with accommodation, 2 swimming pools, a snack bar, a restaurant, a cocktail bar and a traditional taverna by the sea. All 43 rooms have been refurbished in 2011 and thus contain all modern amenities that will ensure a comfortable and pleasant stay for all our guests. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Kalamaki Beach Hotel Zakynthos