Want to see something beautiful enough to drag you out of your weekday funk? Ready to unshoulder the burden of work for a little while? Escape with us to Zante, Greece – just for a little while!
Zante – or Zakynthos to its locals – has a rare coastal treasure. In 1980, the Greek navy chased a freighter smuggling contraband onto the shores of this beautiful little island.
Now, the wreck of the MV Panagiotis is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country. And it’s easy to see why.
We pull up to Navagio Bay in our chartered tender and crane our necks. Surrounded by white cliffs so sheer and so high, the little secluded bay is only accessible by boat. Brilliant blue waves lap the shoreline and the rusted remains of the wreck poke out of the white sand and pebbles like it’s only now just started to sink.
We clamber onto the beach and hobble over hot pebbles to the decaying hull. It’s quite ghostly to be walking around the wreck, peering inside, touching it, admiring it. But it’s when we stand back and look at it from a distance that the real majesty of the place grabs us.
The towering cliffs feel like they are about to fall on us. And only by staring hard at the cliff top can we spot the precarious viewing platform people can drive to and look down the 800-foot (250m) drop to us and the beach below.
We are the first group to arrive, so looking out at the incredible blue of the sea and our little boat bobbing about in the sanctuary of the bay… it’s paradise.
Only by two things mar our paradise. Firstly, the flayed skin of the ship has been defaced many hundreds of times by thoughtless tourists scratching their stupid names into the rust and metalwork. Most of the time people have just used the white stones from the beach, but every now and then you see black permanent markers or even spray-paint.
I am speechless as I watch an idiot father encouraging his little daughter to carve her name into the side of the ship – not just once but again and again!
Our experience is also tainted soon enough by the booming toot of a cruiser coming into the bay. The real tourists have arrived. 400 strong, the ship empties in two tenders, both the size of our boat and twice as full.
Soon the beach is theirs and we turn ourselves into marine animals and bob in the warm waves of the sea, watching the cascades of people outnumber the pebbles on the beach. And it’s at this moment we fully understand why the operator was so keen on us getting to the wreck as early as possible.
I must say, it was worth the early start. Having the beach to ourselves has made the difference. The peaceful blue of the water and the silent splendor of the wreck was humbling. The venerable cliffs looking down on us is something I’ll always remember. That and Mrs Romance’s spectacular bomb from the boat!
Before long, we are saying farewell to Shipwreck Beach and we’re jetting our way on to two more incredible spectacles included on the day’s touring:
The natural arch and the blue caves – the limestone hems of the land have been chewed at by time and the sea until gaps and holes have grown big enough for our glass-bottom boat to pass through. We stop at the blue caves, where the white limestone cliffs, the blue water and the brilliant sunshine work together to create a deep sapphire grotto. It is breath-taking.
The sulphur springs – sulphur released through volcanic pockets along the edges of the sea shore heat the water to bath-like temperatures. Apart from releasing an unfortunate fart smell, they also encourage collagen deposits to form in the sand and mud. It’s lovely to just float around in the warm pockets of water or you can perch on a rock and smother vitamin- and collagen-rich silt over your face and body, and rejuvenate in the sun.
Our day out on the Ionian Sea was through Nefi’s Travel, Zakynthos. They were really good because they had limited places, so you didn’t feel like you were in a big crowd.
There is an option (which will be more expensive) to make your own way round the coast and charter your own private boat, but they are small vessels – a bit too small for us landlubbers!