Despite its regal name, Contessina Suites & Spa is really a rather laidback sort, where you can float your cares away on one of many pools (or a private pool if you wish), be soothed by Ancient Grecian panaceas in the fairy-grotto spa and wash your troubles away with lashings of local wine in child-free silence (the hotel is for over-18s only). And, several of Zankynthos’s gorgeous Ionian-lapped beaches are close by, so your stay will be more prostrate-on-a-beach-towel than standing-on-ceremony.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £191.73 (€227), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of €4.00 per room per night on check-in.
Rates usually include an American buffet breakfast or local and international à la carte dishes.
If any of the products infused with Grecian goodness used during your spa treatment were particularly effective, you can buy them – and the hotel’s own award-winning olive oil – in the onsite boutique. Need a restaurant reservation? Some fresh beach towels? A ride into Zante? You can easily hail the concierge on the hotel’s personalisable app
The hotel closes at the end of October for the winter season and re-opens in April.
At the hotel
Spa with a sauna, steam room and boutique; roof terrace; fitness centre, alfresco lounging areas, concierge, laundry, business centre (laptops to borrow on request), laundry, newspapers and magazines daily, free WiFi. In rooms: A small Zakynthian treat to welcome you, Smart TV, Nespresso machine, tea-making kit, minibar, bathrobes and slippers.
Our favourite rooms
We’ve never met a private pool we didn’t like, and with little to distinguish the suites’ decor here, it’s a feature that will win most over. However, the suites with shared pools are surprisingly sheltered, if you work out a schedule with your neighbour – there’s a leafy barrier between you and the resort at large.
There are three. The indoor heated spa pool (open 10am to 6pm) has a fantastical setting, a stone grotto with curvaceous walls, a freehand squiggle of a pool, Roman steps to perch on and swing chairs to rock yourself in. The main-event outdoor pool, in the hotel’s interior courtyard, is large enough for uninterrupted laps and is surrounded by oversized bean bags, day-beds sunk into the deck and shaded sunloungers, and there’s a second smaller pool with inlaid greenery next to it (both open from 8am to 8pm).
Kamara Spa feels like the dwelling of especially stylish cave people, with its bowed stone walls and low lighting. You’ll be enrobed in silken lotions and mud masks; tossed like a Greek salad in sage, olive oil, black sand, lavender, bilberry and raki; pummelled like an Olympian of old; and treated like gods and goddesses on signature journeys inspired by the Aegean Sea and Apollo and Aphrodite (the latter’s for lovers). Plus there’s a sauna and steam room, pool and Jacuzzi, mani-pedi room, and a top-of-the-line fitness centre.
All the swimwear you own – yes, even the banana hammock – whether you wade out into the Ionian, have a private pool to sink into or simply take a dip in the sky-blue waters of the main hotel pool, you’ll be immersed in water at some point.
There are specially adapted rooms for guests with mobility issues. And the hotel has brochures and room numbers in braille and manuals detailing adaptations throughout the property.
Bye bye, baby – this is for over-18s only. But sister stay Contessina Hotel is a little more nurturing with a kid-friendly pool and family suites.
If the weather’s good – and here, it mostly is – then make your way to the terrace. Take things to another level for a special occasion; specifically, the roof, where there’s a leafy enclave overlooking the resort which can be booked privately.
No need to go full goddess, just drape something floaty over your swimwear.
Lentika Restaurant is named for the sedan-style boxes Zakynthian royals would be discreetly ferried about in – although we’re not sure why, as the space is light-flooded, commodious and almost incorrigibly social, with its huge shared table as a centrepiece. It’s similar in style to the rest of the hotel: luxe yet simple with earthy hues and organic textures, and the terrace overlooks the goings-on around the pool. The island’s farms, fisheries and markets and some home grows supply the restaurant, and chef Christoforos Peskias’ menu, which gets refreshed frequently, is proudly Zakynthian, but there’s some inspiration from further afield, too. Try smoked eel with beetroot purée and golden herring eggs, braised octopus with Grecian wine and fava beans from Santorini, or red snapper puttanesca. Lunch is usually a set menu and there’s always something interesting; say, a graviera-cheese pie, halloumi lasagna, gazpacho with tapenade and lamb kebabs.
Pick a poison a day and run with it, because cocktails arranged by spirit are the pool bar’s life blood. So, make ours a mojito on Monday, a mint julep on Tuesday, a gin basil smash on Wednesday, tequila-sloshed ginger margarita on Thursday and a porn-star martini for Friday. Then, freestyle it on the weekends, with Aperol spritzes and one of the hotel’s signature drinks: maybe a Cavaliere with tsipouras, grape juice and lime; or a refreshing Nobile with gin, elderflower, hibiscus and prosecco. And for fine Grecian wines, book a tasting in the hotel’s cellar – where picks from the island’s and the Peloponnese are stashed in cubby holes and nest in crates (there’s even a modern amphora). You’ll even have your own sommelier and wine butler.
Breakfast runs from 7.30am to 10.30am, lunch from 11am to 7pm and dinner from 7pm to 10.30pm. The bar runs dry at midnight.
You can dine in your room round the clock on the likes of mini cheese and mint pies, croquettes with salted pork and graviera cheese and shrimp linguine.
Contessina Suites & Spa lies just steps from golden sands in Tsilivi, a high-spirited resort town facing out to an expanse of blue on Zakynthos’ north-east coast, with a natural jetty that curls out like a beckoning finger.
Zakynthos Airport (AKA Dionysios Solomos) is just a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Direct flights arrive from a number of major cities in Europe, but those arriving from further afield will need to stop over. The hotel can arrange transfers on request.
If you really want to burrow into the most remote and beautiful bits of the island, then a car will come in handy, but you’ll need steely nerves – roads can be narrow and rustic and ridden by drivers for whom a speed limit is a serving suggestion. If that doesn’t faze you, there’s valet parking at the hotel. Otherwise, there’s no shame in flopping and dropping, and the hotel can help with hiring taxis or drivers.
Ferries arrive at the port in Zakynthos Town from Kefalonia and Kyllini in the Peloponnese (about a three-hour drive from Athens). Both are about an hour’s journey away, and the hotel can arrange transfers from the harbour.
Worth getting out of bed for
Zakynthos translates to ‘amazing and loving’ – and while we’re dubious about the ‘loving’ bit (buy us a raki first, Zakynthos…), it certainly is amazing, and the hotel goes to great lengths to show you this. They bring in local musicians for jazz and traditional ‘kantades’ nights, arrange tea parties like the nobility of old enjoyed, pack picnics for days at Tsilivi beach (just 100 metres away), and send you on photo safaris to local beauty spots, say Navagio (AKA Shipwreck Beach) an aquamarine cove where limestone cliffs soar majestically from the water. They’ll also charter you a yacht, for a trip along the coast or a romantic sundowner. Kalamaki Beach is another picturesque spot for laying your towel, and while the hotel is adults-only, you can indulge your childish side with a visit to Tsilivi Water Park. Zante Town is just a 15-minute drive away and it has a few interesting museums to nose around (the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Dionysios Solomos & Andreas Kalvos will give you a good grounding in local history). And it’s possible to spot sea turtles and seals at the Marine Park in the south. But really, your time here is best spent soaking in a pool, being slathered in olive oil in the spa, or hopping from white sand to gold sand beaches, which end-to-end are truly amazing.
The hotel’s daily-changing menus keep you on your toes, but the promise of the freshest fish, warming moussaka and authentic mezze will lure you out to local eateries too. On Ampoula Beach, To Ladofanaro serves simple yet beautiful grilled fish, lobster pasta, lamb kleftiko and more Grecian favourites on a sea-facing terrace. Avli has a bohemian feel, with its splashes of green paint, veils hung from its rafters and its bringing-the-outdoors-in furnishings; and it’s the first restaurant in Zakynthos to offer a wide choice of vegan and gluten-free dishes. Owner Giota used to be a personal trainer, so there’s a creative selection of salads and less-healthy choices too: black pig with pineapple and grape sauce; forest orzotto with mushrooms, parmesan and truffle; and shrimp pasta in a crawfish bisque.
The nightlife in Planos errs towards unnaturally hued cocktails and shots-till-late. For something sleeker, head into Zakynthos Town. Base Cafe and Roof Cocktail Bar is a slick modern space with views over the town and a DJ to enliven things, plus a selection of craft cocktails to kick things into gear. Movida, perched atop Bochali Hill, is more romantic with its Ionian panorama and lanterns strung from trees.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this polished beachside resort in coastal village Tsilivi and unpacked their bottle of house-made olive oil and sage-scented spa lotion, a full account of their swimmingly good break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Contessina Suites & Spa on Zakynthos…
We’re yearning to dip a toe into emerald waters that look as though they’ve been lit from below, be gently battered by jets in a hot tub, order a few daiquiris at 11am and nap soundly on high-quality linens. And, at Contessina Suites & Spa, we can do all of the above, and pig out on dippy things, fat prawns and all the Greek cheeses. This stay in a picturesque resort town on the north-east coast of Zakynthos delivers a delightful mezze platter of the Grecian good life, with rooms that are simple and sophisticated (some with whirlpool baths and private pools), staff who’ll coddle you like a Greek mama, and three pools and counting. So what does living large on Zakynthos look like: well, um, it’s lazy picnics by white rocky outcrops that crest from dazzling blue sea, aristocratic tea parties, lavender-scented massages and languid afternoons on the beach, which is just a few steps away. It’s not full-throttle excitement, but it’s just the way we like it – and the hotel’s over-18s age limit means there’s no pitter-pattering of tiny feet to interrupt cocktail o’clock, or that aforementioned nap – so turn that yearning into contented yawning.