Updated: Sep 13, 2020
It has been over 6 months since I have traveled due to the pandemic. This must have been the longest period in years without feeding my wanderlust. Now that borders within Europe are slowly opening up again I decided to plan another blogger trip. Zakynthos has been on my bucket list for a long time (incredible beaches and good food yay!) and luckily Greece opened the borders again to Belgian citizens. During my 8 days on this beautiful Island I have spend 4 days at Castelli Hotel: a true gem located by Laganas beach.
I have to be honest, I didn't really know what to expect from Castelli Hotel. The pictures on the website look nice but it doesn't even come close to the experience of staying at the hotel! This small adults-only accommodation is located at one of the most popular parts of the Island: Laganas Beach. Even though there are tons of bars, pubs and a busy beach area at walking distance from the hotel, you would think you are staying in the middle of nowhere: the peace and tranquillity are the perfect ingredients for your holiday.
When I entered the hotel I already could feel the welcoming and at-home-ish feeling in the hotel. It's small and cozy. The beautiful love story behind the existence of Castelli explains the warm and remote vibe. Learning about the history made me love this place even more. Back in the days, the owner of the hotel and his wife used to have dates by this big tree. After they got married they wanted to start a business and when they were looking for a land to build the hotel they saw that the land, with their love-tree on it was for sale! They decided to buy it and build the hotel around their tree of love. You can see the hotel is shaped around this symbol of their history together and love for eachother. Now, the tree became a real attraction for the guests. There is a 'photobooth'-like concept made in front of the tree with a frame so you can take a picture with the tree.
Also, the guests receive a heart out of wood where they can write something on. Words of kindness, a loving quote or anything they want with their name, room number and date of stay is what they write on the heart. Then the hearts all get gathered together and hung at the railing by the tree. Every year they pick 1 of the hearts and that person wins a free stay at Castelli ! I absolutely love this concept and I think it's unheard of and a great way to give back to their clients.
We were welcomed with a drink by the pool area while filling out COVID-related documents. You could notice immediately that the hotel takes it's responsibility when it comes to staying safe during the pandemic. The staff wore masks at all times, in- and outside, gloves when needed and we had to fill out a health declaration and a sort of contact tracing document. After enjoying our drink we were escorted to our room: the suite! I was beyond excited.
The room was a-ma-zing: a modern style with bright colors and materials in combo with luxury. The bathroom/shower area were in the bedroom, separated from each other with glass walls. There was a lounge area to sit and relax in the room, bathrobes and slippers, a coffee machine, a separate toilet (love this!), spacious closets,.. but the best thing ever was the outside pool area! There are only a hand full of rooms that have a swim up pool, the suite has one of the biggest swim up pools. The terrace and lounge are just perfect and a sunbed at the other side of the pool was waiting for me. What a stunning concept!
Another thing that I was surprised about is that the buffet was open. Now don't panic, they came up with a great alternative to keep everything corona-proof: the guests were not allowed to go get food from the buffet, instead they could choose from the menu and the staff served them their food and drinks, of course while wearing our masks. I think this is a great alternative in rough times like these.
Castelli also offers a lot of activities, in the hotel as well as outside of the hotel. They really want you to connect with the Zakynthian culture and learn about everything the island has to offer. They have a garden close by the hotel where they grow all the ingredients for the food they serve, how amazing is that! The residues of the food are being used again to fertilize the ground and so everything on the menu is local and fresh from the island! I absolutely love this. The guests are also invited to take a walk to the garden and see how everything is grown, how amazing is that?!
During the day there are a variety of activities which you can participate in: yoga in the garden, cooking classes with real Zakynthian ingredients and recipes, a walking tour, aerobics and so on. At night there are concerts and entertainment. One thing is sure: you won't be bored when staying at Castelli!
I personally went on the walking tour to go spot turtles. A 5 minute walk is all it takes to get to Laganas Beach. It is here that fishermen clean their nets and feed the turtles. It became their daily ritual to feed these beautiful creatures with what's left in their nets. The turtles are HUGE! I thought they would be small and cute (I've seen some before during my trip to Hawaii for example) but this species, the Caretta species are big turtles. We were so lucky to spot one because it's not a guarantee to see them by the boats.
Castelli also booked a boat tour for us with Divers Paradise to see some of the amazing caves and landscapes by water. If you have been following me for a while you know that I LOVE boat trips! I like to snorkel and look at the sea life as well (little bit scared though lol) so it was a great experience ! The water is crystal clear and so blue and the landscapes are beautiful. I enjoyed every moment of it.
Another amazing excurision we did was a sunset hike. Spiros, our guide from @fora_zakynthos picked us up at the hotel around 6 to start the hike. I was told that @fora_zakynthos and Castelli have been working together for years and so I knew it would be an amazing experience. This is one of the elements Castelli wants to offer to their guests: great service while disocvering the REAL Zakynthos. After getting to know so much about Castelli I just knew the trip would reflect that as well. Spiros was a very friendly and entertaining guide and oh boy, he knows his stuff! He told us about plants, rocks, the landscape, history, you name it, and he knows it. When I travel I really want to get to know the culture, the place or country, the hidden gems and all that in the way locals experience it. I'm not a big fan of the mass tourism (of course I want to see the famous spots as well) but what makes me passionate about traveling is learning about history and real culture. I could notice immediately that @fora_ shares this same vision. Spiros started the hike off by car. We drove into the mountains (direction Agalas) when he started to talk about the Island and it's inhabitants. Our first stop was to look at the beautiful landscapes. Of course I took some pictures and inhaled the fresh air.
Next we stopped by some water wells that descend from the Venetians (they colonized the island centuries ago hence the Italian influences on the island) and on both sides of the wells there were vineyards. We tasted some of the grapes (white and red ones) ; so delicious! After learning more about the history around the water wells and vineyards we started our hike by foot. (I mean, it's a hike after all lol).
The landscape was just stunning and it was so quiet and peaceful. The trail we were hiking on was safe but unknown, not 1 person crossed our path on the hike, a true hidden trail! The sun was almost going down and we just arrived in time at the cliff to watch the sunset. Words can't describe how beautiful this was: the mountains and the view of the sea while the sun was going down. I took some shots, flew my drone and enjoyed the scenery.
Spiros told us that the top of the hill there is a typical Zakynthian 'kantina' where the locals gather to drink some local wine and eat local bites. This is where our hike would end. Looking at it from far away while the night was falling I realized that the road was still long..
After a while the kantina lighted up in the dark and it became or point of focus during the hike. I can tell you with nothing but the stars to guide you it was kind of scary but in a good way. It was pitch black, humid and the climb was getting tougher and tougher. Spiros was motivating us constantly and ensuring us it would be so worth it. Even though it wasn't an easy hike, the end was SO rewarding! Relief came over our bodies when we finally saw the kantina. The people were so friendly and the food and wine made up for the hard moments. We talked, laughed and enjoyed all the local foods. What a great experience!
Big thanks to Castelli Hotel for arranging this amazing excursion it was unforgettable!
I honestly enjoyed my stay at Castelli so much and wish I could have stayed longer.
The three pillars of the experience at Castelli are good food, local experience and sleep comfort and I can confirm they do an amazing job giving the guests a top notch experience. I loved that everything was so COVID-proof, I felt safe during my stay but without having to compromise on having an amazing holiday. The staff was so friendly and helpful, the vibes were amazing, just a perfect stay to be honest. For anyone that wants to travel, enjoy luxury and good food while feeling safe I highly recommend booking a stay at Castelli hotel.
Click here to see the posts I made on my instagram for Castelli Hotel.
All opinions are my own even though the stay and excursions were in collaboration with Castelli Hotel.