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Lager louts are back in Greece

Heidi Fuller-Love
July 22, 2022

After a two-year hiatus because of COVID, party tourists are flocking back to the island of Zakynthos in droves. Although Greece is desperate for tourism, locals and some officials feel it's time for more control.

Crowds of tourists on Laganas beach
After a COVID break, party tourists are back on Laganas beachImage: picture alliance

"Kids come here to drink and have fun — I did it; we all did it — but only the English come here to drink until they fall over or get violent. What is wrong with them?"

Taxi driver Spiros is angry. After two years of COVID, during which the beach resort of Laganas was deserted, the British lager louts are back along Zakynthos' notorious party strip and many locals are saying that they're even worse than before. "I'm not saying it's just the British who do these things — but they are the worst for drinking," he said.

Travel agents all along Laganas strip sell popular booze cruises
Travel agents all along Laganas strip sell popular booze cruisesImage: Heidi Fuller

Like many locals, however, it's not just drinking that bothers Spiros. "I live just behind the strip — there is music until 5 a.m. every day. I can't sleep but I still have to get up and work in the morning," he said. "Authorities could do something about it, but they don't — it's like the mafia here."

Not just a party island

When you first visit Zakynthos, it's hard to believe that Laganas is just a three-kilometer stretch of road. "This short street has tainted the reputation of the entire island — it's quite incredible," said Christian Mastrander, the owner of Cotton Club Zakynthos, an exclusive hilltop chill out venue some 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Laganas.

Christian Mastrander owns Cotton Club Zakynthos
Christian Mastrander owns Cotton Club ZakynthosImage: Christian Mastrander

Mastrander, who launched his first Cotton Club on Ibiza back in 2014, fell in love with Zakynthos when he first visited in 2018. "Of course, the shipwreck is incredibly popular," he said, referring to the rusted remains of a merchant ship, the Panagiotis, that's been beached here since 1980. It is among Greece's most Instagrammed tourist site.

"But there are also beautiful traditional villages and wineries where you can sample the local Verdea wine — and then Zakynthos is a nature reserve for turtles, so the sea is spectacular. In fact, the more we explored the island, the more we realized that Zakynthos is not just Laganas — far from it!"

Navagio Beach, or Shipwreck Cove, on Zakynthos island, with several boats in a brilliant blue cove
Navagio Beach, or Shipwreck Cove, on Zakynthos is popular with touristsImage: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Maria Lougari, who owns Castelli, a peaceful boutique hotel a few kilometers from the Laganas strip, agrees. She told DW that after inheriting the family hotel set up by her parents in 1990s, she worked hard to create a peaceful environment. She is very proactive in promoting sustainable initiatives, even providing guests with in-room recycling bins.

"It's a problem of destination management here in Zakynthos — there just isn't any. When I was 20 there were only two clubs along the Laganas strip — it was totally different — but now it's all just got out of hand," she said.

Maria Lougari owns Castelli, a boutique hotel on the island
Maria Lougari owns Castelli, a boutique hotel on the island Image: Maria Lougari

Attempts to tame the strip

Lougari said that, like many locals, she's worried because the notorious White Party, organized by a British entrepreneur and touted as the biggest event along the strip, is back after a two-year hiatus.

"He takes over a venue with capacity for perhaps 600 people but he will cram some 2,500 people inside — it's really dangerous and nobody stops him," she said.

Since the COVID pandemic, there have been a few attempts to tame the Laganas strip. "For a while they pedestrianized part of the street to make it safer with all those drunken youngsters, but that just penalized the hotels and shops," said Lougari. She said that the negative connotation of the name Laganas is so strong that she even changed the address of hotel from Laganas to Agios Sostis. "After that we didn't get the same kind of guest," she explained.

A huge crowd of partygoers, dancing in a club
Parts of Zakynthos island have acquired a reputation for excessive partyingImage: Stelios Matsagos/ANE Edition/picture alliance

What it's really like

Ramona Sfat, marketing manager for the new Lesante Cape, a 20-minute drive from Laganas, has lived on the island for over two decades and is positive about nightlife in the town, despite the problems.

"Even though this model of tourism needs to be changed in future years, it is good to see the business booming again in Laganas. The Strip caters to younger kids and, after two years COVID, they really need to get out and have some fun," she said.

This fun can be seen at 11 p.m. on a weekday: The two-lane road lined with nightclubs, strip joints and neon-lit bars leading from Laganas' sandy beach to the center of town throngs with 18- to 25-years-olds. Most of them are already drunk.

Traffic slows to a walking pace as cars thread their way past crowds of tattooed guys with six-pack abs and tattoos, and gangs of girls with trout pouts and G-string bikinis. Outside a bar selling fishbowl cocktails — a potent blend of at least four different alcohols — a young man with pink hair vomits on passersby, while two girls fight opposite and garage and deep house boom from the surrounding bars.

Greeks worry about higher prices

"It's like the Wild West here every night and no one does anything about it," one bar owner, who preferred not to be identified for fear of problems from neighboring business owners, told DW. "There are laws against noise pollution and all the other problems here, but there aren't enough police to enforce them, so they're just not applied."

Time for drastic measures?

Alimos, in southern Athens, hit the headlines recently when it became the first Greek municipality to tackle the problem of late-night noise and drinking by banning music after 11 p.m.

Mayor Andreas Kondylis
Mayor Andreas Kondylis is taking drastic steps to limit party tourismImage: Andreas Kondyli

Alimos Mayor Andreas Kondylis took the — some would say radical — decision because, he said, he didn't want his resort to be another Laganas. Talking with DW, the charismatic mayor explained the reason for his decision.

"Such models of entertainment may have been a tourist attraction for years, but they can boomerang and completely discredit an area," he said. "As a municipal authority we wholeheartedly support entrepreneurship, but it is extremely important that everyone be shown the respect they deserve, particularly the local residents."

After two years of peace during COVID, many locals in Laganas — including Spiros the taxi driver — would surely agree.

Edited by: Benjamin Restle