Zakynthos Travel Guide
Zakynthos is the Ionian island the Venetians called "Fiore di Levante", which means "the Flower of the East" and that Homer called "Illyessa", which means "Full of Forest". Its fertility, in combination with its beautiful beaches and unique geological formations of caves and cliffs, makes it a real jewel of Greece. Moreover, the deep culture of the island is bound to amaze every visitor. And for those who are really selective and want to visit a place that has something literally unique to see, the decision of the endangered loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta) to breed their eggs on Zakynthos, along with the other endangered species, the monachous monachous seals, that can be found around the island's waters, is the perfect evidence of its uniqueness, making Zante an unforgettable experience.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Zakynthos is an island of the Ionian Sea, the third largest among the complex of the ionian islands called Eptanisa (which means "Seven Islands") - after Kefalonia, which is the biggest, and Corfu, which comes second in size. Zakynthos, also known as Zante worldwide, is located off the west coast of Greece, on the eastern part of the Ionian sea and is the southernmost of the main group of the Eptanisa complex (not counting distant Kythira that lie opposite the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula, even though it belongs in the Eptanisa complex). On its north, the closest island is Kefalonia.
Zakynthos lies around 20 km west of Peloponnese and it covers an area of 405.55 km2, being about 40 km long and 20 km wide. Its coastline is about 123 km in length and it has a population of around 41,000 people. It is a separate regional unit of the Ionian islands region, and its own municipality. Minor uninhabited islands around Zakynthos included in the municipality and regional unit are Marathonisi, Pelouzo, Agios Sostis in the Laganas bay, Agios Nikolaos, near the eponymous harbor on the northern tip, and Agios Ioannis near Porto Vromi on the western coast.
Triangular in shape, the island has three distinct geographical areas: the north west is mountainous with quaint traditional mountain villages, the central region is a fertile plain rich with olive groves and vineyards and the south east is characterized by beautiful beaches. The highest point of the island is Vrachionas, at 758 metres.
Zakynthos has many underground streams which are fed by a number of wells and springs; the island is therefore blessed with abundant waters, which together with its fertile soil guarantee a plentiful supply of agricultural produce. The island’s main products are oil, grapes, wine, citrus fruits, potatoes and onions, while the upland pastures favor animal-rearing.
From a geological viewpoint the island is of great interest. Geologists believe that in the distant past Zakynthos was part of a submarine plate which was pushed up as a result of powerful earthquakes to form an island. The major geological realignments in this marine region resulted in the creation of a great many islets, reefs and underwater shelves. They also caused the opening of a huge underwater fault known as "The Well of Inousses" to the south-east of Zakynthos, where the Mediterranean attains its greatest depth (approx. 4500 m). As a result of the intense geological activity in the region some remarkable caves were formed on the island, both on land and in the sea. Some of these are extremely interesting and there is access to many of them. The soil of Zakynthos contains gypsum, sulphur and hydrocarbons. In the southern part of the island, near Keri, bituminous water gushes out of the ground, but drilling of boreholes in the area in search of oil has proved fruitless.
The climate on the island is Mediterranean, with mild winters and cool summer, and the plentiful winter rainfall endow the island with dense vegetation. The principal agricultural products are olive oil, currants, grapes and citrus fruit. The Zante currant is a small sweet seedless grape which is native to the island. The Bay of Laganas is the site of the first National Marine Park and the prime nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean, named Caretta caretta. Due to its rich vegetation Zakynthos has had many nicknames. The Venetians, who ruled Zakynthos from 1484 to 1797, called the island “Il Fiore di Levante”, which means "The Flower of the East", as there are over 7,000 species of flowers on the island. Homer called "Iliessa", which means "Full of Forests".
HISTORY OF ZAKYNTHOS
The history of Zakynthos starts from the Palaeolithic era, as the oldest findings of bone fossils in the bay of Laganas showed.
According to mythology and the writings of Homer, the island was named after Zakynthos who was grandson of Zeus and Helectra and the son of Dardanos who founded Troy. The name Zakynthos - as it ends in "-nthos" - shows that it is pre-mycanean or Pelasgian in orgin. Zakynthos was born on Phrygias and he sailed to Zakynthos in 1500 B.C., where he occupied the island and gave it his name. The earliest written works that mention Zakynthos are by Homer who describes it as an island full of forests and claims that the settlers were from the Peloponnese area of Greece, in particular from Arcadia. There is evidence to support this, as the traditions of the Arcadians and Zakynthians are similar, their past worship of Apollo for instance, as are some of the names of the places.
Another mythological account is that Artemis the goddess of hunting used to wander the island of Zakynthos, enjoying the woods as these were ideal for hunting. It is also claimed that her brother Apollo played his lira under the trees, to enchant the island and make it more beautiful.
The Arcadians, who were the second to inhabit the island after Prince Zakynthos had occupied it in 1500 B.C., went on to found colonies: the well-known Zakantha in Spain, whose culture flourished for more than a thousand years, until 218 B.C. when it was destroyed by Annivas, and Kodonies in Crete, which was another colony.
Afterwards, Zakynthos was conquered by King Arkisos of Kefalonia and was subsequently re-conquered by the famous Ulysses. Upon Ulysses return to Ithaca and with Neoptolemos' mediation, a treaty was signed granting autonomy and democracy on the island, the first in the Hellenic area.
In the 6th century B.C., silver currency was initiated, which depicts Apollon three-legged. At the beginning of the Persian War Zakynthos remained neutral, but in the battle of Plataies it took part against the Persians, where they managed to beat them back to Asia.
From 455 B.C. Zakynthos was allied with the Athenians and with Corfu, and faced together the Corinthians. After the defeat of the Athenians in Cicily, Zakynthos was conquered by the Lacedaimonians (Sparta), who imposed an oligarchic regime. Later on, the inhabitants rebelled and re-established democracy.
During the Macedonian War, the island was occupied by the Macedonians. In the 3rd century B.C. the islanders tried to rebel against King Philip V, but the island remained under Macedonian rule until the Romans overthrew them.
The Romans ruled from the 3rd century B.C. but they left the islanders largely alone, without much interference; as long as they paid taxes. After the first years under the command of a Roman governor, the island was granted the right to be governed by its own laws, have its own municipality, parliament, legislature, and currency with a local symbol. This era contributed to a great cultural development on Zakynthos.
The islanders tried to break away from the Roman influence several times. Eventually co-operation occurred and they joined forces in 87 A.D., with the islanders always ready to fight for the Romans as long as the Romans helped the Zakythians to attack the pirates who were trying to raid the island. As the Roman Empire started to decline in 300 A.D., the island of Zakynthos caught the attention of opportunists (such as Arabs, Hans, Goths etc.) who tried to conquer the island to undermine the Romans.
In 34 A.D. Maria Magdalena and Maria Klopa, on their way to Rome, brought Christianity to the island and the name of the village Maries is a proof of this fact. Every year there is a great ceremony and feast to commemorate this event.
During the Byzantine era, Constantine the Great included Zakynthos in the province of Illyria. Life was difficult for the majority of the islanders during that period, with many people living in poverty. Social classes started to form namely: the workers, tradesmen and nobility. The island also suffered constant attack from Arabs and Goths in the early Byzantine era and towards the end by the Crusaders and the Franks, which severely hindered progress on the island, with the islanders focusing on protecting their families and houses.
In 1084, the island was occupied by the Venetians; and from the end of the 12th century until 1357, by the French. More specifically, in 1185 Zakynthos and Kefalonia came under the jurisdiction of Goulielmo of Sicily who granted the island to what is now known as the Brindisi family, of Italy. From 1185 to 1357 the country was governed by the Orsini family and they also conquered Lefkada and Ithaka. The Orsini family were not popular on the island as they murdered islanders and constantly attacked the villages. However, the family ruled for two centuries. Following some family deaths Leonardo Tocca took over running Zakynthos. He was more popular and made great changes to the island. He was friendly and ruled fairly and another change was that the Orthodox faith flourished with many new churches and monasteries established. During the ruling of the Tocci dynasty, the island had an important growth and development, since they contributed to administrative and economic organization. However, in 1479 the Turks defeated the Tocci family and they ruled for five years. In that period, people had to escape from the island to the Peloponnesian mainland.
In 1484 the Turks and the Venetians stuck a deal regarding the Ionian Islands. The Venetians were to rule the Ionian Islands and pay taxes for the privilege to the Turks. The Venetians ruled for almost 350 years. Under the Venetians the islanders enjoyed a good quality of life and many cultural developments occurred - even today many of the traditions and customs have an Italian influence. Zakynthos became such an attractive place to live that many refuges came to live there and also the island was very under populated so the Venetians offered incentives for other Venetians to move there, such as titles and tax exemptions. The island started to be ruled democratically with an elected government. From these times on, Zakynthos became famous by the name "Florence of Greece". However, there were still three classes of people: nobility, bourgeoisie and popolari (or commoners). In the famous Libro d` Oro the names of the Venetian nobility are recorded. The commoners were not allowed to vote. This led to conflict and in 1628 the peasants revolted demanding political rights. Unfortunately, the revolution, also well known as the "rebellion of the popolari", wasn't successful and much violence ensued. In 1797 the French conquered the island, ending the Venetian rule.
After the conquering of Zakynthos by the French, on July 4, 1797, and the French democratic flag being raised on the castle of Zakynthos, Napoleon himself promised that he would free the Ionian Islands and Zakynthos became the administrative headquarter of the Eptanisa complex of islands. This led to great celebrations, the planting of a freedom tree and the burning of the controversial book the "Libro d' Oro" that contained the privileges and rights only for the nobility. Discrimination was abolished and schools for all children were established. The French rule did not last for long, as the island was quickly conquered by a Russian and Turkish fleet in 1798 and they immediately reinstated the nobles' privileges. On March 21, 1800, a contract signed between Turkey and Russia, established the first independent Greek State of the Eptanisa (Seven Islands) and was effective for seven years. This new "Ionian State", which was founded in Constantinople by the Sultan, consisted only of nobles, which lead to constant rebellion by the islanders. In 1802 to try and appease the Zakynthians the count Georgio Motsengio was sent to establish a democratic way of electing officials. In 1807 the Turks gave the island back to the French which greatly pleased the islanders making them think that a better life would once again be established. However, the English conquered the island in 1809.
During the British rule, Zakynthos became the titular capital of the Ionian State. Many projects were developed on the island at that period, such as a new infrastructure of road networks, bridges, harbors, schools and so on. At the same time though, the rest of Greece was under Turkish occupation. At the Greek War for Independence, Zakynthos played a crucial role donating money, soldiers and being a base of the Philiki Etairia ("Friends' Society"), which promoted the Greek War of Independence against the Turks.
In 1830, Greece became independent. Then, in 1851, the member of Parliament Ioannis Typaldos Kapelatos suggested the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece. The British reacted violently, but the Zakynthians under leadership of Constantine Lamvardos carried on the struggle for the union with Greece. Finally, on May 21 in 1864, the Greek flag was raised on the island.
Zakynthos was occupied by Italian and German forces during the Second World War, but many of the islanders tried to resist. The islanders are also noted for shielding the Jewish community on the island, with all 275 Zakynthian Jews surviving the war. The reason for this was the courageous and intelligent actions of the Bishop Chrysostomos and the Mayor Loukas Carrer whom when ordered at gun point to hand over a list of the names of Jews residing on the island -only wrote their own names. In the meantime the Jews had been hidden on the island, in the mountain villages and to the Zakynthian's credit their whereabouts were never revealed. Zakynthos was liberated on September 12, 1944.
In 1953 a strong earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale shook the Ionian Islands and virtually destroyed the nearby island of Kefalonia and inflicted considerable damage on Zakynthos. Nations all around the world responded to this tragedy with generous donations of money, medical supplies and other aid arriving from in particular the United States, Britain, France and Norway. The very first boat to arrive with aid was from Israel with a message that read "The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us". This big earthquake, together with a seven-day firestorm, destroyed most of the monuments of cultural development on the island and the few still remaining give only a slight hint of its glorious past. Nowadays, one can see the miniature of the town before the earthquake in the Museum.
CULTURE, LOCAL PRODUCTS AND FOOD
All of the Ionian islands were under the Venetian domination that permitted to grow a rich culture in contrast with the rest of Greece, which was under the Turkish domination and was facing one of its darkest historical periods. Zakynthos, apart from its Venetian influence, has a rich and also diverse culture, since it has been subject to multiple foreign occupations for the biggest part of its history. This diversity is very much evident on the island's architecture, local arts, culture, food and overall temperament.
Zakynthian architecture predominantly follows the Venetian style, but there are also a lot of Byzantine and Neo-Classical influences, as well as Gothic architecture mainly found around the island's many Bell Towers. Distinctive to the Zakynthian architecture are also the traditional stone houses featuring wood-and-tile-made roofs, sculpted decorative pieces above doorways and windows and wrought iron staircases (internally), balcony rails and gates (externally).
In the city of Zakynthos before the earthquake there were elegant buildings, bourgeois and common houses so as many churches. The Venetian influence favored the construction of public buildings, roads and bridges that improved the city asset and between 1840 and 1870 many neo-classical buildings were constructed showing the combination of Venetian and Baroque style. This neo-classic style emerges in the design of some churches too. With the earthquake and the following fire in 1953 the largest part of the city was destroyed and with it the beauty of the past civilization. The reconstruction is not always close to the original destroyed buildings, since it was not possible to rebuild a whole city from the ashes keeping the beauty and the charm that only old people remember.
Zakynthos and all the Ionian islands are famous for their well known kandades, which are distinctive melodic polyphonic songs accompanied by mandolin and guitar often based on improvised lyrics. Even though the style is reminiscent of the Venetian arias, kandades are unique to the Eptanisa complex of islands. Georgios Kostis was the most famous player of Kandades in Zakynthos. The first Music School was established on the island in 1815. Pavlos Karrer and Panagiotis Gritzanis were two of the most notable classical composers of the island. The first professional female singer was the Zakynthian Isabella Yiatra. Moreover, opera was also developed on the island, combining the two arts of music and theatre.
Another important form of art is the theatre, both as a moment of mutual feast and as moment of folklore, whose historical roots go back to the period of Venetian domination. The first theatre was built on the structure of the Kandades and was provided by the Venetians whilst on the island. At the beginning the representations were held in the nobles parlors and were considered something only for the well to do classes; during the last years of the Venetian domination a theatre was built to host for the first time also the lower classes.
The two genders that developed with more success were the opera and the so called “omelies” (speeches"). Omelies were developed in the 17th century and were folk representations denouncing the social injustices whose subject were the lower classes. Originally "omelies", focusing on the struggles between the lower classes and aristocracy, were performed in the houses of Nobility with actors wearing masks to protect their identity, but were later performed in the communal squares and streets. Omelies are very much staged in the present, especially during carnivals and traditional festivals.
The first Municipal Theatre was built in 1875 and designed by Tiller, a famous German architect. At some point there were 15 theatrical stages on the island. The first female actress, Aikaterini Viagini, performed on stage in 1820.
Literature origins dated back to the 15th century in Zakynthos, when the island poets were popular for their poems, prose, and the translation of texts from ancient Greek to the spoken language. In the following century Zakynthos strongly contributed to the Greek literature and art by founding the first Greek Academy. The island has produced some of the greatest and most famous poets, writers and theatrical writers in Greece.
- Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), who famously wrote the "Hymn to Liberty", which later became the Greek National Anthem. Solomos studied in Italy and wrote poems in Italian, then came back to Zakynthos, his homeland, where he wrote poems to sustain the population during the war against the Turkish domination; among his works some lyric compositions of the modern Greek literature. A church and a square have been dedicated to him on the island. Moreover, there is a Museum in Zakynthos is dedicated to him, as well as to the other real national symbol, Andreas Kalvos, and has their mortal remains.
- Andreas Kalvos (1792-1869), who was another famous poet and writer, best known for his patriotism. The famous phrase of one of his poems “Freedom requires virtue and audacity” is quoted in the symbol of the city of Zakynthos.
- Grigorios Xenopoulos (1867-1951), who was as a significant novelist and play-writer. He is considered to be the rapporteur of the "urban novel", which is the novel that takes place in the urban centers. The main theme in his works is love, mainly love between people from different social classes. He was also the founder and publisher of the famous "New Estia" magazine and, apart from an academic, together with Palamas, Sikelianos and Kazantzakis, he was the founder of the Society of Greek Writers, of which he was also the first president. There is also a Museum dedicated to him on the island.
- Antonios Matesis (1794-1875), who wrote romantic love poems, patriotic poems, as well as the comedy theatrical play "Vassilikos", which was first playd in 1832 and in which he mocks the morals and customs of the nobility of the Venetian rule. He is considered to be the forerunner of Modern Greek Theatre.
- Dimitrios Gouzelis (1774-1843) and Savogias Rousmelis (or Sourmelis or Soumerlis), who were great comedy writers of Modern Greek literature.
- Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827), the great Italian poet, also originated from Zakynthos, as well as his teacher, Martelaos.
- Zakynthos has also inspired foreign writers, most notable of all Edgar Allan Poe who wrote his famous "Sonnet To Zante".
- Other notable names linked to the great Zakynthian heritage are: Sgouros, Kountouzis, Romas, Mpiskinis, Tsagasianos, as well as Moutsan Martinegkou, the female poet of that time.
The first affects in painting came from Byzantine art. The first painters dedicate themselves to religious themes representing holy icons in churches and utilizing the technique of egg tempera on wood.
In the 17th century thanks to Doxaras the painting technique changed into the oil on canvas one with portraits and perspective drawings. Another important painter was Koundounis belonging to the "Filikì Eteria" ("Friends Society") and he painted pictures with nationalistic and not only religious messages. Tsakos, too, is to be remembered for his pictorial quality and precision in the portraits details.
In the 19th century painting partly changed its connotation; it is not only a holy form of art to be exposed in churches, but it starts being a form of art for everyone, to be admired also in one’s own house. In this period Pelekasis was very important, an internationally acclaimed painter for his landscapes, portraits and icons that have been exposed in museums. The famous Eptanissian School of Art was founded in Zakynthos. The list of great artists also includes Tzanes, Klotzas, Aggelos, Viktoras, Moschos, Koutouzis, Kallergis and Koreis, among others.
In the 18th century the art of the silver engraving and wooden sculpture was developed. The works were exhibited and admired especially in churches. G. Bafas was a well known silver engravers and a sample of his works can be admired in San Dionisio church. Among the wooden engraver there were the brothers Vlachos who decorated many churches and houses, but unfortunately their works were destroyed during the earthquake in 1953. Stefanos Xenopoulos is to be remembered, too, for his specialization in the mosaic art.
During the stormy history of the island and after the numerous invasions that the inhabitants underwent, many folk traditions were born and were mainly connected to the religious cult that united the islanders against the conquerors. During the centuries, the religious folk feasts whose tradition is still alive, were a moment of community and amusement in particular for the lower social classes who were not admitted to other forms of entertainment. Nowadays, there are many folk feasts and tens of towns, small and large, get animated with colors and lights. Among the most important feasts there are the Saint Dionisios, the Carnival and the Easter ones.
Saint Dionisios is the religious feast for the Saint protector of the island. It is on August 24, but in the city of Zakynthos the ferment starts a couple of days in advance to reach the apex the night of 24 August with a magnificent procession, artistic events and fireworks.
Zakynthos’ carnival is now famous all over Greece for being magnificent and very merry. The beauty of the carnival goes back to the Venetian times, whose habits and importance became part of the islanders traditions when Zakynthos was still a colony of the republic of San Marco. The carnival period is now a moment of collective feast of two weeks during which the inhabitants forget everyday work to organize the feast that calls thousands of visitors from all over Greece with masked balls. On the last Sunday of the Carnival is the procession of the Carnival King. The carnival ends in the small square of San Marco with a ritual from the past: the "Mask Funeral".
The "Giostra di Zante": a special event of the Carnival
At the last weekend of the Carnival, one of the oldest events of the Zakynthian carnival, takes place: the "Giostra di Zante". Along with the dances and the well-known and popular "Omelies" (speeches), they were - and still are - the main expressions of the island's carnival entertainment. Giostra is a racing game, where the participants (who used to be only people whose names were in the Libro D' Oro) took part, claiming the prize, which was a silver sword for the first winner and a pair of silver spurs for the second, along with the honor of a woman for the sake of which they were struggling. However, even though only the nobili took part in the event, all people from all social classes were there entertaining themselves by watching the Giostra.
Nowadays, the event takes place every year on the last weekend of the Carnival and it begins with a parade that starts from the historic St. Paul's Square and, after crossing the city center, ends at the central square of Dionysios Solomos, where the racing game takes place. After the registration of the knights and the public announcement of their participation by the preacher, the election of their beloved one is followed, for the sake of whom they will fight for. After that, the posting of their ecocards and their oath, for the observance of all the equestrian regulations, takes place. Then, after the declaration of the Prevezur, the event is held. The racing fighters try to get the ring and show it to the juries, while the crowd participates and wagers, approving of winnings and disapproving the failures. Finally, the winner gets the prize and leaves on horseback, having the girl for the sake of whom he took part in the Giostra with him on the back. After that, the winning dance and the victorious festivities take place. The Giostra di Zante has an international character and other European countries also take part with similar games or reviving other medieval events.
Easter in Zakynthos
Easter in Zakynthos has its own character with ancient customs and an exceptional rite as far as the religious ceremonies are concerned. The celebration of Holy Week on the island is considered to be unique and unforgettable both for locals and visitors to the island.
The Holy Week begins on Saturday of Lazarus, when at 11 am the bells of the churches are celebrating and the "vaya" hung in the bells of all the bell towers of the town and the villages of the island. The "vaya" in Zakynthos are not made of laurel as in the rest of Greece, but of fresh yellow leaves of palm trees, with which people knit crosses, sunsets, horses, etc. and decorate the churches for the feast. On the next day, the Sunday of Vaion, the "nontsoli" (the people who help in the churches and are in charge of a series of technical issues) give the "vagia" in all the houses as the blessing of the Bishop and people put it on the religious paintings of their homes. After the end of the Mass, the temples of the churches are decorated in mourning style. On Holy Tuesday evening, the Mass is chanted by the choirs of the churches in a very melodic way - especially the choirs that chant in the Holy Monastery of Agios Dionysios, the Metropolitan Church of Agios Nikolaos and Phaneromeni in the city. On Holy Thursday morning the Vespers and the Mass are chanted in all churches and after that, no bell of no church bangs again until the morning of Holy Saturday when the Resurrection takes place.
The differences of the Zakynthian Easter become more intense from Holy Thursday's evening Mass and on, since the hymns are chanted in the Zakynthian ecclesiastical music style - and the bells aren't banging at all, in contrast to the mourning bell banging in the rest of Greece. On Good Friday all Zakynthos participates in the Divine Drama. In the morning, the Sequence of the Great Times and the Deception take place and immediately thereafter, the priest emerges from the Holy Step by turning Christ on his shoulder, wrapped in white sheets. Note that in Zakynthos the famous, all over Greece, embroidered Epitaph is not used, but a two-sided wood-carved hagiography of the deceased Christ, called "Amnos" ("Lamb") is used instead. After the procession, the Body of Christ is placed in the Epitaph. On the island, the epitaphs are not decorated with flowers because they are wood-carved with gold leaf and velvet, that is, real works of art. On Good Friday at noon crowds of worshippers take part in the procession of the Crucified through the town. In the early hours of Holy Saturday morning (at around 4 am) and starting from the “Saint Nicolas” Cathedral Church the epitaph procession takes place in accordance with the local ancient custom, while the Bishop announces the Resurrection at sunrise. At the first chime of the bell, the Bishop lets white doves free, while from the bell tower clay vessels are thrown onto the road just as is done by all the inhabitants of the island out of their windows. Tradition has it that the kids bite the key of the front door, so that they are strong. On Holy Saturday night, at 11:15, the Sequence begins at the Metropolitan Church. At 11:45 the Resurrection procession begins for St. Mark's Square, where the Resurrection takes place. "Christ Risen", chant in the idyllic Zakynthian ecclesiastical music. Immediately after, the Image of the Resurrection returns to the Metropolitan Church. According to the local tradition, the Uprising Mass does not take place immediately in any church of the town and villages, but on the morning of Easter Sunday. The bells of the churches keep banging during the reading of the Gospel, as the local tradition demands. On Easter Monday, most villages have big feasts.
Local Products - Traditional Dishes
Due to its mild Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine throughout the year, in combination with heavy rain during the months of November and January, Zakynthos has lush vegetation and it is rich in agricultural products such as olives, citrus fruits and grapes, as well as flowers (there are over 7,000 species of flowers on the island). The most important local products of the island that one should try are:
- Currants: one of the main sources of income for Zakynthian farmers is the cultivation of black grapes which are then picked from the vineyards and left to dry in the sun to become currants. The Zante currants are sundried naturally and this process can often be seen by people who visit in August. The currants are used in Greece to make other products and are also exported to other countries in the European Union.
- Wine: There are many large vineyards all over the island which produce different types of wine. Moreover, most families on the island produce their own wine which is consumed daily, accompanying meals. In many villages this is a tradition which is still very popular. There is a large variety of grapes used and each wine is unique with its own taste, color and aroma. Around August the grapes are picked from the vineyards and then produced into wine about September time. Many producers sell their wine all over Greece and also export it abroad. For those interested in wine-tasting and learning how wine is made, a sample of wineries that could also be visited on the island is: http://www.artandwine.gr/en-location.php or http://www.oenolpi.gr/en_US/winery/
- Cheese: Zakynthos is famous for a unique cheese, called Ladotyri. It is a hard cheese produced from milk from goats and sheep. The name Ladotyri comes from the Greek words "oil" and "cheese". This is due to the traditional procedure followed to produce it which involves it being kept for long periods of time in olive oil giving it thus a wonderful spicy flavor. As a result, ladotyri has a distinctive strong salty taste and is a hard table cheese.
- Olive Oil: The island of Zakynthos, as all Eptanisa islands, is full of olive groves, since olive producing was established by the Venetians. Therefore, even nowadays a big part of local income derives from selling olive oil. Families and workers harvest the olives around November and take them to the local village’s processing plant to extract the olive oil, which is of high quality.
- Honey: In the mountain villages of Zakynthos there are families that have been making honey many years now. Many locals have their own beehives and produce a delicious flavored honey, which could be purchased either from the shops or directly from the producers, who often sell it by the roadside in the villages.
- Mantolato: Mandolato is a traditional local sweet of Zakynthos which has been made of recipes passed down through the generations. It is nougat made with egg whites, honey, sugar and almonds and is often consumed around Carnival time.
- Fytoura: Fytoura is another traditional local sweet of the island, which is made of semolina, fried and covered in lots of sugar and cinnamon. It is often given to weddings in Zakynthos.
- Perfumes: Zakynthos, renowned as the “Flower of the East” due to its rich flora, delightful gardens and golden Mediterranean beaches, also enjoys a strong tradition of perfume making, the roots of which spread deep into the past revealing unique fragrances and secret beauty recipes. Keeping the tradition alive, Razi Aroma Mediterraneo have created perfumes since 1963 inspired by the island’s natural beauty and aromatic herbs and flowers. aromatic herbs and flowers. The Razi Aroma Mediterraneo pursue is to enforce the island’s prestige inside and outside the country, as well as to expand the range of its perfumes and aromatic products by making the best of the island’s unique flora. Razi's perfumes can be found in shops all around the island. For those interested in how the perfumes are made and about the Mediterranean aromatic plants and essential oils, there are also tours available at the perfumery (for more info: http://raziaroma.com/#perfumery.html ).
- Folk art: Zakynthos is well known for its traditional ceramics, pottery, lace, weavings, carvings and paintings found around the many villages of the island and sold by the locals often outside churches or even their family homes and during festivals and local celebrations in the community. There are many pottery workshops on the island, where artists produce beautiful handcrafted ceramics. Some of these offer guests the chance to see the process and make their own works of art. The ceramics are made by molding clay. It is then decorated using spikes and traditional tools, fired in a kiln, colored and finally glazed. Using the designs and techniques of Byzantine ceramics, it is very hard to find two same pieces and therefore each one is unique.
As for its gastronomy, the island’s cuisine is oil-based and draws on traditional Greek recipes with a twist. Apart from all the Greek traditional dishes that can be found all over the country, Zakynthos' traditional local dishes include:
- Zakinthian Ragu: The roots of the traditional Zakinthian ragu are French. In the beginning, the ragu, according to the French, was a dish with boiled vegetables in the pot. Later on, the Italians took the recipe and, taking advantage of this way of cooking the vegetables, they decided to make sauces of vegetables and meat, mainly for their pasta. Thus, Ragu is meat or vegetable with sauce simmering in the saucepan for several hours. It was natural in Italy to combine it perfectly with any kind of pasta and to obtain various variations and names, such as bolognese and napolitana. Zakynthos, influenced throughout its history by Italy, could not leave gastronomy out of its influences, always combining them with Mediterranean cuisine and the Greek element. As a result, the Zakynthian version of Ragu is a dish with thick macaroni and red sauce of large pieces of beef or pork, combined with herbs that simmer altogether for hours in a large saucepan.
- Stuffed rabbit with wine and rabbit stifado (rabbit stew)
- papatoli (veal shank)
- sofigadoura (a Zakynthos take on beef stew in tomato sauce)
- Fish (after all, it is an island, so it would be a shame not to have fresh fish!)
- Wash it all down with one of the local wines, such as the Venetian-influenced Verdea.
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
Although most visitors go to Zante for its beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, the island has much more for visitors to discover, making it even more interesting than it already is.
First of all, there is the capital town of Zakynthos, called "Chora", as in many Greek islands. Chora had a particular architecture influenced by the Venetians, the French and the English who occupied the island in the past. However, the earthquake of 1953 destroyed most of those elegant buildings. The new town was built on the ruins of the ancient one in an attempt to preserve the traditional architecture. Unfortunately, this promising undertaking didn’t work except for a few areas. Today, the capital has a population of about 10,000 inhabitants and it is very lively and crowded during summer season. Moreover, since Chora is the capital and cultural centre of the island, it has many sights of interest for a visitor to see.
Dionysios Solomos square
The square of D. Solomos is the central and largest square of Chora, where most religious and cultural events take place. There, one can see the statue of the National Poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos, a copy of the original work of the Athenian sculptor Georgios Vroutos. On the base of the statue a line of his poem “Hymn to Freedom” is engraved; representing the Glory to which the national poet is addressing his poems to, the statue is flanked at both sides by two cannons and the stele that remembers the writings of another poet very much loved by the people of Zakynthos, Kalvos. The square is at the end of the main dock of the harbor and its present form (pavement) is post-earthquake. In its place, there used to be sea, but during the expansion of the city, it was embalmed. It was formerly called "Molos" because it was formed by the embankment of the area. On the left side of the square one can find the Town Hall of the Municipality of Zakynthos and at the southern edge of the square the statue of Hugo Foscolo, the famous Italian poet. Moreover, on the square one can find the statue of the painter Paul Karer and the Statue of Liberty. Around the square many remarkable buildings can be found, as well as the church of St. Nicholas of Molos, dated back in the 17th century and built in Venetian style. Originally the church had been built on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge, then the island joined the city. The most important sights around Dionysios Solomos square are the Zakynthos Byzantine Museum and the Town Hall Library.
Zakynthos Byzantine Museum (also known as Zakynthos Museum)
This magnificent museum of ecclesiastical art is housed in a beautifully restored building on the central waterfront plaza. Almost everything there was rescued – by volunteer sailors! – in the immediate aftermath of the 1953 earthquake, with displays including entire church interiors, and frescoes arranged in a replica of the 16th-century monastery of St Andreas. More specifically, the museum, located on D. Solomos square, is the largest and most charming of the island and, after the havoc of the earthquake in 1953, is now getting back to its original charm. The museum, which for the first time was open to the public in 1960, is on three levels and in the first two rooms the visitor can admire Byzantine icons carved in the wood, whereas in the third and fourth rooms there are original frescos of the 15th, 16th and 17th century. Two more rooms are dedicated to paintings of the 18th century and oils on canvas of artists like Doxaras, Koutouzis and Kantouni. The special importance of this museum is eventually due to the opportunity that the tourist has to appreciate the pictures and plastics reproducing the city before the earthquake besides the artistic evolution from the post Byzantine period to the contemporary Greek art.
Town Hall Library
The town hall library is also located in a big building in D. Solomos square. Its story goes back to 1628 and before being destroyed by the earthquake and the fire; it kept unique papers and books of poets of the past. Thanks to the donation of some people of Zakynthos who gave to the library books from their personal and private collection, it was possible to rebuilt the past and give it back to people at their disposal.
In the library it is possible to find rare books concerning the history and tradition of Zakynthos, treaties of famous writers, copies of old newspapers and memories concerning the second world war in addition to the pictures of Zakynthos before the calamity happened in 1953.
Saint Marco Square
St. Marco square used to be the most important center for the social life of the Zakynthians. Remarkable intellectuals chose this square to meet and exchange opinions. Many historical decisions for the political evolution of the island were taken in this square. In 1797 the popolari burned the Libro D' Oro of the nobles there. The Tree of Freedom in the centre of the Square represents the release from the Venetians, which changed to the French domination.
In St. Marco square the Catholic Church of St. Marco is also found, where the name of the square came from. Founded in 1518 as a chapel of the monastery of the Franciscan monks, it served as a Cathedral for the Latin Bishopric of Zakynthos and Kefalonia later on. Today this bishopric has been negated and the Church operates only during the summer. Its initial form was remarkably imposing and its internal decoration very precious, but only a few from its exhibits were saved. After the earthquake the church was built is a smaller size. St. Marco church is the only catholic church in Zakynthos.
There used to be the famous Casino at the square, a very important place where the politicians used to meet, but unfortunately it was destroyed during the earthquake of 1953. The most important building of square is "Solomos & Kalvos Museum" ("Museum of Solomos and Eminent Zakynthian People" as its official name is).
Museum of Solomos and Eminent Zakynthian People
The museum was founded in 1959 by a club of admirers of the fine arts of Zakynthos; it is located in the striking St. Marco square and it is very famous since it keeps the relics of the two poets Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos, real national symbols. Dionysios Solomos is also the national poet of Greece, since the national anthem of the country "Hymn to Liberty" is his poem. In the museum there are local art handcrafts such as paintings of the 18th and 19th century, carved pottery, sculptures and ancient musical instruments; the section dedicated to clothes and weapons of noble families of the last century is very well attended. There are then many portraits dedicated to the most important people of the island and a collection of coats of arms.
Church of St. Dionysios
One of Orthodox pilgrimage sites in the Ionian, St Dionysios draws crowds of believers throughout the year, as it houses the relics of the saint of the same name, who is also the island’s patron saint. Saint Dionysios is also famous as "the Saint of Forgiveness", since the most eloquent episode of his life is, while being in a monastery in Zakynthos, he gave shelter and forgiveness to his brother's slayer and helped him to leave safely from the island, giving the ultimate example of the application of Christian ideology.
The impressive church, which is the biggest in Chora, started being built in 1925 and was inaugurated in 1948. It has a lovely location looking over the waterfront and is instantly recognizable when approaching the capital by boat. At night the lights that frame the bell tower create pretty reflections on the water in the harbor. Its bell tower, apart from its height, also has many similarities to the bell tower of St. Marco of Venice - it is actually almost identical. Being surrounded by numerous bulbs, the bell tower is enlightened during the night, creating a lovely view.
As for the church with a three-aisled basilica and inner arch, it might not have any particular exterior characteristics, but it is really worth visiting since when entering one gets really impressed by the quantity and quality of frescos, lamp holders and colors. The most important and most precious work of the temple was made in 1829 by George Diamantis Buffas and is the silver sculpture Larnaca that houses the holy relic of the patron saint. Moreover, the Despotic icons in the Templo with silver lining of the same artist (1829) and the representation of the litany in the women's hand by the priest Nicolaos Koutouzis also stand out. Another great work is the wood-carved iconostasis that was saved by the earthquake of 1953, which, along with the marvelous frescoes of Koutouzis and Doxaras, give the temple the imposing shape that suits it. Most frescoes show images of the life of the Saint. Finally, the wood-carved and golden "room" of the Saint is impressive. The catastrophic earthquake of 1953 left it virtually undamaged. "Miracle or just solid foundations?", as many people ask themselves. Next to the church visitors will find the monastery of Saint Dionysios and a museum that explains the history of the church and the Saint.
Bochali, known as "Balcony of Zante", is probably the prettiest part of Chora, located at the top of the promontory rising at the back of the centre. Keeping the sea at the right hand's side, once passed the main Chora, there is an inner road on the left that goes up. After a while the visitor will see a crossroad and must turn left going up till one reaches Bochali. There, everyone is bound to stop every few minutes to admire the panoramic view of the harbor, Argassi and the Bay of Laganas. Or to photograph the alleys lined with old houses and traditional cafes and the small church of Zoodohos Pigi with its Byzantine icons. At sunset or at night Bochali becomes magical, with the view of the enlighten city and the harbor bay. There are also different kinds of restaurants offering a romantic dinner under the stars. A bit higher, at a short walking distance, one will come to the castle, camouflaged by all kinds of plants and shrubs, where the Venetians had their island capital.
Kastro (The Castle)
A ruined Venetian fortress sits atop the wooded slope that looms over the town centre. Reached by a steep but enjoyable 15-minute hike, or a circuitous 2.5 km drive, it’s now essentially a peaceful forest park, enclosed within sturdy ramparts and affording tremendous views. Tumbledown churches lie scattered through the woods, along with a 19th-century British football pitch and a cafe. The castle, partly destroyed by the earthquake that in 1953 devastated the island, must be visited during one's holidays even because from there the 360° view allows the visitor to see in one time both coasts of the Island.
The Stranis Hill in Bochali
From that area, the visitor looking to the west, overlooking the lush plains of the island, can see the north coast of the island of Kephalonia, while to the east, the blue Ionian and mainland Greece. In the early 19th century it belonged to Ludwig Stranis, which tied close ties of friendship with the poet Dionysios Solomos, who visited the place a lot. While being there, inspired by the unique beauty of landscapes and listening to the cannons of the besieged by the Turks Messolonghi (in the Peloponnese), Dionysios Solomos wrote the national anthem of the country, as he himself stated.
Grigorios Xenopoulos Museum
The Museum of Gregorios Xenopoulos, located in Chora in the Phaneromeni district, is not other than the house that the great 20th century Greek writer passed his childhood. A lot of manuscripts of writer, publications of his work, photographs and copies of the magazines "Children Edification" (1879-1919) and "Youth's Magazine", of which he was editor in-chief for a lot of years, are exposed in the museum, along with the furniture and personal belongings of the writer and his famous family.
National Marine Park of Zakynthos
Zakynthos’ Marine Park, covering an area of 135 sq km, is located along the southern coast from the promontory of Marathia’s Cape to the beach of Gerakas, including the outback of the beaches of Limni Keri, Laganas and Kalamaki and the Strofades, two small islands 50 nautical miles southern of Zakynthos.
This area presents the main characteristics of the Mediterranean ecosystem, with sandy beaches, emerging rocks and sandy dunes, whereas in the outback there are thick pinewoods, fertile areas for the agriculture and the Mediterranean landscape with spontaneous vegetation. The National Marine Park has been founded in 1999 with the main purpose of defending the particular fauna of the southern part of the island and of its integration with the local society.
The most important animal specimen to protect are the sea turtles Caretta-Caretta and the Mediterranean Seals Monachus-Monachus. More specifically, every spring the endangered Caretta Caretta sea turtles set off for Zante from the Libyan Sea and the southern Adriatic, not because they like to swim, but because nature tells them to lay their eggs in the sands of Gerakas, Dafni, Kalamaki, Marathonisi and, especially, Sakania, east of Laganas, as they always have. If you’re lucky enough to witness this spectacle, please don’t disturb. In addition to turtles and seals, the park intends to protect also other animal specimen, such as:
- Birds: the southern gulf of Zakynthos and the Strofades are usually visited by migrating birds, wild swans, swallows, kingfishers, and sea gulls.
- Reptiles and amphibians: there are many frogs, tortoises, iguanas and soft water snakes.
- Mammals: in the outback there are many porcupines and wild rabbits, whereas in the park waters it is possible to meet dolphins with the “bottle muzzle” or Tursiops Truncatus.
The Strofades islets
Only 37 nautical miles from Zante, these two islets are unknown to most tourists, Greek or foreign. The smaller one is Arpia and the bigger one Stamfani; they are both flat - the highest hill is 20 meters above sea level. The coasts of the two islands are rocky and without sand. The Strofades are popular for their beauty, for the rich vegetation and for the passage of more than thousands of migratory birds every year.
In the past the islands were counted among the most fertile of Greece, there were orchards producing such a big quantity of fruits to satisfy the needs of the more than one hundred monks that used to live there. Nowadays there still are some fruit trees like orange and lemon trees, fig trees and a thick wild vegetation all around the island. There are more than 250 different trees and flowers specimen among which the most widespread is the secular cedar of which there is a thick wood. The Strofades are part of the marine park since more than 1200 different specimen of migratory birds go there to nest and rest every year from Africa; among the different specimen there are turtledoves, cuckoos, goldfinches, hoopoes and swallows.
In addition to being the abode of different animal and vegetal specimen, there is also one monk living in this paradise. There, one can find the monastery of the Blessed Mother of God, built around the 1200 upon request of Princess Irene, daughter of the Nicea Emperor who, thanks to those islands, survived a shipwreck. The monastery is a fortress that in the centuries survived nature and buccaneers that assaulted and sacked it more than once and now presents the first signs of yielding with cracks and walls ruined by time and wear. In the past many monks used to live there and among them there was Saint Dionisios, the modern protector of Zakynthos island. To commemorate the past, there are Byzantine icons, chandeliers, embroidering and some sculptures like the biceps eagle, symbol of the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, a mystery that surrounds the fortified monastery is that it houses an icon of Virgin Mary that washed up there undamaged after being thrown into the sea by 13th century Orthodox Christians in Constantinople to save it from the Iconoclasts who were destroying all paintings with human figures.
Marathonissi is located in the south of the Zakynthos island, overlooking the bay of Laganas.
It is an exotic, green turtle-shaped island, as if it knew it would host the nests of sea turtle caretta-caretta. On the one side, facing Laganas bay, there is a beautiful beach with white sand and behind it one can observe the majesty of the Mediterranean vegetation. The back side of the island is dominated by caves in the sea and the unique morphology of the rocks. Among the caves small beaches are formed making a dreamlike spot for swimming. The golden sandy beach, the lush greenery and the turquoise waters create a natural painting that will be admired from the first moment.
The island is part of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos and, of course, not inhabited. The significance of Marathonissi island for the Park is that the turtles that are born there are almost exclusively male, due to the temperature of the beach, the sea turtle nesting and thus the depth of incubation of eggs, while female turtles are born to the other beaches of the Gulf. One can visit Marathonissi either by one of the organized daily tours or by one's own rent boat from the nearby beaches of Laganas, Lithakia and Keri Lake. A visit to Marathonissi is certainly an experience not to be missed.
Helmis' Natural History Museum
Helmis' Natural History Museum is one of its kind. The Museum is located at Ayia Marina village, in a beautiful, traditional building. The Museum's collections include specimens from the flora and fauna of the Zakynthian nature such as rocks and minerals, plant and animal fossils, shells, fish and birds. Educational material for children helps turn their visit into an amusing experience. For more information please visit the museum's website: www.museumhelmis.gr
Sunset at Shiza
Visit the small picturesque village of Kampi to the west of the island and follow the steep drive up to the top of the hill where a big cross memorial stands in honor of those murdered during the civil war in Greece (literally thrown off the cliff and sent to their deaths). The cross strikes for its dimensions and, representing those who passed away in the civil war, it makes it impossible for anyone to forget these people, since it is visible from the sea even though located on a promontory more than three hundred and fifty meters from the sea level. On the way up one will also find the Mycenaean cemetery with original tombs of that era.
The cliff of Shiza, together with Shipwreck and the Keri’s lighthouse, offers a breathtaking landscape and unforgettable sunsets. From the top of the cliff the view can space from the infinite blue of the Ionian sea to the underlying Seal Gulf, a bay that derives its name from the seals that every year go there to breed in the marine caves.
Being there, visitors can also visit the narrow lanes of the small mountains villages like Kampi, Exo Chora and Maries, where inhabitants are still living on farming and handicraft and where the time seems to run slower than ever. In those villages it is possible to buy handmade products such as mats and table clothing or natural food like honey and oil.
In August every day many people go to the lighthouse to admire the sun diving in the sea at sunset and the sky nuances before darkness. Next to the small lighthouse erected on the top of the promontory, it is possible to park the car in a no asphalted square projecting on the sea and from where one can contemplate an incomparable view. The sight from this place, particularly on a clear day, will be an unforgettable moment of one's holiday in Zakynthos, especially because by moving along the small lighthouse, one has the possibility to see, from the top of the cliff, the Mizitres. The Mizitres are two huge rock cones flanked by a deserted island rising from the blue sea and signing the beginning of the Keri Caves.
Boat Tour to Keri Caves
Keri Caves, accessible only by sea with private boats or tourist excursions, develop along the promontory of Marathia Cape, in the South-West area of the island. There are many caves along the coast, which entrances are either scarcely suffice to get in by swimming or broad enough to enter directly with a boat. The caves that are surmounted by cliffs, where the sea is very deep, are easily reachable. While visiting them, it is possible to stop to swim or sunbathe in one of the many small beaches of Marathia Cape or in Mizitres. Mizitres are two crags very close to the cliffs that form a small beach of very fine sand and are reachable only by boat. Admiring them from a close position, the visitor can notice that in one of the two crags there is a crack where lots of starfish live and where one could swim. Moreover, there are two arches of rock along the coast. Boats can pass under the larger one.
Boat Tour to the Blue Caves
Located in Aspros Vrahos (White Rock), south of Cape Skinari - the most northern end of the island which is 35 km from Chora - the Blue Caves are a series of geological formations that have created a unique seascape. Apart from the natural arches that have been carved out by erosion, these caves are famous for the color of the water in its deepest hollows, a deep azure color which is most striking in the morning when the light is at its brightest. The entrance of the Blue Caves was discovered only in the late 19th century and the biggest of them is the Kianoun cave. The Blue Caves are accessible only by tourist boats, departing from either the Chora of Zakynthos or the nearby port of Agios Nikolaos in Volimes. Swimming in the Blue Caves is an unforgettable experience, since one is travelling to a different, exotic world.
Scuba - Diving - Snorkelling
For divers, Zakynthos Island is one of the first choices in the Mediterranean Sea - mainly in the southwest of the island, where the most famous diving grounds (Keri - Caves) are situated. However, the northeast is not bad, but often wavy in the afternoon. A wide range of marine life can be found. Most marine life are moray eels, monk seals, octopus, and loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta). Divers will easily find diving centers with good equipment in all areas. The most renowned diving centers on the island are Nero Tauchsport in Keri and ZanteDiving in Laganas. A useful guide for Diving in Greece can also be found on www.diving-greece.net. For those who love to watch the marine life and soft and hard corals that exist in the waters around, but are not fond of diving, there are snorkelling trips available too. In all water activities however, one should make sure to go with a company that practices safe snorkelling or diving around the animals, so that they don't get stressed out and get harmed. Zakynthos is an underwater paradise, so we would all love to help to keep it alive for following generations of humans and animals.
Windsurfing is mostly situated off the northeastern beaches of Tsilivi and Planos. From 3 pm on daily, one can expect 4 to 6 Beaufort (earlier in the day around 2 Beaufort). Until recently the surfing-schools didn't have the proper equipment, so professionals may have to bring their own equipment.
Favored with mid Mediterranean climate, Zakynthos is the ideal destination for summer holidays and attracts the nature and sea enthusiasts, as it provides a wide variety of outdoor and water sport activities. One of the most high adrenaline activities taking place on the island is BASE jumping and is set in Navagio Beach or else Shipwreck Beach, one of the most amazing beaches in Europe.
Navagio beach is an exposed, isolated cove, located on the north west shore of Zakynthos island and took its name from a smuggler shipwreck that was washed on shore in 1981, due to an engine malfunction and bad weather conditions. The small beach has amazing, white, soft sand and crystal clear waters and is defined by huge vertical limestone cliffs.
In this extraordinary scenery that attracts thousands of visitors every summer, BASE jumpers have found their own paradise. The jump off point is situated on the edge of a high cliff that overlooks the bay at 656 ft/200 m height and can be approached by car. Once one jumps, one has about 2 to 5 seconds before he/she deploys one's parachute and land safely on the sandy beach. The views and the excitement of the fall will definitely take one's breath away, while free falling in this exotic spot.
Before all, though, the fans of adrenaline should have deep psychological exploration and awareness of reality! Relatives and friends should know the decision to deal with BASE and be informed about the sport, so that they are safe physiologically. Now, the essential requirements. The most important is the realization of an average 150 jumps skydiving before base jumping. Then it is necessary to monitor the FJC (First Jump Course) after completion of the longer one dares. If one thinks to do base jumping without having any idea of skydiving, it is better to remove that thought from one's mind. Before taking any decision, first of all understand what is Base Jumping.
Over the last few years, Navagio beach has become a meeting point for the sport fans and hosts the Summer BASE Jump Boogie event, where the best athletes of the world make more than 300 jumps in five days. The best season to visit the spot is from May to late September, but before one decides to do it, one should check out the weather and wind conditions in the area. Fans of the extreme sport should also keep in mind that the island is not organized in regards of gear shops or rescue personnel, so it is best to go prepared and take climbing ropes with them. The beach is remote and can only be approached by boat from Agios Ioannis harbor for those who want to swim and bathe under the hot sun. However, that shouldn’t be a problem for BASE jumpers, as they can just land on the beach from the sky!
BEACHES OF ZANTE
The natural environment of Zakynthos with its massive cliffs and huge and green flat lands, offers the tourist the opportunity to choose among many kinds of beaches. There are sandy beaches in secluded coves where the tranquil waters are deep blue on the island’s southeastern part; yet, if rugged cliffs and an interesting underwater world are to one's liking, one should try the western part of the island. More specifically:
Western coast: The west coast of the island is characterized by amazing natural places, such as the Navagio, the fiords of Porto Limniona and Porto Roxa, Porto Vromi bay with its little island just in front. The west coast has a spectacular sea with unique colors and most of it is accessible only by boat. The west cliff allows visitors to see an amazing sunset from Keri's lighthouse, from the Navagio and from the village of Kambi.
Eastern Coast: The east coast of the island is the most varied one. It offers sandy beaches, such as the family-friendly (due to its crystal clear shallow waters) and beloved to watersports fans Tsilivi, Alykes and Alykanas, while to the north there are beautiful rocky bays, such as Xigia Beach, Makris Gialos and the beautiful Blue Caves with their amazing colors.
Southern Gulf: the southern gulf goes from Limni Keri beach to Gerakas and it is entirely dedicated to the loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta) and the Marine Park of Zakynthos. In addition to several long sandy beaches, the Gulf is characterized by the island of Marathonissi and the caves of Marathias Cape.
Below one can find more details about some of these beaches.
Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach
When on Zakynthos, then a visit to the ship wreck in the northwest of Zakynthos is an absolute must. The Navagio (shipwreck) of Zakynthos is one of the most photographed sites, not only on the island but in the whole of Greece. The combination of the white cliffs, the bright turquoise water and the stranded ship on the white beach is very impressive. Each year thousands of tourists visit the beach. The access to the beach is only by boat - there are plenty of boat tours to Navagio beach -, but if one would like to admire the view from above, there is a way to watch the beautiful view by car too (not to swim though!). If one wants to visit the Shipwreck by car, between Anafonitria village (where the beautiful 15th century Monastrey is located) and Volimes village is a high viewpoint, 300 meters above sea level. The distance from Zakynthos town to this location is about thirty kilometres. As for the view over the beach, it is incredible and breath-taking. The sea is beautiful with clear water and turquoise color. Keep in mind though, that there is no walking path to the beach when going by car, but the panoramic view over the beach and sea will be an unforgettable experience. Moreover, one should keep in mind that, as 2018 landslides occurred at a point on the beach, from 2019 access is only allowed on a piece of the beach, under strict supervision of the Port Authority and the Port Authority of Zakynthos.
It is one of the most hidden places and maybe for this reason more beautiful and wild of the entire island. To get there visitors have to pass through the mountains village of Agios Leon and from there following the signs, driving down a recently asphalted road running down to the sea and ending in a small square where one can park. From there getting down a few steps carved in the rock, visitors reach a real fiord, stupefying for the clearness and colors of the waters. It is easy to imagine that in this place there are no many tourist facilities, only two terraces with loungers and umbrellas have been created but are not always enough for the request. For those who really care about caves it is worth visiting the first one just getting down the steps; once there and in the water one understands that the cave is to continue, but only for those who love extreme sports. Near Porto Limnionas, only 3 km away, is Porto Roxa, another small bay with a slipway to put boats in the water in an exceedingly beautiful part of coast.
Gerakas is the southern beach of the island and for sure one of the most beautiful.
It consists of a long sand tongue ending in a small promontory diving in the sea.
The promontory is very famous since it is entirely made of clay and in the past was used by the tourists to get a regenerating “clay therapy”. Today, the final part of the beach is closed because too many people pulled off the clay, making the ridge unsafe.
From May to October for those who would like to wake up before dawn, there is the possibility to assist to the turtles’ eggs hatching and admire tens of specimens trying to reach the sea. This beach is a protected area of the Zakynthos Marine Park because of the turtles’ choice to go there to hatch, and in addition to the fact that it doesn’t offer any tourist devices the access is forbidden from half an hour before the sunset to half an hour after dawn.
Limni Keri Beach
Keri is a small and quiet resort situated on a wonderful bay with golden sand and turquoise shimmering waters, and can be found in the southern part of Zakynthos. A couple of taverns and cafe-bars are scattered along the bay from which one can enjoy an amazing view over the islet of Marathonisi. The small picturesque port of Keri offers organized boat tours to the fantastic Blue Caves.
Tsilivi is one of the most popular resorts in Zakynthos located 6 km west of the main town. Due to the developed tourist infrastructure, the area attracts many visitors during the summer season. Luxury hotels, apartments and studios as well as restaurants, bars, night clubs, shops and taverns are available in Tsivili for all tastes and budgets. It mostly receives British and Italian tourists. The main beach is quite long and plenty of tourist facilities are available in the golden sand. The beach here is very busy with families nd many young people who stay in the area until the late hours. It is mostly characterized by the its clear and pure waters and water sports facilities.
Alykanas (Alikanas) is a popular tourist resort located 16 km southeast of Zakynthos town, just a short walk from the neighboring resort of Alykes. The long sandy beach is known for the crystalline waters and fantastic tourist facilities that occupy the biggest part of the sandy beach. Alykanas has developed many tourist facilities, including restaurants, taverns and many water sports centers along the beach. The region gets very popular during the summer months. In close distance from Alykanas is Askos Stone Part with many wild animals. A bit northern one will find the lovely resort of Agios Nikolaos Schinari, which serves ferries to Kefalonia and boat trips to Navagio beach.
Xigia is a lovely beach situated 20 km north of Zakynthos, easily accessed by the main road. This is one of the most popular locations of the island surrounded by a rocky landscape with lush greenery. It distinguishes for the unique water quality including brimstone offering the sea a light scent. The brimstone comes from the neighboring caves and it is therapeutic for the body pains, well-known to the locals as a natural spa. Xigia is a pebbled beach with golden sand and crystal deep waters. The beach offers a few umbrellas and sundecks and just a couple of meters before the beach there is a tavern serving seafood.
HOW TO GET TO ZAKYNTHOS
Zakynthos has its own airport, named "Dionysos Solomos", which is located on the south of the island, 6 km from the islands capital town and 1 km from the popular resort of Laganas. Zante airport is the fifth busiest in Greece with many visitors passing through this airport every year. In 2008 a brand new airport was opened to replace the smaller older one, which was struggling to cope with the increasing arrivals and departures. The airport has greatly improved due to the spacious new arrivals and departure areas making the whole process of passengers much quicker and efficient.
Night flights are banned on Zakynthos, so as not to disturb the endangered Caretta Caretta turtles which nest their eggs on the beaches of Zante. As night flights are banned, it means that the hours for planes to arrive and depart are severely restricted. There can be congestion at times due to planes having to land close together. There is also a taxi rank outside the airport (the color of taxis in Zakynthos is silver/grey).
Apart from the daily connection with Athens' airport "Eleftherios Venizelos" with a 45' flight and from Thessaloniki airport "Makedonia", there are plenty of direct charter flights from many European countries to the island, especially during summer. From England, for instance, there are direct flights leaving from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle etc. Moreover, there are also flights connecting Zakynthos to other parts of Greece, such as Kefalonia, Corfu and Aktio (next to Lefkada).
By Ferry Boat:
Zakynthos has sea routes with Killini, Kefalonia (Greece), Bari and Brindisi (Italy).
- From Killini: Ferries connect Zante with the port of Killini, on the Peloponnese coast, and the journey takes approximately one hour. There are 5 ferries a day between Zakynthos and Killini in the summer and between 3 and 4 in the winter months. The ferries also link with a bus service so that passengers can travel to and from Patras and Athens by bus. Moreover, visitors can get to their destination with their car because ferries that operate on this crossing allow vehicles. There are two companies for the route Killini - Zakynthos:
- KEFALONIAN LINES - www.kefalonianlines.com
- LEVANTE FERRIES - www.levanteferries.com
For timetables and prices, please check on their websites.
- From Kefalonia: There is also a ferry service connecting Zakynthos to the neighboring island of Kefalonia. The ferries depart from the port of Agios Nikolaos in the north of the island, with two ferries a day in the summer. The trip lasts about one hour and cars can travel on the ferry, but if visitors have hired a car or motorbike they may need to check that their rental agreement allows them to take the vehicle off the island.
As for connection with Italy, just as in previous years, there will be ferries, direct, from Italy to Zakynthos at the height of summer.
- From Bari: Ventouris Ferries with their vesel 'Bari', that holds 1125 passengers and 330 cars and 'Rigel' which holds 1130 passengers and 330 cars.
- From Brindisi: Red Star Ferries. The ferry boat makes stops at Paxos, Kefalonia, Ithaki and, finally, Zakynthos.
- From Italy to Patras: Apart from the above, one could reach Patras from Italian ports, with departures from the harbors of Venice, Trieste, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. From Patras visitors who have their own vehicle can proceed for 60 km along the New National Road via Pyrghos to the coast town of Killini, while the rest of the visitors could take the bus that connects Patras with the port of Killini.