Zakynthos, also known by its Venetian name, Zante, is perhaps the greenest of the Ionian Islands. Beneath its notorious cheap tourism, Zakynthos is a beautiful island. All you need is to make a determined quest for its western and central regions of lush, forested mountains, dropping off to unreal turquoise waters to find out for yourself.
The Venetians used to call Zakynthos the “Fioro di Levante” (Flower of the East), as there are over 7,000 species of flowers on the island!
A bit of history
Zakynthos has been inhabited since the Neolithic Era, based on archaeological findings. Ancient poet Homer first mentions the island in his Iliad and Odyssey poems. Homer states that the first inhabitants were the son of King Dardanos of Troy, called Zakynthos and his men around 1,500-1,600 BC.
During classical antiquity, Romans occupied the island. The Roman times waw a period of significant cultural development for Zakynthos and its inhabitants. It was a period of prosperity while the island produced many colonies, as far as in Spain.
In the Middle Ages, the Ionian Islands were constantly under Venetian domination. The Venetians promoted the island’s cultural heritage, and that was an era that many important Greek poets and writers were born here. This list includes renowned poets such as Andreas Kalvos and Dionysios Solomos (Greece’s National Poet). And not to forget to mention the theatrical writer Antonis Matessis.
Zakynthos and the other Ionian Islands joined the Greek State on the 21st of May, 1864.
Things to do and see in Zakynthos
1. Stroll around the capital town
Many of Zakynthos’ Town Neoclassical buildings were demolished in the devastating 1953 earthquake. However, the paved streets and squares, filled with bakeries, cafés, boutiques, and stores, are still a joy to explore on foot.
The town’s most prominent church, Agios Dionysios, houses the remains of the island’s patron saint and dates from 1708. After a severe earthquake that hit the island, it was reconstructed in 1954.
On the town’s main square, you can find a lovely Byzantine Museum. Here, you can admire the religious icons, frescoes, and sculptures from the island’s churches and monasteries, dating all the way back to the 12th century. You can also check out a scale model of the town from around 1950 and get an idea of how it looked before the 1953 earthquake.
If you’re looking for spectacular views over the town and the port, go up to the village of Bohali and its ruined Venetian castle. It is set in a park with pine trees. This fortress was also damaged extensively by the earthquake. You can still admire its main gate (bearing the Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice) and its outer walls and battlements.
2. Swim at the famous Navagio Beach
This could very well be the most photographed beach in Greece. It features in most Greek National Tourism Organization advertisements. Navagio or Shipwreck Beach lies in the ominous Smuggler’s Cove on the island’s west coast. Made up of fine white pebbles backed by sheer limestone cliffs, the beach takes its name from the wreck of a rusty ship that was smuggling cigarettes and was washed up here in 1980. This fantastic beach can only be accessed from the sea.
Zakynthos possesses many astounding beaches. Its southern shore is more tourist-friendly, while the western and northern coast is not so easily accessible. Though, that part of the island bears an incredible natural beauty.
Gerakas is considered one of the Zakynthos’ most attractive beaches, featuring turquoise waters and unique, unspoiled scenery. Being a shelter for the endangered Caretta-Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtle, this is a large cove with crystalline waters and golden sand. Rock formations scattered around the seashore offer a feeling of protection and isolation.
Porto Zoro offers its visitors a unique swimming experience in a peaceful environment away from noisy crowds. With beautiful crystalline waters and lush green surroundings, it impresses every visitor. This is one of the finest displays of the island’s natural beauty.
Banana is the island’s largest beach. Famous for its exotic waters, shining under the sun’s relentless light, Banana stands out for its rocky landscape and its soft golden sand. Access to the beach is easy, and there is plenty of parking space. This is indeed a spectacular beach, among the most beautiful on the island.
3. Snorkel at a magical sea cave
On Zakynthos’ southwest coast, close to the village of Keri, lies a row of dramatic sea caves, opening directly onto a crystal clear turquoise seabed. It’s possible to visit the caves as part of an organized excursion, but you’d best rent a boat and go independently. You can swim around the caves and snorkel or dive to gaze at the fantastic lighting effects of the sun reflecting through the water and onto the cave walls.
On the northern tip of the island, lies Cape Skinari, where you’ll find an enormous spectacle, called Blue Caves. Inside the caves, the bright blue sea reflects the sky’s color, which is then mirrored off the rocks, thus creating magical azure and sapphire flashes. You can visit the Blue Caves in a small glass-bottom boat, departing from Agios Nikolaos.
4. Learn about the endangered Caretta Caretta (Loggerhead) sea turtle
On Zakynthos’ southeast coast, the wide and shallow bay of Laganas is home to several blissful stretches of sandy beach. Since the 1980s, it has been the island’s top resort, with budget accommodation and frenzied nightlife. It is attracting young visitors in search of sea, sun, and fun.
However, locals are now being encouraged to develop eco-tourism here. This location is the breeding area for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). This timid creature lays its eggs in the sand during summer, and there is an estimated number of 1,300 turtles living around the bay. In 1999, the Zakynthos National Marine Park was founded to protect the turtle. Since then, access to some regions of the beach is limited during the nesting season. If you want to learn more about it, you can visit the park’s exhibition center, at the beach’s east end.
5. Partake in the Easter celebrations
Orthodox Easter celebrations in Zakynthos bear their own character. They feature ancient customs and an extraordinary rite as far as religious ceremonies go. These celebrations are considered to be a unique and unforgettable experience for both locals and visitors.
Their highlight spectacle occurs during Christ’s Resurrection. At the first chime of the bell, the Bishop lets white doves fly, while clay vessels are thrown onto the streets by all the island’s inhabitants, creating charming havoc!
We are confident you will truly enjoy your stay in wonderful Zakynthos. Just bear some patience and a lot of sunscreens!