One of Lord Byrons
favorite Greek islands, Zakynthos is 8.5 nautical miles south of Kefallonia.
The Venetians called it "the flower of the east" and they
occupied Zante long enough to smell the flowers and more. Many of the islanders
have Venetian blood.
Tourism has made incursions on Zakynthos but nowhere near
as badly as some Cycladic islands. Endanged species, such as the loggerhead turtle have not fared so well contrary to Greek and EU law. Turtles come from all over the Mediterranean
to lay their 100 to 120 golfball-sized eggs in the sands and are suffering because of toursim and unrestricted development.
Zante or Zakynthos has much to recommend
it, especially away from the main touristic areas of its southern
shores. The island has exceptional natural beauty and outstanding beaches. Beaches in the north are the least affected by tourism.
west coast is cliff-like while the east has rolling hills and flatter
terrain. Zakynthos Town, its capital and main port was destroyed by
an earthquake in 1953. It was rebuilt along the same lines, and retains
much of its charm.
In the Bay of Laganas, on the south coast, loggerhead
turtles lay their eggs. The island villages of Maherado and Aghios
Nicolaou have escaped the changes of tourism and are set in lovely
Zakynthos Town is the capital and port. The
center of town is the large and formal harborside square of Platea
Solomou named after Zakynthos' famous poet and author of the Greek
National Anthem, Dionysios Solomos.
You'll see his statue waving
at you in the square as well as the statue of fellow poet and Zantiote
Ugo Foscolo with its inscription 'Liberty requires Virtue
& Daring' just outside the Town Hall.
in the square is the Cultural Center and the Sailor's Church, Aghio
Nicolaou tou Molou (of the Mole, ie. quay). The church was rebuilt painstakingly
after the quake.
The Neo-Byzantine Museum also resides in the
square (8-2:30, closed Mon, fee, free on Sun). The Museum is one of
the best of its kind as Zakynthos had many fine artists and the refugees
from Crete only added to their skills. Additionally, there are ancient finds
from around the island and momentoes from the War for Independence.
The social center of town
life is Platea Aghious Markou or St. Marks Square. It's located back
from the harbor. Here are several good restaurants, cafes and the Solomos
Museum with momentoes of his life as well as those of other famous islanders.
You can see pictures of pre-quake Zakynthos.
45 minute walk up the cobbled path behind Platea Markou (or a short
taxi ride from town) through the picturesque suburb of Bochali will bring you to the ruined
Venetian Fortress (8-8, fee) with its crest
of St. Mark, set amidst pine trees.
Finds within include
- Sotera or Pantocrator or "Domo"
(Byzantine Church of the 12th century)
- St. Frangiskos (St. Francis), three aisled basilica of the 14th century
- St. Varvara (St. Barbara), a single-aisled basilica
- St. Ioannes Prodromos (St. John the Baptist), enf of the 15th century
- Church of the Hyperayia Theotokos (Virgin) Laourentaina
- St. Ioannes (St. John) Theologos, 15th century
- Venetian prisons
- Venetian powder-magazine
- Officers Playing Field
- English Barracks
- Headquarters - barracks
Completed in 1646 on the site of
the ancient Acropolis of Psophidas (of which little remains) it has
borne the brunt of earthquke damage. Nearby are ruins of midieval Venetian,
Greek and British villas. Repairs were carried out in 1812 by
the British who laid out the very first tennis court in Greece close
Argassi just to the east of the port (# 4 on map) is the closest large tourist
beach with big hotels and several tavernas.
Further east along the peninsula
are better choices among which are Porto Zoro and Banana Beach which is
strewn with sea daffodils and exudes a strong flowery fragrance.
Nikolaos, Mavrandzi and Porto Roma follow and all have some facilites.
The peninsula ends with the best beach Gerakas(#16). Loggerhead turtles frequent this beach, so water sports
are curtailed. To the south of Greakas are two secluded, undeveloped beaches Daphni and Sekaniki, also popluar with the turtles.
Beach (#7), just south of the airport is the beginning of the over
development of Zakynthos. The longest beach on the island, extending for
five miles, it is one of the longest in Greece and a major breeding ground
of the Loggerhead turtle.
These turtles are one of the
oldest species on the planet and go back hundreds of millions of years.
Because the prevailing winds nearly always blow towards the sea, and the
flying restrictions imposed because of the turtles, there is little noticeable
distraction caused by aircraft noise. For another quiet beach
try pine shaded Aghios Sostis islet at the southwest end of the bay. It's
reachable by bridge.
Laganas (#10, or the mistakenly called rabbit beach in Greek) is the next
big beach and also the prime nesting ground for the loggerheads
(Caretta caretta) and usually has every summer, from June to September,
over 1000 nests on its four km of beach.
Turtles come from all over the Mediterranean
to lay their 100 to 120 golfball-sized eggs in the golden sands around the Bay of Laganas
where they incubate for 60 days.
When the eggs hatch the
baby turtles emerge and make a break for the open waters, they are sometimes distracted
by the lights from the tourist enclave and expire from exhaustion. It
is of the utmost importance that, in order to ensure their survival, the
beach is avoided between dusk and dawn, that no umbrellas are stuck into
the sand and that no vehicles are driven over the sand.
Lithakia north the road passes over the earthqauke created Avyssos
Gorge and coastal swap of Limni Keriou where the natural pitch
once used to caulk boats existed in great quantities.
There are a few
beaches such as Keri (#25) a small village at the end of the
peninsula with a pebble beach, some amenities, inexpensive rooms and
nice views. From Keri boat excursions may take you along the southern
shores to view some spectacular scenery and the two natural arches at
The west coast of the island
road continues north to Volimes, the west coast's largest village
and a center of handicraft woven goods. Upper Volimes perches above on the
cliffs. There's a lookout platform, not for those with vertigo, that looks out over the Shipwreck Beach.
The north coast of Zakynthos
The coast roads heads north
from Zakynthos Town passing the Kryoneri Fountain built by the
Venetians to water their currant and wine laden ships.
Shortly it turns
west and several nice and less developed beaches are available: Tsilivi,
Pianos, Tragaki, Ampoula, Pachiammos, Drossia, Pasarou, Ammoudi, Alikanas and finally breezy Alikies, which is popular with windsurfers.
Further to North is another group of beautiful beaches such as Makri Alou and Makri Gialo.
Just past is the Port of Aghio Nokolaos and where you can board ferries to Kefallonia. This is a lovely area with
many strange natural rock formations and caves the most notable of which
is the Blue Grotto or Kianoun Cave almost at the nothern tip of the island. it is directly under the lighthouse on Cape Skinari. It's known for it stunning clear blue water. You can catch a boat for the Grotto at Agios Nikolaos.
The famous and oft-photographed Shipwreck Beach is at the northwest tip of the island. The area can be very crowded when the cruise ships off load hundreds of visitors at a time. Get a small boat and visit the beach and the Blue Caves on the northeast in the same excursion.
Drinking and Dining
Try the local nougat sweet, mandolato. The choices here range from traditional Greek fare to international cuisine of various sorts. Most eateries are in Aakynthos Town, Tsilivi and Ag. Nikolaos.
"I recognize you by the
fierce edge of your sword; I recognize you by the look that measures the earth..." - Ode to Liberty - the opening stanza of the Greek National Anthem - which Dionysios Solomou of Zakynthos composed upon hearing
of Lord Byron's death.
Like so many Greek islands, Zakynthos has had a succession of rulers: Athenians, Spartans, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians. Since 1864, Zakynthos has been a part of Greece.