The flower of the Levant
Zakynthos, The flower of the East, is another Ionian island endowed by nature with unique beauties. It is the third in size and population of the Ionian islands located south of Kefalonia and west of the Peloponnese.
It is a mountainous island characterized by the pine-covered mountains and the fertile plains, which give Zakynthos endlessly green landscapes, while the idyllic beaches of the island, the rocky shores, the impressive sea caves are gaining the admiration of the island’s visitors.
Here, you will find some of the most famous beaches, such as Navagio, Laganas, Volimes with the Blue Caves and others. Visitors are amazed by island’s unique natural beauty, historical monuments and hospitable inhabitants.
Zakynthos at a glance
The eastern side of the island is ideal for family vacations due to the endless coastline with the crystal blue waters and taverns on the beach. The western part of the island is full of steep cliffs, ending in rare beauty.
ZAKYNTHOS or ZANTE – the 3rd in size island of the Ionian Sea islands, the verdant island with the famous beaches and the great tradition and culture in music for the local “kantades” songs and literature, as it is the birthplace of several of the most important Greek poets and writers including the “national” poet Dionysios Solomos who wrote the poem “Hymn to Liberty” – the Greek National Anthem, Andreas Kalvos, and Gregorios Xenopoulos, but also Hugo Foskolo, the national poet of Italy.
Zakynthos known since the Venetian occupation of “Eptanissa” as the “Fior de Levante” (the flower of the East) is a beauty, which inspired the American writer Edgar Allan Poe to write his “Sonnet to Zante”, all green with pine and olive trees with many traditional villages built in Ionian Sea and Italian architecture, a lot of marvelous beaches – couple of them considered among the best in Europe and also cultural and ecological interest. As most of the Ionian Sea islands, Zakynthos is a very touristic and popular destination.
The capital and main port of the island is Zakynthos or Chora, a fairly new town re-built after the catastrophic earthquake in 1953 which affected most of the Ionian Sea islands and ruined many towns and villages. The new buildings, however, were built in the traditional architecture (a mixture of the Ionian Sea and Venetian styles), in an attempt to look like the old town. The Venetians, who occupied the island for 300 years have imposed their own tough laws, which in fact divided the Zakynthians into three classes – the nobles, who were recorded in the book of nobility “Libro d’ Oro”, the bourgeois, middle class townsmen and the common people, who were terribly oppressed and impoverished by the few nobles and rebelled in 1638, a revolt which ended in a blood bath. However, when the Venetians were overthrown by the French Republicans in 1797, the nobles were set aside and the “Libro d’ Oro” was burned.
The island’s population is estimated to be at 40,100. The most famous person to come form Zakynthos is the 19th-century famous poet Dionysius Solomos, he was a Greek Poet and the person who wrote the National Anthem of Greece. In the main square, there is a beautiful statue. The island’s only airport is named after him, the Dionysus Solomos Airport in on the southwest part of the island. It does connect with other Greek airports.
Sightseeing in the capital is the Byzantine ecclesiastical museum located in Solomos square, the Maritime Museum in Bohali – about 3 km from the town center with a collection of Byzantine ships – in the same area are the remains of a Venetian castle, the Solomos and Kalvos museum at St. Marcos square, wherein is also the grave of D. Solomos, a very interesting museum exhibiting some personal items of the renowned poets, as well as costumes and articles dating back to Venetian era and the museum of the writer Grigorios Xenopoulos exhibiting his personal manuscripts. St. Dionysios cathedral is also worthwhile to visit, as well as most of the numerous churches and old monasteries in Zante remarkable for their architecture and their characteristic bell towers which show Western European influence.
Other settlements are the traditional villages of Volimes and the small port of Aghios Nikolaos, where boats are leaving for excursions to the stunning and mysterious Blue Caves, Anafonitria with the famous medieval monastery near to Navagio (Shipwreck) beach, Aghios Kirykas, Aghios Leon close to Limnionas and Porto Roxa beaches, Kambi with an interesting archaeological site, Agalas, Pigadakia wherein there are a folklore and several others.
Zakynthos is the island of cantata and the operetta. Here, all emotions are dressed in notes. So, why not worship Zakynthos? It has it all. History, sights, imposing mountains, lush forests and fertile plains, endless sandy beaches and the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea.
Zakynthos by night
One of the reasons that made Zakynthos a favorite island of many is that it has incredible nightlife. People from all over the world visit the island and do not want to leave. Nightclubs and bars are open until morning in order to entertain the most demanding visitor. Very good places to go out in the evening are Argassi and Laganas.
Because Zakynthos is a history island, it also has museums that you can admire. In the city of Zakynthos you will find the Museum of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art, as well as that of “Solomos and Kalvos”. The Byzantine Museum has been known for its hagiographies and exhibits since the 12th-18th century, while the “Solomos and Calvos” Museum exhibits personal items of great Zakynthians. For the most famous on this island is the museum of “Gregory Xenopoulos”, a great writer and journalist who exhibits his personal items. Finally, in the Tsilivi area there is the Naval Museum.
History of Zakynthos
In ancient history, there are several versions of how the island of Zakynthos (Zante) got its name. Homer mentions the island first and calls it ‘yliessa’ which means woody. Stravon called it ‘evgono’ which means fertile and plinios ‘eforo’, meaning fruitful. However, the version that prevails is that Zante, son of the king of Troy, Dardanos, came to the island around 1600 – 1500 B.C. bringing settlers from the Arcadian town of Psofida. Greek Mythology says….
Greek Mythology says that upon king Odysseus return after his long adventures, to Ithaca, he killed his wife’s suitors, twenty of which were from Zakynthos. It was for this reason that Zakynthos rebelled and was separated from the kingdom of Ithaca. After that, the island will have a democratic rule for about 650 years. It flourishes economically and grows in population and forms its first colony in Spain, the town of Zakantha and others later in Crete, Kidonia and Paros.
Zakynthos later takes part in the Peloponnesian war on the side of the Athenians. Later still it takes part in the expedition against Sicily and is defeated. In 217 B.C. Philippos II of Macedonia took possession of Zakynthos and its allies. In 214 B.C. it is seized by the Romans and then again by Philippos II until 150 B.C. The Zakynthians repeatedly rebel and are repossessed by the Romans until finally, they become part of the Roman sub-prefecture of Achaia. During the period Zakynthos was under the rule of the Roman Empire, it often enjoyed privileges such as its own Municipality, Parliament, laws, and coins.
It is believed Christianity was spread on the island by Mary Magdalen and Mary of Cliopa who was going to Rome. Others say that it was St. Beatrice, who taught Christianity to the Zakynthians. Zakynthos became part of the Byzantine Empire around 324 – 337 A.C. From the decline of the Roman Empire and into the Byzantine years, pirates and other Barbarians attack the island. The Byzantine generals have difficulty in defending it. Around 887 A.C. Zakynthos becomes part of the ‘Thema’ (county) of Cephalonia. During the second crusade, the Venetian fleet then took again by the Byzantine emperor Emmanuel Comninos seized the island and then again by the Venetians. The Venetians definitely influenced the political, social, financial and cultural life Zakynthos. Despite the immigration of the Venetians, the Zakynthian element survived and often assimilated the foreign leaders.
The intense separation of the classes, however, and the cruelty of the nobles and feudalism led to the first but very serious social uprising of modern Greek history known as ‘rebellio ton popolaron’ (revolution of the people) in the years 1628- 1632 A.C. The end of Venetian rule in Zakynthos came with the abolition of the Democracy of Venice by Napoleon. The Zakynthians positively accepted the conquest by the French in 1797 A.C.. However, during the period of Russian – Turkish occupation 1800- 1807 A.D there was a revolutionary movement led by Antonio Martinengo. The rebels proclaimed the island independent from the Ionian State and raised the English flags. In 1807 French emperors conquered Zakynthos again.
The period of British domination (1814- 1864) was marked by intense preparations and negotiations among the Zakynthians for the revolution of Greece against the Turks which began in 1821. Many members of the ‘Filiki Eteria’. (Society of Friends), who played an important part in the struggle for the liberation of Greece, were sworn in on the island of Zakynthos. Among those was Theodoros Kolokotronis. When the Greek revolution broke out in 1821, thousands of Zakynthians crossed over to Peloponessus to take part. On the 21 st. of May 1864 the Greek flag was finally raised on the fortress of Zakynthos.
Since then, Zakynthos, together with the other Ionian islands connected its destiny to the destiny of the rest of Greece
Things to do
Without ever losing its Greek identity, Zakynthos, since ancient times, came in contact with several foreign, European civilizations and has been familiar with different cultures and mentalities. A receiver of diverse cultural influences, Zakynthos has developed its current Modern Greek spirit with the best possible way.
The weight of all these foreign cultures is obvious, not only in the cultural heritage of the island but also in the cultural role the island had into New Greece. Besides Zakynthos has been the home country to many important figures of greek history, among them our National poet Dionisios Solomos, Andreas Kalvos, and Grigorios Xenopoulos.
Far from the cosmopolitan side of the island, the island’s rich cultural background indicates its current face. During the whole carnival period, there is a spirit of joy, with lots of dances, parties, parades, people in fancy carnival costumes which gives the island a festive development.
Theatrical companies, present their work in public speeches, which are unplanned sketches full of social comments performed by men, wearing carnival costumes. On both Sundays, the Parade of the King Carnival goes around the island influencing the visitors as well as the locals and taking them over.
Easter and celebrations
If you decide to visit the island during the celebration of Holy Week you will be regarded by the exceptional and unforgettable experience both for the locals and the visitors. At midday, on Good Friday, crowds of worshippers take part in the procession of the Crucified through the town. During the early hours of Holy Saturday morning and from the “Saint Nicolas” Cathedral Church the epitaph procession takes place (in accordance with the ancient custom), while the Bishop announces the Resurrection at the rising of the sun.
A wine festival is organised in the capital of Zakynthos that takes place from the last days of August to the first days of September during which the excellent wines produced by the locals can be tried by the visitors.
With an impressive variety of goods to offer, from top designer labels and exquisite haute couture clothes to the best local products from wine to honey, Zakynthos has something to offer to every visitor. You will find shops open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9 am-3 pm and on Tuesday and Thursday 9 am-8 pm. Also, be aware that tourist shops remain open 9 am-10 pm. For the whole week. An impressive display of art and crafts can be found in shops all over the island. Don’t hesitate to taste the famous Zakinthos “mandolato” or nougat which is a real treat. Excellent gift ideas for your close ones can be traced to the various shops of the island. Buy your dad a bottle of Ouzo, your mum a silver photo frame and your grandmother some locally produced delicacy.
Discover the fascinating underwater world of Zakynthos and grab the opportunity to take a trial dive for beginners for a once in a lifetime experience. Well qualified trainers will teach you everything you need to know regarding this fantastic sport.
Additionally, Zante Marathonisi isle is a small desert islet with rich vegetation situated that is waiting for you to discover its beauty in front of the coast of Limni Keriu.The islet has a beautiful white sandy beach with crystal waters that will cast a spell on you and is definitely worth visiting.
The transport system of the island is very well planned and has as well a really good road network, and as a result, driving won’t be a problem on the island. When it comes to choosing a taxi for your transfers you must know that rates are reasonable and based on a Km basis. If you decide to hire a car you must be aware that a national driving license is acceptable for EU nationals.
The capital of the island is one of the most stunning towns in the Ionian islands, that with its western style of architecture, the large public library and the museum of Dionysios Solomos. Situated on the east side of the island and it is your entry point to the island. From this port, you may as well take a ship for a daily cruise around the island and admire the island ‘s stunning views. Additionally, in the South of the island, you will find the most tourist and lively place of Zakynthos.
The main hotspot of the island full of bars and traditional tavernas are welcoming you to a dream holiday. With a variety of bars and clubs playing all types of music, as well as with a very long beach, ideal for families as well as for those of you seeking to party until the first morning hours, Laganas is your best bet.
Also visit Argasi, the main hotspot for nightlife close to the town of Zakynthos. If you are staying in town you must undoubtedly visit it. Alykes is a tourist place on the NE side of the island offering a very nice sandy beach and water sports, preferred by families as well as by youngsters worldwide.
When entering Greece you must be aware that the currency used to all transactions in euro. Currency can be changed at banks and money exchangers. All major credit cards are widely accepted as well as travelers’ cheques are accepted in all major currencies, and can be easily changed at banks. Additionally, you will find ATMs at various places through the island.
Local dishes, cheese, cold meat cuts, and the special sweets but most of all the semi-dry wine (mastelado) of the area will stay with you for a long time. Amazingly tasteful sgantzeto,pantseta, ladotyri,chiromeri, mantolato & pasteli are some of their names you will remember since their unforgettable taste will remain in your memory forever.
How to get to Zakynthos Island
Zakynthos Island is served by one airport (airport code ZTH), located towards the south end of the island near to the resort of Laganas and Kalamaki, it caters for both international and domestic flights. Almost all international flights are chartered flights from other European cities during the holiday season (May-October). Domestic flights are available between Zakynthos airport and Athens, served by the national airline Olympic Airlines, there are usually two flights a day. The journey time to Athens is approximately 1 hour.
Zakynthos Island has ferry links to Kyllini on the Greek mainland from Zakynthos Town During the last years, the area has evolved to a famous tourist resort with clubs, restaurants, cafes and shops € 8.20 per person and € 38 per car. Ferries to Kefalonia can be joined at Aghios Nikolas, on the North-East tip of the island.
By public transport
There are buses that go between the most crowded areas of the island. Ask around and there will be no pain in finding the bus stops. However, bus services on the island are rather infrequent and sometimes unreliable. Taxis, however, are not too expensive.
The best way to get around is by rental car. There are literally dozens of rental agencies on the island besides the big ones. Preferably get a 4WD car, as some attractions are located off the main roads. Beware of the condition of some of the roads – the smaller roads may well have pot holes and even the “better” roads are extremely slippery. Also beware of other drivers. If you assume everyone else on the road is out to get you and drive accordingly it’s probably the best way of dealing with it. Due to the island being fairly small and only a few major towns its quite hard to get lost as most roads either go eventually to Zakynthos town or to Volimes in the north and you can work it out from there. Road signs are sporadic and some are bi-lingual with English and Greek, some are Greek alone. Also watch out for scooters especially in the main tourist areas.
Rental agencies abound. However, scooters may be somewhat painful to ride around the island, because it is very hilly, so get something with a little bit more power.
Cycling is a pleasant way of navigating the southern and central parts of the island, if somewhat impractical in the rougher, more hilly terrain of the north. Bike hire is available in all but the smallest of resorts, costing around €4-€8 per day, with discounts available for multi-day hire periods. A basket and a lock will usually be included but hire shops are very unlikely to hire helmets, so bring your own if required. A New business called Bike Ride Zakynthos has started up for the 2011 season, offering tours of the island if you didn’t fancy doing it alone. They can be found on Facebook and their information can be found around the resorts and hotels.
The beaches of Zakynthos island
The natural environment of the island with its massive cliffs and huge and green flatlands offers the tourist the opportunity to choose among many kinds of beaches.
In Zakynthos, you can visit bays with very fine sand, accessible only by sea, where you can find peace and relaxation, even in mid-August and rocky bays very good for the snorkeling lovers.
In this section together with the assistance of the map, you can view the beaches of the island divided per coast areas.
Wonderful beaches in the gulf of Keri, Laganas, Porto Roma, Argassi, Alikana, Alikes, Banana, Mavratzi, Kalamaki, Tsilivi and in Vasiliko.
Western coast of Zakynthos
The western coast of the island offers the most beautiful sea but with beaches very difficult to reach from the mainland.
The ones listed here below, a part from the relict beach, are the only fiords easily reachable.
Eastern coast of Zakynthos
Beaches are ordered from the Northern to the Southern ones of the island.
Shipwreck and the west coast
The island, as almost all Ionian Sea islands is famous for its beaches, the most renowned one is the Navagio (the “Shipwreck”) to the north of the island, a white-sand beach with turquoise waters, surrounded by high rocks with the shipwreck of a small general cargo ship which went aground in 1982. The dramatic “Shipwreck” beach is one of the most photographed worldwide and the symbol of Zakynthos island.
The way that we suggest you follow is the road that, before arriving at Aghios Leon, pass through the villages of Macherado and Kiliomeno. In Macherado there is the interesting Eleftheotria monastery, after that the road will lead you to Kiliomeno giving you one of the most beautiful panoramas of the day.
Once arrived at Aghios Leon you’ll find two roads that go down towards the sea and they lead respective to Porto Roxa and Porto Limnionas.
Porto Roxa is equipped with some deck-chairs placed just over the water and a trampoline, while Porto Limniona is larger and colorful with evocative sea caves in the vicinities.
In the late afternoon go back to your car and drive in direction of Maries and then reach Anafonitria. This high coastal road is truly unique although it is distant from the sea; it crosses kilometers of forest and country side.
The road continues for Volimes where you can visit the St. George Krimnon monastery. Then take the only road on your left in order to go to admire the Shipwreck. This road leads you directly to a panoramic and desolated parking.
Here, from a breathtaking iron balcony, you will be able to see and to photograph what is considered one of the 30 most beautiful beaches over the world.
Zante Marathonisi isle is a small desert islet with rich vegetation situated that is waiting for you to discover its beauty in front of the coast of Limni Keriou. The islet has a beautiful white sandy beach with crystal waters that will cast a spell on you and is definitely worth visiting.
This itinerary will bring you to the most tourist areas of Zante island and to some splendid beaches of the National Marine Park.
We’ll let you begin the day from the Porto Koukla area, close to the area of Lithakià, in order to visit later Laganas and Kalamaki.
Porto Koukla, Laganas and Kalamaki are placed one next to the other along the same bay, therefore the sea is beautiful in the same way in all the three beaches.
Your choice depends on what you’re looking for.
Porto Koukla and Kalamaki are relaxing places. Porto Koukla offers a narrow and long beach, located just in front of Marathonissi islet and here you can find privacy and calm also during the high season.
Kalamaki is more tourist, but also infinitely larger and longer than the previous one. Instead, the beach of Laganas is the paradise for those who are searching for chaotic vacations and beautiful girls.
This place is like a summer fun park open day and night. Here in Laganas, the beach is full all the day of young people that play aquatic sports and beach volley, while in the evening people move along the main road of the village.
After the dinner Porto Koukla is very calm, so you can choose between the chaotic and crazy Laganas or a walk in the more elegant Kalamaki.
Zakynthos' churches and monasteries
Virgin Anafonitria Monastery
Located in the greenness it is a stop for many tourists. The tower, in part destroyed, has at the top four arches and a cross and it is used as a bell tower whereas in the past had been built as a defense.
St. George Krimnon Monastery
Entering the courtyard of the monastery it is possible to admire on the left the abodes of the resident inhabitants of the monastery, in the middle the tower and on the right a small church.
We do not know when the church was built, but it was destroyed by pirates in 1553 and then rebuilt in Venetian style.
St. John Baptist Monastery
The complex includes a simple abbey, a two floors building and a tower with a circular base, built in the past as a defense.
The road to be run is long but in the green with flowered fields on both sides.
Once there you reach a small monastery founded in the 17th Century and dedicated to the Holy Mother.
Not much remains of the splendor of the past but the feeling of peace here is complete.
As soon as you leave Macherado, going North you reach on the left the monastery of the Liberator Holy Mother (Eleftheotria).
From outside it looks more like being in a castle than in a monastery and the tower’s battlements are very characteristic so as the white and red of the windows and the arches of which the building consists.
The view from the monastery is toward the plain of Zakynthos and you are charmed by the rich vegetation.
Today it is a nunnery that is possible to visit inside.
St. Dionysios Church
This church, the biggest in the city, is dedicated to the protector of the island and it is located along the seashore of Zakynthos.
It was built in 1948 and it resisted the earthquake in 1953, now its bell tower is very high and stands out among the different buildings recognizable St. Dionysios Church as soon as you enter the port.
Even if it hasn’t got any particular exterior characteristics, when entering you are impressed by the number of frescos, lamp holders and colors.
Among the artists that contributed to the magnificence of this church, there are the painter Doxaras and the chaser Bafas who engraved the silver reliquary in where there are the mortal remains of Saint Dionysios.
The bell tower, being surrounded by numerous bulbs, during the night it is enlightened creating a lovely view.
Church of St. Nicholas of the mole
This church located in Solomos square is the only building in Venetian style that survived the earthquake in 1953 and has been restored keeping its original characteristics. Dated back to the 17th Century it is the most ancient building in Solomos square and it was built in renaissance style with the exception of the bell tower that is more Byzantine.
Inside there are the liturgical ornaments of Saint Dionysios, the island protector, that for a period in his life gave his services to this church.
St. Markos Church
It is the only Catholic church of the island.
Next, to the Museum of Solomos and Kalvos, it looks like a single building since built with the same style.
During the summer a Mass in English is celebrated every Saturday at 19.00 and Sunday at 10.00 and 19.00.
St Mark’s Catholic Church
St Mark’s Square – Zakynthos
tel. +30 26950 27171 / +30 2610 275 215 – Web: www.catheclpatra.gr – [email protected]
St. Nicholas Kiliomenou Church
The church and the bell tower are separated by a street and look like two different buildings even in the exterior aspect.
The bell tower with a square base has four floors and at the third, it is possible to admire two arches and at the last, with a hexagonal base, numerous decorations in relief.
St. Mavra Church
Virgin Keriotissa Church
It is easy to be found since, from the huge bell tower, the bell dongs are heard all over the town and stress the passing of the hours in a village where the time seemed to have stopped a century ago.
St. Elipsos Church
Along the road from Zakynthos to Kalamaki you may find, among the olive trees on the left, a small church risen up the hill; the small white and light blue bell tower with two small bells and a cross on the top plus a small part of the main body is what remains of the original church.
It looks like a whole with the rock and this rends it unique and to be visited.
Virgin Skopiotissa Monastery
At the top of the Skopos mount, at the back of the town of Argasi, there is a small monastery castled build in honor of the Holy Mother in the 15th Century. The only problem is the unpaved road to reach the church that is not indicated.
This monastery looks like if it has been built at the edge of a gully and it is surrounded by greenness and the landscape is rich in vegetation.
At this moment is possible only to look at it externally because the inside is not accessible.
Zakynthos : Excursion
Alikes Cornicha; Volimes.
86km 53 miles Return, about 2 hours plus I hour sightseeing.
After skirting the citadel, the road runs northwest through a rural area (vineyards and country houses with gardens) before reaching Alikes. a sheltered seaside resort with a fine sandy beach facing Cephallonia across the sea.
The road passes some salt marshes before climbing the Alikes corniche; from the top, there is a panorama of the plain of Zakynthos to the south, of the Kyllene peninsula including Chlemoutsi on the mainland, of the Gulf of Patras (NE) and of Cephallonia (N).
Before reaching Volimes, one can make a detour to the left to visit the Convent of Anafonitria, occupied by an order of nuns, where St Denys, the patron saint of the island, died in 1622; medieval tower.
Volimes is an old mountain village producing carpets in the local style.
To the north lies the picturesque “Blue Grotto” accessible only by boat from Zakynthos Town.
Useful Telephones for Zakynthos
Zakynthos’ telephone code: +30 26950 (to put before the numbers listed below)
Police: 22100 / 48266 24470
Tourist Police: 24482 / 24484
Harbour Office: 28117 / 28118
Fire Bridge: 22199
Bus Station: 42656 / 22255
Radio taxi: 48400
Post Office: 42418
Post Code: 29100
Laganas and Kalamaki beaches, famous sandy beach about 8 km from the capital, popular and organized beaches and also a refuge and natural habitat of the Caretta-Caretta sea turtles, who lay their eggs there. There are organized boat tours for visitors who want to observe the turtles.
Diving at Korakonissi
Korakonissi is a fiord on the western coast of the island and gives its name to the presence of a small island with a long shape, connected to the mainland by a huge natural rock arch.
Located in the south part of the Porto Limnionas it is reachable only by a jeep driving along a rough road that leaves from the town of Kiliomeno, the best suggestion we can give you is to take a supply of water since there are no abodes, petrol stations etc. from there to the next inhabited area.
The small island creates together with the mainland a tiny natural fiord rich of starfish and sea urchins where the waters have wonderful colours. Korakonissi
If from the part of the island facing the open sea you swim for 10/15 minutes to the left you reach a cave wonderful for its colours and the concretions on the walls; there you can walk since the water isn’t more than 30 cm deep.
The adventure doesn’t consist in visiting the small cave; your task is to go up to the top of the natural bridge and try to dive.
The water there is very deep and there are no risks of emerging rocks, the difficult part is that the bridge is 20 metres tall so it is advisable not to suffer from giddiness and to wear a diving suit to soften the impact with water…