ZAKYNTHOS

Greece

While Ios and Kos are associated with partying, and Rhodes and Crete with families, Zakynthos is something in between.

Introduction

Zakynthos (Greek: Ζάκυνθος), also called Zante (its Italian name), is the third largest island in the Ionian Sea, off the west coast of Greece. The island is named after Zacynthos, son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos.

While Ios and Kos are associated with partying, and Rhodes and Crete with families, Zakynthos is something in between. The majority of all beaches, towns, etc., are along the south and east coasts, as the west and north coasts are extremely mountainous often with cliffs dropping many hundreds of feet straight into the sea.


Understand

Zakynthos, due to mild winter rainfall, is an extremely lush island. The Venetians, who conquered it, referred to it as Il fiore del Levante, the flower of the Levant. March-May is a particularly rewarding time to visit; the island has relatively few tourists, the Easter parade takes place, and the island blooms spectacularly with a myriad of colorful flowers and lush green hills.

Zakynthos, like its neighbour Kefalonia, was heavily affected by the massive earthquake of 1953 and subsequently a lot of its stunning Venetian architecture was sadly destroyed. Ruins still lay in some parts of the island due to this. The main town was completely rebuilt and still has an uncanny resemblance to Venice's San Marco Square. It is well worth taking a look at.

The beautiful white cliffs that plunge into azure seas towards Keri have to be seen to be believed; the water is wonderfully clear and it is worth hiring a boat to see such sights.


Geography

Zakynthos lies in the eastern part of the Ionian sea, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the Greek (Peloponnese) mainland. The island of Kefalonia lies 15 kilometres (9 miles) on the north. It is the southernmost of the main group of the Ionian islands (not counting distant Kythira). Zakynthos is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long and 20 kilometres (12 miles) wide, and covers an area of 405.55 km2(156.58 sq mi). Its coastline is approximately 123 km (76 mi) long. According to the 2011 census, the island has a population of 40,759. The highest point is Vrachionas, at 758 m.

Zakynthos has the shape of an arrowhead, with the "tip" (Cape Skinari) pointing northwest. The western half of the island is a mountainous plateau and the southwest coast consists mostly of steep cliffs. The eastern half is a densely populated fertile plain with long sandy beaches, interrupted with several isolated hills, notably Bochali which overlooks the city and the peninsula of Vasilikos in the northeast. The peninsulas of Vassilikos on north and Marathia on south enclose the wide and shallow bay of Laganas on the southeast part of the island.

The capital, which has the same name as the prefecture, is the town of Zakynthos. It lies on the eastern part of the northern coast. Apart from the official name, it is also called Chora (i.e. the Town, a common denomination in Greece when the name of the island itself is the same as the name of the principal town). The port of Zakynthos has a ferry connecting to the port of Kyllini on the mainland. Another ferry connects the village of Agios Nikolaos to Argostoli on Kefalonia. 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.

Flora and fauna

The mild, Mediterranean climate 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 (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean. In the early 1980s, the Bay of Laganas was seriously threatened as a nesting habitat, but thanks to the efforts of MEDASSET founder and president Lily Venizelos it could be preserved. Caretta caretta is an endangered species – especially by the deck chairs laid out on their breeding grounds and the inevitable pollution. Every year at the beginning of June, the female turtles come to the southern beaches in order to bury their eggs in the sand.

The incubation period for the nest is approximately fifty-five days, after which time hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way to the sea. Their survival rate is very small, it is estimated that only one in one thousand hatchlings that enter the sea lives to adulthood. Each nest contains around one hundred to one hundred and twenty eggs, each of which are around the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. Female turtles begin to lay eggs at around twenty to thirty years of age.


Climate

Climate data for Zakynthos
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °C (°F)20.2
(68.4)
21.4
(70.5)
24.2
(75.6)
25.6
(78.1)
34.2
(93.6)
35.8
(96.4)
42.2
(108)
38.4
(101.1)
36.8
(98.2)
30.4
(86.7)
26.6
(79.9)
22.2
(72)
42.2
(108)
Average high °C (°F)14.4
(57.9)
14.5
(58.1)
16.1
(61)
18.9
(66)
23.4
(74.1)
27.8
(82)
30.7
(87.3)
30.6
(87.1)
27.6
(81.7)
23.0
(73.4)
19.0
(66.2)
15.8
(60.4)
21.8
(71.2)
Daily mean °C (°F)11.3
(52.3)
11.5
(52.7)
12.9
(55.2)
15.5
(59.9)
19.8
(67.6)
24.1
(75.4)
26.7
(80.1)
26.6
(79.9)
23.8
(74.8)
19.6
(67.3)
15.8
(60.4)
12.8
(55)
18.4
(65.1)
Average low °C (°F)8.1
(46.6)
8.2
(46.8)
9.2
(48.6)
11.1
(52)
14.4
(57.9)
18.2
(64.8)
20.4
(68.7)
20.9
(69.6)
18.8
(65.8)
15.7
(60.3)
12.5
(54.5)
9.6
(49.3)
13.9
(57)
Record low °C (°F)−2.6
(27.3)
−2.0
(28.4)
0.0
(32)
2.6
(36.7)
5.0
(41)
8.4
(47.1)
12.0
(53.6)
13.4
(56.1)
10.8
(51.4)
5.2
(41.4)
2.8
(37)
0.2
(32.4)
−2.6
(27.3)
              
Source: NOAA

Transportation - Get In


By plane

Zakynthos is served by one airport (ZTH), towards the south end of the island near to the resort of Laganas and Kalamaki. It receives 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 to Athens. The journey time to Athens is approximately 1 hour. As of January 2010, EasyJet started flying to Zante from nearly all UK airports and flights are usually Thursday to Sunday. There are also flights by WizzAir to Budapest every Tuesday.

The airport is closed during the night. Queues are very long, so arrive early. Free Wi-Fi. A lot of electric sockets. No public buses go to the airport from the city. Taxis can be ordered, which cost €10-15. The airport can be reached from the city centre by foot in approximately 1 1/2 hours. Quite easy to find the way, but beware of the dogs on the way (especially close to KTEL bus station).


By ship

Zakynthos has ferry links to Kyllini on the Greek mainland from Zakynthos Town. €8.20 per person and €38 per car. Ferries to Kefalonia can be boarded at Aghios Nikolas, on the northeast tip of the island.

Transportation - Get Around


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.


By car

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 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 it's 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.


By motorbike/scooters

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.


By bike

Cycling is a pleasant way of navigating the southern and central parts of the island, if somewhat impractical in the rougher, hillier 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 rent 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.

Destinations


Towns and villages

  • Zakynthos Town - capital, on the east coast. This has the main shops, piazza, and harbour from which the frequent ferries to the mainland port of Kyllini depart and arrive.
  • Agios Nikolaos - (northeast) although the small village has only ~30 year-round inhabitants, it is the second most important port on Zakynthos, as the ferry to Kefalonia departs there. The bay itself is fairly sheltered by the tall mountains and island in the bay and has many sea front restaurants along with a local coastguard station. Boats running trips to the blue caves slightly to the north depart from here and although quiet it can get busy at certain times of day when busloads of tourists arrive to get the ferry to and from Kefalonia
  • Alykes and Alykanas - a closely linked pair of family resorts on the east coast north of Tsilivi.
  • Argasi - A few km south of Zakynthos town on the Vassilikos peninsula. No real beach and consists of a few streets with hotels and more across the main road that runs up the peninsula. It has some bars and clubs but not a lot else to recommend it.
  • Kalamaki - To the east of Laganas past the turtle "no build zone". Although a busy resort, it's less of an all-night party area than Laganas and is more suited to families. Most of its buildings and shops are on the main road that runs between this resort, past the airport and towards Laganas. Like Laganas it shares a very long sandy beach that stretches for many kilometres across the south part of the island.
  • Keri - Basically 3 parts to this. The pebble beach and coast area at Limniou Keri, the village of Keri itself in the mountains, and further west the lighthouse of Keri which is popular with tourists who want to see a sunset.
  • Laganas - The (in)famous resort of Laganas. This is the main "party" town on the island. The main street consists almost entirely of nightclubs, bars, and fast food outlets. It's very popular with the 18-30 set, particularly young people from England. The beach itself has some nicer bars and restaurants along its length.
  • Tsilivi - A family-oriented resort north of Zakynthos town. It has some late night bars and near nightclubs but on the whole is a bustling family resort with all the usual hotels, supermarkets, restaurants and so on. It has a very wide and long sandy beach along with watersports available from it.
  • Vasillikos - A quiet village in the south east on the Vassilikos peninsula. Here there are now no major hotels and just apartments, villas along with restaurants and tavernas. It has much more of a small village feel to it, has no nightclubs or other entertainment, as is the place to look for a more relaxing, quiet holiday. In this area are the turtle nesting beaches of Gerakas and Dafnia. Slightly to the north is Agios Nikolaos (not to be confused with the one in the north) where there are many watersports, basic scuba diving and a busier place.

Accommodation & Hotels

Beaches

  • Agios Nikolaos (On the southeastern peninsula near Vassilikos). Termed the best beach on the island. You can get there by free shuttle services from Laganas, Kalamaki, and Argasi, although it should be noted that in order to get a ticket to get the shuttle back again you have to pay to use a sun lounger (€4). Water sports (diving, jet skis, etc.) are offered, as well as a big British-run beach bar. This is not to be confused by the Agios Nikolaos village in the north of the island which shares little in common with this one.
  • Alikes/Alykanas. A long stretch of beach in front of the 2 resorts with plenty of facilities, sunbeds, watersports. To the west of the Skourtis River mouth is Alikes, to the east is Alykanas. The Alikes section is quite narrow and also quite stony in places, backed by numerous bars and restaurants, mostly competing to be the least Greek. The best sand is to be found at the eastern end, close to the little fishing port of Agios Kyriaki, where the Neraida Taverna offers friendly service and traditional, freshly-cooked local dishes, backed by live traditional music in the evening. There's also a "shipwreck", a sunken wooden sailing yacht sitting in quite shallow water which kids (and grown-up kids!) can wade out to and climb all over. A walk of around 1km from Alykanas Resort, through old Alykanas village, brings you to the peaceful Xehoriati Beach. This narrow stretch of fine sand has beautiful views across to Kefalonia and the Peloponnese, and shelves out very slowly offering safe swimming with a number of rocky reefs for interesting snorkelling. Xehoriati is served by 2 restaurants vying to have the most incongruous name. The apparently native-North-American-themed Redskins is actually run by a friendly young Italian couple serving up their native cuisine, while Shoestring (nothing to do with the 1970s UK TV detective), up a flight of steps at the eastern end of the beach, offers typical tourist taverna fare at lunchtime and close to a "fine-dining" menu in the evenings (save room at any time of day for the excellent home-made desserts), all with stunning views. There's also a mini-market about 150m from the beach for snacks, chilled drinks.
  • Dafni (Access to this beach is via a steep hilly road between Argassi and Vassilikos). This is a lovely sandy beach in the marine reserve with a complete ban on traffic. It's a quiet beach that has only a few locals on the beach, tavernas for food and drink, along with sunbeds.
  • Gerakas (At the far south of the Vassilikos peninsula inside the total marine exclusion zone). The main loggerhead turtle nesting beach. This is a large long and wide sandy beach and gently shelving shore with sun beds and umbrellas provided. Some areas of the beach are off limits due to turtles nesting and the beach is closed at dusk for the same reason. There is a steep hill or steps leading from the cliff top to get down to the beach. A car park is provided but in busy periods this can fill up. Also near here are several tavernas for food and toilets.
  • Kalamaki to Laganas. The resort of Kalamaki shares a long uninterrupted sandy beach that runs from there to Laganas a few miles away. In some places it can be crowded, but the further towards the middle you get the fewer people you find and given its size it's possible to find somewhere quiet.
  • Psarou (12 km NE of Zante town). Small sandy beach with crystal blue and shallow waters ideal for children. There are many tavernas offering home cooked food. At the center of the beach you can enjoy the Caffe del Mar by Kostas.
  • Tsilivi. The family resort of Tsilivi boasts a wide and long sandy beach, watersports, sunbeds, and ample car parking.

Culture


Literature

The Ionian Islands never experienced Ottoman rule; however, they were under the rule of the Venetian Republic and to a lesser extent, the French, British and Russians. Consequently, communication with Western culture; including, literary trends was more direct than most other areas inhabited by Greek people. During the 19th century, a school of literature developed that became known as the Heptanesian School of Literature consisting mainly of lyrical and satirical poetry in the vein of Romanticism prevalent throughout Europe of the time. The School also contributed to the development of modern Greek theatre with the most important work being Vasiliko by Antonios Matesis (1830). The first drama on modern Greek history with social content.

One of the earliest known works by a Zakynthian was the Andragathemata of Bouas by Tzanes Koroneos. The work dramatised the exploits of Stradioti leader, Merkurios Bouas going as far as to give Bouas a mythological pedigree including Achilles, Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus. Stradioti were mercenary Greek and Hellenised Albanian soldiers in the service of various European powers. Tzanes Koroneos was also a Stradioti and a troubadour. The work is a long epic poem in vernacular Greek consisting of about 4,500 rhyming verses and contains valuable historical information of the period. The work was written in 1519 when Koroneos was in Venice. This poem was found in a manuscript in Italy. Koroneos also wrote and sent to Bouas a smaller poem (“pittakion”) of about 125 verses in Greek language.

Nikolaos Loukanis was a 16th-century Renaissance humanist born in Zakynthos; however, little is known about his life. He worked in Venice and in 1526 he produced a translation of Homer's Iliad into modern Greek which is credited as one of the first literary texts published in modern Greek (as most contemporary Greek scholars wrote in the Koine).

Markos Defaranas (1503–1575) was another early Zakynthian poet that moved to Venice sometime between 1536–1540 and composed several poems thereafter. One composition was a didactic poem titled, Pleas of the Father to the Son consisting of 788 rhymed verses and is essentially a compilation of excerpts from other works. The language is a patchwork of Cretan idiomatic forms and archaic elements.

Antonios Katiforos (Antonio Catiforo) (1685–1763), born from an aristocratic family in Zakynthos, was one of the key figures in the early Neohellenic Enlightenment. After studies in Padua and Rome, he was invited by the Greek community of Venice to teach at the Flanginian School. Katiforos wrote an important book on Greek grammar in 1734, satirical verse in archaic Greek, vernacular Greek and Italian, and a biographical work titled, The Life of Peter the Great of Russia. He also wrote works on theology, biblical history, hymns and translations in Latin.


Music

The island has a long musical tradition. It was a precursor of opera and operetta in Greece and on the island it constituted links between nobles and the rest of the people. In 1815 it saw the establishment of the first Music School in Greece. During the first Olympic Games (Athens 1896), the Music Band of Zakynthos took part in the event. It was the period when composers of Zantiote origin, such as Domeneginis Kapnissis, enjoyed some fame in Europe. Inaugurated in 2009, Zakynthos has also its own Zante Jazz Festival.

The novel Among the Olive Groves by Chrissie Parker is primarily set on the island of Zakynthos.


Museums

There are two museums located in Zakynthos town: the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos, featuring renaissance paintings, Byzantine icons and more; and the Museum of Solomos and Eminent People of Zakynthos, hosting the mausoleum of Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos, as well as works by many eminent Zakynthians.

History


Ancient history

Zakynthos was inhabited from the Neolithic Age, as some archaeological excavations have proved. The ancient Greek poet Homer mentioned the island in the Iliad and the Odyssey, stating that the first inhabitants of it were the son of King Dardanos of Troy called Zakynthos and his men. In mythology the island was then conquered by King Arkesios of Kefalonia, and then by Odysseus from Ithaca. Later on, a treaty was signed that made Zakynthos an independent democracy, the first established in Greece, that lasted more than 650 years.

The Athenian military commander Tolmides concluded an alliance with Zakynthus during the First Peloponnesian War sometime between 459 and 446 BC.

The importance of this alliance for Athens was that it provided them with a source of tar. Tar is a more effective protector of ship planking than pitch (which is made from pine trees). The Athenian trireme fleet needed protection from rot, decay and the teredo, so this new source of tar was valuable to them. The tar was dredged up from the bottom of a lake (now known as Lake Keri) using leafy myrtle branches tied to the ends of poles. It was then collected in pots and could be carried to the beach and swabbed directly onto ship hulls.Alternatively, the tar could be shipped to the Athenian naval yard at the Piraeus for storage.


Neapolitan and Venetian rule

During the Middle Ages, the island was part of the Byzantinetheme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of the County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479. The Turkish rule lasted only until 22 April 1484, when it was swapped with the Turks by Venetian secretary Giovanni Dario, negotiator of the treaty of Constantinople (1479), against neighboring Cephalonia and an annual tribute of 500 ducats. From then on Zakynthos remained an overseas colony of the Venetian Republic until its very end in 1797, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Cephalonia in 1500 and Lefkas in 1684 from the Turks.

Venetian rule protected the island from Ottoman domination but in its place it put a feudal oligarchy. The cultural influence of Venice (and of Venetian on local dialect) was considerable. The wealthy made a habit of sending their sons to Italy to be educated. Good examples are Dionysios Solomos, a native of Zakynthos and Greece's national poet, and Ugo Foscolo, also native of Zakynthos and a national Italian poet. However, both the Greek language and Orthodox faith survived intact. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world together with Cephalonia.


French, Ionian state period and British rule

The Treaty of Campoformio dismantling the Venetian Republic awarded the Ionian Islands to France. General Antoine Gentili, leading a French expeditionary force with boats captured in Venice, took control of the islands on 26 June 1797. From 1797 to 1798, the island was part of the French départment Mer-Égée. A Russo-Turkish fleet captured the island on 23 October 1798. From 1800 to 1807, it was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire but protected by Russia. In 1800–01, Britain attempted to take control of the Ionian islands from Zakynthos after a revolt, under the leadership of James Callander Campbell but these intentions stopped after the Peace of Amiens.

After a second period under French control (1807–09) following the Treaty of Tilsit, it was conquered by Great Britain on 16 October 1809, and was part of the British protectorate of the United States of the Ionian Islands from 1815 to 1864.


Union with Greece

In 1864, Zakynthos, together with all the other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state, ceded by Britain to stabilize the rule of the newly crowned Danish-born King of the Hellenes, George I.


During the Second World War

During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos refused Nazi orders to turn in a list of the members of the town's Jewish community for deportation to the death camps. Instead they hid the town's 275 Jews in rural villages. Every Jew of Zakynthos survived the war. Statues of the Bishop and the Mayor commemorate their heroism on the site of the town's historic synagogue, destroyed in the earthquake of 1953.

In 1978, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, honoured Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer with the title of "Righteous among the Nations", an honor given to non-Jews who, at personal risk, saved Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, all of the Jews of Zakynthos moved either to Israel or to Athens.


Great earthquake of 1953

The island suffered a series of four severe earthquakes in August 1953, resulting in the total destruction of its infrastructure, including most of the state archives. The third and most destructive of these quakes, registering 7.3 on the Richter Scale, occurred at 09:24 UTC (11:24 am local time) on 12 August 1953. It had its epicentre directly on the southern tip of the nearby island of Kefalonia, also causing widespread destruction there. The quake was felt throughout most of the country, and only three buildings on Zakynthos were left standing after the disaster: the St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building, and the church of St. Nicholas "tou Molou" (of the Quay). Other buildings in outlying areas also managed to avoid complete collapse.


After the quake

After the enormous earthquake, the island's roads were expanded and paved along with the GR-35, one of the roads linking with the town and Porto Roma along with Laganas, Keri and Volimes and from Lachans to Keri.

Mining is common on the island. A small mountain located in Zakynthos' west side was mined during the 1990s, though it is no longer in use. Today mining continues, but with two quarries on the mountain range on the western part of the island. Tourism continues to thrive and Zakynthos is currently one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece.

A few earthquakes hit the island from 2000 to 2010, one on Sunday 8 June 2008 at 6.4 R, felt without any damage or injuries. Another less serious tremor occurred four months later on Saturday, 11 October, measured at 4 R and also causing almost no damage.


April 2006 earthquake series

Starting in the early morning hours of 4 April 2006, a series of moderate to strong earthquakes occurring on an almost daily basis began shaking almost the entire island. On 11 April, however, the phenomenon intensified in both magnitude and rate of events. At 03:02 local time of that day, a powerful, magnitude 5.7 earthquake hit the area, only to be followed by an even stronger tremor, registering 5.9 on the Richter Scale, at 8:30 p.m. (20:30) EET.

On 12 April, a committee of the nation's most prominent seismologists had an emergency meeting with the Greek Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, in order to assess the emerging situation. The meeting ended in a scientific consensus that this specific area of the Ionian Sea was simply not ready to produce an even stronger quake, advising the nervous citizens of the island to remain calm. However, at 19:52 and at 19:56 local time of that same evening, two more earthquakes shook the region, sending scores of terrified people into the streets. The earthquakes had a preliminary moment magnitude of 5.8 and 5.4 respectively.

Seismologists at the Athens Seismological Institute were once again taken by surprise by what turned into an unprecedented riddle concerning whether or not these were in fact foreshocks of a major event. The chances are, nonetheless, that this was just a phenomenon known as earthquake swarm, characterized by a pattern of a considerable amount of magnitude-wise similar tremors, all occurring within a limited number of days or weeks. As a result of the recurring jolts, moderate damage was reported to a total of sixty residencies and one library, while a small crack appeared on the eastern part of the capital's port. In addition, several rocks tumbled down onto one of the island's main roads, running through its mountainous areas.

The Ionian Islands are situated upon one of Europe's most notorious faults, capable of producing earthquakes potentially causing both widespread damage and considerable loss of life. However it should be stressed that, following the catastrophe of 1953, the authorities of Zakynthos have enforced a strict program of antiseismic standards (the same applies to the rest of Greece) to be applied in every building to be constructed. All buildings have been built on a swimming slab and enforced with steel, determined by the government to ensure safety.


After the quake and the wildfires of 2006

On Thursday 18 July 2006, the western portion of the island was hit by a forest fire. The fire spread to the island's forest and ended up spreading by hectares. Firefighters along with helicopters and planes from the mainland arrived to fight the fire's expansion and further deforestation. The fire lasted for several days and on 20 July, much of the area was contained; though it had become unpopular and unattractive scenery. One of the conflagrations appeared as a fiery line visible from as far away as the southern portion of the island and the Ionian Sea.

Things to do

Zakynthos is not so much an island for children. The water park here is small and rather hard to get to as compared to that in Corfu. Most resorts there are relatively low-key and tourist booths are more likely to offer excursions to neighboring islands or the Greek mainland rather than concentrating on Zakynthos' beauty. This is a shame, because it is still an island where mountainside villages and hidden coves await discovery by the discerning traveller. It is well worth hiring a car.

  • Round the Island Circuit. Due to the small size of the island, with a rental car it's perfectly possible to drive a complete lap of the island stopping at some interesting places on the way. For example, starting at Zakynthos town, drive north along the coast road and visit Tsilivi. Continue past Alykes and Alykanes. The scenery gets more impressive as you climb towards the mountains. The road then drops into the picturesque resort of Agios Nikolaos. From there you traverse the north coast passing Navagio (aka shipwreck) and the viewing platform and Volimes in the mountains where local arts and crafts can be bought. Then to the west coast travelling south the bay of Limnionas is extremely pretty, quiet with just a taverna that serves excellent food. Further south from there you have Kampi with stunning clifftop views and eventually Keri lighthouse with more stunning views, especially at sunset.
  • Scuba Diving. Although, like the rest of Greece, the area is devoid of fish due to massive overfishing, the south of the island has a few decent sites such as "The Arch" and Keri Caves. Numerous dive operators work out of Laganas, Keri, and elsewhere.
  • Turtle Spotting. The endangered loggerhead turtle uses the beaches for its nesting and a marine reserve has been established in the south around the Laganas Bay to protect these (although it appears to be completely ignored outside tourist season) Many outfits in Laganas, Kalamaki and even Vassilikos offer short or full day trips including swim stops to look for these turtles. You stand most chance of seeing them between May and early July with the numbers decreasing after this.
These shy, gentle creatures nest in the south of the island during the spring and summer months, but their numbers are threatened of late, and one of the biggest culprits is undoubtedly mass tourism. Eggs that have been laid on the beaches of Laganas and Kalamaki have in the past been smashed by deck chairs or dug up by children. Turtles have been killed on Zakynthos roads after having been disoriented by the bright neon lights of the bars they mistake for the moon by which they navigate their way to the sea. Thankfully, the Greek authorities are placing emphasis on protecting the turtles with signs and volunteers reminding tourists on the beaches of their duty to respect the turtles and stay away from them.
That said, several unscrupulous firms on the island run "turtle tours", whereupon a tourist can pay to take a boat ride to "spot" the turtles. This is not a good idea. The turtles are easily distressed by this intrusion, and this has a knock-on effect on their breeding and hence is contributing to the threat to their very survival.

Food

Traditional agricultural products are olive oil, thyme honey, currants, and wine, which can be purchased at roadside stalls or in the villages.

Zakynthos is a growing tourist island, and hence along with traditional Greek fare, one will find Anglicized cuisine. In Laganas, travellers would be more hard-pressed to find baklava than an English-fry up, but there are some very good places to eat Greek cuisine, and at very reasonable prices.

  • The Clear Horizon (Amoudi, in the north of the island, towards Alikes). Restaurant with a friendly owner who serves traditional Greek fare: baklavas, stifado, briam, at very reasonable prices in large portions, with an unrivaled view of the Ionian Sea and Kefalonia rising from the mist in the background.
  • Galini (Way off the beaten path in Vassilikos, SE of Zante town). A traditional family-run place sprawled in the middle of the large estate where they grow their own food. Scenic ivy-clad terrace seating, rabbits running free, a children's playground and views out to sea are some of the things that will fail to distract you from the hearty traditional food served here. Island specialty kleftiko is a must.
  • Mermaids (In the resort of Kalamaki). Serves a good variety of Greek and international food.
  • Mikri PlateiaPorto Roma (From the main road from Vassilkos to Gerakas Beach, go left to Port Roma. At the first corner, you'll find it on your right). Evenings. Many restaurants on the island claim they are authentic and traditional. This one just is, without claiming so. A trip back in time. Run by a very kind and hardworking family who makes delicious homemade food. There is no menu. You'll just get what the family has cooked that day. If they have it, the chicken from the oven is very much recommended. Their terrace at the back provides a charming view of the nearby sea, especially with a full moon, and the surrounding hills, including the many olive tree groves. And if you're lucky, someone might even join you to taste a glass of family-distilled raki from Volimes. For the food alone, worth a visit when you're near Porto Roma or Gerakas Beach.
  • Nikos Beach BarPorto Roma (Just before Porto Roma go left (follow the sign), past the big house on your right hand. If you want to go through the beach, follow the beach to the left and find it above you on your left.). Whole day. The server comes to your table and, almost too fast to comprehend, tells you with a strong Greek accent what you can eat and drink. At the same time, he kindly, but unwaveringly, tries to convince you to order something specific. Usually what the men just around the corner have on the grill. If you order something else, it can take a little while, but it will be just as delicious. Both fish and lamb from the grill are recommended, as are the roasted vegetables. A delightful spot, especially in combination with the sound of the sea just below you.

Drink

Bars are found in abundance on Zakynthos, from the lazy beach bar to clubs to British-run establishments. The beers of choice are the Greek Mythos, Alfa and Fix, though Amstel comes a close second. Drinkers looking for a more sartorial experience are advised to check out bars in Zakynthos town. There are also the local village wines (beware: strong!), the Metaxa brandy along with the standard ouzo.

The bars of Laganas can serve pretty much anything else and caters to the young drunk tourist.

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