Zakynthos

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Zakynthos , also called Zante , 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. (less...) (more...)

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  • Skiing Skiing
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  • Winery Winery

Points of Interest in Zakynthos

  • Blue Caves (East of Cape Skinari, in the northern part of the island). A series of geological formations have created the caves. Natural arches have been carved out by erosion, but these caves are most 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, hence the name Blue Caves. Kianoun Cave is the biggest of the caves. In order to reach there you can hire a boat or go on a tour.
  • Cape Skinari (The very northern edge of Zakynthos). Here you can get a panorama view of the sea, having both the calm waters of the east and the windy of the west within view. Here there are also some ruins from the great earthquake of 1953.
  • Dionysios Solomos Museum (Zaknthos town). If you are interested in Greek modern history, visit the in, dedicated to the national poet of the Greeks, who wrote the nation's national anthem.
  • Shipwreck (Navagio). Originally a smuggler ship, it lost its engines in 1981 and was washed ashore in a magnificent small bay. Featured in Greek tourist ads, it is on the west coast and best visited by going there from Porto Vromi. Go there either early in the morning or in the afternoon (>15:00), as in the time between the big around-the-island cruise ships anchor there and the beach is heavily crowded. It's not rare to have 20 boats all moored each putting a few hundred people ashore at once. Going there in off-peak times ensures you will have the beach pretty much to your own. For the ultimate picture, follow the signs to the Agios Gergio Kremnao monastery - when you arrive there, use the road to your right to get to a small viewing platform some 180 m above the wreck and is where most of the picture postcard shots are taken from. It can actually be nicer to see it from this perspective than up close and personal on the beach itself.

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.

Shipwreck Beach

Zakynthos Port

Solomos Square

Agios Dhionysios

Blue Caves

St. Dionisios Church

Tsilivi Beach

Byzantine Museum of Zakinthos

Argassi Beach

Gerakas Beach

Xigia Beach

Laganas Beach

Makris Gialos Beach

Porto Vromi Beach

Banana Beach

Kalamaki Beach

Porto Roma Beach

Thematic Exhibition Center of Caretta Caretta

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Popular events in Zakynthos in the near future

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About Zakynthos

History

Archaeological excavations have proved that Zakynthos was inhabited from the Neolithic Age. The island is first mentioned by the Greek poet and writer Homer. In his masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey, he stated that the first inhabitants of Zakynthos were the son of King Dardanos, Zakynthos (which the island has been named after), of Troy and his men who settled around 1500-1600 BCE.

Over the years the island was conquered by King Arkeisios of Kefalonia, and after him Ulysses from Ithaca. Later on Zakynthos became the first independent democracy in the Hellenic area, as a treaty was signed and it lasted over 650 years.

In the summer of 1953, Zakynthos was hit by two severe earthquakes, resulting in the total destruction of the islands infrastructure and most of its state archives. The most powerful of those quakes registered 7.3 on the Richter scale occurred on 12 August and was felt throughout almost the entire country. In Zakynthos Town only three buildings were left standing: the St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building, and the church of St. Nicholas "tou Molou". The rebuilding of the island was subject to a very rigid anti-seismic code, and has thus withstood several moderate and powerful earthquakes with a minimal amount of damage, one as recently as 2005.

Mining has been common on the island. Today, however, the only activity is two quarries on the mountain range in the western part of the island. A small mountain on Zakynthos west side was mined during the late 20th-century, though it is no longer in use. Today tourism is the most important source of income and Zakynthos is currently one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece.

Activities

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.

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 Plateia, Porto 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 Bar, Porto 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.

Drinks

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.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Zakynthos on Wikivoyage.

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