Zakynthos, also called Zante (its Italian name) and Zakinthos Greece , is the third largest island in the Ionian Sea. The island is named after Zacynthos, son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos.
While Ios and Kos are associated with party, and Rhodes and Crete with families, Zakynthos is something between. The majority of all beaches, towns, etc. are located 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.
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 BC.
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 August 12 and was felt throughout almost the entire country. Only three buildings were left barely 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 at a minimal amount of damage, one as late 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 located 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.
Zakynthos 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 has ferry links to Kyllini on the Greek mainland from Zakynthos Town 8.2€. Ferries to Kefalonia can be joined at Aghios Nikolas, on the North-East tip of the island.
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 do 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 parts of the island, if somewhat impractical in the rougher, more hilly terrain of the north.
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 is relatively low on tourists, the Easter parade takes place and the island blooms spectacularly with a myriad of colorful flowers and lush green hills. The best time to see Zakynthos is in May, when the main season hasn't yet started, and the vegetation is in full bloom.
Zakynthos, like its neighbor 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.
East of Cape Skinari, on the northern part of the island, are the Blue Caves. A series of geological formations have created the seascape. Natural arches have been carved out by erosion, but these caves are most famous for the color of the water in it's deepest hollows, a deep azure color which is most striking in the morning when the light is at it's 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.
You can't miss ads by the tour operators. Blue caves can be seen starting from three places:
Originally a smuggler ship, which lost engine power 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 - its 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. Be aware the wreck is very sharp and its very possible to injure yourself if not careful
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 600ft 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.
The very northen edge of Zakynthos is labeled Cape Skinari. 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. At the location there are also some ruins from the great earthquake in 1953.
Zakynthos is not so much an island for children; the water park there 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, though beware of the sometimes treachorous mountain roads.
Zakynthos is home to the endangered loggerhead turtle. 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.
Comments on the above:
A new travel agency has picked up on most of the issues mentioned above. They organise excursions that are very suitable for the whole family, eg a theatre/entertainment evening and a turtles/pirates tour. The turtle tour is done under the guidance of a Archelon volunteer. Archelon, the turtle protection society, is very active on the island, and there are very strict rules in the National Marine Park (Laganas Bay). For more information on activities for children or regulations concerning the turtles, you can always contact Nefeli Travel (free service - without any obligation).
Traditional agricultural products are olive oil, (thyme) honey, currants, and wine, which can be purchased at road-side stalls or in the villages.
Zakynthos is a growing tourist island, and hence amongst 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.
In particular, <b>Mermaids</b> in the resort of Kalamaki serves a good variety of Greek and international cuisine.
If in the Northern part of the island, towards Alikes, do try <b>The Clear Horizon</b> at Amoudi-- these apartments are served by a 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.
Way off the beaten path "Galini" in Vassilikos (south east of Zante town) is 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.
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 for the young drunk tourist.
One suggestion would be to purchase some air conditioning if not included in the price or fans can alternatively be quite useful. This is because during the high season, the temperature on the island can be extremely warm well in to the early hours.
National language is of course Greek, but pretty much all inhabitants also speak English (probably due to the fact that British tourists are by far the largest fraction of tourists). German is spoken by many as well, and Italian is well-represented, especially in the northern parts of the island.
Zakynthos enjoys a very low crime rate, but precautions should still be taken, especially in heavy tourist areas. Regrettably, a lot of petty crime is down to the tourists.
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Burmesedays, Ann, Gobbler, Andreas Bergstrom, Matthias Steinkogler, Becky and Matthew Wilkinson, Inas, Tatatabot, Zante, Morph, Texugo, Cacahuate, Episteme and Jonboy
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