Zakynthos – Il fiore di Levante
Greece is a country with thousands of islands, and every one of them is worth visiting. With its turquoise sea, its unique scent of Mediterranean, long summers and friendly and welcoming locals every year it is attracting more and more tourists from all around the world. No matter where I go and what I do, I always visit Greece at least once a year, because there is so much things to see, to experience and to explore. This time I will tell you something about my trip to Zakynthos, which is also called Il fiore di Levante (the flower of the East).
Around the island
Zakynthos belongs to a group of Ionian islands, and it is the third largest island in the Ionian sea. It has many beautiful beaches, but the most famous of all is Navagio, also known as Shipwreck. It is an exposed cove, also known as the “Smuggler’s Cove. It is situated on the northwest shore, surrounded by high cliffs and accessible only by boat. As you approach the beach, and its high cliffs, there is no way for you not to feel so small, like a gran of sand, practically swallowed by this monster of the nature. The sight is truly breathtaking. The beach got its name after a shipwreck which was built in Scotland and sunk in 1980. near the coast of Zakynthos. It’s been claimed that the ship was smuggling contraband cigarettes and being chased by the Greek Navy, but it turned out to be false. Apart from the famous Navagio beach, Zakynthos has to offer many other beaches that are equally beautiful. The best way to see them all is to take a cruise around the island with cruise boat. You will be stopping for a swim at Navagio, and some other small beaches, you will see the Blue caves and Marathonisi island, which is known as Turtle island. The cruise is very affordable and worth every penny. If you take a rent-a car you will have a chance to take even closer look at other lovely beaches, that are not included in boat stops, like Banana beach, Porto Zoro, Porto Vromi, Gerakas beach, Porto Limionas and many more, and have a swim or two.
Where to stay and what to do
There are many resorts in Zakynthos island but the most famous are: Tsilivi, Argassi, Laganas, Alykes and Keri. Tsilivi was my choice every summer I spent on the island. It is a resort with the best and the longest local beach, famous Tsilivi beach awarded with a blue flag, which is a proof that the beach meets its stringent standards. Tsilivi is the resort that can satisfy almost everyone’s needs. It is relaxing and quiet place with beautiful beach, Greek taverns, cafes, souvenir shops, shopping mall and at the same time it has very rich nightlife. At night all the bars liven up, there is music everywhere, dance, karaoke parties. In taverns you can experience Greek night with local Greek cuisine and National Greek dances. Also, every Friday night there is a beach party at Alexandra Beach Hotel with mostly house music, so there is definitely something for everyone.
If you are a real party animal, with the desire to party 24/7, then Laganas resort is the best for you. While Tsilivi is a place that is more likely to suit families and people who want to relax and at the same time have some fun, Laganas is a place where there is no sleep. Dozens of clubs, one next to another, compete to have the loudest music till the sunrise, and it is the same every night. So, if you’d like to have some sleep as well, avoid Laganas. Laganas beach is also nice to spend your day at, but if you will be staying in Laganas, you will probably sleep during the daytime.
Cartetta Caretta turtles are the symbol of Zakynthos, and the locals are very proud that they have picked their island for nesting. The National Marine Park of Zakynthos was established to help protect the Caretta Caretta Turtles, particularly because the growth of tourism in Zakynthos was threatening some of their nesting grounds. Their nesting period is from June to August. Local tourist agencies offer a turtle spotting tour, and if you are lucky enough you will really see them. It was September the first time I went to Zakynthos, so their nesting season was over. I didn’t know that and I paid for the tour but, as you are guessing, I saw nothing. The next time it was June and voila! They were swimming all around our boat. So, make sure that you take the tour at the time you actually have a chance to see them. Locals offer those tours from the beginning to the end of the summer season, April to October, because there will always be some clueless tourists, like I was the first time, who will pay the money for the tour not knowing they don’t even stand a chance to see the turtles.
Zakynthos town is the capital of Zakynthos island. Locals also call it Chora, meaning The Town (gr. χώρα). It is very common for locals to use this denomination when the name of the island is the same as the name of its capital town. The port of Zakynthos has the most amazing color of the sea. I was trully fascinated by the turquoise color of the sea there, because I was used to seeing dark blue water in ports. From the Zakynthos port there is a connection to the port of Kyllini, which is the usual route for arrivals to the island by sea from the mainland. Also, there is an airport on the island. If there are no charter flights from your country you can always fly via Athens or come from Athens by boat or bus. It takes 6 hours to come from Athens to Zakynthos.
St. Dionysios Church
St. Dionysios Church is dedicated to the protector of the island, and it is the biggest in the town. It is very lovely from the outside and the inside. When I entered the church for the first time I was amazed by the quantity of frescoes and colors. St. Dionysios Tower is the twin tower with St. Marco’s Tower in Venice. It looks exactly the same.
The Solomos Square
The Solomos Square is named after Dionysios Solomos, Greek poet from Zakynthos. It is the central square in the town and a place where many religious and cultural events and celebrations are held. The statue of Dionysios Solomos stands there, overlooking the sea. From the square you can enter the famous Alexandrou Roma St. which is the main shopping spot of the town. It is packed with stores, cafes and boutiques and the offer is really good.
Bochali Village is located on the hill above Zakynthos town. To the top of the hill you have to take stairs, so it requires a certain fitness level, but believe me it is worth every step you take because the view at the top will leave you breathless.
Museums in Zakynthos
There are seven museums in Zakynthos island. Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos, Museum of Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos, Town Hall Library, Exhibition Center of National Marine Park, Helmi’s Natural History Museum, The Milanio Naval Museum and Cultural and Agricultural Museum.
Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos is located in the Solomos Square. It consists of three levels. In the first two rooms there are Byzantine icons carved in the wood and the third and fourth room original icons of 15th, 16th and 17th Century. Two other rooms are dedicated to paintings of the 18th Century.
Museum of D. Solomos and A. Kalvos is located in the St. Marco Square and it is famous because it keeps the relic of the two poets, Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos. In the museum there are paintings from 18th and 19th Century, sculptures, ancient musical instruments, carved pottery, collection of coat of arms and many portraits of the most important people of the island.
Town Hall Library is located in the Solomos Square. It is the place you can find rare books about the history and tradition of the island, copies of old newspaper and old pictures of Zakynthos.
Exhibition Center of National Marine Park is located in Dafni, the municipal department of Vasilikos. It is The Thematic Exhibition Center of the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta-Caretta. So If you would like to learn more about Caretta Caretta be sure to visit this museum.
Helmi’s Natural History Museum is located in Ayia Marina Village and it includes specimens of flora and fauna of the island.
The Milanio Naval Museum is located in the tourist resort of Tsilivi and it is the only museum in Zakynthos where you can learn about the maritime history of the island from the seventeenth century to the present day.
Cultural and agricultural Museum is located in Pigadakia village. Its exhibition includes the culture and tradition history of the Greek rural world and rare works from 16th Century.
Definitely, Zakynthos is not only about its lovely turquoise sea and if you just scratch its surface you will find out many interesting things about it and experience the true magic of the island. I think that the fact that I’ve been returning to it every summer since 2007. speaks louder than words