Zante, the Ionian’s flower of the east, Hellas Greece.
White beaches, sea turtles and partying around the clock make Zakynthos a favourite holiday destination
The Venetians called this southernmost Ionian island Fiore di Levante, the Flower of the East. Its nobility and fertility made it the jewel of their empire. Today’s visitors would agree, though they come for its endless beaches – Lagana, Tsilivi, Argassi, Kalamaki, Alykes – where British, French and Italians party day and night. Looking for indelible moments?
You’ll find them when you swim at the famous Shipwreck Beach, watch the sunset from the cliffs of Keri and Kryoneri, listen to the islanders sing their cantadas and see the endangeredcaretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs in the island’s white sands. Welcome to Zakynthos, as it is known in Greece, the island that has it all.
What to do in Zakynthos
Set sail for fabulous beaches
From your seat on the caique that does the circuit of Zante, you’ll see a parade of beaches, one more magical than the last. Shipwreck Beach, Laganas, Gerakas, Vasilikos, Marathonisi, the Blue Caves … all rank among the most splendid in Greece. In the contest for first place, the renowned shipwreck at the homonymous beach adds drama to the ubiquitous white sand, white cliffs and turquoise green water. Come early in the morning, or drop anchor the previous evening, so you can enjoy your first dive before the rest of the world arrives.
The National Marine Park: reserved for sea turtles in the Ionian
The sea and coast around Zante were picked for Greece’s first marine park. This is where the rare caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs. In spring these endangered creatures set off for Zante from the Libyan Sea and the southern Adriatic, not because they like the swim but because nature tells them to lay their eggs in the sands of Gerakas, Dafni, Kalamaki, Marathonisi and, especially, Sakania, east of Laganas, as they always have. If you’re lucky enough to witness this spectacle, please don’t disturb.
Bokhali, the prettiest part of town
Zante is not only beaches. Take a stroll through lovely Bokhali, 2km from the centre of town, and you’ll find yourself stopping every few minutes to admire the panoramic view of the harbour, Argassi and the Bay of Laganas. Or to photograph the alleys lined with old houses and traditional cafes. Walk a bit higher, and you’ll come to the castle, camouflaged by greenery, where the Venetians had their island capital.
One of Orthodox pilgrimage sites in the Ionian, St Dionysios draws crowds of believers throughout the year as it houses the relics of the saint of the same name (also the island’s patron saint). The impressive church was built in 1926, with a three-isled basilica and inner arch. The catastrophic earthquake of 1953 left it virtually undamaged. Miracle or solid foundations?
Hidden gems of Zakynthos
The Strofades, more islands to explore
Only 37 nautical miles from Zante, these two islets are unknown to most tourists, Greek or foreign. A mystery surrounds the 15th century fortified monastery here. It houses an icon of the Virgin that washed up here undamaged after being thrown into the sea by 13th century Orthodox Christians in Constantinople to save it from the Iconoclasts who were destroying all paintings with human figures.
The Rolling… Stone
Locals claim that Mick Jagger hails from the village of Kiliomeno (which translates as rolling) and that’s why he named his band The Rolling Stones. This may well be local legend, but the truth is that Kiliomeno is delightful. Take your time to admire its traditional architectural style and old homes which resemble fortresses.
Zante by the glass
Set aside some time for a visit to an island winery, some of which go back centuries. Hundreds of hectares are devoted to vines and there are more than 60 different grape varietals.