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Zakynthos (Zante)

General Info

Zakynthos, also known by its informal Italian name Zante, is located off the coast of west mainland Greece. While some of the Greek islands are ideal for partying and others are perfect family destinations, Zakynthos, the third largest of the Ionian Islands, is an excellent choice for both styles of vacationing. It generously offers some of the most memorable beaches of Greece, spectacular landscapes, fertile plains, rich history, charming villages and an impressive variety of resorts. It has a very wide diversity of locations for accommodation and summer houses, from busy, lively beach resorts to rustic, traditional villages. The majority of its towns, villages and beaches are on the south and east coasts – something that has to do with the fact that the west and north coasts are mountainous, with spectacular high cliffs dropping straight into the crystal waters of Ionian Sea. This very distinguished island is also the birthplace of kantádhes, the Italian-style folk ballads which can be heard in its lovely taverns.

History

According to the great Homer, the first inhabitant of the island was, somewhere between 1500 and 1600 B.C, Zakynthos, the son of King of Troy, one Dardanos, after whom it was named. Thereafter, the island was inhabited by the Arcadians, conquered by King Arkisos of the neighbouring island of Cephalonia and subsequently re-conquered by the famous Ulysses, the protagonist of the Odyssey. After his return to his home-island of Ithaca, a treaty was signed granting democracy and autonomy to Zakynthos, the first in the whole area of Ancient Greece. Later, during the initial years of Roman rule, Zakynthos had the privilege of being allowed to be governed by its own laws and of having its own parliament, municipality, legislature and even currency. This era was one of great cultural development. In 34 A.D. Maria Magdalena and Maria Klopa, travelling to Rome, brought Christianity to the island. Then, Zakynthos, along with the other Ionian Islands fell under Venetian and French domination, followed by the rule of the King of Naples and the Prince of Florence. Under the Venetians the island flourished, had great development and the city got its unique and impressive architectural style. In 1798, a Russo-Turkish fleet, commanded by the Russian Admiral Usakov, arrived in Zakynthos and occupied it. In 1864, Zakynthos, together with all other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state. On August 9th 1953 a devastating earthquake hit, destroying more than seventy percent of its infrastructure. The capital of the island, a very beautiful city that formerly had the nickname of 'The Venice of the South' was further devastated by a fire that started from the tavernas’ kitchens. The town was rebuilt with strict anti-seismic specifications applied, but with respect shown to its former special architectural essence. Today Zakynthos has experienced rapid development due to its beauty and character, which has made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece.

Must see

Regarding the area around the island's port and capital of the island, city of Zakynthos, one should visit: The Venetian Castle, in the location of the old acropolis named Psofis, on a hill overlooking the town. Aghios Markos square, the number one meeting point for locals as well as visitors, where the Museum of Solomos, Kalvos and other eminent Zakynthians is located. The Post- Byzantine Museum, home to treasures such as icons, art woodcuts and impressive statues trimmed with gold. Also visit The Stranis hill, about a couple of kilometres away from the town, with its breathtaking view that inspired the poet Dionysios Solomos to write his ‘Hymn to Liberty’, the words of the Greek national anthem. Outside of the city, Moni tis Panagias (monastery of The Virgin) is the only historic building left intact after the devastating 1953 earthquake. It was once the abbey of St Dionysios, the patron saint of Zakynthos, whose cell, with some of his belongings can still be viewed. Finally and importantly, Zakynthos is very close to ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, home to spectacular ruins and a very impressive museum, which is a must see for everyone travelling to Greece.

Things to do

Apart form the tourist hot spots, a very popular sight seeing destination is the island’s western coast, where sheer white cliffs and coastal caves create a spectacular backdrop. Another must do is a visit to Kampi at Porto Skiza to enjoy the breathtaking sunset; a truly unforgettable experience. The north and west parts of the island are full of quiet, idyllic villages amidst very beautiful scenery. Smugglers Cove or Navagio is Zantes’ most stunning attraction. It boasts the title of “one of the most photographed sites in the world”, and is located on the eastern side of Zakynthos and surrounded by white cliffs. Its shipwreck, washed up in the bay in the early 1980s and looks like it is emerging from the beach. Laganas is the ultimate centre of legendary Zakynthos’ nightlife, with its wild partying till early morning from May until September, and has tens of clubs, music bars and pubs. Zakynthos is famous for its sweets, the Mandolato and Sesame cake (Pasteli), its extra virgin olive oil, its drained grape, wine, local oil-cheese, and "mastelado", a unique kind of wine made in the mountainous parts of Zakynthos. One should also try the extra quality Zakynthian honey and the famous sweet red onions of the island. Finally, In order to live the authentic Zakynthian spirit, find out about the plethora of local festivals and religious celebrations and.... take part in some of them.

Beaches and nature

The beaches of Zakynthos range from quiet, secluded bays and coves to luxurious and well-developed beach resorts. Many of them are under the protection of the National Marine Park conservation area as they are breeding grounds for the endangered Caretta Caretta sea turtles and frequented by the rare Monachus Monachus seals. The island has many Blue Flag status beaches, awarded only to those of the highest cleanliness and safety standards. Tsivili and Alykes beaches are ideal for families as they have golden sands, shallow waters for swimming and an excellent range of amenities. Makris Gialos and Limni Keriou are more quiet choices, secluded and good for relaxing. The sea at Xigia Beach has a sulphur spring leaking into the water from a cave nearby and it is thought to have healing powers for muscular pains and arthritis, as well as some skin conditions. It is even credited with removing cellulite. The majority of Zakynthos' beaches offer a complete range of water-sports, (windsurfing, hydro-jets, jet-skis, parasailing and boating) and the island’s underwater rock formations and caverns provide some of the best in Mediterranean sea locations for scuba-diving and snorkelling. Zakynthos` natural beauty is one of the most lauded in Europe. Due to the mild climate it is extremely lush; the Venetians referred to it as Il Fiore del Levante - the Flower of the Levant, and all visitors will see why, the moment they set foot upon this amazing island.

Need to know (practical info)

All year around, Zakynthos is conveniently connected with Athens with frequent flights by all Greek airlines (about a 50-minute flight). There are also many charter flights from all around Europe and of course from many parts of the world. Zakynthos has also a ferry connection with Kyllini, a port in Peloponnese, which is around 4 hours` drive from Athens, with frequent crossings that take about 1 hour, during both summer and winter. The island has a mild Mediterranean climate with semi -torrid summers and rainfall during the winter. Do not miss the chance to explore Zakynthos beyond the tourist hot-spots as it has many hidden gems. The best way to fully enjoy its beauty is by car, and the road network is good. In the small villages do not pass up the opportunity to mingle with the locals who are genuinely friendly and hospitable and have many stories of the past and the present to share with visitors.

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