Tall cliffs, unspoilt white sandy beaches and turquoise-coloured sea
A striking Greek island, the third largest in the Ionian Sea after Corfu and Cephalonia, Zakynthos is famous for its luxuriant vegetation but also for its tall cliffs and unspoilt white sandy beaches that look out over an incredible turquoise-coloured sea. Flowers can be found everywhere, so it’s no coincidence that the Venetians who ruled over Zakynthos, or Zante as they called it, for approximately three centuries, also named it the ‘Fiore del Levante’ (Flower of the East) due to the presence of over 7,000 different species of flowers.
Zakynthos is an island with a memorable ‘perfume’; it is also unforgettable for its breathtaking countryside, picturesque villages, old convents and poetic churches, and the joyful atmosphere found in its bars and restaurants, in its music and traditional dances. The countryside is varied: from sandy beaches with small bays in the south-east, to the majestic cliffs and interesting sea depths in the west.
The National Marine Park of Zakynthos
The National Marine Park of Zakynthos is a wonderful attraction due to its vast size (it extends for over fifty miles of sea to the two Strofades islands and includes a long inland expanse of dense pine forests and Mediterranean maquis) and because of the large variety of animal species it hosts. In this unspoilt environment several species have found their natural habitat, including the very rare Loggerhead Sea Turtle caretta caretta, as well as other examples of the almost extinct Monk Seal.
The Venetian Fortress, which housed the old jail cells and powder magazines, is located above the city of Zakynthos where the old Acropolis (Psofis) once stood. Below the fortress is the picturesque Bochali District, with old houses and narrow alleyways, as well as the beautiful ninth-century Church of Panagia. The Venetian influence is still present in the architecture of the city of Zakynthos, which was rebuilt according to strict regulations after the terrible earthquake of 1953.
The port and the historic center
The city can be reached from the Port of Zakynthos, which still preserves much of its past splendor. The beating heart of the town is Solomoù Square, with its typical buildings with arched windows and arcades: here you can find the Municipality Cultural Centre with its important old public library filled with over 55,000 volumes, and the Post-Byzantine Museum housing treasures of inestimable value. A marble statue dominates the square of the national poet of Greece Dionysios Solamos, known for writing the ‘Hymn to Liberty’, which became the Greek national anthem, but the square also features a bust and artistic memorial of the great Italian poet Ugo Foscolo who was born in Zakynthos.
The streets of Zakynthos are lively and filled with craft shops, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. These streets include the ‘Strata marina’, the coastal road, or the Rouga, and Alexandrou Roma street, the shopping centre of Zakynthos for centuries, which crosses the entire city.
Churches of various styles are scattered around the whole island. The most frequented and revered is the church dedicated to the patron saint of Zakynthos, the Church of Agios Dionysios, which possesses the tallest bell tower in the city and houses a silver urn containing the remains of Saint Dionysios. The saint also stayed in 1583 in the Church of Agios Nikolaos tou Molou, built in beautiful late Renaissance style. The signs of Venetian rule are also seen in the Church of Agios Markos, which has a belfry identical to that of St. Mark’s Church in Venice.
Among the monasteries, a truly spectacular one is dedicated to the Virgin Anafonitria, who is celebrated with feasts and processions each year in mid-August. Just two kilometres from the city is Strani Hill, which offers an unbeatable view over most of the island. The most photographed view in Greece after the Parthenon is Porto Vròmi, shipwreck bay, where a ship ran aground and was never removed.
The Blue Caves
Don’t miss a trip to the extraordinary Blue Caves, on the north of the island, where the colour of the sea has a unique intensity. And you can’t leave the island without having tasted the local products, which are cooked in various ways: tiropitakia (feta-filled pastries), exquisite nougat, meatballs and vegetables in sauce served with Greek yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic and aubergines.
Where to sleep in Zakynthos
Zakynthos is a welcoming city and offers different possibilities for accommodation.
To find the ideal hotel and the best offers you can do a search for the stars but also for landmarks.
Text by Anna Glik
Photos: Sisiterscom.com, Shutterstock
Copyright © Sisterscom.com
Photos: Sisiterscom.com, Shutterstock
Copyright © Sisterscom.com
Update February 2019
where to go
Monuments and Museums
VIRGIN SKOPIOTISSAS MONASTERY
This monastery dates back to the fifth century and is located on top of Mount Skopos. From this height there is a view of the island so spectacular that the Venetians dubbed this location ‘Belvedere’.
This unique monastery dedicated to the Virgin Liberator is found just outside Macherado. It looks more like a castle than a monastery because of its characteristic crenelated towers and white walls edged in red. It is still in use to this day, and is home to nuns and open to the public.
This large building is located in Solomos Square; founded in 1953 after the terrible earthquake, it exhibits collections of ecclesiastical works, wood carvings from the sixteenth century, such as the beautiful icons of the Byzantine period, as well as interesting frescos and murals. Also among its treasures are statues decorated with gold.
VIRGIN ANAFONITRIA MONASTERY
This monastery dates back to the fifteenth century, and is dear to islanders because Saint Denis, patron saint of the island, sojourned there in seclusion. Inside is an icon of enormous artistic value of the Virgin Mary, from Constantinople. It is a very popular destination for tourists who find a great sense of peace within.
CHURCH OF SAINT DENIS
This Orthodox cathedral is situated in a scenic location, on the waterfront near the port where the ferries dock. It is of a great artistic value inside, with numerous frescos, including a procession of the relics of Saint Denis at the time of the Venetian rule, ornate chandeliers and a valuable silver urn, created by the great Greek engraver Bafas and containing the remains of the saint.
CHURCH OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MOLE
This church belonged to the guild of sailors for many centuries and is the oldest building in Solomos Square. It displays the liturgical vestments of Saint Denis.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT MARKOS
This is the only Catholic church on the island and one of the oldest: inside is a painting attributed to Titian and portraits of the Latin Bishops of the island.
THE MONASTERY OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST
This monastery is located on the mountain north of Alykes and preserves works of great artistic value, including the icons painted by the renowned painters Poulakis and Bafas, as well as a valuable wooden pew.
HELMI NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
This museum is located in Ayia Marina, a small village in the hinterland of Zakynthos. Among its collections it boasts examples of flora and fauna that are only found on the island, including rocks, minerals, animal and plant fossils, shells, fish and birds. Teaching materials are available for children during the visit.
ROMA STATELY RESIDENCE
This was the home of the ancient Roma family. An elegant seventeenth-century building, it is located in the centre of the city, behind Solomoù square, and features reception rooms, a large library with rare editions and portraits of the noble family.
Just outside of the town, this museum has the best collection of Byzantine vessels in the world, with a naval history that ranges from 1700 to today, as well as a large collection of costumes from the Greek civil war and the two World Wars.
MARINE PARK AND THE STROFADES ISLANDS
Founded in 1999, this park safeguards the fauna in the southern area of Island. In addition to the Loggerhead turtle and the Mediterranean Monk seal (Monachus Monachus), there are migratory birds such as flamingos, wild swans and peregrine falcons, as well as iguanas, freshwater snakes, frogs and mammals such as the porcupine and the wild rabbit. The exhibition centre near the park is a must-visit site, as are the Strofades islands, which the ancient inhabitants dubbed “floating” due to them seemingly being suspended over the sea. They are part of the Marine Park but it is not possible to stay overnight. The Monastery of the Metamorphosis is found on Arpina, the smaller island, which was a former home of Saint Denis.
Shipwreck beach in the Navagio Gulf, which is accessible by sea, is home to a shipwreck, supposedly a smugglers’ ship that was stranded on the beach. Its beauty and charm make one of Greece’s most photographed locations.
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