Breathtaking, quiet beaches and trails for mountain exploration. History, legends and grandmother tales.
You are in a magical island. You are in Zakynthos.
You are in a magical island. You are in Zakynthos.
Zakynthos is one of the Greek Ionian Islands located off the west coast of the Peloponnese. The island is one of the greenest and most beautiful in the archipelago and boasts some superb sandy beaches. It’s the beaches of Zakynthos that make the island a magnet for the package holiday hordes that migrate here between Easter and October. The busiest seaside resorts rival those of Corfu in terms of their frantic nightlife and all-action beach scene. But if you venture further afield than the main resort areas you’ll find some lovely secluded coves, dramatic mountain scenery and unspoilt inland villages.
Tour groups fly directly to the island’s international airport, six kilometres south west of the capital Zakynthos Town. There’s at least one daily flight to and from Athens and regular bus services connect the island capital with the mainland port of Patras (3.5 hours) continuing on to Athens (another seven hours).
Zakynthos was inhabited from the Paelolithic and Neolithic Age, as some archaeological excavations have proved. The island was important during the Mycenaean period as it is mentioned three times on Linear B tablets from Pylos. There were also Zakynthian rowers present in the Messenian state. The Mycenaean presence is further attested by the monumental Mycenaean built and tholos tombs that have been excavated on Zakynthos. Most important is the Mycenaean cemetery that was accidentally discovered during road construction in 1971 near the town of Kambi.
The ancient Greek poet Homer mentioned the island in the Iliad and the Odyssey, stating that the first inhabitants of it were the son of King Dardanos of Troy called Zakynthos and his men. The island was then conquered by King Arkesios of Kefalonia, and then by Odysseus from Ithaca.
If you’re an independent traveller planning to visit in high season be warned that most of the hotels, especially those in the south coast resort areas, are block booked well in advance by the tour operators.
The island’s mega resort is Laganas on the south coast where 14 kilometres of golden sand gently shelves into shallow water. The main beachfront is chock-a-block with bars, restaurants, hotels and apartment blocks and you’ll find all manner of watersports and leisure facilities including ballooning and glass-bottomed boat rides. If you’re after 24-hour partying, Brit bars, curries and quiz nights then this is the place for you.
You may even find yourself swimming alongside the beautiful loggerhead sea turtles which use the soft sand of the south coast beaches as their nesting grounds. Sadly the turtles, which have been migrating to these shores from Africa for thousands of years, are now one of Europe ‘s most endangered species primarily because of the ravages of mass tourism. Environmentalists are increasingly finding themselves at loggerheads with the tourist industry which has fiercely resisted various controls designed to protect the turtles.
The tourists themselves will ultimately have to take responsibility for the demise or survival of these delightful creatures. Rules such as the ban on visiting designated areas from dusk till dawn during the breeding season should be strictly observed.
If you hire a car or sturdy motorbike you’ll be able to explore the island’s pretty inland villages and impressive western coastline with its dramatic cliffs and breathtaking sunsets.
The Ionian Islands including Zakynthos remained largely unaffected by the Slavic invasions and settlement of the 7th century AD. Later they formed a base for the re-establishment of imperial control and the re-Hellenization of the mainland coast.
Zakynthos became part of the Byzantine Theme of Cephallenia, a military-civilian province located in western Greece comprising the Ionian Islands. It was extant from around the 8th century until partially conquered by the Kingdom of Sicily in 1185.
There was a close relationship between the Theme of Cephallenia with Byzantine holdings in southern Italy as the Ionian Islands served as a key communication link with, and staging base, for operations in Italy and defended the maritime approaches of the Ionian and Adriatic seas against Arab pirates. However, Zakynthos was not a central part of the Theme as its strategos was based mostly at Cephalonia. The Theme was also frequently used as a place of exile for political prisoners.
Following the collapse of Byzantine control in southern Italy in the mid-11th century, the Theme of Cephallenia’s importance declined and was then headed by civilian governors. Kerkyra and the rest of the Theme except for Leukada were captured by the Normans under William II of Sicily in 1185. Although Kerkyra was recovered by the Byzantines by 1191, the other islands including Zakynthos remained lost to Byzantium. They formed a County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under William II’s Greek admiral Margaritus of Brindisi