The success of Zakynthos as a touristic destination is not accidental but due to a specific number of measurable facts:
Zakynthos is characterized by the diversity of its beaches situated at all cardinal points. The sandy beaches on the east and south of the island are ideal for sunbathing, relaxation and basking. The cliffs and rugged coastline on the western side are especially suitable for touring, exploring and diving. The countless beaches make Zakynthos a perfect holiday destination.
In the eastern and southern side of the island, where the habitat and breeding place of the famous turtle CARETTA-CARETTA can be found, the beaches are sandy, the warm seas from spring until October, shallow-and therefore safe for children-and inviting for those seeking relaxation, sunbathing and playing. To the south lies the long beach of Laganas, the beaches of Kalamaki, Dafni, Sekania and Gerakas are also breeding sites where turtles can be observed. When walking along these beaches it is common to see a metal frame on the sand with a label mentioning some information about the approximate date of hatching of the turtles eggs. On the southeast coast, some famous beaches can be met along the road, Vassilikos, Porto Zoro, Porto Roma, Agios Nikolaos etc. Further north, on the east side of the coast and northern from the city lay another long list of well known beaches like Tsilivi, The Donkey (Gaidaros), Psarou, Amoudi, Alykes, Alikanas, Makris Gialos, Xygia and many other inviting spots.
On the western side of the island, the seal Monachus-Monachus has chosen to breed. The coast there is rocky and cavernous, ideal for excursions, diving and exploring though still accessible by road. There one finds picturesque bays to isolate with friends, ideal for diving and underwater photography. Such beaches are Porto Vromi and Limnionas. In one of the secluded coves lays the very famous throughout the world “Shipwreck” (Navagio).
The climate is very mild, keeping most pleasant Mediterranean characteristics. The heat waves are rare and the wind that affects the Aegean, is rare in the Ionian Sea and unknown in Zakynthos. The friendly weather and abundant sunshine make the island an ideal holiday destination.
The average annual temperature in Zakynthos is 18.9’C with fluctuation in January, the coldest month of the year, with an average of around 11.2’C, while July, the hottest month of the year, the average temperature peaks at 26.1’C. In summer there are sudden strong winds which are perfect for surfing and sailing. The sun shines 296 days a year, making it an ideal island for relaxation and sunbathing.
LEISURE & ENTERTAINMENT
The physical configuration, the climate and the sandy beaches of the island favor all kinds of sports, at sea and ashore, sightseeing, visits to farms, hiking, horse riding and photography. But when the day comes slowly to its end, the nightlife lovers feel as if the whole island belongs to them. Thousands of young people of all ages amble on the streets, and flood into clubs, discotheques, taverns and bars having fun till the wee hours of dawn. Laganas, known world wide offers a gigantic range of choices and wild animation is its leitmotiv….. much so that it proves sometimes difficult to be a simple visitor.
Zakynthos offers opportunities and facilities for many sports, team or individual, such as horse riding, carting, beach-volley, jet ski, canoe, mini golf, tennis, sailing, diving, football, boat tours, biking, paint-ball, gymnastics, basketball, aerobics, billiards, bowling, etc.
For evenings hundreds of entertainment is at the visitors’ disposal. Taverns organize Greek nights with zakynthian and traditional songs, folk music etc. Dozens of clubs, large and small, organize karaoke nights, live music of all horizons can be heard.
The weather and natural attributes of the island have made it the sixth most visited destination in Greece. Every summer, several thousands of Europeans choose it as it is easily accessible and remains an affordable place to rest. Specifically the summer season of 2012 over 423.000 visitors arrived mainly by charter flights.
The direct air link with many Europeans countries has reduced drastically the costs of fares and therefore boosted Zakynthos right to the top of the list of preferred destination of Europeans. Peloponnese and the rest of Greece are on our doorstep, with the ferry crossing regularly - between 5 and 7 round trips per day during the summer - the shortest distance between the island and the main land. Kefalonia, the neighbor island, can be reached with a direct ferry line during high season. It crosses from Skinari at the north of Zakynthos, to Pessada, Kefalonia. The national airline also flies regularly to and from Athens, opening to visitors and locals one more door to the world.
Zakynthos Island is lush with beautiful paths, trails and dozens of attractions, old churches and towers, natural beauty, clean beaches of which several – eight in total – have been awarded the distinction of "Blue Flags", the cleanest beaches (bathing water and the environment) by the eponymous association.
Eleventh in Greece in term of size, the island houses 50 villages, just ideal for excursions and tours. For millions of years, sea turtles of the breed Caretta-Caretta have been nesting and hatching in the sand on the beaches, especially in the south of the island where a Marine Park has been created to offer protection to the turtles.
Zakynthos has extends on 406 square kilometers and a coastline of 160 kilometers. Unlike smaller islands, where picnic destinations are limited or nonexistent, this island offers interesting day trips in a natural environment, or inspired by culture. The rich vegetation and fauna attract many people. Churches, ornate spiers and old monasteries await visitors from all around the world.
In the south, in particular of the beaches of Laganas, Kalamaki, Dafni, Sekania, Gerakas, the sea turtles Caretta-Caretta is watched and highly protected by an elaborate program which was set up by the Greek government, with the assistance of a European Union Commission.
Nearby the village of Anafonitria, in the northern part of the island, the bay housing the famous “Shipwreck” can be reached by boat only. It all started in 1980 when “The Panagiotis” cargo ship carrying contraband cigarettes, was abandoned by her crew while being chased by the Greek coast guards. Drifting to the coast and pushed ashore by the waves, it ended up on the coast. Since then is one of the most successful and famous spot of the island and attracts many visitors every year.
Yria was the ancient name of the island. Later in time it was called “Fiore di Levante”, Flower of the East, by the Venetians who occupied the place for over 300 years. Other conquerors took the island for some years to several centuries. Among them were the son of the king of Phrygia, Odysseus, King of Ithaka, the Athenians, the Romans and Byzantines. There are traces of existence of the island as far as the prehistoric times. Nearer to our days, the Normans, the French with Napoleon, the British too ruled the lives of the people of Zante. The island always rose again and continued its journey on the path of Greek history, joining the young state of Greece in 1864.
The inhabitants of the island, throughout the centuries, have always been strong and resistant, giving them the necessary strength to survive a great number of occupants, since ancient times. Odysseus, who occupied Kefalonia too, both islands had been annexed by his grandfather already. Zakynthian were commercial and naval people and their presence has been proved as far as Spain, near Valencia where a city had been built called Zante, later destroyed by Hannibal. Athenians, Peloponnesian, Alexander the Great, the Macedonian as well as Romans have mastered in turn the island for some time. During the Byzantine period the island suffered a great deal of the domination. In 1479 until 1797, over 300 years then, the new occupant was Venice. The inheritance of those years is the castle overlooking town on the hill of Bochalis, living proof of glorious years for the island. Many other occupants ruled the island for a total of 680 years, before it joined the newly created Greek Democracy, in 1864 after being ceded back to Greece by the British.
The island is located in a seismic area. Dozens of earthquakes have destroyed it partially during many centuries. The last major quake (7.2richter) occurred in August 1953 when only three buildings were left standing in the main town. Since then new strict regulation have been established and make today’s buildings safe.
Crib of an immense poet, the National poet in fact Dionissis Solomos, wrote the “Hymn to Freedom”, an exceptional creation which became later the national Anthem of Greece, as well as other writers, the people of the island are singers too. Influenced by the Italians tunes, serenades, songs of love and tales are sung at every opportunity.
The Seven Islands, or Ionian Islands, affected at an impressive degree by 300 years of occupancy by the Most Serene Republic of Venice, strangely enough, kept the musical tunes of the Italian sounds. Modern Zakynthos still keeps the tradition of the mandolins, guitars and violins bands to sing serenades. Local people never miss an occasion to express their joy with ‘cantades’ (canto) which are expressing love and ‘arekies’ mainly telling tales and stories of the daily life, sung by strong male voices, without any instrumental accompaniment. Theater plays also an immense role in the social life of the islanders and an original kind of theater was created based on the local dialect in which all roles are played by amateur actors, men only, as in the classical theater of ancient Greece. Names like Hugo Foskolos, the national poet of Italy, who was born on this island and Andreas Calvos are, together with Dionyssis Solomos, outstanding names of the Greek Letters (worth a visit, the Museum of Solomos and Calvos, on St Markus square, right next to the catholic church of the same name.
"Zakynthian know how to eat." This motto followed the islanders for many centuries. Their cuisine is Mediterranean though often accompanied by strong sauces, cooked meats and delicious pies. Frequent visits to good restaurants, those attended by locals and not those intended solely for tourists is a must and offers visitors the opportunity to taste the most delicious flavors accompanied by the Zakynthian cheese, Ladotyri.
Fine food, good wines and other local products, combined with Mediterranean cuisine put the island on top of the list for best recipes in Greece. The long Venetian occupation has left traces also in the cuisine which often use thick , strong tomato sauce as well as white wine, both enhancing the flavor of the meat or the fish being cooked. A century long tradition, the hunting of turtle doves doesn’t have too many supporters but is still practiced during two different periods of the year, under strict rules and controls. They are cooked with potatoes and peas and plenty of olive oil.
Some quality wine brought notoriety to Zakynthos by winning distinctions at wine fairs, notably in Paris. Cow, sheep and goat milk is used to make local cheeses, namely Ladotyri, made of goat milk and aged in olive oil. When fully matured it becomes a very strong and tasty cheese.
Since ancient times Zakynthos has been a rich place, mainly because of its luxuriant vegetation and its rich soil. Agricultural production has long been very significant and was based on the cultivation of olives, raisins and winemaking grapes. Today’s economy is based on tourism.
The local economy today is based on tourism. However, before the intense touristic development began, three decades ago, the islanders’ income came mainly from the production of olive oil, raisins and wine.
Olive oil and grapes are still an important part of the island’s economy. Also noteworthy the famous local variety of Verdea wine.
Since the early 80s, when Zakynthos turned to tourism, the number of people employed in agriculture has been steadily decreasing. Income from tourism has brought an extraordinary pace of building on the island, placing it high on the list of wealthiest places in Greece.