You won’t be the first, and you certainly won’t be the last, to fall for Zakynthos. But it will happen in ways you never expected…
A heart-lifting sunset, an indescribable blue, a nibble of something sublimely sweet. This is the island that has inspired each of its settlers, who have contributed to a rich cultural identity. There are so many ways to lose your heart to Zakynthos. Here are ten to get your heart thumping.
Instagrammable Navagio beach
There’s no heart capable of resisting the beauty of Zakynthos’ most photographed spot. It’s Shipwreck Beach, of course (Nagavio, by its given name)… the envy of every self-respecting Instagrammer. Electrifying blues, a dramatic rockface backdrop and the mysterious shipwreck at its centre.
Turtle-spotting on Marathonisi
Whose heart wouldn’t melt at the sight of a loggerhead sea turtle gently flapping its way through the sea? That’s why we’re heading to Marathonisi next, an island off the south coast of Zante (as it’s also known), forming part of its extensive marine park. A nesting site for the Caretta Caretta species of sea turtle, for which Zakynthos is famous, it’s uninhabited (by humans). At the right time of year, you’ve got a great chance of seeing the turtles. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll see a monk seal. You can join a group or hire your own boat, with two beaches offering the chance to explore the tiny island.
But please respect the boundaries protecting the sand on which the turtles lay their eggs.
The Colour of love
When it comes to Zakynthos, the colour of love is blue. But not just any blue. It shimmers and shines, running through the shades – from navy to turquoise and back again. Head to the Blue Caves (yes, they couldn’t give it any other name) to the north of the island
Love at first bite
And second, third and fourth. Just a nibble of a local sweet and you’ll be hooked. There’s Mandolato (nougat and roasted almonds), pasteli (sesame-and-honey bars) and semolina-based fitoura. Or if you’re the savoury type, how about taking a bit of Zakynthos home with you? You’ll discover aromatic honey (from bees feeding on local mountain herbs) and peppery olive oil. Or perhaps cheeses (smooth myzithra or spicy graviera), fruit (sweet melons and zingy wild strawberries) and any number of specialities are available from local producers.
A passions for wine-making
There are over 19,000 acres dedicated to growing vines on Zakynthos and dozens of different grape varieties. A few have become closely associated with the island – like the red Avgoustiatis, grown since the 14th century, and yellow-gold Robola. You won’t need much encouragement to learn about them, and even less to drink them. So make sure you plan a trip to a local winery, where you can meet the winemakers and learn all about the passions that drive them.
The sparkle hidden in a sunset
Every great love affair needs the spark that ignites it. Zakynthos offers its in the form of sunsets. The one we’ve chosen for you is near Keri village, eating a romantic dinner-for-two at a taverna high up on the cliffs.
Inspired by deep cultural roots
It’s not for nothing that the Venetians called Zakynthos Fiore di Levante, the Flower of the East. Every inhabitant and settler seems to have been inspired by the island. So for your inspiration, head to Bochali, a small village on a promontory at the back of the main town. Here you can explore a Venetian Castle and become acquainted with Dionysios Solomos, a local 19th-century poet who wrote (amongst other verses) the Hymn to Freedom that gave birth to the Greek national anthem.
So many ways to explore nature
There’s nothing like the feeling of nature to open your heart. So we’re insisting you explore the great outdoors (and hidden depths) of Zakynthos. First up, you’re off walking, with a wide range of hiking paths and trails to choose from, meandering past vineyards, monasteries and olive groves. There are plenty of charts to follow and even apps you can download with the best walks. But you also have to try something different. How about exploring on horseback? There are a number of options and some will even take you into the sea! Finally, keen swimmers should head to the jaw-dropping Korakonisi, with water so clear you’ll snorkel or dive for hours.
Authenticity shining in the villages
Love is nothing if it’s not authentic. And when it comes to authenticity on Zakynthos, the villages have it all. There’s Kiliomenos, with its bell tower from another time, and Loucha, with its stone houses and cobblestone streets. For beautiful views, Kambi overlooks the bay of Schiza and Katastari the gulf of Alykes. And definitely head up το Ano Gerakari with its fabulous 360 degree view and surrounding nature. If you time your village visit to coincide with a festival, you’ll experience the kantathes, Zakynthos’ characteristic music. Sung in the streets to the accompaniment of the mandolin and guitar, they were traditionally how islanders expressed joy and grief … and, of course, love.
And the beaches (of course)
Did you honestly think we’d forgotten them? Zakynthos has so many beaches to choose from, it seems wrong to highlight a few. But love’s a matter of taste, so it’s up to you to find the perfect match. To feel close to nature, head to Gerakas which (beyond the fine sand and shallow blue water) is a protected nesting site for sea turtles. The umbrellas and sunbeds have been placed away from the protected zones and access is forbidden after sunset. For a feeling of discovery, head to Porto Limionas (more of a lagoon than a beach). Keri beach is considered one of the most picturesque and family-friendly, with clear, shallow waters and fine pebbles. Agios Nikolaos, taking its name from a little chapel to one side, is one of the liveliest and most fun-filled, with many water sports. As is Laganas (the busiest but so long that it can accommodate its visitors). And, finally, Porto Vromi (near the boats heading to Shipwreck Beach), a secluded, narrow beach that isn’t as busy as its more illustrious neighbours.
Experience Zakynthos island
The more personal your experience, the better, so if you can visit either side of the peak summer months (May-June and September-October) so much the better. At the end of the day, whatever it is that gets your heart beating about Zakynthos (the views, the tastes, the colours, the culture, the people…) it’s up to you to find it. But when it happens, you’ll know it.