The Italians have always had a special love for this island, ever since the Venetians ruled it as Zante in the 15th and 16th centuries. They also called it Fior di Levante, or the flower of the east. Zakynthos (or Zante) is basically a mountainous island graced with rich vegetation, pretty beaches and many sea caves. Among the better-known beaches, sought by the rich and famous, are Navagio, Laganas and the blue caves of Volimes. Laganas beach in particular is a rare breeding ground for the loggerhead sea turtle (caretta caretta), an endangered species. In recent years steps have been taken to protect the turtles from the ravages of mass tourism and clubbing by declaring Laganas a national nature park. The phenomenon is a poignant one. Each summer, from June to August, female turtles swim ashore at night, lay their eggs and cover them in sand. After a 55-day gestation period the baby turtles break out of their eggs and by some mysterious navigation crawl towards the sea. Sadly, only one or two in every thousand hatchlings survives to adulthood, often because of sheer tourist carelessness, so if you care about nature and animals, tread carefully at Laganas beach. The Sea Turtle Protection Association is doing good work to protect the breeding areas around the clock. For more on the turtles, visit www.archelon.gr.
Twenty-two mautical miles south of Zakynthos are the two Strofades islets, Stamfani and Arpia, both reachable by boat from the main port of Zakynthos. The Strofades are the habitat of more than 250 plant and flower species. The islets are part of the Zakynthos national sea park, as at least 1,200 kinds of migratory birds make their homes there. Since 1241 there has been a monastery on Stamfani.
An island full of contrasts, Zante (in Greek Zakynthos) combines cosmopolitan life with its pristine beauty. The island of Zante will impress you to its shores and its rich historical and cultural tradition. It is a crossroad of peoples and cultures and home to famous and worthy men of letters and arts, like the Greek National poet, Dionysios Solomos and the famous poets and writers Andreas Kalvos, Grigorios Xenopoulos etc. Here, was also born and raised Nikolaos Ugo Foscolo, the National poet of Italy. Zante has a great environmental importance, as it is the island where the rare sea turtle caretta-caretta and the Mediterranean seals are finding the ideal environment for spawning.
Blue Caves: Blue Caves (in Greek “Galazies spilies”) is the most photographed natural attraction of Zante, after the Shipwreck beach (Navagio). They were discovered in 1897 and each year attract thousands of visitors. They are located at the northernmost point of the island, namely the north coast of Cape Skinari. They consist of successive chambers leading to Great and the Little Cave. Their name is thanks to the intense blue of the water. The largest of the caves is called “Kyanoun” (“Cyan”) cave.
The tour in the caves is by boats that tour around the island, starting from the port of the city or from the port of Aghios Nikolaos Volimon.
The best time to visit the caves is in the morning. Then, the reflections generated in the walls of caves from the sun create different shades in the water.
Bohali: The famous area of Bohali is the highest point of the town of Zante, and from there the view is breathtaking and you can see from above not only the city, but other areas of Zante, too.
The area of Bohali was among the first areas developed since the former centuries as the capital of the island was a little above, in the castle. Most houses have been destroyed, but the locals try to keep the traditional colours with traditional structures.
In excavations of the 19th century, findings were discovered that testify the existence of sanctuaries in the region dedicated to Apollo and Aphrodite.
In the square of Bohali dominates the church of Panaghia Chrysopigi or Zoodohos Pigi with its tall bell tower that is distinguished from all parts of the city.
Garden of orchidaceae: Garden of orchidaceae is located between the villages Kiliomeno and Lagopodo and thus characterized by botanists for comprising 42 species oforchidaceae.
Keri: It is located 20 km southwest of Zante town. It is named after the, dried now, lake of the area. It is a place rich in history and tradition, as the historian Herodotus lived here. In the small port in the area, you can run your vessel aground or get one of the boats that make frequent trips to Marathonisi and nearby sea caves.
Louha: It is a picturesque mountain village of 45 residents, promoted for the creation of an Open Museum. Situated in a beautiful place, it has so far remained unaffected by tourism development. Louha, like most villages, has been destroyed by the earthquakes in 1953 and rebuilt by its inhabitants.
National Marine Park: The National Marine Park of Zante (NMP-Z) is the first of its kind established in Greece in order to preserve important natural and cultural heritage of the region, together with the socio-economic development.
It is located in the southern part of Zante. Most of the marine park includes the sea and the land around the Gulf of Laganas, where are the most important spawning beaches for the rare sea turtle Caretta – caretta and a land, protected area, including the surrounding wetland of Keri Lake, Strofades islands and islets Marathonisi, Pezoulo and Aghios Sostis, which, along with the northern beaches (Gerakas, Dafni, Kalamaki and Sekania), are sites of special ecological importance.
Strani Hill (Lofos Strani): The hill of Strani is very close to Bohali, just 2 kilometers from the town of Zante. At this point, our national poet, Dionysios Solomos, was inspired and wrote the Greek national anthem, listening to the canons of Mesolonghi (Etoloakarnania, Western Greece, where the Turks had the Greeks under siege, 1826). In place of the tree that Solomos touched, while writing the “Hymn to Freedom” stands his bust today. In a short distance is also the mansion of the poet, which is maintained in good condition.
Aqueduct at Vrysakia: In the area around the village of Argassi, you will find an aqueduct, which sometime had been giving water throughout the area. You can reach the aqueduct by a dirt road through the green, starting from Argassi and lost in the countryside (there are no signs).
Artemis temple at Argassi: At the top of mount Skopos, in Argassi, where, according to the local legend, the goddess Artemis lived, a temple stood. Today, nothing survives, because the temple was destroyed in 1400 A.D. fundamentally, in order to build at the same place, the Monastery of Panaghia Skopiotissa.
Artemis temple at Melinado: In Melinado village, the remains of the temple of goddess Artemis are still visible below the church of Aghios Dimitrios that was built at the same place.
Argassi bridge: In Argassi just a few kilometers from Zante town, you can see a bridge, built in 1800. The half is resting on the sand and the other half is immersed in the sea.
Mycenaean tombs: All over the island are scattered carved tombs of the Mycenaean era, abandoned. The most important are those located at the areas of Vassilikos, Gerakas, Keri, Kampi and Maries.
Sarakinas mansion: Near Mouzaki village, you can visit the ruins of an English mansion that survived the 1953 earthquake. This villa belonged to Lountzas family and it is a classic sample of mansions built in neoclassical style, of which Zante was rich before the earthquake. Currently you can only notice the outside because the interior is not accessible.
Venetian castle: The Venetian fort is located above the Bohali and has wonderful panoramic view of Zante town and the Ionian Sea. The castle shows the important influence of the Venetians on the island. From the old building only the walls remain, but it is certainly worth going for a walk in these ruins, in the small green forest. Here was built the medieval city of Zante with many houses and twelve churches, but after so many earthquakes and wars has nothing left.
In 1970, the walls were strengthened, which might fall because of the earthquakes, and in 1984, after several excavations were brought to light many churches, built between the 11th and 18th century, and other ruins from the Byzantine era, and English rule.
Venetian castle at Exo Hora: The small Venetian tower, almost untouched by time, lies outside the village of Hora, in the north of the island. To get there, you should take a left road, at the centre of the village, which will go a few kilometres. The road at some point becomes a dirt road and should continue until the small cape above the sea, where the observatory is located. After the tower, the road continues, but you’d rather not to follow it, because it is deadlocked and in poor condition.
You can visit the museum with the local “train” (village train) which departs twice daily from Alykes and Alykanas or if you prefer to walk (about 2 km. From Alykes).
Byzantine museum: The Byzantine museum is located in Solomos Square, in Zante town. Here you can admire a rich collection of Byzantine icons from the 19th century, Greek and Byzantine sculpture and statues, and some beautiful images held by the churches of the island. In the museum are works of great Eptanesian hagiographers.
Cultural Centre-Public Library: It is an impressive building next to the church of Aghios Nikolaos in the dock. The Public Library is one of the best in Greece with a collection comprising over 50,000 books. The library includes a small art exhibition, small dolls in local costumes, photographs and the important historical archive of Zante with documents.
Folklore Museum at Vassilikos: At Potamia site, you should visit a small but very interesting Folklore Museum (Memoroza) with fine collections of local costumes, textiles, utensils, tools, ornate furniture and many old photographs showing the island before the devastating earthquake of 1953.
Museum of Katohi and Ethniki Antistasi (Occupation and National Resistance): It is located on the ground floor of the Public Library and includes a large collection of documents and other documents of the period 1940-1945, and numerous photographs, rare copies of illegal press and other valuable material of the time.
Ethniki Antistasi (National Resistance) is the historical period of modern and contemporary history from 1941 until 1944, when the Greek people fought against the Germans, Italians and Bulgarians (during the occupation of the country/occupation=katohi) through rebel organizations on the mountains or the cities for the release of the country.
Museum of Post-Byzantine Art: It includes, among other things, very important icons of the Cretan and Cretan-Eptanesian school.
Museum of Solomos and Eminent Zakynthians: The museum was founded in 1959 by a club of admirers of fine arts in Zante, lies in the striking small square of Aghios Markos and is well known because here are kept the remains of two poets, Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos.
Inside the building there are also works of art of the island as paintings of the 18th and 19th century, ceramics, sculptures and ancient musical instruments. Particularly nice is the section on costumes and weapons of the aristocratic families of the last century (tel.: 0030 2695028982).
Natural History Museum of Helmi: The Helmi’s Natural History museum is the only museum of that type in Zante. Inaugurated in 2000 by Panagiotis Helmis, is housed in Aghia Marina, in Zante, in a beautiful traditional building. The collections include modules of flora and fauna of the Zakynthian nature. The operation of the museum relies entirely on private initiative and aims to highlight the nature Zakynthian in Greek and international arena.
Naval Ionian (Eptanesian) Museum: The Naval Museum is located in Bohali, one of the nicest neighbourhoods of Zante. It is housed in a neoclassical style building. It contains a remarkable collection of paintings on the sea and maritime tradition, scale models of various types of ships and nautical instruments. It covers all aspects of naval history from 1700 until today.
Naval Milanio museum: The museum is located in Tsilivi and is unique in Greece. It includes watercolours depicting the evolution of the Naval History of the Greek nation, which are available exclusively here. This is a unique historical record. Also naval objects of named ships and photographs are exhibited for the first time.
Stavros at Kambi: A large cement cross, visible from several kilometers away. The cross impresses not only by its size, but commemorates those who died in the civil war. It is located at Kambi, up to a steep cape of more than 350m.
Xenopoulos museum: The museum of Gregorios Xenopoulos is located near the region of Faneromeni, where the author spent his childhood. Here you will see personal belongings and manuscripts of Xenopoulos and the archives with the issues of the journal “Diaplasi ton Pedon” (“Conformation of Children”) where he was director. The museum, also, hosts a large collection of unpublished photographs of the author. On the second floor of the museum you will see furniture of the time.
Sources: www.ionian-guide.com, www.imerazante.gr