ZÁKYNTHOS, (Zante) southernmost of the six core Ionian islands, is somewhat schizophrenically divided between relative wilderness and indiscriminate commercialization. Much of the island is still green and unspoilt, with only token pockets of tourism, however, and the main resorts seem to be reaching maximum growth without encroaching too much on the quieter parts.
The beauty of islands is the abundance of choices for beaches. It is no wonder why people flock to the Ionian islands for holidays full of sun, water, and sand. Navagio, also known as shipwreck beach, is particularly famous for - you guessed it - its very own shipwreck. Navagio features turquoise water and a cliffed cove. Other beaches that are well worth a visit include Marathonisi, where you may be lucky enough to spot a loggerhead sea turtle.
For breaks in-between sunbathing on the beach, Zakynthos also offers hikes and a landscape ideal for biking. Head to Venetian Castle, where you will find ruins amongst an old cannon and spectacular views. Tsilivi Water Park makes for a fun family day out, and Pure Beach Club is where you will want to be if you enjoying partying and drinking under the sun.
The island has three distinct zones: the barren, mountainous northwest; the fertile central plain; and the eastern and southern resort-filled coasts. The biggest resort is Laganás, on Laganás Bay in the south, a 24-hour party venue that doesn’t give up from Easter until the last flight home in October. There are smaller, quieter resorts north and south of the capital, and the southerly Vassilikós peninsula has some of the best countryside and beaches, including exquisite Yérakas.
Zakynthos is home to one airport, based in Laganas on the southern part of the island. Domestic flights from Greece fly frequently to Zakynthos airport, as doEuropeanoppean airlines.
Ferries to Zakynthos from Greece depart only from Killini, a port town in Peloponnese, although in the summer ferries are also frequent from Kefalonia. The journey between Pessada port in Kefalonia to Shinari port in Zakynthos is around an hour and a half. From Killini the journey is about an hour.
The island still produces fine wines, such as the white Popolaro, as well as sugar-shock-inducing mandoláto nougat, whose honey-sweetened form is best. Zákynthos is also the birthplace of kantádhes, the Italianate folk ballads which can be heard in tavernas in Zákynthos Town and elsewhere. In addition, the island harbours one of the key breeding sites of the endangered loggerhead sea turtle at Laganás Bay.
The Ionian islands harbour the Mediterranean’s main concentration of loggerhead sea turtles, a sensitive species which is, unfortunately, under direct threat from the tourist industry. These creatures lay their eggs at night on sandy coves and, easily frightened by noise and lights, are therefore uneasy cohabitants with rough campers and late-night discos. Each year, many turtles fall prey to motorboat injuries, nests are destroyed by bikes and the newly hatched young die entangled in deckchairs and umbrellas left out at night.
The Greek government has passed laws designed to protect the loggerheads, including restrictions on camping at some beaches, but local economic interests tend to prefer a beach full of bodies to a sea full of turtles. On Laganás, nesting grounds are concentrated around the 14km bay, and Greek marine zoologists are in angry dispute with those involved in the tourist industry. The turtles’ nesting ground just west of Skála on Kefaloniá is another important location, although numbers have dwindled to half their former strength and now only about eight hundred remain. Ultimately, the turtles’ best hope for survival may rest in their potential draw as a unique tourist attraction in their own right.
While capitalists and environmentalists are still at, well, loggerheads, the World Wildlife Fund has issued guidelines for visitors:
Top Image: Navagio Beach, Zakynthos © Neirfy / Shutterstock