Zakynthos, Greece cruises

It might seem that the Greek island Zakynthos, or Zante as its known to the locals, has a split personality. A visit here is a chance for you to discover how and why, and decide which side you prefer.

On the one hand, its main beaches are lively, almost party-like destinations. But look a little deeper and you’ll find verdant mountains and quieter beaches, on which to fully relax and unwind.

Zakynthos is the third largest Greek island, following Corfu and Kefalonia. It is known for its hidden coves and secret beaches where, if you are lucky, you could enjoy this pristine slice of paradise to yourself.

The island of Zakynthos has a tumultuous and fascinating history. It was apparently first inhabited by Prince Zakynthos, who arrived between 1500 and 1600 BC. After this period, the island was inhabited by the Arcadians. What came next was a long list of conquerors and occupations, most notably by the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Turkish. Greece eventually became independent in 1830.

During their time occupying the island, the Venetians called Zakynthos “Fioro di Levante” – meaning Flower of the East. There are over 7,000 species of flowers existing in Zante. Conservation of Zante’s natural heritage is a fundamental part of the island’s culture, and much activity is undertaken to protect two species of animal in particular – the caretta aretta sea turtle, and the Mediterranean monk seal.

Both the capital and port of the island, Zakynthos Town is encircled by a sprawling, impossibly blue bay. The area plays host to a number of lively and notable bars and restaurants. Although a lot of the town was destroyed in the 1953 earthquake, a vibrant network of streets and neoclassical buildings has sprung up in its wake.

One of the highlights of Zakynthos town is the Byzantine Museum, which is home to two levels of ecclesiastical art and the St Andreas Monastery, which houses restored frescoes. Also worth a visit is the Romas Mansion, built in the 17th century by an English merchant, which was bought by the Romas family in the 1880s. Inside, you will find fascinating period furniture as well as a library holding 10,000 volumes.

The great outdoors

In the same vein, outdoor activity in Zakynthos is celebrated and encouraged. The island is home to a number of idyllic beaches, and as well as sunbathing, you can enjoy diving, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Navagio, or Shipwreck, beach is one of the island’s most famous. Situated on the northwestern side of Zakynthos, it owes its name to the shipwreck of a boat carrying illegal cigarettes in 1983. Once the ship washed ashore, it was surrounded by sand – creating an illusion of a huge ship emerging from the beach itself. Completing the allure of this beach are turquoise waters and vertical cliff faces, protecting it from the outside world. To reach Shipwreck Beach, you need to take a boat from Porto Vromi (it takes about 30 minutes).

When you are ready to shake the sand from your shoes, explore the island on foot. There are many hiking trails here, and one of our favorites is the Gerekas Trail, which will take you around the beautiful and peaceful southern Vasilikos region.