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British Author’s Love Letter to Greek Island of Zakynthos

zakynthos
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos. Credit: Alex Ignatiou/Wikimedia/ Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Greek island of Zakynthos, located south of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea, is yet another idyllic Greek island offering rich history, cultural treasures, along with beaches galore, for summertime travelers who need their fix of sun and sand.

It was all these things and more which first drew the British author Chrissie Parker to the island and prompted her to move there. This is her overview of the island, which she used as a setting for her newest book.

By Chrissie Parker

Often known as the “Fiore di Levante,” or Flower of the East, Zakynthos (called Zante by the British), is a popular island for travelers to Greece, packed with tourist resorts and popular sights, and full of history, culture, and tradition.

My first visit to Zakynthos opened up a world of possibilities. It’s a wonderful island with so much to see and do. A place where everyone’s welcome. Where tourists return year after; to somewhere they think of as their second home.

It’s an island rich with stunning scenery and beaches, interesting history and culture that will leave visitors wanting more. Anyone who visits Zakynthos for the first time will discover a beautiful, welcoming island that creeps into their hearts, leaving them with a lifetime of happy memories, making them want to return again and again.

As well as the more famous sights of Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach, the Blue Caves and Cameo Island, there’s a wealth of things to see and do, and the island is easy to navigate and explore.

Off the beaten track, there are old villages, tumbledown buildings, and hidden history, just
waiting to be discovered. Each one gives visitors a flavour of traditional Greek life both past
and present.

The history of the island dates back centuries. There’s even evidence of life as far back as
prehistoric times. It’s been ruled over by many, including the Romans, Crusaders,
Venetians, French and British.

Heroic islanders saved entire Jewish population in WWII

Tantalizing glimpses of this fractured, fascinating past can still be found today. Zakynthos also survived the horrors of the Second World War. It was the only place in Greece to save its entire Jewish populace from the internment camps, making heroes of the local mayor and bishop at the time.

The island was also hit by the Great Ionian Earthquake in 1953.Zakynthos Town suffered the most damage, leaving only a few buildings standing.

Despite the great hardship, determined Zakynthians rebuilt and the island is now a favorite holiday destination for international tourists, who flock to it every year to enjoy their favorite slice of paradise.

For those who love history, Zakynthos has many sights, including the old Argasi bridge, now abandoned to the sea, and Strani Hill – where the Greek national anthem was written.

For those who like the architecture of the Venetian era, there’s Bochali castle, an old stone water viaduct, old wells and many coastal watchtowers dating back to the period. The island also has an old English Cemetery and a Jewish one as well.

As with any Greek islands, there is a multitude of monasteries and churches, both those in ruins and those that are still open for worship — the most famous being St. Dionysios in Zakynthos Town which holds the relics of the Saint himself.

Beaches, resorts, architecture of idyllic Zakynthos a perennial draw for travelers

Zakynthos
Chrissy Parker is the British author of Among the Olive Groves, a paean to her love of the idyllic Greek island. Courtesy Chrissy Parker.

Nowadays, the island caters mainly to the tourist trade and there are nine resorts scattered
throughout. It’s an incredible island to explore. The National Marine Park in Laganas Bay is
home to endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles and Monachus Monachus (Mediterranean
Monk seal), which can also be found in Keri.

Thirteen museums tell the varied history of the island, and you can learn about the wildlife, flora and fauna of the island as well. There are old traditional villages with ancient, twisted olive trees telling the story of their long lives.

Beautiful sweeping beaches hug crystal-clear turquoise-colored seas and the rugged coastline hides caves and inlets perfect for exploring by boat. They’re also a haven for swimmers, snorkelers and divers.

The beaches are numerous, and the sea is clear and blue. As well as the most famous beach of Navagio, also known as Shipwreck Beach, there’s a great mix of sand and pebbled beaches on the island. The main beaches are in tourist resorts. There are long, sweeping sandy beaches in Alykes, Alykanas, Kalamaki, Laganas, and Tsilivi.

In Laganas Bay, there are also the popular Daphni and Gerakas Beaches as well as the smaller strands of Limni Keri, Agios Sostis and the pebble beaches of Kaminia and Porto Koukla.

Most Laganas Bay beaches are used by turtles for nesting and they are subject to restrictions in the summer months.

On the Vasilikos Peninsula, the two largest beaches are Banana Beach and the watersports beach St. Nickolas, where you can kayak, jet ski, or water ski. Along the Valilikos peninsula are other, smaller beaches such as Port Roma, Plaka, Porto Azzuro and Porto Kamina.

Close to Zakynthos Town the tourist resort of Argasi has a small strip of beach, catering the to the resort’s customers, which even has an ancient stone bridge standing in the middle of it!

Krioneri Beach is just north of Zakynthos Town, where there are play parks and tennis courts and in the summer months, an open-air cinema. The west coast of the island is dotted through with many other beaches, including Donkey Beach, Ampouila, Psarou, Makris Gialos, Agios Nickolas just to name a few.

Two Xigia Beaches are located next to each other. The second Xigia has a smaller beach but is known for its healing properties and sulphur springs. The newest beach on Zakynthos was formed by the Mizithres Rocks at Keri during an earthquake in 2018.

It’s affectionately known as Agios Dimitrios Beach, as the quake occurred on the saint’s feast day.

Tavernas are plentiful and the atmosphere is relaxing and sociable, making it perfect for couples, families, and friends.

Bitter chapter of Zakynthos history prompts author to delve deeper into island’s past

While speaking to locals, I heard a story about the island during the Second World War and the punishment some Partisans received. It was about a Partisan who had been captured by the enemy. There was no trial. The Partisan was merely shot and thrown down a well. The locals asked that I never tell anyone the full facts, as they didn’t like talking about what had happened during the War. I’ve kept that promise to them, as some of their families are still alive.

I later learned that other Partisans on the island similarly lost their lives for fighting against the enemy. Some partisans were also shot and thrown off the cliffs into the sea. These stories were incredibly sobering and far removed from the island that we all know and love today.

Returning home, the Partisans story stayed with me, parked in a dusty corner of my brain. It became the basis of one of the storylines in my book, “Among the Olive Groves.”

Zakynthos has its own war stories to tell and I decided to weave these into the book. I felt it was important to show readers what happened and ensure it wasn’t forgotten.

Chrissie Parker is an author who lives in Burlescombe, Devon. In 2016 her book on Zakynthos, Among the Olive Groves, won an award in the Best Historical Fiction category. Chrissie is currently working on six more books, including a co-authored history book about the Greek island of Zakynthos. As well as writing and publishing eight books, Chrissie has written articles for other publications such as The Bristolian, The Huffington Post, Ancient Egypt and The Artist Unleashed.

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