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A lush island just off the west coast of Greece, Zakynthos represents a fantastic middle ground between the fast paced nightlife of Ios and Kos, and the family orientated resorts of Rhodes and Crete. The towering cliffs on the south and east coasts of the island overlook the azure expanse of the Ionian sea, as well as some of the finest beaches in all of the Greek Islands. The natural beauty of the island once led its Venetian conquerors to nickname it ‘The Flower of the Levant', and after seeing the splendour of this Greek paradise, you'll be tempted to agree.
The island's shoreline is dominated by beautiful white cliffs which slope towards the azure, almost crystal clear waters of the Ionian that lap along the sands of idyllic beaches. Ancient Venetian ruins, partially destroyed by a massive earthquake, stretch majestically along the coast, just waiting to be explored. The already incredible landscape of the island is complimented during spring, when colourful flowers bloom amongst the verdant greenery. Year round however, there is plenty to explore and enjoy:
East of Cape Skinari, and resting on the north side of the island, are the spectacular geological formations known locally as the Blue Caves. Breath-taking natural archways have been carved from towering rock formations through erosion over the centuries, leading to miniature lagoons along the coast. Bright sunshine reflecting into the azure blue of the seawater from the brilliant white cliffs causes myriad shades of blue to coalesce and blend before your eyes. From Cape Skinari, you can even hire a ‘self-drive' boat to tour the most magnificent of the caves for yourself, and then indulge in a tranquil return along the coast at dusk.
Many of the beaches on the island are striking, but Navagio has the rare attraction of an authentic smuggler's shipwreck, washed ashore in 1981 after suffering power failure, and coming to rest in the gorgeous small bay, where it is still a tourist magnet to this day. From the Agios Gergio Kremnao monastery, a small picturesque road leads to a viewing platform 600 feet above the shipwreck. From here, you can avoid the crowds while getting a postcard perfect photograph of the shipwreck, which is an icon of the island.
Zakynthos may have its fair share of idyllic beaches and rock formations, but the shore shouldn't be the only attraction you make time for. The Byzantine Museum contains an outstanding collection of icons and paintings from the Byzantine era all the way to the 19th century. Two huge rooms are dedicated to paintings of the 18th century and oils on canvas of artists such as Doxaras, Koutouzis and Kantouni. This is a must visit due to its fantastic collection of island tapestries, wood carvings and even a glimpse at the architecture of the town before the cataclysmic earthquake of 1953.
There is a fantastic range to be found along the sun drenched streets of Zakynthos Town. Italian shoes, fine jewellery, and luxury fashion boutiques are all crammed into the thoroughfares of Alexander Roma, Foscolou and Terseti. These quaint shopping streets also contain traditional stores where you can purchase handmade pottery unique to the island, and browse antique shops selling all manner of furniture and ornaments.
The Greek food on the island is spectacular across the board, ranging from heart-warming comfort food such as fresh fish, delicious home baked bread and pasta, to fine restaurants offering platters of gourmet seafood, rare local wines, and an elegant atmosphere. For an indulgent taste of traditional Greek dishes, make sure to visit Paporo, the oldest tavern on the island and owned by generations of the same family for over 30 years. Don't let the cosy interior fool you, as the food here is both lovingly prepared and rich.
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