Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” It is impossible for me to visit Greece and not feel completely absorbed by the culture of food, wine and song; for no matter how bad things get, these things never disappear. There are reasons for this, but that shall be left for another conversation.

In 1953, four severe earthquakes rocked Zakynthos, completely destroying its infrastructure. Overnight the island was propelled back into the dark ages, causing a mass exodus of its people to other regions of Greece as well as other countries, such as Australia. The result of this rapid decline and abandonment was the preservation of not only the island, but also the way of life for those who chose to stay. There are towns that are built around building, which were cracked in half, for you do not have to drive far to see this in the country side. This gives a snapshot into the past; it breathes life into the stories of what had happened so near the cusp of our lifetime.

The island is named after its mythological first inhabitant, Zakynthos, son of Dardanus. (If you are unfamiliar with the gods of ancient Greece, this would make him a grandson of Zeus’.) South West of the airport there is an area known as Zante, which is more or less reserved for the school-leavers of Europe for cheap drink, nightclubs and all sorts of other mischievous activities. (This is sadly the same story all over Greece, but luckily the Greek islands have gotten quite good at isolating this lucrative bit of tourism to one town per island, usually not in prime spots.) North of the airport you head up the east coast which is the tourist beaches with fantastic views of the mainland and large white beaches. There are plenty of hotels and many places to eat, but a lot of the hotels will include half- or full-board.

The island is also famous for its southern beaches being the location chosen by Leatherback turtles as their nesting sites. In fact the whole island offers boat tours to go and spot these turtles as they swim and feed in the ocean surrounding the southern coast. We situated ourselves on the southern coast in a town called Keri, to be close to this ecological gem, yet removed from the major tourist towns and beaches. Car rental is a good way to get around and the roads might be a little busier and more difficult to navigate with the popular alternative of scooters or quadbikes. We opted for a car, as there is a lot of ground to cover, for Zakynthos is not a tiny island.

We took a drive north towards the famous Shipwreck beach. Along the way you head through a little town called Koiliomenos – confusingly spelt in three different ways – where we bought locally produced wine. You see, Zakynthos is also a large producer of fairly good quality wine. Their commercially produced bottles are OK, but the really good wine seems to come from little shops like these, in little towns like Koiliomenos produced by little old ladies from the grapes grown on their land.

The shipwreck is located at Navagio Beach, which is only accessible by boat. The famous aerial pictures, however, are taken from a viewpoint which can be accessed off the main arterial road heading north. All of the west coast is a good distance from this main route upon which Koiliomenos and the northern tip are located. This is due to a plateau-like mountain range at the centre of the island. This mountainous wall results in a dry, rocky west coast and a luscious green south and interior. Boats to the shipwreck beach can be taken from clearly sing-posted locations along the east coast, the further north you go the more competitive the prices due to availability.

At the northernmost point of Zakynthos, you reach Skinari. This is a great spot for lunches, where you walk between two windmills down towards the ocean on a staircase built into the rocks. At the top there is a lighthouse where you can gaze across the Ionian Sea towards the majestic sights of Kefalonia.

One of the most famous aspects of Zakynthos is the blue caves. These can be reached by boat from the north. Quite readily available are day trips that take you around the coast for the famous blue caves as well as the Shipwreck Beach.

Every holiday needs discovery. For us, with self-catering and arriving on a Sunday it was the discovery that no fresh meat can be found late afternoon in Keri. We ended up driving north towards a little point on a map, somewhere in between Lithakia and Mouzaki. Literally an intersection not indicated on any map. Here we found a butcher, which seemed to be the only place you could get meat for as long as we were there. Mouzaki is also the location of some local wineries and manufacturers of Ouzo, a must try for any visitor is the local tipple.

We rented a boat from Keri beach for half a day and did our own little excursion around the blue caves on the southern tip. The first stop was Marathonisi, which is where many for the glass bottom boat tours head to spot Leatherback turtles. Here we grabbed breakfast from a restaurant boat. We also headed North to Agios Sostis or Cameo Island, which is an island connected by a bridge from the mainland and serves as a nightclub after sunset. Travelling by boat is an incredible way to see the island, especially the Southern and Western coasts.

A gorgeous drive can be taken towards Gerakas, which is on the Eastern peninsula and is famous for its turtle spotting. That coast line is pure gold for seeing turtles and during the right time of year (peak season) you will see marked off territories where turtles have laid their eggs. This is not just at Gerakas, but on most of the beaches along the way.

There is a little restaurant on a cliff’s edge in Keri; a dusty road leads you through olive groves and very near the edge towards Votsalo. This is the place for an authentic Zakynthos meal – Greek to the core, not meant for the usual tourists. Their seafood, especially the Octopus and seafood is spectacular. In fact everything is spectacular; do not miss this, if it is the one place you scale a mountainous edge to reach.

Zakynthos was an island we picked based on price and looking for a real Greek island. What we found exceeded expectations. The food was gorgeous; the people were welcoming and warm, the scenery picturesque, the ambience relaxed and the youth tourism unobtrusive. For any photographer, the ancient buildings in ruins, reclaimed by nature, is irresistible and quite frankly hard to come by. The commercial wine from this island was very palatable indeed, but the real magic lay in the bottles produced by little old ladies in their own homes.

This trip left a name on the tip of my tongue, like a mantra: Zakynthos. I don’t know of which destination Henry Miller was referring, but his words ring true in this place. Go and see it for yourself. Go see life from a uniquely Greek perspective.




Written by Super User

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