It was my good fortune during the summer of 2001 to spend a period of four weeks in Greece, the first two of these weeks on Zakynthos, a beautiful little island in the Ionian sea and from there onward by boat to Patras for two weeks touring the Peleponese.
For me July is the best month of the year to be visiting Greece. The heat at that time is only one of the many attractions for me, there are so many things that I love about the country and I have been travelling there for the past 15 years and never tired of it yet. On the contrary, during this period I have fallen in love with the country of Greece and with its people.
Zakynthos was to be a new destination for me and I had been so looking forward to getting there. I had heard and read so much about the island and this had made a big impression on me but not only on me for my parents were to join me for the first two weeks and their enthusiasm for the trip and for the island equalled mine.
Our journey began at Lappeenranta, Finland on July 4th 2001 proceeding at first by road to Helsinki and onwards thereafter by the white and blue wings of Finnair to Zakynthos, the furthest south of the Ionian islands.
As the plane neared Zakynthos the whole of the island was clearly visible from the air standing out like a jewel against the clear blue sea. We began the final approach from the south side giving us a clear view of the Laganas Kalamaki beach and the people lying or walking on the sands below as the plane skimmed low over the roof tops of the nearby hotels.
Being only a small island the transfer times are short and we arrived at our hotel in only 15 minutes. The Hotel Babis at the resort of Kalamaki was to be our home for the next two weeks. Kalamaki is a small resort by the beach, about 7km south from Zakynthos Town and 4km from Laganas. I liked it immediately for its quite and peaceful setting. The resort has just two main roads and all the shops and restaurants are in a small area close to these roads.
Zakynthos has charmed its visitors since the early days. It was originally named Zante by the Venetians meaning flower of the east. This description applied equally to the islands abundance of spring flowers and to its flourishing arts and letters. Two of Greeces greatest poets were born on the island, Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos. Painting was popular on the island in the 17th century but music and song has long been the love of the Zakynthians. The well known cantada of Zakynthos is still sung on the island
The eastern side of the island is for the most part flat with sandy beaches while the western side is mountainous with rocky coasts descending steeply into the sea. The highest point on the island at 756mts is Mt.Vrachionas.
Walking around the resort of Kalamaki was easy but due to the lack of sidewalks and street lighting, plus the carefree and reckless driving of some of the locals you could sometimes feel a little insecure. The resort has big hotels, most with their own pools and the pools were open and available to all. Most of the hotels offer entertainments for their guests including Greek dancing, karaoke, movie and quiz nights, and cabarets, something it seems almost every night. Zakynthos is a popular holiday island drawing visitors from all over the world.
The two resorts, Kalamaki and Laganas are close to each other and in a few years will probably join to be one big resort. There is a long beach at Kalamaki that stretches way past Laganas. Its approx. 9 km long and is said to be the longest beach on the island. This was easy to believe as we walked the waters edge to Laganas and back in the mornings, a time when it was nicely quiet and not too hot. The beaches of Zakynthos are very interesting and different; different that is because of the turtles. The Caretta-caretta i.e. loggerhead turtle is an endangered species that still nests on the beaches of Zakynthos.
Even though Zakynthos is getting more popular and more crowded all the time, its nice to know that the turtles still return to this island. There are however now too few of them and us tourists make it difficult for the turtles to bring up their offspring. Laganas beach is one of the turtle beaches and Gerakas is another. Sadly we didnt see any turtles during our stay, but we did see their nests and tracks on the beach. We saw people protecting the turtles by digging out the eggs and removing them to safer grounds. Fortunately the Greek Government gives the turtles protection and there are a lot of volunteers working to protect the turtles every year. If you wish to read more about the turtles and about the people protecting them, check the following sites.
Click for information on turtles
Zakynthos town is only a short distance from Kalamaki but the public transport is not so good. There are several busses during the day but the timetables are not very accurate. You need to prepare yourself for the possibility of the bus arriving from either direction. Its not certain that the bus goes via Kalamaki to Laganas, as it may well come via Laganas to Kalamaki, and then to Zakynthos town. Luckily the bus stops are on both sides of the street, you just have to cross the road to get onto the bus. Easy, but you have to be alert.
Zakynthos town however is not so easy to figure out, not by car that is. The roads are mostly one-way and sometimes a one-way street that you are driving is suddenly the wrong way. Cars are parked wherever there is space and not always very wisely. Walking is much easier and there is so much to see. Not just shops, which are many but also nice doorways and houses. If you like you can climb up the Bochali Hill for spectacular views over Zakynthos Town. On a clear day it is possible to see as far as the mainland, to Killini on the Peleponese. Zakynthos Town is a very lively place having many nice squares with open-air cafs or tavernas to take a seat on a hot day and watch the world go by. Personally I preferred the harbour and the Dionisos Solomou Square.