Although Zakynthos villages don't have the spectacular architecture of Santorini or Mykonos (I'll describe them soon), it is quite nice if you want to explore the off the beaten path, local sites. In this article, I'll describe all the places to see on the island of Zakynthos, besides the coast and beaches. To get a bit deeper inland, you'll need to either drive around or take a tour. A tour is a good and cheap option as you'll also find out about the history of the island and its people.
We took a tour called "Back to the roots", however, to be honest, our primary goal was not the interior of the island but to be able to see the view of the most beautiful beach in the world (at least among the beaches I've seen) - the Shipwreck beach from the top of the cliff. Only this tour offered a stop at the viewing platform, all the others went straight to the beach by boat where there's no way to admire that exceptional bird's eye panorama.
How to get to Zakynthos
During the summer season, there are many direct flights from multiple European cities to Zante. There are also daily flights available from Athens (but they can be pricey). Work out which option is the fastest/cheapest for you. It all depends what you want to see and where to go. We found incredibly cheap flights to Athens, and then we took a bus/ferry to Zakynthos. The whole journey from the Greek capital takes around 7 hours and it costs around 30 EUR one way. We traveled by sea in Greece also to other islands - Santorini and Mykonos. The ferries are comfortable and nice, but bear in mind that sometimes they can be late even a few hours.
On the island of Zakynthos - Back to the roots tour - An honest review
The tour started early morning and the first stop was the local village (Tragaki) in the middle of the island which allowed us to see the local life from the inside. We got into an old, traditional farmhouse and could see the tools used in agriculture as well as home made preserves.
It was nice to see it, however, the village was not too original and quite similar to other places of this kind in Europe. It lacked the characteristic, unique architecture of other Greek islands, but overall it was a really pleasant experience.
Later on, we continued onto the village called Orthonies. The town was beautiful and cozy but still not as nice as the other villages on other islands. Here, we visited the Grandpa Nionios shop (the oldest in Zakynthos!), a local smithy full of hand made, original tools and other little stands where the locals displayed their craft products like carpets, olive oil, freshly baked bread, honey and fish. The food was absolutely delicious! Well, we were in Greece, so it was pretty obvious though!
Next stop on the tour was the beautiful St. George's Monastery in the village of Anafonitria. The church had been built before the 15th century - the exact date is unknown as it was destroyed by the pirates. Nearby, in the village of Exo Chora, the oldest olive tree in Zakynthos stands - it's over 2000 years old!
For lunch, we stop at the scenic village of Kampi which also offers spectacular views over the white cliffs surrounded by turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea. Combine all this the with beautiful Greek songs by local musicians and you've entered and idyllic paradise.
The last stop was at the olive oil factory - visitors could see the whole process of how the oil as well as olive soap and other products are made. A great place to buy a unique souvenir.
Overall, the tour was amazing and the guides (as well as the price - around 32 EUR/35 USD!) were great, but... Yes, there is one "but": the most important stop - the viewing platform of the Shipwreck Beach. Read on to find out why this was the only part of the tour that disappointed us so much:
Why taking the Back To The Roots tour is not the best idea for admiring the view of the Shipwreck Beach
Yes, the view is amazing without a doubt. The best I've ever seen, I'd say. However, there is basically one main problem with admiring the view: first - the time. You've got around 10 minutes to stand in the long line, get a glimpse of the Navagio beach, 10 seconds to take photo, and then you must give way to another person behind you. It's not enjoyable at all. I don't understand why the other stops took over 3/4 of an hour and the one with the most beautiful view ever, only a couple of minutes. Especially that there's no other way to get there using public transport.
It felt as though we only got a free sample of something really great and couldn't experience it to the full. Before, you were able to take an amazing photo from the platform. Now, the viewing platform has been shortened by around 2 meters by the church for safety reasons, and it's impossible to see the whole ship from there! To enjoy the best views, you must take a 15-minute walk down the trail on top of the cliff. Not too mention another, little beautiful beach! Do not miss it!
If you don't have time and no other choice to see the Shipwreck view - you can take this tour as a last resort. But, as I said, it is so much nicer to spend more time and enjoy the magnificent trails views around.
Have a look at my full post about the Shipwreck Beach here. You can find a lot of tips: where exactly to get the best views from, where the trail is and how to get to the beach by sea. It's been the most popular post on the blog so far!
Zante is the main town in Zakynthos. It is pretty nice but comparing to the natural wonders around, it pales in comparison. It has a few beautiful churches and buildings, but in general, it disappointed us a bit, especially if matched with Santorini, for example. Nevertheless, it was a peaceful and idyllic place indeed.
The most attractive monuments in Zante are St. Dionysios Church which survived the 1950 earthquake, the 17th century Church of St. Nicolas, the little St. Marcos Church and Faneromenis church. Zante town is so small that a couple of hours will allow you to see all the little streets, churches and monuments.
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