We have completed a 3-week trip to the Greek Island of Zakynthos, including a 5-day side trip trip to the Island of Kefalonia. In this city guide, you will learn some of the highlights of the City of Zante, the capital of Zakynthos.
To help you get situated, the Island of Zakynthos is off the west coast of the mainland of Greece. The island has over 400 square kilometers in area. Its length is about 40 km and its width is variable up to about 20 km. Including bays and inlets, the coastline has a total length of approaching 120 km. The highest point (known as Vrachionas Mountain) rises 758 meters above sea level.
City of Zante
Having seen a breathtaking sunset from the plane during landing, we were already enchanted by this beautiful island. We started our trip with a 3-night stay in 4-star Hotel Palatino. This cozy city hotel (with breakfast served on the patio every morning) is just 6 km from the airport and a short walk from the cozy center of Zante, as they name the capital city of Zakynthos. The city beach is less than 100 meters from the hotel.
Sights in Zante
Zante is an old town with a lot of Italian influences in classical style with beautiful squares, a cozy yacht harbor and a long promenade where you can stroll. Places of interest in the city include the Byzantine Museum on Agios Markos Square, the Solomos Museum, the Church of Agios Dionysos and the Venetian Kastro, located high above the city with stunning views of Zante and the bay. The squares are connected to each other with scenic pedestrian walkways. As you stroll along, you will be treated with many tourist shops, cozy restaurants and terraces. Alexandrou Roma is the main shopping street. Hang on to your wallet!
These attractions are shown in any tourist guide, but we heard a very impressive story about the Greek bishop Chrysostomos who, together with the mayor, saved the entire Jewish community on the island from the Nazis. Like in most European countries, more than 80% of the Greek Jewish population did not survive World War II. But of the 275 Jews who lived on Zakynthos, not a single person was sent away to the concentration camps.
In May 1941 the Ionian Islands (west of Greece) were occupied by Axis Italian troops. The original Italian occupiers were somewhat benign and did not impose terror-like conditions on the local population. Sadly, that changed completely when Germans troops occupied the island in 1943 after the fall of Mussolini. The Germans carried out Hitler’s orders without hesitation. In 1944, the Nazis sent ships to the islands to pick up Jews and to take them from mainland Greece on the train to the Auschwitz camp in Poland.
In Zakynthos, where Jews had been an important part of the population for many generations, the people resisted. Because of these difficulties, the Nazi officers demanded that the mayor make a list of the names of all Jews living in Zakynthos. The mayor first simply refused to cooperate at his own personal peril. But under the threat of a gun, the commander told the mayor to deliver the list to him within 3 days or else.
The mayor went for assistance to the bishop of the church in an effort to stretch the available amount of time. Their goal was to secretly help all 275 Jewish residents living on Zakynthos get to safe places. Within a very short period of time, false baptism certificates and identity cards were made and safe shelters were occupied. After the 3-day grace period had past, the mayor and bishop gave the German commander a list of the names of the Jewish residents of Zakynthos. But the list contained only the names of the mayor and the bishop himself!
The Jews of Zakynthos were all well hidden in the mountains. Until the departure of the German troops in October 1944, nobody betrayed them. As a result, not one of the Jewish inhabitants of Zakynthos died in the Holocaust.
When Zakynthos was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1953, first aid supplies came from new State of Israel because the Jews never forgot what the mayor and bishop had done for them on Zakynthos. In addition, the Jews still donate gold to the church in Zakynthos every year on August 24 during the celebration of Dionysos. A visit to this church, which is free, must be on every tourist’s bucket list. Everywhere you look, the gold is blinking. This unique story, narrated by one of the actual survivors, has recently been filmed under the title “Life Will Smile”. It will be premiere this autumn and will then be entered at various international film festivals.
Restaurants in Zante
If you want excellent food with a great view but do not like typical restaurants for tourists, then “Café and Bistro LATAS” (Mpochali 291 00) in the Bochali district is definitely worth a visit. You must taste especially the Tzatziki. It is said that this restaurant has the most beautiful view over Zante and we agree! The restaurant has tables inside and the outside patio has terraced views so you can see the beautiful scenery all the way across Zante Bay from almost every table.
But if you would rather eat in the center of Zante at a more traditional restaurant, we recommend “Taverna Varkarola” (Lomvardou 30 str). It has the real Greek home-cooked dishes on the menu. The restaurant is located at the seafront, with beautiful views over the harbor. We were taken by the owner back to the kitchen to check on the quality and preparation of “Pork Kontosuvli”. Briefly, this dish is a long souvlaki of pork with herbs and garlic, traditionally slow-roasted on cabbage or or on a spit …. you will lick your fingers it’s so good! You might wish to lead off with the Greek salad, including, of course, a large piece of goat cheese. It is a restaurant where many locals eat and you will bne immediately captivated by the live music of the trio Nikos, Harris and Alexandros. It is guaranteed you will want to order another carafe of the house wine after dinner, because you will want to enjoy the Greek music and atmosphere longer!
Want to know more about the Greek island of Zakynthos? Good news! We are sharing more tips on trips around the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Stay tuned!
This article was written by Ineke. After completing her studies as a travel advisor, Ineke gained years of experience guiding travellers to the holidays of their dreams! Her own personal travels have etched dreams of the world map in her imagination! It is not crazy that almost every holiday she takes with her husband is filled with trips either inland or abroad. She loves to discover new places, sniff new cultures, and is crazy about good food (and wine). At this very moment she may be trying to discover another of the most beautiful beaches in the world!
It is not crazy that the operator of this web site is Ineke’s only daughter! The travel bug certainly lives in these genes!