Hotels and resorts Region of the Ionian Islands - Luxury Hotels Region of the Ionian Islands
|Region of the Ionian Islands|
|The recreational Destination|
|The Ionian Islands stretch along the western coast of the central part of the Greek mainland and further to the south along the western coast of the Peloponnese. They form an independent group of twelve small and large islands, each with its own distinctive character. Their unique natural beauty combines with their long history and a blend of various cultures and influences that have left their stamp on the islands.
Unparalleled in natural beauty, rich in cultural heritage and with contemporary tourist infrastructure, beguiling Corfu is the best known of the Ionian group.
The northernmost of the Ionian Islands and the westernmost frontier of Greek territory, it lies at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea separated from the Greek mainland shoreline by a narrow water channel.
An international transportation hub, Corfu can easily be accessed through numerous charter flights from various European cities throughout the summer months or by regular ferryboat connections from the Italian ports of Brindisi, Bari, Ancona and Venice. Olympic Airways and a number of private airlines have daily connections from Athens and Thessaloniki to Corfu airport located at three kilometres south of capital Corfu. Regular ferryboat services connect the island with Patra, Igoumenitsa, Paxos and Sayiada in Thesprotia. Capital Corfu is an official entry/exit harbour with appropriate customs and health authorities, passport control and exchange services in place. A yacht marina is located at Gouvia.
Homer's Odyssey provides the first literary reference to the island of the Phaeacians where Ulysses, having recently escaped the charms of Calypso, encounters Nausica, the local king's daughter. Inhabited as early as the Palaeolithic Age, it acquired its current name. Kerkyra in Greek, from its namesake nymph and daughter of Asopos, who was brought here by an enamoured Zeus. Corfu's highly strategic position at the crossroads between East and West made it a prize for numerous conquerors since earliest time. As a colony of the city of Corinth the island flourished during classical times. At the end of the 4th century BC it came under the Spartans only to be soon after occupied by the Romans. Having enjoyed great prosperity during the Byzantine period, as the Byzantine Empire entered its decline. Corfu was shortly occupied by the Venetians to be later annexed to the Despotate of Epirus. After one hundred years of Angevin rule it again submitted to the Venetians in the l4th century entering a 400-year period of great importance in history and distinction in the arts and literature. On the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the island was surrendered to French rule that was quickly ended by the Russo-Turkish occupation, followed by a short interval of independence with the creation of the Septinsular (Seven Island) Republic.
The (18th) century was a period of intense artistic and cultural activity for Corfu. It had no fewer than fifteen philharmonic orchestras and a host of painters, writers, musicians and other artists. In 1807 it was reclaimed by France, but after Napoleon's treaty with the Russians in 1815, the island was placed under the exclusive protection of Great Britain. Finally, in 1864 Britain relinquished Corfu along with the other Ionian Islands to become part of the Modern Greek State. Corfu played an important role in the cultural and educational development of modern Greece. In 1815, the first Fine Arts School and first University of Greece was founded on the island by Lord Guilford with the support of Ioannis Kapodistrias who was born in Corfu to become later the first Governor of the newly liberated Greece.
Built on a narrow strip of land, the delightful capital Corfu town and one of the most attractive towns in Europe, owes its charm to the multitude of visible traces evidencing the diverse cultures that have settled it throughout the ages. The Italian influence is evidenced in Corfu's spacious squares such as the popular Spinada and its narrow cobblestone alleys known as kantounia. Having gracefully absorbed its many layers of history, the island combines the old with the modern harmoniously blending to provide an alluring mix. The Archaeological Museum in Corfu houses numerous collections representing various periods of Corfu's history. To the west of the town lies Palaeokastritsa, a miniature earthly paradise, and Angelokastro, a i3th (13th) century Byzantine fortress. To the south lies Kanoni, one of the most popular sites on the island. A narrow strip of land leads to the Vlacherena Monastery from where a caique takes visitors to the islet of Pontikonisi; opposite here, on the hillside of Gastouri, stands the extravagant Achilleon, the summer palace of Empress Elizabeth, or Sissy, of Austria.
Proud of their history and culture, Corfiots are characterised by simplicity and courtesy. They are genial and love entertaining, gregarious and always ready to turn the smallest gathering Into (μικρό i) a party. In every location, at every event, the Corfiots make the visitor feel at home.
With its pure crystal-clear waters and picturesque bays and coves, the island enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate of mild winters and cool summers. Trees, grass and bushes stretch down to the shore lining it year-round with the colours of blooming flowers and trees laden with fruit. To the north, the slopes of the steep and imposing Mt. Pantokrator. The northern coastal area is replete with pretty caves and has the longest sandy beach on the island. Corfu is not exhausted in magnificent beaches and important historic monuments; there is also a wide number of sporting activities to enjoy, such as sailing, jet skiing, wind surfing, tennis, diving and underwater fishing, while the hills of the island are ideal for hunting. Every summer the World Championship Formula and Intercontinental jet-ski races are held at Garitsa.
Corfu is known for holding one more exclusivity in Greece: A legacy from the era of British rule the Kerkyra Cricket Festival is held in the summer with the participation of teams from many countries. Corfu also boasts the best golf course in Greece, located in the Ropa Valley, one of the finest in Europe. Nevertheless, with a variety of relaxing trekking routes through the lowlands and a number of hiking on foot or on bike, is still the best way to discover the hidden charms of the island. Experienced guides and bikes are available for hire throughout the island.
The Corfiot table is an essential expression of local hospitality. The local cuisine is based on the bounty of nature. Bustling or intimate, simple or sophisticated, the multitude of restaurants serve international dishes as well as local delicacies such as the famous local "pastitsada" and "sofrito" dishes, the Corfiot "noumboulo" smoked meat, superb cheeses, exquisite wines, nougats made with almonds dipped in red caramel, fragrant liqueurs and the tiny Japanese oranges known as "koum-kouat".
In Corfu age-old events are still celebrated in the traditional way. Of the most impressive are the festivities during Holy Week and on Easter Sunday, while four times each year a procession through the streets of Corfu town is headed by the preserved remains of Patron St. Spyridon accompanied by the island's many bands. Numerous art galleries house exhibitions featuring works of international and local artists and various romantic outdoor locations provide the venue for a variety of events ranging from rock concerts to classical music performances, theatrical plays and dances. The Corfu Festival is held in September and includes concerts, ballet, opera and theatrical performances.
Contemporary Corfu is an international tourist resort with a superb blend of leisure, recreational activities and exciting nightlife, supported by an excellent tourist infrastructure capable of meeting the needs of the most discerning visitors. Restaurants, cafes, taverns, bars, discos, nightclubs and casinos can be found in Corfu town, the suburbs and in many villages, where the party continues until the early hours.
Known to millions around the wortd (world) as the home of the Homeric hero the wily Ulysses, symbol of homesickness and love for one's native land.
Ithaca is located northeast of Kefalonia- Separated by a narrow channel of water just 3.5 kilometres wide, the two islands are combined for administrative purposes.
Year-round ferryboat services are sailing from Patra to Vathi via Sami in Kefalonia. There are also daily services to Pisaetos from Astakos in Aetoloakarnania on the mainland.
Ithaca or Thiaki as the natives call it, was first inhabited in prehistoric times. According to Homer it was the kingdom of Ulysses whose palace was identified by Schliemann on one of the island's heights where a prehistoric citadel was excavated known to the locals as the Castle of Ulysses. The excavations at the acropolis unearthed numerous finds from the classical and Hellenistic periods, now housed in London's British Museum, which indicated that the island was first settled in about 3000 BC also inhabited during the Bronze Age. Ithaca entered its heyday after 1000 BC when it served as a trading station for cities in mainland Greece. Corinth in particular. A second citadel was unearthed at Aghios Athanasios near Stavros and a small sanctuary to the "unknown god" was found at Aghios Gheorghios. Occupied by the Romans in antiquity, Ithaca endured frequent pirate raids during the Venetian period. Along with the rest of the Ionian islands, it came under French rule and was later administered by the British, to unite with Greece in 1864.
Stretching around a bright green and well-protected bay almost in the centre of the island, capital Vathi is a tiny, picturesque Venetian town with splendid mansions, encircled by the remains of Venetian castles, the remnants of past glory. With its green slopes on both sides lined with smart houses built after the earthquake in 1953, Vathi has a bay of unusual shape containing the small islet of Lazareto.
The people of Ithaca are similar to the rest of the Ionian inhabitants. With most of their main occupations revolving around the sea and tourism, they are polite and hospitable.
Rocky and mountainous with several small green valleys with olive trees, vineyards and fruit trees, Ithaca is an island of rare beauty with alternating landscape and high contrast in its scenery. Huge menacing rocks are jutting up from the ground where just a few steps away are the tranquil orchards and vineyards. A strip of land at Aetos connects the island's two peninsulas. On the island's most developed beaches at Vathi, Frikes and Kloni, one can rent all the necessary equipment for canoeing and paddle boating. The island's quiet bays are good for fishing. Hunting is supervised, and strict laws protect the island's fauna. The mountain slopes of Ithaca are perfect for climbing. As all the distances on the island are short, it is worth exploring it on foot. The gulf in Frikes and the gulf of Molos are ideal for windsurfing and sailing.
Combining mountains and sea, Ithaca is ideal for tranquil vacations, although visitors can still have a lively time at the few bars found in Vathi or during the cultural events in August. The restaurants serve tasty chicken "tserepa", while seaside tavernas serve delicious fresh fish prepared with raisins and rosemary. The pastry shops sell delicious "ravani", a sweet with rice and honey.
The largest of the Ionian islands, Kefalonia is located at the entrance to the Gulf of Patra, between the islands of Zakynthos and Lefkada. Kefalonia and the island of Ithaca today comprise the County of Kefalonia-lthaca with the capital in Argostoli.
The island is easily accessed through regular boat schedules connecting its numerous harbours with Lefkada, Aetoloakarnania, Ithaca, Patra, Kyllene and Zakynthos. There are also daily flight connections with Athens.
Archaeological finds evidence human presence on the island dating back to the dawn of civilisation. Stone tools found in the village of Haliotada Samis and on the Fournia peninsula at Fiskardo provide proof that prehistoric man settled both Kefalonia and Ithaca. Doric temples of the 7th and 6th centuries BC attest to the presence of a high level civilisation. The history of Kefalonia is long and interesting. In antiquity, attempts by the Macedonians to conquer the island were aborted, although the Romans proved more successful in becoming its absolute rulers. In the early Byzantine years Kefalonia belonged to the province of Achaia and was often raided by pirates and corsairs. Around 890 AD, Leo IV the Wise incorporated most or all of the Ionian Islands into a province of the Byzantine Empire as the Theme of Kefalonia. The Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard captured Kefalonia in 1081, but his death in 1085 prevented the establishment of a dynasty. In 1214 the Greek Despotate of Epirus annexed the first Venetian colony signalling a long period of Epirote, Sicilian, Margaritonis and Orsini rule that lasted until 1479 when the Turks captured Kefalonia.
The short-lived Turkish occupation ended in 1500 when Venetians and Spaniards captured the Castle of St. George - the island's capital at the time. Venetian rule lasted for nearly 350 years during which the merchants of the Venetian Republic benefited greatly from the island's large production in desirable commodities, such as raisins. In 1797, the Venetians were expelled by the French; one year later the allied fleets of Russia and Turkey fomented an uprising against the French, which led to the Septinsular (Seven Island) Republic. The French occupation was soon ended by the British, who were eventually expelled after the spread of the early socialist movement to the islands. Finally, on 21 May 1864 the British surrendered Kefalonia along with the other Ionian Islands to the newly founded Greek state. The combination of a profound Greek-Byzantine tradition and the island's strategic position and years of occupation by western conquerors resulted in the creation of a unique culture that has remained intact to this day.
The festivals, dances, serenades and operatic song, the local architecture of the bell-towers and buildings, its poetry and its language, all bear the stamp of Kefalonia's unique heritage. Capital and main port Argostoli is built on the inner coast of the island's peninsula. Kefalonia has hundreds of quaint villages and small towns sporting an architecture all their own, dotted with beautiful houses, tiny villas and gardens with a profusion of sweet smelling flowers. Villages of particular interest are Fiskardo, Kourkoumelata and Aghia Eulymia. Well worth a visit, the monastery of Patron Saint Gerassimos where the relics of the Saint are kept, stands on the outskirts of Fragata and Valsamata, amidst the serene beauty of enchanting nature. In addition to its interesting archaeological sites, the Island boasts a richly stocked library, the Kefalos Theatre and philharmonic orchestras, as well as Archaeological, Historical and Folklore Museum.
Sailors, merchants and businessmen, energetic and ingenious, the sons and daughters of Kefalonia have gained distinction in literature, science and the arts. They are known to history as people of temperament, with a keen satirical bent, sharp wilted, liberal in their ideas, devoted to exploration and the sea, restless travellers and profoundly attached to St. Gerassimus, the Patron Saint of Kefalonia.
The island offers many opportunities for sport lovers. There are tennis and basketball facilities at Argostoli, as well as at large hotels. The quiet beaches of Kefalonia are ideal for sea sports. Little known and less explored, Kefalonia remains largely unscathed by tourism. With many acres of inland of forest-clad mountains to explore, places off the beaten track, paths along shepherd's tracks, churches and monasteries perched on steep cliffs, high mountain trails and timeless villages, Kefalonia is attractive to trekkers as it is to sunbathers. Visitors are offered excellent opportunities for dining out at romantic tavernas and restaurants where they can savour choice meat, fresh fish.
Kefalonian meat pies "bourdeto", "lagoto", the famous local "kakavia" (fish soup), scrumptious "strapatsada" (tomato omelette) and top quality Kefalonian wine. The island is famous for its delicious ham, excellent feta cheese, fragrant thyme-scented honey and its "pasteli" (sesame-seed confectionary. Rabbit or hare cooked with a lemon sauce and "kleftiko" lamb are unforgettable delicacies. For vegetarians the "tsigaria" and the leek pie are unbeatable! Kefalonia.
Argostoli in particular, offer a plethora of night entertainment choices to visitors. From traditional Fiskardo to the small tourist town of Poros and the fascinating villages of Livatho that captivated Lord Byron with their beauty, Kefalonia offers its visitors a glimpse of paradise at every turn. Each year the island's natural beauty and unique culture attract growing numbers of both Greek and foreign tourists.
Harmoniously combining sea and mountain, Kefalonia fascinates its visitors with the infinite variety of its natural surroundings. Vast tracts of forest cloak the rugged landscape with peaks topping 5,000 feet, while plenty of beautiful golden beaches with hundreds of secluded white coves provide small havens to sun lovers. Occupying the largest part of the island, Mt. Ainos, one of Greece's ten National Parks, is home to the unique Kefalonian fir trees, as well as to a peculiar breed of wild horses, the tiny Enos horses. Besides possessing outstanding natural beauty, Kefalonia constitutes a unique natural habitat with a rich and rare flora and fauna. There are 1014 different species of flowers and plants overflowing the island with their colours and sweet scents. The fauna boasts at least 26 different species of birds. Yet the island's rarities are not exhausted to its plant and animal kingdoms; the charms of Kefalonia include a host of remarkable geological phenomena.
A huge rock emerging from the sea at Kounopetra, approximately 9km south of Lixouri, presents a very peculiar geological phenomenon, one of the unsolved mysteries of our times, while in the swallow-holes of Argostoli the sea disappears into subterranean tunnels to reappear at lake Melissani, an incredibly beautiful semi-underground lake of indigo water on the other side of the island. The snakes of the Virgin at Arginia and Markopoulo, the flowers at the church of Ai Georgi at Pastra, the golden teeth of the sheep and the goats at Aghia Dynati, are some of the unexplained phenomena that lend the island its uniquely mysterious charm.
Distinguished from the other Ionian Islands by its ease of access, Lefkada is separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of water spanned by a bridge bearing a continuous stream of ground traffic. There are regular flights from Athens to Aktio, just 18 km from Lefkada. National Bus Company coaches connect the Island with Athens, Patra, Thessaloniki, Giannina and other major Greek cities. Caiques and ferry boats leave daily for Meganisi, while during the summer months, tourist vessels ply back and forth to the small neighbouring islands of Skorpios, Sparti and Madouri. Ferryboat services also connect Lefkada with Ithaca and Kefalonia. Lefkada or Lefkadia, probably owes its name to the steep white rocks found on its Southern promontory, Lefkata, or to its snow-white, dreamlike beaches.
It was from Lefkata that the poet Sappho is said to have leapt to her death, driven to suicide by her unfortunate love for Phaon. The first traces of human presence on the island date back to 8000 BC. Important findings from a settlement near Nydri dating from around 2000 BC evidence an Idiosyncratic culture linked to the opposite mainland shores. The Lefkadians were present at the naval battle of Salamina and the battle of Plataia, they participated in the Peloponnesian War, the campaigns of Alexander the Great and fought against the Romans in the 3rd century BC. During the Byzantine era the island was incorporated into the Despotate of Epirus and later fell into the hands of Count Orsini, who ordered the construction of the fortress of Santa Maura as a defence against pirates. His tenure was followed by that of the Venetians, who enriched the culture of the island and organised it as a republic. Yet the rule of the noble families was oppressive and when the French republicans seized the island the people let out a collective sigh of relief. The Russian occupation that ensued in 1800 was soon succeeded by the British who included Lefkada in the "United States of the Ionian Islands" and saw to the modernisation of the administration and the construction of public projects. The English occupation ended in 1815, while the status of the English protection lasted until 1864 when the dream of union with Greece was finally realised after much sweat, blood and tears on 21 May 1864.
In cultural terms, Lefkada is one of the most dynamic areas of Greece. Numerous islanders have distinguished themselves in the fields of literature, the arts and sciences. The national poets Aristotelis Valaoritis and Aggelos Sikelianos were born, raised and worked here. Kafkadio Hem bom in Lefkada became the national poet of Japan. The island's capital is the town of Lefkada with its characteristic multi-coloured timber-framed buildings and its unique lagoon, home to rare species of birds protected by the Ramsar Convention, as well as, by the Ministry of Culture that has declared its shore a site of outstanding natural beauty. Built mostly by Epirotans, the island's churches are largely single-nave basilicas. The church of Aghios Ioannis Antzoussis and the Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni are well worth a visit. According to tradition the Apostle Paul stopped at both places on his way to Rome. Many of the old traditions of the islanders' forefathers are still kept alive, giving the Island its own original colour.
Each summer the town of Lefkada hosts the Festivals of Speech and Art, as well as the International Folklore Festival. The people of Lefkada are vivacious and hospitable, always happy to welcome visitors.
The climate is Mediterranean and the weather mild. The island teems with olive trees, vines, cypress trees, oaks, pines, planes and other trees that reach right down to its shore. The charm of Lefkada is complemented by the smaller surrounding islands: Skorpios, once the property of the shipping magnate Onassis, Skorpidi and beyond it Madouri, the island of poet Aristotle Valaoritis.
By the semi-mountainous village of Marantohori a lake of unrivalled beauty is home to eagles and many other birds of prey. Lefkada has two of the ten best beaches in the world for wind surfing, while it is also ideal for sailing and diving. The island is the venue for the Formula III Powerboat Racing World Championship, each year in June, one of the biggest sport events worldwide. Careful to preserve its authentic character and atmosphere, combining its genuine qualities with contemporary tourist development, Lefkada boasts a comprehensive tourist infrastructure and first-rate tourist facilities.
The town of Lefkada has excellent facilities for the accommodation and entertainment of visitors. Nydri, the celebrated resort, combines an enchanting view of the surrounding islands with all the conveniences of a well-organised tourist location. Entertainment on the island continues without respite: excursions to the nearby islands, sea sports at the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, high spirits 24 hours a day.
Boasting a rich cuisine with a variety of traditional specialities and mouth-watering mezedes. Lefkada is a gourmet's paradise particularly renowned for the fresh and delicious fish, available in abundance and in great variety from the sea and from the island's own fish farms. Visitors can savour the "bourdeto" and excellent dishes prepared with salted cod served a la Lefkada (Bianco) with potatoes, "aliada" a sort of garlic dressing with salted cod, "riganada" and whitebait pie.
An exquisite microcosm, the smallest of the six main Ionian islands, Paxos lies south of Corfu opposite of Epirus. It has an area of 25 kilometres and belongs to the prefecture of Corfu.
Paxos can be reached by boat from Patra, Sivota (Mourto) in Thesprotia, Igoumenitsa and Parga, and by coach from Athens via Sivota. There are local connections to Antipaxos, Corfu and Parga.
The island of Paxos was known to Phoenicians. According to mythology, Neptune, madly in love with Aphrodite and looking for a quiet place to take her, created Paxos by tearing off a piece of Corfu by striking it with his trident. Inhabited since ancient times, Paxos has always had close links with Corfu.
The island's capital is its largest town, Gaios, with its beautiful houses in characteristic Ionian style and its tiny streets. Along the western shore are the tiny islands of Aghios Nikolaos with its Venetian fort and Mongonisi. On the approach to the island, on the little island of Panagia stands the monastery of the same name, where on 15th August, the Festival of the Assumption of the Virgin takes place, celebrations go on all night culminating with dancing performances in the town square. Lakka, a small coastal village rich in olive trees and pines, is renowned for the sea cave of the Virgin with its Byzantine church. Another picturesque spot is Longos, where visitors can enjoy fresh fish and peaceful beaches for bathing. All three are natural harbours that attract fleets of sailing vessels in the summer months.
Mainly engaged in agriculture and fishing, the few inhabitants of Paxos are quiet and pleasant people, jolly, hospitable and polite to visitors, they resemble their neighbours, the Corflots very much. Paxos is so small that one can easily walk from one end of the island to the other. The breathtaking approach to the island at Gaios protected by two miniature islets, gives newly arrived visitors a foretaste of the natural beauty they are about to experience: an incredible coastline indented by a thousand coves and bays, lush, green hillsides, imposing rocks and sea caves.
A variety of sea sports can be enjoyed at the lovely beaches of the island, such as canoeing, wind surfing and sailing. The island is ideal for fishing.
Paxos is a relatively quiet island, not ideal for those who prefer a lively nightlife, offering visitors a good time in the evening at the picturesque flsh tavernas at Gaios.
Located at 3 nautical miles southeast of Paxos, the unspoiled island of Antipaxos is all vineyards and turquoise water, beaches of pristine white sand, a haven for those seeking tranquillity. The island's transport is run by fishing boats connecting it to Paxos and Corfu, especially during the summer.
Renowned for its emerald waters, Zakynthos is the southernmost island of the Ionian Sea. Daily flights connect Athens with Zakynthos' airport located at six kilometres from Zakynthos town, the island's capital, while international charter flights connect the Island with numerous European cities. There are regular ferries running from Kyllene and a direct boat link to Italy three times a week during the summer months. There are also sea connections with the neighbouring islands, Kefalonia and Peloponnese with daily departures year-round.
Zakynthos has been known since prehistoric times. Homer refers to the island as Yllessa (wooded) and tells us that its first settler was Zakynthos, the son of Dardanos, king of Phrygia. Due to its geographical position and its abundant resources of bitumen, Zakynthos enjoyed great prosperity and cultural vigour during historic times. It remained neutral in the Persian Wars, allying itself with the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. It submitted to the Macedonians of Alexander the Great and later to the Romans, who granted the island a measure of autonomy. Tradition says it that Christianity reached the island in the guise of a visit by Mary Magdalene. During the Byzantine period Zakynthos was attacked by pirates and plundered by Crusaders, the Normans and the Franks. In 1185 it came under Frank tenure and in 1479 under Ottoman rule that lasted for five years.
Zakynthos entered its flourishing period in 1484 when it came under Venetian Rule based on a treaty signed by the Venetians and the Ottomans. Local architecture was marked by the Venetian influence: arches and bell towers separate from the main church buildings. On 4 July 1797 the French conquered Zakynthos and in October 1798 the Russian-Turkish fleet landed on the island. On 5 November 1815 a decree sprouting off the treaty of Paris placed the island under the supervision of England and started the English occupation that ended in 1864 when the British ceded the island of Zakynthos, along with the rest of the Ionian islands, to the newly founded Greek state.
Lying at the foot of the hill below the Castle, the prosperous market town and capital Zakynthos, is built on the southeastern side of the island, with imposing buildings, famous churches and beautiful squares that have retained in their original characteristic ochre colour; "loggious" and Venetian porticos, the Strada Marina on the waterfront, the famous Ruga, the commercial centre with its picturesque arches and the bustling cobble-stone central square of St. Mark. The area of Bohali below the castle enchants the visitor with its quiet, narrow streets and traditional houses, authentic old cafes and restaurants, still sounding with the traditional Zakynthos music. Until the earthquake of 1953, there were over 350 churches on the island, of which 100 were in the capital. Even today, visitors can admire many beautiful churches rebuilt after 1953. The Church of St. Dionysios in Zakynthos Town is the largest on the island and home to many important works of art, including painting, wood carving and gold sculpture.
Rising in the west in a chain of limestone peaks to level out to the east in a fertile plain, the island produces olives, citrus fruits, raisins and good white wines. The coast to the north and west is rocky and imposing, a labyrinth of sea caves including the famous Blue Grotto. To the east and south there are also innumerable picturesque beaches of fine sand with sheltered bays and coves, particularly at Laganas. The climate is ideal for agriculture, with plentiful rain and many days of sunshine.
Most of the local specialties on Zakynthos are meat dishes: the "rages", a kind of braised beef, stuffed rooster and pork cooked in wine are some of the more familiar local dishes. Zakyntos is famous for its excellent raisins and for "ladotyri" , a savoury cheese.
The island of poetry and music, the birthplace of Dionysios, the national poet of Greece, Kalvos and Xenopoulos, Zakynthos has consistently maintained a vigorous cultural tradition. The influence of Venice blends with the Greek tradition to create the culture of Zakyntos. Every form of artistic activity has flourished here. The Venetian period saw the development of the celebrated Zakynthos "kantada" or serenade, which is still composed today. It was here that Greece saw the foundation of its first school of music. The island has given birth to many musicians who have gained international distinction. The theatrical arts have also nourished here since the time of the Venetian rule. The satirical Omilies, a kind of popular review and the classic Italian opera are still very much alive and keenly enjoyed. In fact, Zakynthos is one of the most important centres of cultural activity in Greece today. Zakynthos hosts a number of festivals, all of them religious. One of the highlights of the year is the Holy Week celebration.
The local people's sensitivity to the environment has prompted them to leave large areas of the island undeveloped. They have endeavoured to preserve the natural eco-systems and to save rare species of marine life from extinction. This is the home of the famous Mediterranean turtle Caretta Caretta which has used the southern shores of the island as a breeding ground for millions of years. This is also true of another rare species, the monk seal Monachus Monachus encountered on the southwestern shores of Zakynthos.