The island of Corfu may be a wildly popular destination for the Easter holidays, but on Zakynthos, the days of Holy Week are filled with unique customs.
Zakynthos has a rich tradition of music, particularly ecclesiastical music – if you listen closely, you will hear that the accent is different in many of the hymns and psalms. The municipal philharmonic orchestra accompanies many of the ecclesiastical observances at Easter, which adds a particular theatricality and mood to the ceremonies.
The Epitaphioi (funerary biers) are also different to the other islands and regions of Greece. Here, they’re made of sculpted woodand adorned with gold leaves instead of flowers. At the Metropolitan Church of Aghios Nikolaos, the procession of the Epitaphios begins early in the morning, at 4:00 am on Holy Saturday. Churchgoers return to the church at 5:30 am, when the service continues. The First Resurrection follows shortly after when the local custom called “Gloria” is celebrated: everyone bangs pots and chairs and makes a lot of noise, while people throw clay vessels from the windows of the houses surrounding Aghios Markos Square.
Where to go
Zakynthos is renowned for its beaches, attracting thousands of tourists throughout the summer. The island, however, is also flush with natural wonders. The best time to visit its lush hinterland is spring, and it’s no surprise that the Venetians referred to Zakynthos as “Il fiore di Levante,” which means “The Flower of the East.” The Venetians were in awe of the rich diversity of the island’s flowers, wild herbs, and trees.
You can learn more about the Zakynthos’ rich flora at Helmi’s Natural History Museum (Aghia Marina, Zakynthos, Tel. (+30) 26950.650.40, from April 16 the museum is open to the public 09:00-17:00, entrance fee €6). The museum collections include more than 6,000 exhibits, including fish, birds, mammals, ores and minerals, and rocks from Zakynthos and other parts of the world. You can also learn about the island’s ecosystems and get information on recommended thematic walking trails.
Zakynthos is indeed a hiker’s paradise. The island boasts many trails and routes in the beautiful countryside at Kastri, on the northwestern side of the island, or in the mountainous regions of Ano Volimes in the north. The villages in the island’s hinterland may not offer much regarding accommodation, cafés, or restaurants, but they are filled with untouched landscapes. Drive out to the north and visit the villages of Volimes, Anafonitria, Orthonies, and Maries. You’ll find a traditional cafeteria in almost all of them where you can stop for refreshments along your journey.
To see the city of Zakynthos from above, make your way up Bohali Hill. Apart from its breathtaking view, the hill is also known for its “frigania,” a pastry made with milk, sugar, cream, syrup, rusks, walnuts, and marmalade. You can try a savory version of a “frigania” at “Latas Café Bistrol” (Bohali, Tel. (+30) 26950.482.30).