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A large island view near Port Zakinthos in Greece

Zakinthos, Greece

You could say that Zákinthos, the third-largest Ionian island, traces its roots back to a garbage dump. Legends claim that after creating the world, God swept all the odds and ends into the sea. The landmass thus formed was so lovely and so covered in bloom that it earned the nickname “Flower of the East.”

Zákinthos—also known by its Italian name, Zante—has become popular for its secluded beaches and peacock-blue waters. Package tourists flock to the island, but you can escape to the northern or southern capes for solitude and dramatic scenery. Greece’s first national marine park was founded here to protect a critical nesting beach for endangered loggerhead turtles (called Caretta caretta turtles).

The capital, Zákinthos Town, wraps around an enormous bay and is teeming with lively restaurants and cafés. After a devastating earthquake in 1953, the town's arcaded streets and neoclassical buildings were reconstructed. Take in the splendor at Solomos Square, where palms frame lovely views of the sea and of buildings swathed in bougainvillea. While adults linger at the square's outdoor tables, kids play on bicycles and toy cars available for hire.