Hiking tourism in Greece is on the rise

Hiking tourism in Greece is on the rise

While tourism is growing rapidly and Greece is constantly affirming its position among the world’s prime destinations, voices of concern are spreading among professionals and societies regarding the impact this growth may have on local life and culture.

It is true that history and culture remain Greece’s strong assets, attracting millions of visitors every year. Nowhere else can you see the Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens, nowhere else can you step on the sacred ground of Ancient Olympia, nowhere else can you trace the legendary roots of Alexander the Great. And when these are combined with one of the longest coastlines of pristine beaches in the world, it is no wonder tourists flow in large numbers.

Yet, this is only part of the unique blend Greece offers to visitors. A land continuously inhabited for over 6,000 years, it is no surprise its terrain is woven with endless kilometers of walking paths, connecting towns, villages, monuments and agricultural land. Particularly in remote areas, where development and road construction became a reality only a few decades ago, these paths are maintained in an excellent condition, still providing the means to travel between specific locations. The high mountains of mainland Greece and the less developed islands of the Aegean are prime examples of this reality.

So what does this mean for the future of tourism in the country?

1st Greek Trails Conference – Vytina, Arcadia, 4-5 November 2017

Fortunately, many people in Greece envision an alternative, sustainable model for touristic growth and actually do something about it. The walking paths are no longer considered a sign of being left behind but a precious feature of the Greek landscape. More and more municipalities, associations or simple groups of citizens get involved into maintaining existing paths or discovering and reviving old ones. Remote areas once abandoned are now crossed by locals and visitors seeking an authentic contact with nature, away from the paved roads and the noise of vehicles. Unique monuments, archaeological sites, monasteries or simple farmsteads are found on the way, adding to an experience for all senses and the spirit.

An important initiative that has just begun illustrates the trend for this specific form of touristic growth. The 1st Greek Trails Conference took place during the first weekend of November 2017 in Vytina, in the mountains of Arcadia, Peloponnese, bringing together representatives from all over Greece. The event was combined with the 3rd European Meeting of Leading Quality Trails that took over the following days. The organizers, the Social Cooperative “Menalon”, were the first in Greece to be qualified by the European Ramblers’ Association for the work done in Menalon Trail, a 75 klm route crossing the Arcadian mountains. Menalon Trail was the first Greek trail to join the list of “Leading Quality Trails – Best of Europe” in 2015, and since then  two more trails in Greece have been added: Andros Routes, on the Aegean island of Andros, and Ursa Trail in the Epirus mountainous region.

During the works of the Conference, representatives of all three trails shared their experience of upgrading the paths in their area and incorporating them in the LQT network. This move has ensured meeting specific criteria regarding safety and quality in hiking and has boosted hiking in these areas not only by visitors but by locals too.

Other areas in Greece were represented at the 1st Greek Trails Conference, each one narrating a different story of paths, landscape, human labour and persistence.

Representatives from the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy were also invited, presenting the newly launched legal framework of hiking trail specifications. Despite its drawbacks, the framework is an important first step towards organizing and linking existing and new hiking paths in a commonly defined network, ensuring minimum standards of quality, safety and support for hikers. The initiative comes at a crucial moment, with Greece redefining its touristic strategy and seeking new ways to achieve the goal of “365-tourism” –meaning expanding the touristic influx beyond the traditional limits of summer season. It is even more crucial given the excitement created by record-numbers of visitors in Greece in 2017, and the dubious steps tourism professionals and authorities will follow in response. Large numbers of tourists are now setting a serious challenge and the following months will tell how responsibly this challenge is being faced. Under this point of view, the fact that both authorities and professionals have gathered and discussed the prospects of hiking tourism in Greece is already a big step.

Hiking on Amorgos Island

FindinGreece attended the 1st Greek Trails Conference, joined the walks and lectures and showcased the paths of Amorgos Island.

Amorgos is gifted with a dramatic landscape that captures visitors at first sight. Being part of the so-called “barren line” in the past, basic infrastructure didn’t expand on the island until the 1980’s. Both the electricity and road network were completed then, meaning that the ancient paths had formed the only means of transport until that time. To this day, significant areas of fields and some villages remain connected to the rest of the island only through trails, which means that locals still use the paths to move around, on foot or on the back of donkeys and mules. Their very recent –and only partial- replacement by road traffic and their continuous use for practical reasons, have ensured the maintenance of the trails of Amorgos at a very good condition.

Starting in 1997 with work by the Prefecture of the Cyclades and continuing today with the Region of South Aegean and volunteer work, 8 of the paths of Amorgos have been marked and signposted. These paths are also cleared and kept in a fairly good condition almost year round, allowing hikers to walk along the whole extent of the island without using the modern road network. The island’s most important sites are incorporated in this network, including the 1000-year old Monastery of Panagia Chozoviotissa, an impressive structure built in the cliffs 300 meters above the sea, as well as other historical sites and agricultural structures that hide a long history on their own.

To the above, we should add the breathtaking view to the surrounding sea and islands, visible from almost every step on the trails of Amorgos, as well as the mild weather that characterizes the Aegean all year round. It is no wonder then that visitors fall in love with the island and return for new hikes every year.

However, it is true that signposting still remains partial, and there are many more hiking routes that lie outside the marked network. While it is perfectly possible to walk around Amorgos nature on your own, there is so much history lying below the stones and inside the rural structures, that a local’s insight is highly recommended. FindinGreece offers hiking tours of varying duration and level of difficulty, incorporating hidden treasures and knowledge of local culture to a unique experience.

In few places in the world can you walk through history the way you can do in Greece; in few places can you experience mountains, sea, nature and culture the way you can do on Amorgos.

FindinGreece has completed its first season!

FindinGreece has completed its first season!

As October is approaching its end, so is the traditionally considered summer season for 2017. Here in FindinGreece, we are very pleased to share our impressions from this wonderful first season of ours and invite you to follow us on our continuing journey through space and time.
2017 has admittedly been a year of touristic boom for Greece in general. With visitor arrivals reaching record levels, it has been a challenge to ensure the authenticity Greece offers remains intact.
Well, it seems it does.

The natural beauty and dramatic landscape still make for fantastic hikes and other outdoor adventures. On the island of Amorgos, we’ve had the opportunity to guide visitors through centuries-old paths, allowing them to admire the pristine nature, surrounded by pure tranquility and an ever-shining sun. During the hotter summer months, our sea-related activities have been more popular, with travellers opting for snorkelling, diving, kayaking or paddling, enjoying crystal clear waters and a stark rocky background.
Back in the villages, it has been a pleasure sharing authentic instances of local life. Donkey rides, fishing trips, Greek dance classes, ceramic and mosaic classes, visits to the organic gardens and introduction to the richness of local herbs, cooking and pastry classes, even Greek language lessons, have all been enjoyed by many visitors and we are extremely happy to have played a role in their shaping unforgettable memories. After all, travelling is about experiencing and there is no better reward for us than seeing our visitors’ smiling faces when catching their own fish, tasting their own made local dish or wandering through the serene countryside on the back of the donkey.

From the bottom of our hearts, we’d like to thank all of you for making our dream come true this past summer. FindinGreece, Semeli and Alix, will continue offering unique experiences all year round and we hope to have the chance to share them with you soon.
All the best from the Greek islands!

A fishing trip at Amorgos

A fishing trip at Amorgos

It is 6:30 am, Sunday morning on Amorgos Island. Early spring, still chilly at dawn, but you can already feel the summer approaching. Clear sky, calm sea. Nobody is seen around at the quiet port of Aegiali where we meet to drive across the island to the small dock of Xylokeratidi in Katapola. Half hour later we are there, exchanging wishes for a beautiful day with fishermen that are just beginning work under a glorious sun rising behind the mountains. Giannis, our fisherman, quickly docks his boat “Kapetan Nikitas” and welcomes us on board. We are about to set off on our first fishing trip together and we are very excited.

Giannis and Loukas, his crew, have spent the last few hours throwing paragadia at sea. Paragadi (longline fishing) is a special kind of fishing, involving a good deal of tedious work in exchange for first quality and significantly sized catch –when it happens. Giannis and Loukas have painstakingly baited dozens of hooks during the past evening, before throwing five paragadia (main line threads of them) at sea just before dawn. They must be exhausted but we wouldn’t be able to tell from their smiling faces and excitement to explain all their work and equipment to us. The sun is slowly rising and warming us up, the sea is comfortingly blue and calm and it feels like it’s going to be a great day.

We head west, exiting the bay of Katapola. Soon after, we stop to pick up the first paragadi to the boat. Giannis and Loukas coordinate their moves perfectly, collecting the thread and rearranging the hooks. The bait has gone from most of them, probably by currents, but so far no fish seems to have approached. The two men work silently as the thread reaches its end, with only a few comber fish caught on its hooks.

Continuing with the rest of line threads, things start looking more promising. First a 2 kilo and then a 5 kilo seabream appear shining from the depths of the sea bringing wide smiles on our fishermen’s faces.  A little bit later, a happy cry from Giannis brings all looks down the bottom. We can hardly see any sign of movement or even different colour down there yet but Giannis and Loukas are sure: it is a fish and it is big. A few moments of excited expectation culminate with the appearance of the fish: an 8 kilo dentex, elaborately caught in the net of Loukas once its hook reaches surface. Our fishermen are obviously proud and happy, posing for pictures with their catch.

But it isn’t over yet. We are excited and greedy. We want to see more. As hours go by and we appreciate even more the load of work and effort put by our fishermen, we feel like the trip is still not giving the return due. And our thoughts come true. Another two 4-kilo seabreams reach the surface and more proud pictures and smiles follow before Loukas collects the last thread around its buoy.

Relaxed and satisfied, our captain deviates towards the remote beach of Vlychada, well hidden in a closed bay at the north of Katapola. We are amazed at how there are still places we just begin to discover on this seemingly small island. There is no road or path reaching the beach of Vlychada and only few boats make it here when weather permits –very rarely in summer. It seems it is our very lucky day today and as we approach the sandy beach, we can’t help but closing our eyes facing the sun, listening to the familiar sound of light waves gently lapping the shore. Turquoise blue shallow water sparkles below us and the warmth of the sun once more reminds us that summer is just around the corner.

It is almost midday when we enter back at the bay of Katapola. Terraced slopes covered by grass and flowers surround us as the villages of Katapola appear ahead us. A long day for our fishermen is approaching its end –but still a lot of work is awaiting them after a much wanted coffee break at the port. Fellow fishermen and villagers await us at the dock, curious to find out what the catch has been today. Smiles and jokes follow at the sight of the big fish, which are quickly weighed and loaded on the van to find their way to the market.

It is sunny, warm and peaceful. A lovely family atmosphere shared with locals on a beautiful Sunday morning, heralding more bright occasions during the following months.

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