Eco / Green tourism
The key to a greener Greek holiday
If you haven’t heard of the Green Key before, here’s where you read it first…
It’s an international movement to steer vacationers’ consciences into taking a bit more care of the environment while on holiday. Business have signed up for the Green Key programme in seventeen countries, one of which is Greece.
Hotel resorts in particular are discovering the merits of green-mindedness. This makes business sense, as ever more holidaymakers have environmental concerns and don’t want to leave big carbon footprints along with their footprints in the sand.
The Green Key programme, coordinated by the international Foundation for Environmental Education, awards green key logos to those tourism businesses seen as doing their part to preserve the environment. In particular, we’re looking at energy saving, water conservation waste and effluents management, how detergents and other cleaning agents are disposed of after use, and how much open space in and around a resort is given over to greenery and vegetation.
In 2011 no fewer than one hundred and eight Greek hotel resorts received the coveted Green Key, indicating that the effort is being taken seriously by a growing segment of the Greek tourism industry. Backing the Green Key on a national level is the Greek Nature Protection Society, the oldest Greek environmental group dating back to 1951, which is way before most of humanity ever started to think about green issues.
Of course, it’s not always easy being green. But now that environmental consciousness is casting its green glow everywhere, and we’ve long since woken up to the fact that we’ve got to do something to keep our planet liveable on, a green holiday is now very much de rigueur in some thoughtful circles. Greece isn’t only blue skies and seas and golden sunlight and sand. It’s also green mountains and olive groves, fir forests and farms.
So what’s a green Greek holiday, and how do you go on one?
At the outset, it must be said that a green holiday is in many ways a much more genuine holiday than the average all-inclusive planned tour where all you see is a beach, a hotel room, a bar and a restaurant, before you know it you’re being crammed onto the plane back home. A tad limiting, we’d call it.
Anyway, that said, it’s time to talk about the Olive Tree Route. This is a scheme dreamed up by local officials and olive-growers in Messinia province in southwest Greece, home of the far-famed Kalamata olives that grace many a table around the world. It’s been active for eleven years now, but hasn’t received the publicity it deserves. For full details you can go to www.olivetreeroute.gr but here’s a brief account of what you can expect.
It’s best to hire a car in Athens and drive at a leisurely pace out of the city along the Western highway, the 8A (E94). The road is wide and good (but keep the Greek drivers at a safe distance!), and well-signposted. Just after Corinth you’ll see the left turn for Tripoli and Kalamata, Highway 7 (E65). This leads you into the mountains of the Peloponnese. An hour or so later you’re bypassing Tripoli, and at some point you’ll see the sign for Sparta, another hour distant along the narrower Highway 39 (E961).
It’s worth stopping in Sparta for a night, not only to see what’s left of Leonidas’s military city-state but also to call at the city’s Olive Museum. Here you can see how huge a part the olive has played in the life of Greece ancient and modern, and the ingenious ways used over the ages to press out the vital oil.
Continue down Highway 39, turning left at the sign for Monemvasia. This is a spectacular mini-Gibraltar, the site of a mediaeval settlement that now boasts some of the trendiest cafes and boutique hotels south of the Corinth Canal. Outside the town, on the mainland side, the O Athas taverna has some of the most sophisticated olive-based dishes extant.
After one or two nights on this sea-girt eyrie, drive back up on the Sparta road and turn left at Skala. This brings you to seaside Gytheio, a town of unearthly charm, with old multicoloured houses clinging to a steep hillside over a busy yacht and fishing harbour. The fresh seafood here is excellent, but go easy on the wine, because the next segment of the trip takes over winding roads and switchbacks as you enter wild and rugged Mani. Crossing the peninsula itself takes less than half an hour, and then you’re overlooking the sea again on the Messinian side of Mani.
The landscape and seascapes here are almost surreal. Gradually, on the northbound route towards Kalamata, the land becomes tamer, and by the time you reach green Kardamyli, you’re in the heart of olive country again. There are several olive oil presses here, all of them eager to accept visitors. One of them, run by an Austrian family, produces rare organic olive oil.
You’re almost certain to come away with several free bottles of the distinct green virgin olive oil and instructions on how to tell the genuine article from the supermarket dreck: the label has to state the acidity coefficient – less than 0.8% for good oil, and that it is “cold-extracted.” Also, the oil must be distinctly dark green in tincture and burn the throat slightly as it goes down.
Two or three large tablespoons of the stuff a day, vow the locals (many of whom are active on the farms well into their nineties) can give your heart an anti-oxidant boost that will keep it ticking into your second century.
Oh, yes, we almost forgot… Look for the Green Key logo when you book your hotels. The result will be a better holiday than you thought.
Recipe! Try this as an anti-oxidant classic:
BAKED FISH WITH TOMATO AND OLIVE OIL SAUCE
Ingredients: 4-5 fish slices (preferably sea bream), 2 medium ripe tomatoes, 1 cup Greek olive oil, 1 tablespoon thinly-cut parsley, Lemon juice, Salt, Pepper.
Salt the fish slices and place on a grill. While they cook, thinly slice the two tomatoes and mix with the olive oil. Add the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper for flavouring, and blend well. Serve the resulting sauce over the cooked fish slabs, and you’re done.
“Green” tourism tips:
• Take a look at where you’ll be staying. It’s worth looking for the Green Key sign, even though it might take a bit of extra effort. If there isn’t one, you can assess whether your accommodation is environmentally-minded, such as looking out for whether there are water use restrictions and solar panels, for example, whether it’s a 500-room city hotel or a rooms-to-let house.
• How do I know who’s green and who isn’t? Green Key again. Also, it’s not a bad idea to check the holiday press, such as newspaper and magazine travel supplements. The Internet and the numerous blogs about a particular place are generally good ways to check up on the accuracy of the claims.
• Is “green tourism” really an accurate term? Many experts in the field believe the term “responsible tourism” would be a better one, as “green” tends to have a faddish connotation. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has just adopted this longer but more accurate term, as well as the InterContinental Hotels Group. (Log on to www.ihgplc.com for more on this.)
• Learn the facts. Of course, there’s often no choice but to fly to your holiday destination. But it’s good to bear in mind that air travel is the biggest single global source of pollution emissions, accounting for some 40%. The tourism industry accounts for – get this – three-quarters of it all, and that’s including coach and rail travel! Global warming, anyone? UN environment experts blame carbon dioxide emitted by tourists flitting back and forth for 5% of the global carbon dioxide total. Tourism is, in fact, the fifth biggest polluting industry in the world.
• Should we be concerned? Well, yes. Recent projections indicate that by 2035, in terms of the number of trips made, global tourism will grow by 179% and carbon dioxide emissions will be up by about 152%. So climate change will become an increasingly critical issue affecting tourism development and management. And the Mediterranean has been identified as one of the major crisis zones.
• Things we can do. The average hotel consumes a huge amount of products and resources, and guests use much more water and energy than they would back home. Notice how on holiday we tend to lead more lavish lives for a few days than usual? Well, it won’t do any harm to be conscious of how much water we use from having a shower to washing our socks. Turn the air conditioning or heat off when not in the room. Try not to have the room television on “for company” when you’re not actually watching a programme. And if your sheets and towels are not exceptionally grubby, you can tell the housekeeping to skip the change for a day or two. Daily cleaning means an increased use of chemicals which pollute the water bodies and expose guests and staff to toxins from cleaners, paint and floor coverings.
• Your carbon footprint. All the good hotels, even those remote from civilization, provide a regular shuttle bus service to towns. If you’ve driven to Greece and like to use your car, it’s preferable to keep it parked and use the bus unless you want to make a longish trip, say, into the mountains. And throughout Greece there are regular provincial and intercity bus services. A ride on of these distinctive green and cream buses can yield rich rewards, from new friendships to the driver giving you valuable tips on where to eat and to enjoy yourself.
Article by John Carr, Photo by magazine Greece