The Natural Experience
Although there is no universally recognised definition of eco-tourism, the term generally refers to tourism that features travel to a country’s relatively untouched natural areas with the intention of seeing and appreciating the local landscape, flora and fauna, while causing minimal disturbance or impact to that area.
As well as appreciating the natural environment, eco-tourism also includes gaining an improved understanding of the cultural aspects of an area. Eco-tourism has become an increasingly popular tourist option in Greece and in recent years the Greek government has recognised the importance of preserving its natural habitat. It has also breathed new life into traditional rural towns and villages.
Great swathes of countryside have been designated as new national park areas and new laws have been passed to protect the environments found there. There is also a growing trend for geo-tourism, which focuses on the geological elements of the landscape, such as volcanoes (sleeping), gorges, caves, rock formations and fossilised areas.
Despite its limited surface area, Greece is endowed with a particularly rich and diverse natural environment punctuated by striking contrasts. Rugged coastlines, imposing rocky massifs, forests, caves, gorges, lakes and rivers, combined with the mild climate makes it a fantastic destination for tourists who are looking for something more invigorating than just a holiday spent on the beach.
For the alternative traveller who enjoys exploring off the beaten track, Greece offers the opportunity to:
- Wander through beautiful forests and tread the banks of clear rivers and calm lakes in the many national parks established on the mainland and on numerous islands.
- Enjoy the spectacle of wonderful natural monuments, gorges, caves and waterfalls and marvel at the flora that illuminates the countryside when it blooms.
- Observe the rare birds that make their homes in the country’s wetlands and coastal ecosystems.
- Engage in the plethora of extreme sports activities which have become an established tourist feature in recent years (kayaking, rafting, monoraft, hydrospeed, canyoning, mountain biking, etc).
- Experience an authentic slice of local life by staying in one of the many rural guesthouses and agro-tourist units that can be found throughout Greece; the perfect opportunity to see people, food, culture, tradition and architecture at close hand.
Please note: We request that visitors to ecologically sensitive areas respect rules established to protect the environment and preserve the country’s precious ecosystems. Information on visiting protected areas and participating in special programs can be obtained from local information centres, local authorities, and specialised agencies.
Places to visit and stay
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to eco-tourist destinations and an excellent starting point for all your accommodation needs is:
Northern Greece has some outstandingly beautiful countryside that remains relatively un-discovered. The Zagori area in Epirus and the Bourazani environmental park close to the Albanian border are two highlights of the north-west, as are the Prespes lakes (800m above sea level) that are a bird watcher’s paradise. The towering mountains of Drama in the north-east also offer a sweeping landscape made up of picturesque gorges, lakes and lush mountain slopes.
Central Greece is largely untouched by mass-tourism and here you can find pine forests, rivers and gorges ready to explore. The mountain slopes that provide great skiing conditions in winter are transformed into lush green countryside in the spring and summer months. With a relaxed atmosphere guaranteed, accommodation can be found in various guesthouses and hotels in small villages and towns that are located in stunning surrounding countryside.
Although more used to catering for mass-tourism than some of Greece’s other regions, inland and away from the historical sites, the Peloponesse offers visitors the opportunity to stay in oases of isolation and tranquillity, with mountainside villages offering great places to stay.
Several islands offer superb opportunities to stay in places that take eco-tourism to its pleasant extreme. The island of Crete is the location of two innovative eco-tourist developments. On the west of the island is Milia, an ecologically run settlement that is electricity free, draws on natural springs for its water supply, and grows its own organic food. On the east coast sits Aspros Potamos, a small eco-settlement that runs on solar power and has a n environmentally friendly and simplistic charm.
Another island that has a reputation for its ecological features is Zakynthos (Zante) in the Ionian chain. Renowned for the Loggerhead turtles that breed around its waters and come ashore in summer to lay their eggs on the white sandy beaches of Laganas Bay, there are opportunities for visitors to learn more about these noble sea creatures.