I was on vacation in one of Greece’s top tourist destinations many years ago, looking for a taverna with a small group of friends where we could enjoy some traditional and decent Greek food. We tried three or four different places before deciding it was a lost cause. Even Greek salad, as foreigners refer to our classic “horiatiki”, was only available in various mass-produced flavorless versions.
Much has changed for the better since then, as a new generation has taken over. The ‘Greek breakfast’ was developed in hotels and the children of tavern owners across the country have evolved businesses by seeking out high quality artisanal products and ingredients, lost recipes and the best wines in the country. . Most importantly, they don’t try to “sell” something other than what their grandparents once offered: a combination of tradition, pure flavors and a relaxed atmosphere. Greeks and foreigners love this combination and, when done right, there is nothing like it elsewhere.
Many food trends that are all the rage in countries like the United States have been around in Greece for decades. It’s not slow food or farm-to-table; just vegetables from the family garden and a laid back lifestyle.
We are entering a new phase of tourism development as the pandemic radically alters the map of global tourism, moving away from volume and buzz to put more emphasis on the values, aesthetics and connection that each country has with its land and its traditions. These are things that are innate in the Greeks, however, things that we know how to throw when we let our best take over. Because the sad reality is that there is another me: the one who seeks to earn money quickly, who lacks sensitivity.
We are fortunate to still have places that survived the cataclysm of rampant construction and package tourism that began in the 1970s. Some destinations are, unfortunately, almost lost and will take a long time to recover. Others are about to give in to the pressure that can drag them down a path they may never find the way back.
Yet there are many shining examples across Greece that show us that we can meet the new challenge. From rooms to rent jumbled together, we move on to hotels that respect the environment and local traditions. Small agricultural and manufacturing cooperatives do wonders. Young people explore and invest in the networks of country trails once used by their great-grandparents. And winemakers across the country are building a reputation for top-notch work.
Unlike the get-rich-quick tourism sprint, however, good quality tourism is a marathon that takes time and effort to produce results. As one of the only tourism dependent countries that hasn’t developed good tourism schools, we also need more trained professionals.
I’m optimistic. Greece is all the rage again, and not just for waiters who shout “opa!” and set the cheese on fire. We have a secret recipe after all: it’s the sun mixed with our relaxed and sometimes crazy character, helping all the bad things to go away.