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Crete: Community and Conservation Through Tourism

On the southern coast of Crete, accessible only by boat or a seven-hour hike through the Samaria Gorge, sits the tiny village of Agia Roumeli. During the tourist season, May through October, 100 people live in the village.  But during the winter months, the population shrinks to 20 and everyone depends on visitors for their sole source of income, which leaves them vulnerable to tourism’s inherent vagaries.

The Mediterranean Experience of EcoTourism (MEET) Project is designed to raise conservation awareness and financial support for underserved protected parks and surrounding communities like Agia Roumeli. Over 20 tours across seven countries have been identified and developed to support this goal. Sustainable Travel International is helping MEET partners to develop a business plan and strategy to promote these areas to visitors interested in a Mediterranean experience focused on rural culture and nature.

The Viglis, owners of the Artemis Restaurant and Studios, live full time in Agia Roumeli. Sustainable Travel International’s Lizzie Keenan recently met them while participating in one the new regional tours.

  • 1 Viglis2
    The Viglis family has lived in the area for generations.
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  • 2 Bread2
    Their unique bread-baking process starts with the onions grown in the family’s garden.
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  • 3 Spring Water
    The yeast from mold grown on onions and the the water is drawn straight out of the Samaria Gorge streams.
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  • 4 Oven
    They bake the loaves in an old stone oven, fueled by thyme branches and olive wood.
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  • 5 Mountain Thyme
    In addition to running a small hotel and restaurant, the family keeps bees— not an easy undertaking in the Cretan White Mountains, where harsh winters and dry summers provide little vegetation for bees to pollinate the wild thyme that grows through the limestone’s cracks and crevices.
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