Students ofvocational senior high school of Thira have uploaded to the internet a reallymoving write-up of them, in which they share with us everything they got to seewhile hiking on their island, together with their professors. The youngstersfollowed winding cobblestoned roads, narrow dirt paths and steps – along withthe 587 steps that you have to descend in order to reach Mesa Gialos, the oldport, from Fira. They recorded rare and forgotten species of flora: aspalathos,daffodils, Aethionema, irises, wild mallow and rockrose. They stood in front oflocal churches, like “Theotokaki”, built in 11th century, and SaintTheodosia, patroness of castles. They passed from caved wineries, the ruinedwindmills of Emporeio and the abandoned Baths, where “eight rooms, with onenext to the other like a harmonica, are waiting visitors in vain”, as theywrote. They became tourists to their own homeland. They got to know a “different”Santorini – and they became mesmerized by its beauty.
The exampleof Santorini
Nowadays, thechallenge for Greece is not to only have tourists during the summer months, butto attract them throughout the year. How can this be achieved? If they manageto not just hope for a coincidentally good season that it will last for a fewmonths, if they make their tourism product more complex and more attractive, sothat Santorini can escape from the weights of seasonality. Is it simple? No. Isit easy? Not at all. Sadly, there is no automation, but only hard work, freshideas and new ways of marketing them. But Santorini shows the right direction:Every summer, even if it «sinks» from tourists, it doesn’t rest on its laurels.In fact, during the recent months, there has put in place an ambitious plan of mapping,cartography, signalization and cleaning of the island’s hiking trails network.And this is a case not for one, but many forces: the Municipality of Thira, theGreek Society for Environment and Culture –with its active member and architectVoula Didoni-, Penelope Matsouka and the Anavasi publication, who havepublished the relevant map, and of course Kostas Zarokostas, retired banker andfanatical lover of hiking trails –“since the tender age of 5”, as he declareswhile laughing-, who prepared the relevant research.
After herecorded the old trails, Mr. Zarokostas completed them with new hiking roadsand eventually created 75 kilometers of trails, with 13 main and 6 smallertrails in Santorini – and six more trails in the largely unexplored Thirasia.“It is true that mass tourism brings prosperity, creates growth, builds roadsand strives to bring together the visitor with all the best this place canshowcase”, he explains. “But also there is another direction, the one of theselective but balanced sustainable growth, with respect to nature and theenvironment, which is indeed the greatest chapter of the island.”
“Roads” ofthoughts and emotions
Wiselyengraved on the island’s relief panel, the paths of Santorini extend from Oiato the prehistoric lavas of Akrotiri and from the old port of Fira to the sandybeach of Perissa. Through them, hikers will enjoy the unique view from theCaldera, will pass through villages of the hinterland with a well-maintainedmedieval core, will reach thearchaeological sites of Akrotiri and Ancient Thira, will discover desertedbeaches even in the heart of the summer, and most importantly, they will feelthe unique pulse of the island’s life. At each of the trails, hikers will findsigns of import and information – with maps of the network and varyinginformation (of historical, archaeological, geological and agriculturalcontent).
“Santoriniis scents, sounds, images. If you meet a farmer who prunes his vines; if youpass through a sowed fava farm; if you gaze the Caldera from a mound; if youenter a small church; if you cross a medieval settlement, only then you havetruly experienced that place – if you walk around it. For that reason you haveto follow a path”, says Nikolaos-Anastasios Zorzos, mayor of Thira. And he isright. The paths are leading to more roads – roads of thought and emotions. Andany visitor that will walk around Santorini, he will leave with spectacularimages deeply carved in his/her memory, and they will keep reminding him thatthe island will wait for him/her to walk around it again.
Forbeginners and “insiders” / Four hiking trails with special interest
Fira –Imerovigli – Oia
The nowmost popular hiking route starts from the square of Fira, crosses the shoppingstreet and the Catholic district, Firostefani, Imerovigli and, following theedge of Caldera, reaches Oia. At the height of Prophet Elias we don’t followthe paved road turning to the right, so we won’t miss the wonderful view thatthe external route offers.
Length:10.2 km. (paved road,dirt road, path)
Walkingtime: 3 hours
Foinikia –Kira Panagia – Kouloubos
The routecovers almost the entire Foinikia – one of the villages unaffected by masstourism, with many kanaves – and, making some small detours at Euaggelismo andKira Panagia, is directed to the beach of Karra, till the Cape of Coloumbos. Itends at the coastal tarmac road of Pano Meria.
Length: 4.6km. (Paved road, deserted dirt road, path, sandy beach)
Walkingtime: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Pyrgos(Tower) – Prophet Elias Monastery – Ancient Thira
The routeconnects one of the most beautiful villages of Santorini with thearchaeological site of Ancient Thira (from where the view is magical) andpasses through the highest point of the island, where the monastery of ProphetElias is overlooking since 1711.
Walkingtime: 2 hours
Pyrgos(Tower) – Megalochori
A smallroute for beginners – a pleasant walk in the rural landscape – that connectstwo very beautiful villages. Its last section passes through the residentialpart of Megalochori (built on the bed of an old stream).
Length: 2.2km. (Dirt road, path, paved road)
Walkingtime: 40 minutes