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Students of vocational senior high school of Thira have uploaded to the internet a really moving write-up of them, in which they share with us everything they got to see while hiking on their island, together with their professors. The youngsters followed winding cobblestones roads, narrow dirt paths and steps – along with the 587 steps that you have to descend in order to reach Mesa Gialos, the old port,from Fira. They recorded rare and forgotten species of flora: aspalathos,daffodils, Aethionema, irises, wild mallow and rock rose. They stood in front of local churches, like “Theotokaki”, built in 11th century, and Saint Theodosia, patroness of castles. They passed from caved wineries, the ruined windmills of Emporeio and the abandoned Baths, where “eight rooms, with one next to the other like a harmonica, are waiting visitors in vain”, as they wrote. They became tourists to their own homeland. They got to know a “different” Santorini – and they became mesmerized by its beauty.

The example of Santorini

Nowadays, the challenge for Greece is not to only have tourists during the summer months, but to 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 few months, if they make their tourism product more complex and more attractive, so that Santorini can escape from the weights of seasonality. Is it simple? No. Is it easy? Not at all. Sadly, there is no automation, but only hard work, fresh ideas 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, the Greek Society for Environment and Culture –with its active member and architect Voula Didoni-, Penelope Matsouka and the Anavasi publication, who have published the relevant map, and of course Kostas Zarokostas, retired banker and fanatical lover of hiking trails –“since the tender age of 5”, as he declares while laughing-, who prepared the relevant research.

After he recorded the old trails, Mr. Zarokostas completed them with new hiking road sand eventually created 75 kilometers of trails, with 13 main and 6 smaller trails in Santorini – and six more trails in the largely unexplored Thirasia.“It is true that mass tourism brings prosperity, creates growth, builds road sand strives to bring together the visitor with all the best this place can showcase”, he explains. “But also there is another direction, the one of the selective but balanced sustainable growth, with respect to nature and the environment, which is indeed the greatest chapter of the island.”

“Roads” of thoughts and emotions

Wisely engraved on the island’s relief panel, the paths of Santorini extend from Oia to the prehistoric lavas of Akrotiri and from the old port of Fira to the sandy beach of Perissa. Through them, hikers will enjoy the unique view from the Caldera, will pass through villages of the hinterland with a well-maintained medieval core, will reach the archaeological sites of Akrotiri and Ancient Thira, will discover deserted beaches even in the heart of the summer, and most importantly, they will feel the unique pulse of the island’s life. At each of the trails, hikers will find signs of import and information – with maps of the network and varying information (of historical, archaeological, geological and agricultural content).

“Santorini is scents, sounds, images. If you meet a farmer who prunes his vines; if you pass through a sowed fava farm; if you gaze the Caldera from a mound; if you enter a small church; if you cross a medieval settlement, only then you have truly experienced that place – if you walk around it. For that reason you have to follow a path”, says Nikolaos-Anastasios Zorzos, mayor of Thira. And he is right. The paths are leading to more roads – roads of thought and emotions. A new visitor that will walk around Santorini, he will leave with spectacular images deeply carved in his/her memory, and they will keep reminding him that the island will wait for him/her to walk around it again.

For beginners and “insiders” / Four hiking trails with special interest

Fira –Imerovigli – Oia

The nowmost popular hiking route starts from the square of Fira, crosses the shopping street and the Catholic district, Firostefani, Imerovigli and, following the edge of Caldera, reaches Oia. At the height of Prophet Elias we don’t follow the paved road turning to the right, so we won’t miss the wonderful view that the external route offers.
Length:10.2 km. (paved road,dirt road, path)
Walking time: 3 hours
Difficulty:1/5
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Foinikia –Kira Panagia – Kouloubos

The route covers almost the entire Foinikia – one of the villages unaffected by mass tourism, with many kanaves – and, making some small detours at Euaggelismo and Kira Panagia, is directed to the beach of Karra, till the Cape of Coloumbos. It ends at the coastal tarmac road of Pano Meria.
Length: 4.6km. (Paved road, deserted dirt road, path, sandy beach)
Walking time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Difficulty:1/5

Pyrgos(Tower) – Prophet Elias Monastery – Ancient Thira

The route connects one of the most beautiful villages of Santorini with the archaeological site of Ancient Thira (from where the view is magical) and passes through the highest point of the island, where the monastery of Prophet Elias is overlooking since 1711.
Length: 4.3km.
Walking time: 2 hours
Difficulty:1/5

Pyrgos(Tower) – Megalochori

A small route for beginners – a pleasant walk in the rural landscape – that connects two very beautiful villages. Its last section passes through the residential part of Megalochori (built on the bed of an old stream).
Length: 2.2km. (Dirt road, path, paved road)
Walking time: 40 minutes
Difficulty:1/5

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