I am sitting in a half-empty airplane to my childhood’s holiday destination, Crete, going through papers, notes and documents on Crete and agritourism. While the stewardess collects the remains of my breakfast with the typical omnipresent smile of flight attendants, I am wiping off last coffee stains off the stacks of paper and open up my guidebook on Crete. I am curious what awaits me on this research trip about knowledge exchange in agritourism on Crete.
So, there I was trying to recollect reminiscences of long gone holidays, funneling some more knowledge in my brains and making some last minute preparations for my research on the island. Although I am far from entering the silver market yet, a considerable amount of time has passed and I wonder what has remained of my blurry childhood memories of a place with pristine natural landscapes and what the place of agritourism is in this environment.
Upon arrival I was warm heartedly greeted by my host Mrs. Korinna Milliarakis, who is also the president of the Cretan Union of Agritourism. Without any further ado, I experienced first-handedly the famous Cretan “filoxenia” (hospitality) as we arrived for dinner in the Tavern Onissimus in Peza. Dish after dish the host Onissimus treated us with one delicacy after the other of the well-known Cretan cuisine. The products were amazing and the intensity of the tastes overwhelming. After a couple rounds of ‘ya mas’, the Greek way of saying ‘cheers’, I was well prepared for a deep night of sleep.
The following days I travelled around the area of Archanes, a beautiful ancient village which is located in the hilly hinterland of Heraklion. Besides visiting several agritourism businesses, I talked to the Agricultural Women Cooperative of Archanes, visited a Museum of traditional instruments in Choudertsi, the Archeological Museum of Archanes as well as the Museum of Nikos Kazantzakis, a Cretan local who was one of the most important Greek authors in the 20th century. I regarded all this part of my research since my goal was to get a feeling for the local culture and how agritourism is situated in it. Many definitions of agritourism exist and the multitude of definition also reflects the blurriness of the term. Although agritourism is a well-known concept in Western Europe, often used for regional development in rural areas, the concept differs depending whether one goes to Italy, Scandinavia, France or Germany. Each country developed different version of agritourism that share similarities but surely are not congruent. This largely derives from the different frameworks in which agritourism has been developed, factors such as monoculture vs. polyculture in plantation, size of land, agricultural unions, local culture and other are factors heavily influencing the regional evolution of agritourism.
Agritourism in Crete did not match my romanticized expectations of a rural farm house with an extra bed within field of olive trees. On the contrary my first experiences with agritourism accommodations on Crete were rather characterized by luxurious facilities with swimming pools which are owned and managed by locals. Although almost all owners owned olive trees, produced olive oil or wine and used mostly their own products, the immediate connection to agriculture was not always apparent as one might have expected. Moreover many agritourism entities do not have their farmland at the doorstep or offer any agricultural activities, which is usually the case with agritourism in Western Europe. With regard to the notion of locality as an important factor for the development of agritourism the current state of Cretan agritourism is not very surprising and the abundance of activities can be partially explained with the heavily scattered segmentation of farmland on Crete. Furthermore many of the facilities had been build with the help of EU funding programs (LEADER 1, LEADER2, LEADER+) only within the last ten years, reflecting a combination of tradition and an attempt for modernity in the facilities.
(Part 2 to follow)