Greek Secretary for Tourism: The Cradle of Western Civilization is a Wonderful Year-Round Destination

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | Author: Nikola Danailov |June 15, 2023, Thursday // 10:46
Bulgaria: Greek Secretary for Tourism: The Cradle of Western Civilization is a Wonderful Year-Round Destination

The Greek General Secretary for Tourism Mrs. Olympia Anastasopoulou was in Sofia last week, where she participated in the 68th Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Europe. The General Secretary met with her Bulgarian counterpart and the two discussed tourism issues between Bulgaria and Greece. Mrs. Anastasopoulou was kind enough to give an exclusive interview for

1. Mrs. Anastasopoulou, how do you assess the level of cooperation between Bulgaria and Greece in the field of tourism and what measures should be taken to increase and develop it in the future?

In the framework of the 68th Session of the Regional Commission for Europe of the World Tourism Organization, I had a very constructive meeting with the Bulgarian Minister of Tourism, Mr. Ilin Dimitrov, with whom we explored ways to further strengthen the cooperation between the two countries through targeted initiatives in the field of tourism.

It is noted that the two countries cooperate within the framework of the EU, as well as other international organizations. Cultural ties between Greece and Bulgaria are particularly noteworthy.

During the meeting, we identified significant opportunities for the development of tourism between the two countries and confirmed our intention to work to further strengthen and deepen bilateral tourism relations and upgrade the institutional framework for cooperation.

In particular, emphasis was placed on thematic areas such as maritime tourism and cruise tourism, as well as film and medical tourism.

In addition, we both focused on the exchange of good practices and know-how in the areas of winter tourism, health tourism and wellness tourism.

Moreover, the signing of a joint action plan was discussed which will seal the excellent cooperation between the two countries.

In any case, in the context of the broader long-term good relations between our country and Bulgaria, the geographical proximity, cultural and commercial ties and following the Joint Declaration between the Ministers of Tourism of the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Bulgaria signed in 2020, the possibility of creating joint programs - packages for attracting tourists from third countries could be considered on the occasion of the meetings that will be held in the framework of the 8th Athens International Expo in November.  This applies especially to the markets of Europe and the USA, which are a priority for Greek tourism and the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) maintains Foreign Services.

Specifically, it could be agreed to jointly approach tour operators operating in specific markets to create packages that will include both destinations oriented to thematic forms of tourism that are a priority for both countries, such as cultural tourism, marine tourism, MICE tourism, etc., while at the same time these packages can be included in the co-advertising - promotion programs of both countries.

Taking into account the competitive offers from destinations in the neighboring country with a good price/quality ratio, competitive packages with Northern Greece to third countries could be created. The geographical proximity with the possibility of a flight to Thessaloniki or Sofia followed by a road tour sets an attractive framework with benefits for both parties.

At this point, it is worth mentioning the Interreg V-A "Greece-Bulgaria" 2014-2020 Cooperation Program, which is not yet completed, but covers 11 Greek and Bulgarian regions and aims, among other things, to enhance tourism in the border region, conservation, protection, promotion and development of natural and cultural heritage. In particular, the project "Development of digital applications for the exploitation of cross-border natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of tourism development" for the implementation of the Act: "Innovative Instruments for the Preservation and Promotion of Cultural Heritage in the Cross-Border Area", with the acronym "Tourism-e" is funded by the Interreg V-A Cross-border Cooperation Program "Greece-Bulgaria 2014- 2020".

This project will create a repository for the collection and processing of information and services related to tourist and cultural sites of interest in the border area. Tourism-e will create digital representations of these which will be available through a platform, and the points of interest in the border region could form the basis for the creation of cultural tourism cooperation packages.

Based on the Rhodope mountain range and the numerous national parks and lakes, the Pirin National Park in southern Bulgaria and the Lake Kerkini National Park are areas of outstanding natural beauty where many activities in both countries can be combined in tour packages, ideally including the Region of Central Macedonia, the Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace with the Bulgarian side.

Pirin National Park, in particular, is classified by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site, with a remarkable flora and fauna, 45 species of mammals, 11 reptiles and 159 species of birds.

Moreover, by making use of their existing high quality infrastructure, the ski resorts in Bulgaria and Macedonia (Greece) could be an attraction in combination packages.

Especially the ski resorts of Falacru and Laylia are in close proximity to the Greek-Bulgarian border. The Smolyan Region and the management company of the Pamporovo Ski Centre have started exploring the possibilities of implementing joint programs on a 12-month basis, mainly targeting third European countries using the Kavala and Plovdiv airports.

The possible creation of a travel package including Thessaloniki and Sofia as city break destinations with stopovers is also of interest, as there is no air connection between them, but the distance by road is less than four hours.

Furthermore, taking into account the increase in the volume of trade between Greece and Bulgaria, with the prospect of further strengthening Greek-Bulgarian business relations and enhancing the flow of business tourists between the two countries, the promotion of conference tourism, either in boutique conferences at present, or in larger ones as soon as conditions allow, could be an important attraction from other markets.

Finally, from the port of Kavala, in the context of cruise travel, there could be an attraction for creating tour packages that include both countries, thus becoming more attractive to potential visitors.

2. For Bulgarians, Greece is probably the most attractive and preferred destination during the summer season. What do you think is the reason for this interest and how can this be maintained against competing destinations such as Turkey, Cyprus and Italy?

As you know, Greece has been re-established abroad as a safe destination, as a very well-organized country that respects its citizens, but also respects travelers and tourists, as well as business people.

The hospitable character and friendly attitude of the inhabitants, the sense of security, the gastronomy and the beauty of the landscapes are crucial dimensions of the tourist experience that our country offers.

From ancient monuments to breathtaking landscapes, from world-renowned gastronomy to famous nightlife, there are many reasons why you should visit Greece.

Our country is home to wonderful archaeological sites and UNESCO heritage sites. Take time to see the stunning Acropolis in Athens and its fantastic museum, visit the archaeological site of Delphi or the open-air museum of Delos, the beautiful Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, the archaeological sites of Vergina and Philippi in Northern Greece, the mythical palace of Knossos in Crete or the beautiful medieval Old Town of Rhodes.

In addition, Greece has many beaches that can seduce everyone. From sandy to pebble beaches, secluded coves and quiet bays, the Greek islands with their turquoise waters are a sunny paradise for many around the world. With a coastline of around 16,000 kilometers, including the mainland and some 6,000 islands (of which only 227 are inhabited), Greece is one of the world's leading sailing destinations. Endowed with warm weather, four different archipelagos and seven island chains, sailing holidays are safe and easy in the Greek seas.

Although the country is renowned for its islands and marine wealth, 80% of its land area is covered by mountain ranges. Greece is the third most mountainous country in Europe, after Norway and Albania. In fact, there are more than 40 mountain ranges offering incredible landscapes. Thus, hiking enthusiasts have plenty of choices of coastal, as well as inland, routes. The only problem you will have is deciding which area to go to. Get to know the "magical" mountains of Greece: from the top of Varnountas to Gramos, from the "backbone" of Pindos to the unique Olympus of the 12 gods, from the lush green Pelion to the "male" Taygetos and from there to the sweet wildness of the Asterousia of southern Crete.

In other words, rugged mountains, exotic, pristine beaches with crystal clear waters, lush green valleys, beautiful lakes and dense forests - the splendour of nature in Greece will blow your mind. You have the opportunity to discover different ways of life in a country whose natural beauty and diversity is bound to surprise you positively along with its wide variety of food and drink. You can discover a huge range of Greek wines, local drinks and world-famous dishes, island specialities or traditional "dishes" of mountain villages, fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables cooked with a dose of "healthy" Greek olive oil. Your trip to Greece will surely be a feast for your palate.

Plus, whether you are or remain young at heart, you can have a great time in Greece. From islands like Skiathos, Mykonos, Ios or Zakynthos to cosmopolitan cities like Athens or Thessaloniki, the country rarely "sleeps". However, its beauty also lies in the fact that the rhythms of everyday life remain simple and authentic in much of it. If you're looking for quiet places to relax and unwind, there are countless non-urban areas where you can recharge your batteries away from the crowds.

Zagorochoria, for example, is a captivating year-round holiday destination. You'll discover the rare beauty of the region by walking along the Viko gorge, gazing at the impressive peak of Mount Astrakas and listening to the gentle hum of the Voidomatis River. Even if you find yourself in a more romantic or bucolic area like Tzoumerka in Epirus for example, experiencing a typical festival is an unforgettable experience that will make your holiday special.

Last but not least, the last but equally important reason to visit Greece is its accessible, friendly and hospitable people. After all, Greek hospitality is legendary. The word in question literally translates as "friend to a stranger" and refers to the act of welcoming and caring for a stranger in one's home. For the ancient Greeks, it was an act of virtue to welcome and care for strangers into their home, as they believed they were sent by the gods. Hospitality remains an important value for modern Greeks, as it still exists as they still happily open their homes and invite strangers to treat them to food and drink.

Ultimately, the country's unpretentious charm and simplicity, its renowned cultural masterpieces of antiquity, its hospitable people, its stunning beaches, its picturesque mountain villages, its fantastic weather, its unique flavours... are some of the thousands of reasons to visit Greece, whether you are travelling in search of luxury options or cheap accommodation.  The cradle of western civilization is a wonderful year-round destination. Visit Greece and see for yourself, "you'll want to stay forever"!

3. Apart from the beautiful beaches and the crystal clear sea, Greece has other attractions to offer to the Bulgarian visitors. Your cultural and historical tourism is highly developed, as well as that of spas and wellness. However, perhaps few Bulgarians visit Greece on such occasions. What would you share with our readers about the various tourism opportunities in Greece?

The pandemic has significantly changed the priorities and data in global tourism trends, with 2023 welcoming a shift in tourists towards sustainable and responsible tourism, who are now focusing on environmentally friendly options, health and wellness programs - always taking into account safety and hygiene protocols.

In particular, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and its psychosocial impact on the population has contributed to a redefinition of the priorities of tourists, who are now prioritizing health and safety, becoming more aware of sustainability issues and adopting innovative approaches to self-protection and mental health, seeking to ensure a better quality of life and recognizing the importance of well-being.

In Greece, however, the first to address the concept and importance of well-being was Hippocrates, who from 500 BC focused on the prevention of disease, arguing that the latter is a product of diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, among others.

What Hippocrates advocated is not far from the modern concept of wellness which includes the physical, psychological and social dimension, with services and programs of meditation, physical exercise, sports, healthy eating, smoking cessation, stress control, etc.

Nature, apart from rare landscapes and special natural beauties, has also provided Greece with resources with significant therapeutic advantages. The thermal baths are part of the country's national wealth, and their therapeutic properties have been known since antiquity.

In particular, thermalism was born 2,500 years ago in the Aegean Sea.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, studied and spoke about the healing properties of waters and can be considered the founder of the science of hydrotherapy. References to the life-giving and therapeutic role of water are also abundant in mythology and in the accounts of ancient historians, from which we learn that Hercules used to bathe in the spring of Thermopylae to regain his strength after every feat, Ivy, the goddess of youth, bathed in the healing waters of Patras to keep herself young and the spring of Hypati was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite.

There are testimonies about the baths in the Homeric epics, while in general in ancient Greek times we know that the baths were used for therapeutic purposes. The Asclepieion of Epidaurus was the main sanctuary of hydrotherapy and hydrotherapy during the Prokopokratic period, while the Asclepieion of Kos also had baths and hydrotherapy fountains

The tradition and practice of thermal medicine and thermal baths was inherited and continued by the Romans and the Byzantines (from whom the Ottomans inspired their hammams) and is still preserved today.

As you can see, Greece has a long tradition of health and wellness practices. The medical concept of ancient Greece, which is preserved in its folk tradition, treats man as an indivisible "whole"; the soul, the mind and the body interact and health is seen as a state of balance and good relationship between the emotional world and the physical state of the individual.

The Greek medical tradition is based on mild forms of treatment. Thermal baths, balanced diet, herbal treatments, hypnotherapy, relaxing massage are some of the "secrets" that have reached from deep antiquity to our days.

The Greek territory has more than 800 thermal springs, with different properties and uses. The composition of the waters varies and makes each spring unique. Other waters are considered ideal for drinking, such as those of the Arcadian springs, which have a clear analgesic and therapeutic effect on stomach disorders. Other springs are considered excellent for dermatological conditions and chronic bone and muscle diseases, such as the springs of Edipsos in Evia, Loutraki in the Peloponnese and Eleftheres of Kavala in Macedonia. The units operating at the thermal springs offer a complete network of infrastructure and continuous medical care by qualified staff, who treat each case individually.

At the same time, sea water has unique therapeutic properties. The thalassotherapy centers that operate in Greece, usually integrated in luxury hotel facilities, offer a unique experience of wellness and relaxation.

In addition to the special treatments that one can enjoy in the many private and public wellness centers, Greek nature itself has a therapeutic and rejuvenating effect on people. It is characteristic that the 'discovery' of Greece by travelers in the mid-19th century was precisely for rejuvenation purposes. People from all over Europe came to Greece to indulge in the healing power of nature.

The Greek mountains, with their 'thin' air and mild climate, were considered ideal places for strengthening the body, and the coastal areas were preferred by people in need of mental stimulation. The Mediterranean climate, with its mild winters and irresistible sun, has always been a balancing factor for the human body.

Greece is presented as the ideal place to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the care of the body. In a beautiful nature, full of beneficial forces, and with the safety of specialized units dedicated to the treatment and rejuvenation of man, the visitor will immediately feel the positive results.

Even within large urban centers there are unique spaces where one can enjoy the experience of a relaxing massage combined with hydrotherapy and facial treatments. An organism that feels good, brings out all its beauty on the outside as well. This belief, which runs through the Greek concept of maintaining human health, is gaining more and more ground in the consciousness of both scientists and visitors.

Important sources are the Kaiafa Baths, a magnificent and unique ecosystem of its kind in the region of Ilia. The beauty of the area is unsurpassed, especially Lake Kaiafa where the homonymous springs and thermal baths are located. The water contains miraculous healing properties, as it helps cure various diseases.

Edipsos is perhaps the most famous spa town in Greece. The beautiful small town is located in northern Evia. The frequent ferry connection with Arkitsa in Fthiotida ensures easy access. It is also easy to get there by road, as Evia is connected to Attica via a bridge. The beautiful spa town retains a nostalgic air, as there are many neoclassical buildings that adorn it, clusters of full-rooted plane trees and quaint, traditional cafes and restaurants.

Enjoy thermal baths in the "Garden of Eden", at the Pozar Baths. A unique setting located in northern Greece, at the foot of Mount Voras (or Kaimaktsalan). With a constant temperature of 37 °C the Olympic-sized pool is ideal for winter and summer dips, while the more adventurous prefer the small waterfalls and natural steaming pools next to the river.

What will enchant you is the natural decor around the baths simply spectacular! Lush vegetation, towering century-old trees, steep slopes and heavenly cliffs make up a setting of unparalleled beauty that only artisan nature could have carved. The modern spa town attracts a large number of visitors every year who wish to combine rest, relaxation and stimulation with the therapeutic properties of the thermal waters.

At the same time, our country is an open-air museum of great interest. Every step brings you close to a piece of history: world heritage sites, archaeological museums, art galleries - Greece is overflowing with cultural stimuli. The rich cultural heritage is our country's greatest dowry.

Athens, the historic capital of Europe, the birthplace of democracy, the arts, science and philosophy of Western civilization, as well as of the most important tragic poets, politicians and philosophers of antiquity such as Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, is one of the oldest cities in the world.

It has a recorded history that spans about 3,400 years, and has been inhabited since the end of the Upper Paleolithic Age (11th millennium BC). A large part of the historic city center has been transformed into a 3 km long pedestrian street, one of the longest in Europe. It leads to the most important archaeological sites ("archaeological park"), reconstructing - to a large extent - the ancient landscape. Traversing it either on foot or by bike around the Acropolis is a unique experience, an unforgettable journey through history.

Today, under the shadow of the Parthenon, the modern cityscape of the expanding city reflects its fascinating history, its multicultural, yet contemporary image, as well as the infrastructure and facilities of a now global type B city on the scale of the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC).

Moreover, Athens is one of the most important economic centers in South-Eastern Europe and its port of Piraeus is the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest in the world. So you have plenty of options when it comes to day trips from the city, such as one to Agistri and Aegina, or a sunset tour of Cape Sounion and the white marble temple of Poseidon, or a visit to the historic city of Nafplio. There you can gaze at colorful Venetian houses, climb the 999 steps to the Palamidi Castle, taste ouzo in one of the famous ouzo distilleries and visit the ancient theatre of Epidaurus.

In addition, Athens is home to 148 theatre stages, more than any other city in the world, including the Herodes Atticus Conservatory, more commonly known as the Herodeion, and the Athens Festival, which runs from May to October each year. In addition to a large number of cinemas with many screening rooms, Athens is also home to summer cinemas.

The city also has music venues, such as the Athens Concert Hall and the Onassis Cultural Centre, which attract world-class artists. The Athens Planetarium, located on Andreas Syngrou Avenue in Paleo Faliro, is one of the largest and best equipped digital planetariums in the world. In addition, it is worth visiting and enjoying the cultural events of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, which houses the National Library and the National Opera House.

Also in Northern Greece, there is a beautiful city, the enchanting Thessaloniki. Among the crowds and in the streets, you will read its history: Thermaikos Gulf, White Tower, Nikis Avenue, Aristotelous Square, Mitropoleos Street, Tsimiski Street, Ladadika, Modiano Market, Bit Pazar, Ano Polis.

For thousands of years this port city of the North has been a meeting point for people of different cultures.

Get to know the multitude of cultures that have coexisted for centuries in the city of Thessaloniki and tour the Galerian Complex, visit the Jewish Museum, in an elegantly preserved building from 1904 and Kemal Atatürk's house-museum. Walk along the cobbled Ladadika, a fine example of the redevelopment of old buildings that is well worth seeing.

On the beach, on a unique walk through iconic buildings, you will find the Harbour Warehouses that house the Museum of Photography, the Film Museum and the Centre for Contemporary Art. The White Tower, the iconic monument of Thessaloniki, which rises on the beach, hosts inside an exhibition on the history of the city in a multimedia environment.

Walk through the most authentic old part of Thessaloniki, the narrow alleys of Ano Polis. There you will admire its sights, which in this part of the city are mainly castles and religious monuments: the Trigoniou Tower with its incredible view and the imposing Eptapyrgio (YentiKoule), the Ottoman monuments, the Vlatadon Monastery and the various Byzantine churches.

The Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture are also excellent to visit. The Thessaloniki International Fair, the International Film Festival and the Dimitria attract thousands of visitors every year and place Thessaloniki at the centre of contemporary culture and art.

In addition, at any time of the year, the art of today is omnipresent in Greece. Foreign and Greek artists of international fame and global visibility present their work in unique, historic, aesthetically unsurpassed, mystifying spaces. Ancient theatres, specially designed spaces for performances inside Venetian castles, industrial spaces that have been renovated, old warehouses, squares, pedestrian streets and the traditional villages of Greece. Everything is transformed into a vast pluralistic and challenging setting, where you will have the opportunity to get in touch with contemporary Greek art.

In the stands of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, you can watch a groundbreaking performance in ecstasy. On the whitewashed terrace of the church, next to the sea and embraced by the moon, you can listen to a concert of Greek art music. In the alleys of the medieval Kasteli, discover the Santorini Biennale, with sculptures, paintings and art installations by artists from all over the world. In the old warehouse at the port of Thessaloniki, admire the works of contemporary Greek photographers.

In Greece, on its islands and in its cities, artists find the most hospitable home. The Athens Festival's performances in the ancient theatres of Epidaurus and Herodion are top performances. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rhodes or Andros with periodic exhibitions of internationally renowned artists. Attend the Modern Dance Festival in Kalamata, the International Folklore Festival in Lefkada, the art installations of the DESTE Foundation in Hydra.

Read our interview with the Greek Ambassador to Bulgaria, His Excellency, Alexios-Marios Lyberopoulos.

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