Oleotourism Begins to Sprout in Greece

Mill tours, virtual harvests and high-profile tasting events are becoming increasingly common in Greece.

Photo: Stefanos Addimando
May. 20, 2022
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Photo: Stefanos Addimando

Recent News

Oleotourism, the form of rural tourism based on activ­i­ties related to olive oil pro­duc­tion, has recently started to gain momen­tum in Greece.

Mills and agri-food busi­nesses are increas­ingly diver­si­fy­ing from their main activ­i­ties and turn­ing to tourism to dis­sem­i­nate the cul­ture of olive oil.

They put on a vir­tual real­ity head­set to see every­thing we dis­cussed ear­lier for them­selves. They can vir­tu­ally par­tic­i­pate in every stage of olive oil pro­duc­tion.- Nikolaos Markellos, owner, Markellos Olive

Tourists – both for­eign and Greek – can branch out from the typ­i­cal sun and sand’ tourism model and taste high-qual­ity olive oils while spend­ing some time in the Greek coun­try­side.

To pro­mote such ini­tia­tives, the Greek gov­ern­ment passed a new law requir­ing a spe­cific sign to be used by olive oil mills offer­ing oleo­tourism ser­vices to vis­i­tors.

See Also:Campaign in Crete Urges Hospitality Establishments to Choose Local Olive Oils

A big bet for Greek tourism is to essen­tially diver­sify… to pre­serve the gen­uine Greek color and the expe­ri­ence vis­i­tors to our coun­try gain,” said Sofia Zaharakis, the deputy Minister of Tourism of the coun­try. And what is more authen­ti­cally Greek than the pri­mary sec­tor of Greece?”

Oleotourism also pro­motes local gas­tron­omy and helps pre­serve indus­trial her­itage by encour­ag­ing invest­ments to adapt mills and ware­houses into tourist estab­lish­ments.

In west­ern Peloponnese, broth­ers Alexis and Francesco Karabelas run their oleo­tourism busi­ness in the fam­ily-owned farm estate sit­u­ated among 5,000 olive trees near the archae­o­log­i­cal site of Ancient Olympia.

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Exploring the groves and ancient mill (Photo: AMG Karabelas)

Both uni­ver­sity grad­u­ates, the two broth­ers decided to pur­sue their pas­sion for olive oil instead of fol­low­ing their pro­fes­sions.

The first step was to turn all the fam­ily olive groves organic,” Alexis Karabelas told Olive Oil Times. We also attended sem­i­nars on olive oil tast­ing, and we con­ceived and designed our mod­ern olive oil mill com­pletely from scratch.”

Their effort recently paid off when AMG Karabelas won two Gold Awards at the ongo­ing edi­tion of the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition in their first-ever par­tic­i­pa­tion in the con­test.

Winning at the NYIOOC is the cul­mi­na­tion of the har­vest­ing sea­son and the ulti­mate recog­ni­tion of our hard work,” Karabelas said upon learn­ing of the award.

Apart from becom­ing suc­cess­ful pro­duc­ers, the broth­ers also took over the agri­tourism busi­ness their par­ents had started and turned it into a fully-fledged oleo­tourism facil­ity.

In 2008, our par­ents, mainly spurred by the low prices of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, turned the sta­ble in our farm into an estab­lish­ment to facil­i­tate agri­tourism activ­i­ties,” Karabelas said.

They envi­sioned serv­ing the vis­i­tors of the nearby archae­o­log­i­cal site with the authen­tic taste of home­made olive oil, wine and mar­malades,” he added. Of course, Ancient Olympia by itself was the strongest brand name around, an attrac­tion for thou­sands of tourists each year.”

In the present day, Magna Grecia, the oleo­tourism busi­ness of the Karabelas broth­ers, is open to vis­i­tors all year round and encom­passes numer­ous activ­i­ties per­tain­ing to olive oil pro­duc­tion.

People who visit us exhibit a strong desire to learn about and enjoy the world of olive oil,” Karabelas said. They par­tic­i­pate in guided tours to famil­iar­ize them­selves with our mill and the process of pro­duc­ing olive oil. They wit­ness how soap from olive oil is made at our work­shop and they attend a video sim­u­la­tion of the olive har­vest.”

But if they hap­pen to arrive dur­ing har­vest time in win­ter, they can enjoy a real hands-on expe­ri­ence pick­ing olives,” he added.

Karabelas also knows that no olive oil tourism expe­ri­ence is com­plete with­out tast­ing the oils, com­ple­mented with select local dishes.

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Pairing olive oil with local delicacies (Photo: AMG Karabelas)

Each tour ends in front of the olive oil tast­ing glasses,” he said. We advise our vis­i­tors how to taste and eval­u­ate our olive oils prop­erly and how to pair the oils with local dishes we treat them with. They leave overex­cited, and the com­ments they place on online travel plat­forms prove their enthu­si­asm.”

Karabelas added that, once the tour is fin­ished, their con­nec­tion with the vis­i­tors is not sev­ered, and a spe­cial kind of rela­tion­ship is main­tained.

Our vis­i­tors become our best clients,” he said. We cur­rently sup­ply over 300 fam­i­lies in the United States and another 200 around the world with olive oil.”

There are also many repeaters,’ peo­ple who never miss the chance to visit us again when they come to Greece,” Karabelas added. A cou­ple from the States has already been here seven times. There is no bet­ter reward than this.”

Across the Peloponnese penin­sula near the small town of Galataki, only a few kilo­me­ters away from the renowned beach named after Helen of Troy in the Greek mythol­ogy, Markellos Olive was the first pro­ducer in the coun­try to imple­ment a com­pre­hen­sive vir­tual real­ity video of all the oper­a­tions per­tain­ing to olive oil tourism.

Our vis­i­tors first take a walk in our groves to famil­iar­ize them­selves with the olive vari­eties we grow,” Nikolaos Markellos, one of the own­ers, told Olive Oil Times. We also intro­duce them to the char­ac­ter­is­tics and attrib­utes of olive oil and explain how it is pro­duced.”

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Professional tasting instruction from the producers at Markellos Olive

Then the most fas­ci­nat­ing part of our olive oil tour pro­gram begins,” he added. They put on a vir­tual real­ity head­set to see every­thing we dis­cussed ear­lier for them­selves.”

They can vir­tu­ally par­tic­i­pate in every stage of olive oil pro­duc­tion, from har­vest­ing olives to pro­cess­ing them in our mill and even bot­tling the oil pro­duced,” Markellos con­tin­ued. They also watch an intro­duc­tion to pro­fes­sional olive oil tast­ing before they get to sip our extra vir­gin olive oils.”

A fourth-gen­er­a­tion olive oil pro­ducer, Markellos earned a Silver Award at the 2022 NYIOOC with the company’s Soligea Premium blend. He started his oleo­tourism busi­ness in 2020 dri­ven by the desire to pass on his ado­ra­tion of olive oil.

Our love and pas­sion for extra vir­gin olive oil have been our inspi­ra­tion,” he said. We fully ren­o­vated our estab­lish­ments and designed our tour pro­gram to offer high-qual­ity ser­vices to peo­ple long­ing to learn every­thing about olive oil.”

We receive vis­i­tors from Europe, Asia and North America, and native Greeks since we still have a lot to learn about olive oil,” Markellos added. The smile on their faces and the hap­pi­ness they reflect after the olive oil tour is com­pleted makes us step up our effort to con­vey our pas­sion for olive oil.”

Oleotourism ser­vices in Greece, how­ever, are not restricted to the typ­i­cal olive oil-pro­duc­ing ter­ri­to­ries of the coun­try.

In Mykonos, the famous tourist des­ti­na­tion in the Aegean Sea, Anita Zachou left a career in multi­na­tional firms to cre­ate an expe­ri­ence around olive oil like no other.

I hail from Messinia, and I am an agron­o­mist and a cer­ti­fied olive oil taster since 2012,” Zachou told Olive Oil Times directly after Greece’s 2022 tourism awards com­pe­ti­tion, where she earned a sil­ver award for her olive oil tourism busi­ness.

I was always pas­sion­ate about olive oil, and I wanted to breathe new life into olive oil tast­ing,” she added.

Back in 2018, Zachou had envi­sioned a type of olive tourism non-exis­tent in Greece at the time.

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Olive oil tastings with a view in Mykonos (Photo: Stefanos Addimando)

The type that didn’t include a visit to an olive grove or a mill, but aimed at gain­ing in-depth knowl­edge of olive oil and the olive vari­eties of Greece,” she said.

A firm believer in edu­ca­tion, Zachou designed her oleo­tourism ser­vices to pro­mote knowl­edge about olive oil and, at the same time, suit the needs of her clients.

Each year, I taste more than 50 extra vir­gin olive oils, and only awarded oils make it to our tast­ing events,” she said. My clients have the oppor­tu­nity to taste dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties from around Greece with dif­fer­ent aro­matic pro­files and also some defec­tive oils to be able to dis­cern extra vir­gin olive oil from vir­gin and oils of infe­rior qual­ity.”

I wanted to make celebri­ties love olive oil, so I orga­nize tast­ing events on pri­vate yachts and in vil­las, in wed­ding cer­e­monies, and even on the beach,” Zachou added. Sometimes, we also do online olive oil tast­ing events in win­ter by send­ing out olive oil sam­ples.”

Her clients come from abroad, mostly from the United States. However, the few Greeks who occa­sion­ally par­tic­i­pate in the olive oil tast­ing activ­i­ties she orga­nizes are usu­ally in for a big sur­prise.

They think they know every­thing about olive oil, and they are aston­ished to find out that this is sim­ply not the case,” Zachou said.

She knows first-hand the qual­i­ties and mer­its of olive oil. At the same time, she exhibits a fas­ci­na­tion with the olive oil’s sub­tleties and its ben­e­fi­cial effects when viewed from a broader per­spec­tive than just a food prod­uct.

Cliché as it may sound, olive oil is a blessed food,” she said. Not only due to its high nutri­tional value and the count­less health ben­e­fits it boasts, but also because it brings together peo­ple from var­i­ous coun­tries, cul­tures and reli­gions.”

I have seen some­thing mag­i­cal tak­ing place around the tast­ing table. The myths sur­round­ing olive oil are debunked, and, its gus­ta­tory com­plex­ity enchants peo­ple” Zachou added.

Even more, after my clients have tasted real high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils, they never go back to oils of dubi­ous qual­ity,” she con­cluded. Their every­day life has changed for­ever.”



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