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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”