Monday, February 4, 2013

Crisis cultivates initiative at Cretan resort

By Elis Kiss

So you thought that the Greek tourism season would be over by now? Not according to the Saridakis family, who are now awaiting the arrival of this year’s first guests for their hands-on fall/winter vacation packages.

At the Eleonas agritourism resort in the village of Zaros, on the slopes of UNESCO classified Mount Psiloritis in southern Crete, fall and a part of the winter season will be creatively busy, as the “Made in Crete” programs, cooking and olive harvesting courses, debut at the end of October and run to March next year.

From “mezes” and Cretan meat platters to collecting olives in the Saridakis groves, the allure of the Mediterranean diet will be combined with the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of seasonal local produce, not to mention take part in wine and raki tastings.

There’s something to be said about collecting rosemary and sage from the herb garden and fresh eggs from the farmyard before gathering in the kitchen to prepare familiar dishes such as moussaka, but also signature local platters including “sfougato me vrouves” (omelet with wild mustard greens) and baby lamb with famed “stamnagathi” (spiny chicory). At Eleonas, all the ingredients are either homegrown on the family farm or sourced within a 5-kilometer range.
Both the cooking and olive harvest courses have already drawn interest and bookings from visitors in France, the Netherlands and Britain.

“So far, they all seem to be interested in the Cretan diet and the production of olive oil, for instance,” said Manolis Saridakis. “It’s about recipes passed on from grandmother to daughter through time. It’s about taking your time cooking, about slow food, even when frying potatoes in olive oil.”

Ever since establishing the Eleonas resort seven years ago, the Saridakis family have been taking advantage of their natural resources and kitchen skills by offering a variety of cooking lessons for guests. The Made in Greece packages, however, are now providing a more organized platform for this kind of activity, while at the same offering a much-needed opportunity to extend the tourism season -- the prime reason behind the new Eleonas venture.

“Unfortunately, fewer Greeks are going on vacation these days and there is no aid coming from anywhere else,” said Saridakis.

Though the idea of the cooking courses and olive harvesting had been planted well before the current crisis, the need to reach out through new projects has taken on a new urgency in the last couple of years. According to Saridakis, although the last summer season was a deemed a good one, 95 percent of the resort’s clientele flew in from Britain.

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