Tourism and gastronomy in Greece

Tourism represents a fairly new economic activity in Greece.

This industry that is no more than 150 years old is still a thriving business for many countries.

For Tourism to get to its current shape it went through various stages and chapters. Essentially tourism as we know it today, replaced the stage of the aristocracy tourism, which was a privilege only for a few.

xenia filoxenia

Through a short historical background check, we can observe that in Ancient Greece “hosting” was thought of as a practice of virtue. Travelers were protected by the Olympian Gods and it was a divine obligation to take care of strangers; their bad confrontation was described as sin. The hospitality was followed by a ceremony granted to every visitor, regardless of the class he belonged, he could stay in a special room in the house called "guest room"(xenonas).

In Homer's time, when a stranger went to any home, he would receive hospitality.

In ancient times the improvement of transportation resulted in the development of trade. Traveling increased greatly especially over sporting events and festivals.

xenia gamesThe Greek cities, hosting these events, would accept in addition to their many visitors, delegations from other cities as well. At that time, the word "Xenia" (hospitality) was often used to express the meaning of friendship.

Over time public and private hotels appeared, called "inns" (panthohia) or "basements" (katogia).

The inns were private and charged a fee according to their facilities and luxury they offered. The basements were public and free of charge usually built next to temples or in areas where festivals and sporting events took place.

The “tip” in ancient Greece was playing its current role, an attempt to secure additional service.

In Byzantium there were many different categories of inns and taverns offering food. Their system over the years had changed and their kitchen was a mixture of Greek, European and Asian cuisine, while the wine never lost its glory. Conditions were moderate and not as good from the luxurious ancient Greek times.
At the same time along with the private hospitality, the church in Byzantium created the institution of hostels (xenodochium), which were mainly charitable hotels, inexpensive houses and / or hospitals.

Hospitality once again became a religious virtue. Even today, monasteries maintain the tradition of non-profitable hospitality. In special rooms called the "lord’s cells" (archontarikia) where the Executive monk, "Archontaris" cares for the hospitality of the strangers, the "lords".

xenia caravan

During the Turkish occupation, hospitality was offered at the "Hania" (small inn where travelers could stay with their animals) and the "Caravan serai" (luxurious inns).
In 1828, few inns survived in the countryside and in the cities. The first original hotel was established in Nafplio in 1834 under the name "London hotel", which hosted the first official foreign visitors to the New Greek State and then, in 1840, also in Nafplion, the hotel "Afthonia."

In 1835 the first hotel was built in Athens, the "Neon Hotel", while in 1878 the historical hotel "Grande Bretagne" opened its doors. In 1917 the "Atena Pallas" (originally called "Ilion Palace"xenia gb was the country's first hotel built from concrete) and started operating across from the University. At the same time the luxurious hotel "Aktaion" with 80 rooms opened in New Faliro.

Some hotels in the early 20th century were impressive neoclassical buildings which were gathering all the cosmopolitan life of the country. These hotels advertised their services and operated in a fully competitive system. In 1924 there were 1090 hotels in Greece with an average of 11 rooms each. That was because most hotels had four to five rooms, while few were those who had fifty to one hundred rooms and provided excellent services to travelers.

Gradually, with the development of transportation in conjunction with the implementation of statutory holidays, the phenomenon of mass tourism leads to huge increase in the tourism industry. Many inns and hostels gradually turned into hotels, while new ones were built.
Today marketing insists on loading the hotel’s name with much useful information. Many hotels carry the name of the area located and the description of the landscape. For example, the «Istron Bay», the «Andrina Beach» etc.

In our time, Greece is a tourist country with remarkable hotel companies with more than 9,700 units.

Since the 1970s tourism has increased in Greece and it has become a mass production industry. The philosophy of the Greek hotel changed completely, and and now the focus is on the mass production of food with reduced cost.

xenia akteon

According to the data of the World Tourism Organization, 44% of travelers around the world, consider the food as one of the primary criteria of the place they visit. However, the gastronomic tourism in Greece is still in its embryonic phase and unfortunately still not developed.

Gastronomy is a very profitable tourist product for Greece, with the wide variety of local raw ingredients available and the unlimited richness of the traditional recipes.

Despite the undeniable nutritional value of the local cuisine, unfortunately very few tourist facilities have made the flavor as the dominant element to the packages they offer.

The problem Greece is facing as a gastronomic tourist destination is not to convince the consumer to visit our country, to experience the local traditional cuisine… But the experience he will ultimately reap, after having traveled from the one end of Europe or the world, to taste the traditional Greek dishes with fresh ingredients. Instead he is offered frozen pre-fried potatoes, or even worse, they find a poor tourist infrastructure with low-level unskilled staff offering mediocre to inferior service. And let’s not forget to comment on the condition of the wash rooms in most seasonal shops in tourist areas.

Examples of gastronomic tourism services is to organize cooking seminars of traditional cuisine, wine tasting events, guided tours and acquaintance with our traditional products and their manufacturing processes as well as various cooking demonstrations.

With the variety of wealth available in every area of Greece, both in gastronomic culture and quality and authenticity of local products, is an obvious opportunity for the development of gastronomic tourism to establish each area as an Culinary Destination.

xenia old inn

The basis of the Greek breakfast is the structure of the Mediterranean diet, such as bread, nuts, olive oil, olives, yogurt, honey, cheese, cold meat, fresh vegetables, legumes, pies, sweets and fresh fruit.

Based on this, every region of Greece, depending on climatic conditions and soil composition, the local products and cultural traditions should form a special gastronomic structure to promote their local cuisines. Although the basics of our gastronomy are common, each region has its own gastronomic treasures, and different characteristics; such as Cretan cuisine, Macedonia, Epirus, Peloponnese, the Aegean islands etc.

This gastronomic diversity of each region represents the "Greek Breakfast" contributing to shaping the cultural identity and the tourist character of each place, thus enabling the visitor to experience and taste the wealth of the culinary tradition of our Greek breakfast.

By Petros Galiatsatos

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