How agrotourism is helping out Greek farms

In a large sunlit kitchen of Eumelia farmhouse, an idyllic agritourism and wellness retreat nestled among the endless olive groves of Greece’s southern Peloponnese, my classmates and I take turns using a long dowel-like rolling pin, roll out and roll balls of dough that we hope will become filo pastry. It won’t be the flaky, wafer-thin kind sold frozen in supermarkets, however; the pasta we’re looking for is two to three millimeters thick, the kind you’re likely to smell as you pass this area’s many outdoor wood-fired ovens.

When each of us has created an approximation of our host and teacher Marilena Karadima’s perfect dough circle, we use them to prepare spinach pies that we eat while learning to cook other traditional dishes, including a hummus-like sauce called broad beanmade with yellow split peas, a roasted eggplant dish brought to Greece by refugees and mustalevriapudding made with Eumelia olive oil, local walnuts, flour, sesame seeds and must (juice) from the company’s grapes.

Before the lesson we worked in the garden with Marilena and her little son, picking spinach, rocket, a colorful variety of lettuces, aubergines streaked with violets and aromatic herbs. After cooking, we gather around a long outdoor table, enjoying the wine produced on the farm and the dishes we have prepared together. Lunch isn’t over until the evening sun casts a golden hue on the silver canopy of the farm’s organic olive grove.

Lunch doesn’t end until the evening sun casts a golden hue on the olive grove

Whether it’s garden-to-table cooking classes like this one or a chance to help with the olive or grape harvest, guests at Eumelia are welcome to roll up their sleeves, get back to the land, and experience a slower side and traditional of Greece.

The farm is located near the village of Gouves in the Laconia region and a world away from modern life. Together with her husband, Frangiskos Karelas, Marilena offers a variety of experiences that vary with the seasons. During the August and September grape harvest, guests can join in and ‘tread’, treading grapes to the beat of music, learning how to make wine and tasting natural wines from all over the Peloponnese. A five-day immersive olive oil experience in October and November sees guests pick olives from ancient trees and learn about the history of olives, oil varieties and pairings, and organic production. Cooking classes, culinary tours, yoga and massages are available year-round. Five cottages shaded by olive trees offer a comfortable night after a long day in the fields.

While Eumelia is among the best-known agritourism destinations in the Peloponnese, it is one of many across the peninsula and throughout Greece – and the opportunities to visit farms and food artisans in this region are growing. As producers seek to diversify in response to the challenges posed by a volatile market and climate change, more and more are turning to agricultural and culinary tourism. The Greek government is paying attention, spearheading new efforts to support them through funding and legislation. “Greek farms are treasures,” says Tasos Kannavos, co-founder of Cellarhopping, which works to connect travel professionals with agritourism destinations across Greece. “This type of tourism is a wonderful way for visitors to experience a different, more sustainable side of Greece and help support Greek agriculture.”
Doubles at Eumelia agritourism cost € 300 per night included breakfast, farm-to-table dinner, olive oil tasting and farm tour

Three more food experiences in the Peloponnese

Magna Graecia Farmhouse, Ancient Olympia, Ilias

Alexis and Francesco Karabelas grew up learning how to produce high quality olive oil on their family’s farm a short walk from Ancient Olympia. The brothers returned to the company after university, bringing new ideas for sustainable cultivation: they implemented organic practices and designed a modern oil mill to rationalize production. In 2022 and again this year, Karabelas oil won gold awards at the World Olive Oil Competition.

Inspired by their parents who started a modest agritourism business in 2008 in response to the low market prices of olive oil, the brothers now run a real “oil tourism” business, offering guided tours of the olive groves and oil mill, to oil and wine tastings, the possibility of participating in the grape harvest and lively lunches or dinners complete with popular dances. The Karabelas family and their neighbors are no strangers to the challenges posed by climate change: In 2021, devastating fires burned down more than 425,000 olive trees in their area. Today, the family is part of an initiative to restore the region’s olive groves and support olive growers.
Experiences from €15pp

Oria mountain pension & farm, Kerpini, Arkadia

This simple guesthouse is located on a 20-acre organic farm at nearly 1,000 meters at the foot of Mount Chelmos in the north of the Peloponnese. Giannis Chouliaras and his colleagues invite guests and day visitors to work in the gardens, help with the farm animals and, every October, participate in the grape harvest and treadmill.

They also offer cooking classes, guided mushroom hunts, hiking, cross country skiing, mountain biking, and an annual summer camp for kids and teens. The ingredients from the gardens of Orias and from nearby producers are on the menu of the agriturismo restaurant. All this takes place among herb and flower gardens, a cherry and fir orchard with a breathtaking view of Mount Chelmos.
Double from €130 B&B

Mama’s Flavors, Kalamata, Messinia

Mama’s Flavors tours are rooted in the founders’ belief in supporting Greece’s farmers and food artisans, especially rural women. “Greece is not just Mykonos, the Acropolis and souvlakis,” says Maria Monastirioti, who founded Mama’s Flavors in 2018 with a group of friends. “It is a place of rich gastronomic traditions based on what is fresh, local and in season – and it is a place of philoxenia, or hospitality. But producers are really struggling to make money for the food they work so hard to grow and produce. If we can work together, maybe we can help each other.”

To this end, Maria and her partners lead culinary and agricultural tours and experiences in the seaside city of Kalamata and throughout the Peloponnese, providing access to small farmers and other producers. Guests can choose from a variety of experiences including visits to cheesemakers, vineyards and cellars, an organic olive farm and traditional stone mill, urban food tours, wine tastings and cooking classes.

On the day I join, Maria leads a half-day tour that includes a visit to an oil mill and an olive oil tasting followed by a delicious and convivial lunch of local fare at a taverna next door. Maria says: “I don’t want to be rich and neither do the producers we work with. We just want to live with dignity and do a job that comes from our heart”.
Experiences from € 50pp

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