Looking at another record-busting tourism season in 2002 despite the waning COVID-19 pandemic, Greece is seeing hordes of visitors flocking for the main attractions: sun, sand, islands and the sea – but especially the beaches.
Greece is the most popular European country for beach lovers this year, according to the Best Beaches Index 2022 released by vacation rentals search engine Holidu, said GTP Headlines.
Their listing is based on visits to Google that showed Greece getting 5,400 searches every month and more than 142,000 Instagram hashtags, the preferred social media site of the young and travelers.
Top picks for beach-seeking travelers planning trips to Greece and searching for info on Google are Crete, Naxos and Mykonos. “Make sure Greece is at the top of your list this year, as you won’t want to miss out,” said Holidu.
But it might not have been had Greece long ago not moved to better sewage treatment to prevent pollution in the waters, which has paid off with the country having 581 highly-valued Blue Flag beaches, second only to Spain’s 621.
In a feature for the British newspaper The Guardian, the paper’s correspondent in Greece Helena Smith wrote about how it was done, a focus two decades ago shifting toward sewage treatment.
“More than 20 years ago the waters around Attica (peninsula) weren’t for bathing as they definitely weren’t as clean,” Professor Konstantinos Aravossis who had previously overseen water management policies at the Greek Ministry of Environment told the paper.
“They are now because a lot of emphasis was put on improving wastewater treatment plants and that, of course, had a lot to do with regulations in the European Union,” he added.
Building a sewage treatment plant in the 1990’s on the uninhabited Saronic Gulf isle of Psyttaleia, off the port of Piraeus – serving 5 million people in and around Athens – was the catalyst.
“The blue flags that we see today in Attica are proof of just how much better the situation is,” said Aravossis, who now heads the ministry of environment’s forestry department.
At 13,676 kilometers (8,498 miles) Greece has the third longest coastline in Europe, 40 percent of that on islands, 227 of which are inhabited and arguably the biggest beach draws for tourists.
In 2021, the EU’s environmental watchdog classified nearly 96% of monitored bathing sites in Greece as excellent, unlike other countries where they aren’t good, or even near toxic, including the United Kingdom, filled with sewage.
“It’s very unexpected,” he said. “Obviously there has not been proper documentation and monitoring of the system. Here in Greece, and especially at the Psyttaleia plant, surveillance is very strict, which does not seem to have been the case in the UK.”
And nothing draws swimmers and sun-worshippers more than that Blue Flag which is proof of cleanliness in a number of critical factors – although this year Greece was inundated with stinging purple jellyfish.
“There’s been a very big increase in the number of local town halls and other beach managers applying for blue flag status,” Dareia-Nefeli Vourdoumpa, at the Hellenic Society for the protection of Nature, the NGO heading the program in Greece for the past 30 years told the paper.
“We’re very fortunate to have such natural beauty and we’ve understood how important good ecological management of our beaches and marinas is to tourism,” she said of the value of the program, the designation not easy to get.
“There are 33 strict criteria. Excellent water quality over a sustained period and cleanliness of beaches are just some of the factors,” she also said.