VERIA, Greece - Unlike the world-famous flowering cherry trees of Japan, the carpets of pink blossoms that transform the rolling hills of Veria and their peach orchards each spring are perhaps among Greece's best kept "secrets". In recent years, an effort has been made to change this, and turn Veria's famous peach farms into a tourist attraction as well as an agricultural resource, through a photography contest and other events held on March 16-17.
"What we saw before us each March was an endless pink carpet of flowering peach trees but to tell the truth, because we have grown up with it, we never really took notice," said Zisis Patsikas, president of the Veria Tourism Club.
For the past three years, the area has held an open competition for photographs featuring the peach trees in blossom, which each year attracted more than 300 entries, both amateur and professional. The winner in 2018, Patsikas noted, was an Athenian that travelled to Veria especially for the competition.
He said the effort was to try to tap into the potential to create added tourism value through photographs of the peach blossoms, in the same way that Tokyo has succeeded in doing with the images of cherry blossoms that flood the social media each year, taken by both tourists and local Japanese.
"Our aim is to promote this beautiful scenery, as happens with the cherry blossoms of Japan, since we have seen what they do and how these people have turned an agricultural product into a tourist product," Patsikas said.
He explained that entering the competition was simple and open to everyone, using both cameras or even just their phones.
The photography contest is just one of the events organised by the club around Veria's peaches, Patsikas added. Others include the annual "Peach Festival" that is linked to the region's gastronomy, culture and other activities and, since 2017, an annual 17-kilometre "Bicycle Ride through the Flowering Peach Trees", which this year will be held on Sunday, March 17. This was also becoming increasingly popular, he noted, with participation jumping from 60 people in 2017 to 280 the previous year and even more expected in 2019.
The trees flower in March and the blossoms usually last about 15 days. Some of the winning entries from previous years are shown above.