TINOS – Some popular Greek islands – Mykonos and Santorini leaders of the pack – are so overrun with tourists that they don’t have the quaint experience tourists are seeking, but there are places where they can find it – but aren’t wanted.
With Greece on a path for another record-busting tourism year, even during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are mostly flocking to islands where they will be cheek with jowl and having elbow soup with other foreigners.
Not so on a few places like Tinos, only 37 miles from Mykonos where visitors can see girls dancing half-naked on tabletops, spend $1000 for a bottle of champagne and gouged at lunches that have brought notoriously bad publicity there.
Ironically, the reason that many people come to Greece can’t be found where they go because those spots have become so popular they more resemble a Las Vegas or Disneyland faux vision of a Greek island.
Locals on islands that haven’t seen an invasion of people mostly like it that way and the relatively few arrivals – compared to the hot spots – who go there can find the real Greece: whitewashed buildings, near-empty beaches and quiet.
In a feature, the site Marketplace noted the difference between them and why places like Tinos and a handful of others are more attractive options. While some celebrities seek the spotlight on big islands, others – like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson – prefer places like Antiparos.
On Tinos, the site reported, residents like Angela Rouggeri, an artisanal cheesemaker, prefer the style and quality of life, welcoming the tourists who come but not wanting the hordes.
She and her husband started the business with just a pair of cows during the country’s economic and austerity crisis that began in 2010 and it’s brought an income they can live on and the kind of life they prefer.
“Here in Tinos, I sell to many places. It’s mostly butcher shops, shops with traditional products and restaurants. Also, there are private citizens who come here and buy cheese,” she said.
Despite despite repeated offers, she’s declined to supply to supermarkets, simply because of the sheer scale of the volume she’d need to produce, selling instead to some local restaurants like one owned by Spyros Belas.
But she is a tourist lure in herself simply because she doesn’t want to be and people are seeking out traditional homemade products in favor of chain restaurants and mass-produced goods.
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“I think the most important thing for the customers, especially for tourists, even if they are from Greece or all over the world — the best thing to do is to discover the treasures a place has,” said Belas.
Alas, tourists are finding Tinos even more and that has brought a divide over the income they bring and not wanting so many that it will change the character of the place and make it AntiTinos. It’s also known for religious tourism.
“Of course, I want more tourists to come to our island. The problem is, if you have a lot of visitors every year, it’s difficult to keep the traditions,” he said – taking away the reasons they come, a balance being sought.
The New Democracy government, which hasn’t reacted strongly about gouging on Mykonos and waste-strewn beaches on islands like Zakynthos – with a reputation for violence and thuggery – has shown it just wants more people and more money.
Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias – with Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu and Crete not needing publicity – said the government now wants to lure people to lesser-visited places, particularly islands.
“The campaign is ‘Greece: If you come even once, you will want to stay forever.’ Yes, of course it’s about Mykonos and Santorini and Corfu and Crete, but there are so many other destinations,” he told Marketplace.
He said that spreading the tourists around Greece will reduce the density on some places – not saying what would happen if so many come that there are few if any places not overrun.
“Go meet the Greeks, you will understand Greek hospitality. It’s not a six-star hotel or great luxury. It’s the inner need of the Greeks to host foreigners, travelers and tourists, and show them a great time,” he said.
Rouggeri said that it’s tradition that makes Tinos special and that trying to cash in on that could ruin the image that’s bringing just enough people to keep her and residents and businesses happy.
“Look, it would be nice for the cheese to stay in Tinos. Because when someone comes to Tinos and tries it, he will have the taste. Then, he will try it again in Athens, and his mind will go back to Tinos,” she said.