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Politics

Western Greece Regional Governor Nektarios Farmakis Speaks to TNH

All of Greece is beautiful and fascinating – but most Greek-Americans know only the places where their families have roots. The National Herald asked Regional Governor Nektarios Farmakis what is special about Western Greece.

Nektarios Farmakis: The Region of Western Greece has many significant natural comparative advantages, including favorable climatic conditions and its biodiversity. And of course, it is the most important gateway connecting Greece with Europe. These factors shape the special character of the ‘Olympian Land’ and enable the Region of Western Greece to combine diverse forms of tourism like sun and sea, religious and gastronomic tourism, cultural tourism, etc. that cater to a wide and diverse audience.

TNH: Western Greece is becoming a region with a 12-month tourist season. What draws visitors during each season?

NF: The Olympian Land is a destination that attracts visitors throughout the year. In the summer, there are endless beaches that stretch along its coastline, and year-round there are wonderful places of unique natural beauty and the historical monuments, with Ancient Olympia at the center. And the special gastronomic character associated with the religiosity and folk traditions of the people attract visitors from all over the world. Equally important, however, are the elements that make up the tourism identity of the Region of Western Greece during the winter months. The traditional accommodations and monuments scattered in the wonderful mountainous landscapes, the opportunities offered for short getaways, such as skiing at the Kalavryta Ski Center, the tours of the small and large villages of our region with their historical monasteries and place names, the contact with the region’s rich water resources, but also the participation of visitors in the great celebration – the Patras Carnival in late winter – are just a few elements that make up the image of the Region of Western Greece and make it a destination for every season of the year.

TNH: Your area is famous for ‘panigiria – festivals’ and interesting monasteries, many of which have wonderful Byzantine churches. Tell us about religious tourism in Western Greece.

NF: Achaia, Aetoloakarnania, and Ilia are regions with a rich religious tradition, with houses of worship and monuments identified with both religious worship and historical events, such as the beginning of the Greek Revolution of 1821. The starting point and focus of the religious spirit of the region is the life of Saint Andrew the Apostle and his emblematic role, both for Orthodox and Catholic Christians. The Monastery of Agia Lavra is also identified in the hearts of the Greeks with the first spark of their great struggle for freedom and was the beginning of the great vision for the liberation of the Greeks from the Turkish yoke. The monasteries, churches, and chapels are poles of attraction for visitors, as are the many festivals and cultural events that take place around them on the occasion of religious holidays. The festivals are mainly held in open spaces (i.e. town squares) and are accompanied by local food, folk songs, different forms of merriment, and traditional dances.

TNH: What are Western Greece’s cultural ‘treasures’ that its people love to share with tourists, in relation to history, religion, gastronomy, and nature?

NF: The Region of Western Greece is a place that combines important historical and cultural characteristics. In recent years it has developed a strategy aimed recovering its productive capacity and attracting new investment. Regarding tourism it is proceeding in a targeted manner with policies that focus on sustainable tourism and the promotion of the unique elements that make up its identity. As the land of the Olympic flame, the Olympic Land is repositioning itself as a tourist destination and intends to provide its visitors with unique experiences.

Our goal for the coming years is the implementation of activities aimed at linking the everyday life of its inhabitants with the living tradition as well as the modern elements that characterize the region. We seek to make visits experiential. Activities related to religious and gastronomic tourism, which aim to explore the prospects and ways of highlighting and exploiting our religious traditions through the promotion of Orthodox cooking and other means of attracting visitors with religious interests are innovative ‘experience tourism’ endeavors that we are developing.

Also, another important initiative is that of granting the ‘Greek Traditional Greek Breakfast’ label of the IDA. The aim is to enrich the breakfast offered in the region’s hotels, accommodations, and other catering facilities with local traditional products and recipes from the Region of Western Greece that highlight its gastronomic tradition and identity.

TNH: How do new digital technologies help in promoting your region, and what impact are they having?

NF: Digitization and online access for cultural monuments can offer a region like Western Greece a distinctive presence on the internet, promote it as a region, protect its cultural monuments, and contribute to improving the quality of life. According to examples from abroad, online access offers monuments better visibility, which not only attracts more visitors and researchers, but also creates new business opportunities in the surrounding area.

In this context, the Region of Western Greece during the last five years has taken steps to promote some of the main religious monuments through innovative applications and tools. In particular, it produced 3D virtual tours of monuments of religious interest so that the user-traveler visiting the Region of Western Greece or planning to visit it can see – through a computer, smartphone, tablet, or Virtualreality mask – these monuments in such a way that he/she feels the need to live the real experience of his/her visit.
The monuments of religious interest that the Region of Western Greece presents through 3D visualization include the tomb of St. Andrew the Apostle and four different sites in the surrounding area of the Municipality of Patras – the ancient Roman amphitheater, George Square, the magnificent Church of St. Andrew, and Marinas Theatre. Also included are the Metropolitan Church of Evangelistria of Patras and the Church of St. Demetrios of Agrinio.
We are now focused on the creation of more VR 4-5 churches or monasteries for a complete virtual reality experience that will showcase the religious wealth of our region.

TNH: Please tell us about infrastructure construction and economic development in the region, especially that which benefits the region in general and tell us how it is good for tourism.

NF: In terms of infrastructure, our priorities are focused on improving the accessibility of the Region of Western Greece. Significant steps have already been taken in this direction at the national levels with the completion of the Olympia Odos (up to Patras) and the Ionian Odos, along with the interconnections with the ‘Egnatia Odos’ highway in northern Greece. Those are complemented by our own interventions in the maintenance of provincial roads. And of course, we are looking forward to the completion of the Olympia Road, the strengthening of the role of the port of Patras, the modernization of the port of Katakolon, as well as the extension of the railway network and the modernization of Araxos Airport. These development projects will further improve our position on the Greek and international tourist map and will contribute to the emergence of the Region of Western Greece as a destination that can offer experiences to an ever-expanding audience of visitors throughout the year.

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