The Greek countryside is waiting to reveal its secrets to unsuspecting visitors and well-informed nature lovers alike.
With its unbeatably beautiful landscapes and rich palette of colours, it could give even the most gifted impressionist painter a run for his money – indisputable proof that Greece is an excellent choice of holiday destination at this time of the year too. Harvest activities set the tone, and visitors are welcome to join in this celebration of the land. The number one task at this particular time of the year is to get the olives in. Helping out with the harvest has become a fixture in the agro- and ecotourism diary and is a novel way to get back to nature while on holiday.
Greece is an olive producing country par excellence and harvesting olives has a long history here, both as an agricultural task and as an economic activity. Until recently it was a favourite subject for folklore experts and historians.
Nowadays, special agrotourism accommodation units have opened up in Evia, Lesvos, Crete, Kalymnos, Paros, Kefalonia, Kalamata, Kythira, etc. These allow guests to help with the olive harvest as part of a trip during which they also experience the sights and way of life in the region.
The accommodation is simple but comfortable and matches the local style. The courtyard is an endless olive grove, where visitors can get back in touch with nature and experience every stage of the harvest. Visitors can, if they want to, of course, pick the olives using any of a number of age-old harvesting techniques, working for just one day or for a number of weeks in a row. Then they can help transfer the harvested olives to a traditional olive press and initiate themselves into the traditional art of extracting the precious oil, watching as the golden oil begins to flow and fills the air with its aromatic fragrance. Once the olives have been pressed, anyone who has helped is welcome to take some oil home in lieu of payment or maybe even fill up a couple of bottles bearing their very own personalised label.
This is an interactive holiday choice, and one which goes way beyond the scope of a simple tourist visit. Anyone who chooses to give it a try gets a true taste of rural living, returning, albeit just for a short time, to a more traditional way of life. This celebration of nature among the olive groves, the mix of labour and relaxation, is a unique experience for all those taking part in the olive harvest, a major agricultural event which has now become a relaxing activity for travellers and great fun for those lucky enough to take part.
At the end of the harvest there is a huge feast and a celebration to reward the efforts of all those who have helped. This is a reinvigorated tradition that stretches back to ancient times. Abundant quantities of fresh olive oil are used to prepare the food for the feast, which the diners inevitably find to be the tastiest they have ever enjoyed. Rolling up your sleeves and actually being part of the harvest gives rise to an untold sense of satisfaction among all those who do it and leaves its own special aftertaste that lingers on, making life itself just that little bit better.
But this acquaintanceship with the olive and its oil does not stop here! Visitors can also “adopt” one or more olive trees. In return, they get a certificate with information about the olives the trees produce, plus a sample of the olive oil made from the adopted trees every year thereafter.
The fruit of the harvest, the oil, or the “green blood” as a popular saying goes, is a staple component of the Greek diet, and is well known both for its cosmetic and for its pharmaceutical qualities.
It was a source of wealth and power, particularly in ancient societies; the enormous oil stores at Minoan palaces and their hefty pots are still stunning today. False-spouted amphorae were used in the Mycenaean era to contain the precious load of olive oil as it was transported the length and breadth of the Mediterranean world. In Classical Athens, panathenaic amphorae, the special jars filled with exceptional quality olive oil from Attica that were given as prizes to Olympic victors, were a much envied trophy. Winners were also crowned with a simple olive wreath.
Nowadays, Greek olive oil remains a major part of our day to day life and is renowned the world over. The most recent accolade for Greek oil was the award given to the Kritsa Lassithi agricultural co-operative, where a world-famous olive oil of superb quality, often referred to as the Rolls Royce of oil, is produced. Even the bottle in which the oil is sold has won international awards for its design. The design of the bottle somehow manages to combine the refined traditional style of the past, when olive oil containers (false-spouted amphorae, panathenaic amphorae) were themselves true works of art, with modern inspiration and the artistic style of today.
Years of tradition and experience, innovation and enterprise have come together in harmony to create the yardstick by which other olives and olive oil are judged. Any visitors who find themselves in Greece will be exceptionally fortunate, some would even say blessed, if they are wise enough to choose to take part in this traditional activity, which honours the gifts of Greek soil and fully respects the environment.
Later, they will be able to continue to enjoy the fruits of their labour, a product that has established itself as a favourite and has earned accolades the world over.
The Routes of the Olive tree
Museums of the Olive in the Mediterranean