Located at the foot of Greece’s greatest mountain, Mt Olympus, Elassona rarely comes to mind when speaking of travel or tourism. Most Greeks know the town and the municipality mostly for its dairy products and famous feta cheese. But as Greece’s tourism sector evolves and continues to grow, local authorities and residents are seeking to include their region in the offerings.
Leading this effort is Elassona’s 43-year-old mayor, Nikos Gatsas, who took office last summer and is set on initially raising awareness about the region and then laying the foundations to create a fully-fledged tourism product that will attract visitors and generate income for the area.
The Elassona Municipality consists of nine municipal units: Antichasia, Elassona, Karya, Livadi, Olympos, Potamia, Sarantaporo, Tsaritsani, and Verdikoussa, most of which are situated among lush valleys, mountains, grasslands, farmlands, and rivers.
For the most part, the region has remained untouched by mass tourism, offering visitors a genuine taste of rural life in Greece.
On the other side of Mt Olympus, the town of Litochoro has managed to in the last decades to win over the tourist crowds not only in terms of accommodation facilities and services for those seeking to climb Mt Olympus, but also benefiting from its access to the western shore of the Thermaic Gulf.
What About Elassona?
A first step for Elassona, therefore, is to inform people of its existence. In this direction, the mayor said, is the publication of a comprehensive tourist guide.
“First of all, we are designing a modern tourist guide (in English) about our municipality, focusing on its comparative advantages such as Mt Olympus, ecclesiastical monuments, folklore, local products, and mountain sports. This guide will be available both in print and online and will highlight not only points of interest, but will also host businesses and activities that a visitor to our area can participate in,” said Gatsas.
As for high value and popular tourist products, Gatsas says the region has plenty to offer including well developed religious tourism routes which, he explains, attract scores of visitors from all over Greece.
“Olympus already welcomes thousands of visitors each year for sporting events such as the Faethon Olympus Marathon, paragliding, skiing, mountaineering. The Olympus ski resort also offers a wide variety of year-round activities. Add to that the mountain trails, while the forests and lakes of our municipality offer unique hiking and nature experiences,” Gatsas says.
“Our municipality is aiming to bring these experiences together and offer more organized suggestions to visitors with special interests,” he tells GTP Headlines.
Coordination Key to Success
The Elassona municipality’s strategy is firstly aimed at reaching out to Greek travelers wishing to become acquainted with Mt Olympus, followed by upping efforts to introduce foreign travelers visiting Greece to the region.
“A next important step is to attract international visitors who want to learn more about the folklore, gastronomy, and traditions of rural Greece,” explains Gatsas.
Doing so however requires the committed involvement of all stakeholders.
“In order to achieve better results close cooperation among the municipalities of the Larissa Regional Unit, or at least of those around Olympus is vital,” says Gatsas.
“Then it’s only a matter of time before a comprehensive proposal is prepared introducing visitors to the mountain of the Gods through its natural setting, culture, and local products.”
He is quick to point out however that “achieving cooperation between municipalities needs lots of hard work and a crystal clear goal. When people with a vision and love for their homeland work together, miracles can happen”.
When asked about the time frame that would make him happy with the results, Gatsas told GTP Headlines that five years would be a good starting point.
“Taking into account that the goal of any tourism strategy is to boost the local economy and increase employment, I would be pleased if in five years’ time our tourism plan brought more visitors to Olympus, our local products are more recognizable, and more young people are offering services in the region,” he concluded.
Photos: Municipality of Elassona