Local businessman Robin Hogg has just had a taste of rural life in the Olympus and Kissavos region of Greece.
Robin has been working with the Southern Uplands Partnership on a European project which seeks to develop rural holidays with a difference.
Small groups of tourists get the chance to mix with local people, farmers, food and drink producers as well as musicians and artisans. This contact allows the visitor to get to know a community, what it values in relation to its natural and cultural heritage as well as its rural identity.
Seven countries have been involved, with Robin representing Scotland. As well as Greece, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria have developed holiday packages which are all being promoted through a shared website www.euroruraltourism.eu. Funding has been provided by Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Enterprise and the EU. The trip to Greece was intended to give journalists and businesses a chance to try out this type of holiday. Robin was accompanied by several journalists and other tour operators from France, Spain and Germany.
The project has also taken the products to a number of international trade fairs. Robin hopes that the result of this will be a group of up to 12 people booking onto his holiday which is centred on Castle Douglas and runs in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland.
Visiting Greece out of season turned out to be a rich experience. Robin took part in a local festival with traditional music and dancing, tried the local dishes, met local food producers, toured vineyards and sampled a range of spinach pies!
By coincidence, one of the local people he met had been to Dumfries in his younger days and remembers the spectacular cockle shell beach at Kippford. Robin was taken up the snow-covered Mount Olympus and met goat herders – and spent a night a typical Greek village.
On the last day he was taken down to the coast to see the pretty harbour with fishing boats and a 7 mile long beach.
The three days gave Robin a real feel for the area and its people. “It was excellent learning so much about the way this rural Greek community works” he said. “I hope my visitors have as good an experience when they come to Galloway this summer!”
Pip Tabor of the Southern Uplands Partnership has also been abroad – at a three day tourism trade fair in Pamplona, northern Spain. “We took a stand at the fair so we could explain the various Eurorural holidays that have been developed by our partners to tourism operators across Europe” said Pip. “We got a lot of interest. Scotland is popular amongst many Spaniards for its rich culture, its greenness and even the occasional rainfall is seen in a positive light in this arid part of Spain. Hopefully the Galloway package that Robin has put together will attract interest and increase awareness of the rural way of life in Galloway”.