The sun is already high and the sound of cicadas chirping is echoing around the hills of Amari as a shepherd finishes his light lunch and gets ready to continue his work. A group of foreigners are sitting down around him, sharing his traditional lunch and listening to his stories. They can’t understand much Greek; he can’t understand much English. Nonetheless, there’s a clear and warm connection between them.
The only thing that isn’t typical about this rural Cretan scene is the presence of the foreigners, people who’ve left urban comfort behind in order to discover more about themselves in an entirely different setting.
Somewhere in the mountains of Crete lies this hidden gem, a pristine area inhabited by shepherds, which in recent years has started to make a name for itself in the world of alternative and sustainable tourism.
The Amari district is located at the heart of Psiloritis Natural Park, an area which is included in UNESCO’s network of Global Geoparks and, as such, is designated as a geographic area of international geological significance. Thanks to the existence of the park, this area’s natural beauty has remained untouched, and Amari still has secrets that only insiders know about. Here, humanity still lives in harmony with nature, as it always has.
Amari is well known for its cherry production and for the unique maturation technique used by local shepherds for their cheese (“tiri tripas”). Nomadic pastoralism is the main traditional economic activity in the area. The seasonal movement of shepherds and their livestock defines the life of the local community.
Today, these traditional trails are being incorporated into innovative eco-tourism packages for visitors who wish to live a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. The traditional economic activity of the community and the authentic way of living, based on a respect for nature that has been maintained through the centuries, are key elements that will help foster the competitiveness of the local tourism and agri-food sectors.
Devoted to promoting the unique beauty of this corner of Crete, a team based in a little village in Amari called Mesonisia designs innovative eco-tourism programs, opening new economic horizons in the area while working with locals engaged in livestock and agriculture, the primary economic drivers.
The Green-tour team, working with the local community, can offer visitors to Amari the opportunity to reconnect with nature and use the tools it has to offer for healing purposes, through a process known as eco-therapy.
Eco-therapy is a rapidly developing field of psychology, which examines the influence of the natural environment on human psychology while using nature to help accomplish each patient’s therapy goals. The main aim is for each participant to reach an increased level of psychological stability and healing through interaction with nature.
The application of such methods in Greece is still at a very early stage. However, there has been some research concerning Crete in particular, and it has been confirmed that the island’s unique natural environment offers an ideal breeding ground for the rapid and dynamic development of this form of therapy.
Green-tour offers eco-therapy trips for anyone who wishes to explore a different side of themselves by connecting with nature and local community life. The program entails carrying out a combination of eco-therapy activities while living within local communities, including communities of local shepherds.
Apart from the primary goal of this new therapeutic approach, which is to carry out psychotherapy in natural settings, the concept also aims to create and develop a new tourism product focused on the natural and cultural heritage of Greece.
Green-tour invited UK-based psychotherapist Joe Hinds to contribute to the design of their vacation package by incorporating principles of eco-therapy in an innovative manner. According to Dr Hinds, eco-therapy isn’t just a vacation getaway; it’s an opportunity to apply psychotherapy principles in an environment that will aid in the process. As he said: “We have to keep in mind that most people’s problems are caused by other people and they are caused inside a room. Being away from crowds and in the open air is a good way to start the process of acceptance.”
But why choose Amari?
It’s often said that the landscape of a place reflects the nature of the people living there. In a place with the unique natural beauty of Amari, connecting with nature and with the locals can offer visitors a great deal.
“The pace of life in the area is very slow,” Hinds said, “and, when you slow things down, you have more time to think. What’s more, Amari offers a totally different experience to those that the visitors are used to. Working along with the shepherds can give access to important emotional material, while the environment itself is unhostile and welcoming.”
The program Hinds designed contains several workshops and walks (“walk-shops”), interspersed with quiet moments of reflection and contemplation, including hikes to spots of historical, geological and natural interest. The routes are specifically designed to make participants aware of their interactions with their surroundings in order to explore how they shape emotional expression.
By visiting the lesser known parts of Crete, where daily life is less stressful, new or forgotten aspects of living and being may present themselves. The Cretan people, particularly the shepherds in Amari district, provide an opportunity for a genuine multi-sensory experiential encounter that allows visitors to reconnect to a sense of humanity and to the earth.
Walking through the forested landscapes on the southern slopes of Psiloritis or on the mountain plateau at Agathetes and Akolyta, participants begin to develop an intimate relationship with the natural environment. By engaging in simple handicrafts and skills, people can focus on concepts of simplicity and necessity.
If you think this might be for you, it should be noted that, in order to successfully complete the program, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone. Eco-therapy is designed for the experience seeker, the individual who is motivated by natural beauty, cultural exchange, and the opportunity to connect meaningfully with locals in a deeper way. Such experience seekers are often very busy and highly productive people who want to relax and break out of their daily routine while traveling. They value quality and appreciate the little things, especially when it comes to their travel experiences.
If that sounds like you, then perhaps such an adventure would be right for you.
Before you decide, keep in mind that you’ll also need an honest desire to reconnect with yourself, your soul and your innermost thoughts. Out in the wild landscape of Crete, there is nothing to distract you from who you truly are and what is important to you. Your time in the wilderness is a perfect opportunity to escape from the buzz of the city and to rediscover yourself in an authentic and natural environment.
The outcome of eco-therapy might differ from one visitor to another, but all agree that this experience is life-changing in many ways.