In Elia Square, with a panoramic view of the orchard-filled plain, a group of locals engage in bit of self-mockery: “Is Veria the new Tokyo? Is it true that the Japanese are quaking?”
The Sartzetarias have already blossomed and soon to follow will be the Early May Crests, the Spring Bells, the Royal Glories, the Big Bangs and the Big Tops. By mid March, according to growers’ predictions, the more than 150 varieties of peach trees that thrive here will be fully in bloom, and the 4300 hectares of the fertile plain of the northern Greek region of Imathia will be blanketed in the brightest shades of fuchsia. “Come then, to see our kind of sea,” locals from the almost entirely landlocked region say.
Even though spring in this region has always been defined by blossoming peach trees, it is only in the past three years that locals have been engaging in their own form of hanami. That is the name of the traditional Japanese practice of welcoming spring, a “blossom festival” which sees millions of visitors enjoying picnics under cherry trees that have erupted in flowers.
The nascent but enthusiastic northern Greek version includes a photography competition and a bike ride beneath the snowy peaks of the mountains of Pieria, a stone’s throw from the archaeological site of Vergina.
The idea to host events in Veria during the period that the peach trees blossom, which is a brief (it lasts about 10 days) as it is impressive, was born three years ago, when a group of volunteers decided to revive the Tourism Club of Veria which was active until 1962 organizing festivals and cultural events focused around the agricultural life of the region.
To revive the club, the myriad talents of locals were drawn on: educators; librarians; people from the worlds of theater, music and design; hoteliers; accountants and journalists. One of the first ideas proposed was to organize thematic experiences in the orchards.
“We were envious of the Japanese,” says Zisis Patsikas, a journalist and the president of the Tourism Club of Veria. As he explains, “the touristic product of our land is multifaceted, but without a seasonal direction. The traveler doesn’t know what the best time of year to visit the city is. Our goal is to make the peach trees famous, to popularize their blossoming and to open a new chapter in the city’s tourism.”
The Bike Ride
Last spring over 400 amateur photographers sought to capture the unique phenomenon, while 300 cyclists – a number 5 times that of the inaugural bike ride – rode through the plains in defiance of the rain.
Even greater interest has been expressed for this year’s events, and on March 17, cycling associations, families with children, groups of students and more will travel from Athens, Thessaloniki and other regions to Imathia in order to enjoy the incredible landscape.
Starting from Elia Square, they will head downhill to the plain, and ride along a circular and easy route (17km with a difference in elevation of 120m) which passes through the small agricultural villages of Mesi, Kouloura and Ammos, and reaches the dam on the Aliakmonas River before heading back towards the town. At the dam more experienced cyclists can continue their journey along the 43 km route in the foothills of the mountains of Pieria.