Greece is a year-round tourism destination like no other. Still, for some years now, the most challenging job of Greek tourism stakeholders has been revealing this to the broader world. As crazy as that sounds, it’s just tough for people in the international community to imagine anything but the cliche. Ancient marvels, perfect summer beaches, and an irreplaceable culture are Greece, it’s true. But, there’s more, oh so much more. Here’s one “for instance.”
What if Crete island became a year-round center for equestrian lifestyles? It sounds a bit unorthodox, doesn’t it? A pair of para-athletes headed to the FEI World Equestrian Games are hopefuls for future Greek Paralympics pride. And the riding academy they’ve trained at since early childhood is in the international spotlight now.
The Crete Riding Academy, under the direction of Marianna Grammatakiki, is sending Greece’s first-ever Para-dressage competitors to the WEG in Denmark later this week. Dimitra Eleni Pantechaki and Michalis Kalarakis are proof of the effectiveness of so-called “horse therapy,” officially known as Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT).
Grammatikaki began coaching them as small children to alleviate the most negative aspects of their disabilities. The accomplishment of all concerned speaks for itself. The potential for Crete, Greece, and visitors to the island is obvious. And the potential is already taking shape.
Because the Crete academy’s decade-long efforts are now in the limelight, the wider world is taking notice of Greece. The recent visit to Crete by an equestrian from Palestine named Khaled Al-Afrangi, who found the academy via social media, is evidence.
Al-Afrangi, who runs the Palestine Equestrian Club, brought a large team of his best young riders to Crete for their first European experience. It’s not hard to grasp what this means. The level of trust, the strength of equestrian networks, and so forth bear observing. It’s just the impetus Greece Tourism Minister Vasilis Kikilias has been seeking, promoting, and cultivating since taking office. Equine sports. Novel but critically effective human therapy. And the first linkage between humans, animals, and nature. Of, in essence, Crete itself.
Alternative tourism, extending Greece’s tourism season to 12 months, and making sustainability the county’s most significant value proposition, is of vital importance for Greeks. As one of Greece’s biggest fans, I am happy to present past and future visitors to Greece and my friends at the GNTO with a simple “win-win” of unarguable value. And here it is. Sports and wellness tourism can transform Crete and Greece into the year-round destination stakeholders have striven for.
What kind of trust does it take to travel to another continent and culture from a land marginalized and essentially cordoned off from the world for decades? Khaled Al-Afrangi’s dream for his students pointed to Crete above all other destinations. Let this sink in. How remarkable is it for an Island so far removed from the equestrian path to send Greece’s first Para-dressage athletes to the world championships?
What kind of synergy is going on here? It’s not hard to synthesize if you live in Crete as I do. If you look at what’s been taking place at the new Karteros Beach Sports Complex, where the world of IHF beach handball visit the island last month, expanding on all the possibilities is simple logic. Just looking at this riding school, local entrepreneurs have really optimized their property, their value proposition, and their life’s work. Crete Riding Academy partners with other local businesses to offer a wide array of experiences.
Greece is one of the friendliest places in the world. The country’s legendary Filoxenia is mythologically linked to Crete, the birthplace of Zeus. Furthermore, the country, as always, sits at the crossroads of west and east. The culture, especially Crete, is a harmonious mix of Asia, Africa, and Europe. If you step back during a visit and look, it will SNAP you awake in its obviousness. If Greece wants visitors from far and wide all year, what better conveyance than the horse?
A quote attributed to Alexander the Great, whose father, Philip of Macedonia, was legendary for his love of horses, will fortify the overall ideas here. Alexander is said to have spoken of Aristotle in this way:
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
I suggest that everyone seeking to gain trust and knowledge come to Greece to ride. And to live well.