GTP Headlines had the chance to experience first-hand the latest Sitia UNESCO Global Geopark actions, one of many, as part of the “Waterways and Stories on E4 Path and the Geoparks in East Mediterranean” initiative co-funded by the EU, Greece and Cyprus, under the Interreg V-A Cooperation Program Greece-Cyprus 2014-2020.
In addition to hiking, going off road, visiting local villages and sampling local products and traditional dishes.
The Sitia Geopark is a 517km2 area or about 80 percent of the Sitia Municipality that combines a unique geological, cultural and archaeological significance all in a natural setting that has remained for the most part unaffected by mass tourism development.
“This has been to our benefit in a way because we can learn from other areas and create our own mild tourism model based on size and carrying capacity,”
Sitia was added by UNESCO to its Geopark network in 2015 after it met the requirements and passed assessments. The people of Sitia with the support of the municipality and the Region of Crete have applied to extend Geopark status to the rest of the area. The result will be announced in December.
Sitia Geopark: Bringing People Together
The success of the Sitia Geopark was evident in the dozens of volunteers we had a chance to meet and see in action during our visit. Firefighters, cooks, chefs, restaurant and café owners, university students, passionate locals and village elders all played their part.
“Without the locals’ involvement, there can be no Geopark. The locals are at the very core of the initiative’s philosophy,” volunteer network now numbers some 75 people.
Each year, in addition to the hundreds of school children it welcomes thanks to its ongoing educational and awareness-raising activities, the Sitia Geopark also attracts researchers and geology experts from all over the world who come to explore its caves and subterranean rivers.
In the meantime, Crete has been singled out by the European Commission as an example of best practices after the Crete Region launched an initiative to promote Crete’s UNESCO-listed biosphere reserves and geoparks.
“The aim is to create a unique product, a tourist route connecting all four sites on Crete. The Region allocated 1.1 million euros in funds last year for targeted promotion,” says Perakis.