Is Slow Tourism a Way out of the Crisis?

31 Oct 2012

Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have been ignominiously lumped together as the “PIGS,” Europe’s toxic, debt-ridden encumbrances. But three Taste Workshops held on Sunday October 28 at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2012 offered a new perspective on three of these countries’ efforts to find a way out of the economic crisis, with a return to the countryside, a focus on typical, historic products and the promotion of tourism that goes beyond the usual sun, sand and sea clichés.

Greece has been the most high-profile victim of the crisis, and its wine industry has been suffering. Antonios Kioseoglou, an enologist with the Kir-Yianni winery and a member of the Slow Food Thessalonika East convivium, speaking during the workshop “Terra Madre Network: Wine and Cheese from Northern Greece,” said that Greeks had effectively stopped buying wine. “Sales are down 20, 30 percent,” he said. While there had been a rise in exports, perhaps because of all the publicity surrounding the country, he said it hadn’t been enough to make up for falling domestic sales. “We’re trying very hard to get wines out of Greece and let people know what’s happening with Greek varieties.”

For example, Xinomavro, a native grape variety, is incredibly versatile, able to produce sparkling white, sparkling rosé, still rosé, still red and sweet wines, examples of which were tasted during the workshop. “If we go to Merlot and Shiraz,” said Kioseoglou, “we’ll lose our identity and our heart and the things that make us different.” He hopes that the wine industry can help boost tourism beyond the familiar Greek islands, with a well-developed network of wine routes in the inland areas.

Like the Greek islands, Spain’s Canary Islands, a few hundred kilometers off the northwest African coast, are primarily known for mass tourism, with 12 million visitors a year (the population of the archipelago is 2 million). The huge development of the tourism sector from the 1970s led to a change in the islands’ economy, with the abandonment of fishing, agriculture and other traditional activities, which now make up just 5% of the GDP, explained Jorge Manuel Zerolo Hernández, an agronomist, winemaker and member of the Slow Food Tenerife Convivium, during the workshop “Terra Madre Network: Wine and Cheese from the Canary Islands.” He said that in the past few years, tourists have been arriving in the same numbers, but that they stay for a shorter time and spend less money. “So we are trying to show the other side of the Canary Islands, combining tourism and agriculture,” he said. Gabriel Morales Frances, a winemaker and the Tenerife convivium leader, said that the wines and cheeses being tasted during the workshop were “an exemplification of the fact that the islands are not just sun and beaches.”

Carlo Catani, the former director of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, was leading the workshop. “This crisis is reducing the number of jobs linked to tourism,” he said, “but it can also bring some people back to the fields, and their extraordinary work can make the tourism much richer. Then it is no longer just 10 minutes on the beach. The tourists can go inland, get to know the landscape and the history and have a better experience.”

The Canary Islands have a rich history of traditional products to draw on, produced in the varied microclimates around the islands. Cheeses are made from the raw milk of native goat, sheep and cattle breeds, like Queso Palmero, made from Palmera goats on La Palma island, or a sheep’s cheese curdled with vegetable rennet made from a type of cardoon specific to the islands, both of which were tasted during the workshop.

Malvasia wines were among the first products to be exported from the Canaries, brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors and mentioned by Shakespeare, John Locke and Kant, who used Canary wine as an example when exploring the concept of pleasurability. Different varieties of Malvasia grapes can be vinified to make a fresh, dry white or a complex, Solero-method sweet wine, able to age for decades.

Like the Canaries, the Algarve in southern Portugal has long been associated with mass tourism: package holidays, golf resorts and beaches lined with high-rise hotels. But the arid region is also a rich treasure trove of traditional products, many of which were tasted during the workshop “Terra Madre Network: Cheeses, Cured Meats and Wines from the Algarve.” Sea salt, sweet potatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, blood sausage, chouriço, cured ham and goat’s cheese were tasted, along with wines from native grapes and liqueurs flavored with almonds, honey and carob.

Rosa Dias, from the Quinta da Fornalha organic farm, exemplifies the new trend towards sustainable agriculture, ecotourism and organic products that is helping revitalize Portugal’s quintas, small-scale farms. Using carob, almonds and figs, the young farmer makes truffles, jams, spirits and chutneys, focusing on quality ingredients and added value as a way to compete with large-scale industry.

“Only old men were left in the countryside,” said Otília Eusébio, the president of Slow Food Algarve. “But now with the crisis, young people are returning. I think this crisis can be positive. Now for the first time young people are proud of tradition. They are leaving behind this disaster of globalization.” Like the Canary Islands and Greece, the Algarve is also trying to move beyond the mass tourism model. “We don’t want the Algarve just to be this stressful, exploited tourism destination. We want it to become slow touristically.” Now, she said, “People are coming and discovering the genuine Algarve instead of the artificial Algarve.”

Photo: The Telegraph

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