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Focus on back to basics in one of the most unique areas of the world highlights major eco-tourism potential

Interview - December 1, 2015

Klelia Vasiliou, Managing Director of the Troodos Development Company and the Troodos Geopark Visitors Center, and Savvas A. Malliotis, Managing Director of Filagro Group and Strategic Analyst for Troodos Development Company, introduce the world to “Trooding” as Cyprus develops its potential naturally.



The importance of preserving the biodiversity of the flora, fauna and earth of Cyprus is vital not just for the sustainable development and use of Cyprus natural resources but also to develop new business models based on eco-tourism and natural products, as well as develop Cyprus rural areas. How important can ecotourism and the development of rural areas be for Cyprus on its new path of economic growth?

Klelia Vasiliou: It is vital! We have to start from another point of view based on how people need to go back to the earth and find their ways again to rebuild their connection with the earth, the soil management and the agriculture, and further invest in the authenticity of the products. We’ve been through some decades of this plastic way of living with not “real” food, where ‘good, clean and fair’ produce was not on the table. We chose the easy way to build our houses, the materials we used weren’t actually picked from an environmental aspect. We didn’t realize what has been sacrificed to put ourselves in that kind of modern way of living.

We are now investing in ecotourism and geo-tourism. This is the strategy in our case. We need to go back and see how people actually lived and built their lives according to what the earth offered. That’s not being romantic, or dramatic, or some of the environmental lines that people use when they say, “Okay, you are from the ‘bio sector’. Be more realistic!”

What we actually do, if we start from the vineyards or the wine, is we invest in ‘terroir’. We actually talk about geology products, and this is where the geo-product is refined. Either way, depending on the soil you are planting, your plants, your vines, you have a certain type of grape and then you have a certain type of wine. All wines have their own personality – the aroma, the taste, dryness, etc. It all depends on the soil, the air, the microclimate, the way the sun affects the maturity process. That’s exactly how people are. Shaped by the elements of nature.


Can we say that the people from the Troodos Mountains have their own cultural and social behavior due the geological composition of the region?

Klelia Vasiliou: Yes of course! Who we are is shaped by the environment we live in. And what the earth offers is our environment. If we put ourselves in a big city and in a huge building where our life is formalized in routines that actually make us act like robots, there are no signs of genuine creativity or we get more dependent on technology. In the end, technology does all the work for us and we don’t have the ability to be genuinely creative, to use our minds in a way that we will produce added value to the existing means or methods.

Our lives depend on what we are offered and not to what you can add as a patent to technology. People used to observe nature and get ideas from the sun’s position, the behavior of plants or animals’ techniques. That way they built bioclimatic houses, they designed and flew airplanes, created miracles like the Parthenon in Athens. Now we have computers to do the work for us by simply integrating data to the system. But! Is all data put correctly? Sufficiently? We are dealing with that problem now actually. There are numbers put into systems of control, but no actual qualitative criteria is taken in count. There are people, many different people, who are not fed by numbers. Nor do they live only by numbers.

We talk about economic crisis. In fact it’s exactly that; people wanted to go one step further, but instead they created this false entry of data in the world’s system. Governments give directions to people as to how their lives should be. Then we ended up with a system of consuming and consuming without actually producing new things or new observations or new ideas or new professions, stuck in a never-ending circle.

In our area, every village and every house was sustainable by itself, because every house had it’s own animals and own agricultural plants. Exactly what they needed for the house. If they lacked something they used to exchange products with the neighbor that had something that they didn’t. There was this closed economy within the village that everybody had what they needed. They were producing enough to eat. It was very difficult to find someone lacking food, because they had the earth. They were depending on themselves. Now, we are dependent on our credit card and whether it has credit left or not. It depends on our employers, whether they will keep us in that job or not, and how competitive we are and how many hours we will be working to have enough balance left on the credit card to have something to eat. At the end of the day, the basic need is to have something to eat. That’s always been the main point throughout history and the biggest wars happened because of food, for water, for fruits, for sugar, for coffee.


So, returning back to the communities is the way to be sustainable and to reduce our dependency on the consumer way of living, which had been also part and consequence of the economic crisis that Cyprus is now trying to overcome.

Klelia Vasiliou: That’s one of the points. What we are talking about now is returning back to the way that the community was self-sustainable, but in a modern way, an innovative way where people actually cooperate but still observe the environment and the earth and what surrounds it, and build their own economy again from the start. On a clean basis.

In our area farmers have small amounts of land and cannot produce in great quantities to export because the needs of a big market are huge and they cannot commit to big orders or large numbers. But still, they produce amazing things, tasty and quite unique. We have to give them some motives to keep protecting their trees and their fruits, and we cannot deal with the big market as we import everything and they cannot sell their small portions. They are not competitive pricewise. So, we had to come up with a solution. The outcome was to propose to cooperate and create clusters that they built on the identity of the product. Athenticity, quality, and respect for the producer.


Tell us about the geological uniqueness of Troodos Mountains.

Klelia Vasiliou: Neither the residents of Cyprus nor the island’s foreign visitors would ever suspect that the wooded peak of Troodos is actually the deepest layer of a section of oceanic crust and the Earth’s upper mantle. In other words, an ophiolite complex that was formed 92 million years ago, 8,000 meters below sea level.

The Troodos Geopark is located in the central part of Cyprus and its area is approximately 1,147 sq.m), covering 45% of the total area of the Troodos range and 15% of the total area of Cyprus.

So why should you drill 60km towards the center of the earth rather than easily walk in the Troodos Mountains? We’ve noticed that in such a small geographical area we plant almost everything. In Cyprus you can even find biological elements that you can also find in Thailand.

What I’m trying to say is that due to the soil and the geology of the land, we can produce anything, but on a small scale. The attraction here for us is we want to bring people to know our culture, to know these facts and take home these products as souvenirs. It’s the only way we can put our products into the big market.


How do you proceed, I mean, it is not difficult to engage all the communities, all the villages, all the institutions and companies of the Troodos region in this holistic approach?

Klelia Vasiliou: It’s holistic. I brought with me the map of Troodos and will show you something interesting. This is the map, not the geology, but the tourist map. As you can see here, this big area is Troodos. When it comes to the geopark there are 110 villages involved. In this area we have main five sub-regions. Each sub-region now has its own characteristics locked in their names. If we take the wine villages for example (Krasoxoria) they have vineyards and produce wine, and they are wine villages because their geological elements are limestone and chalk.

We have the Commandaria region because in here we produce Commandaria wine. The soil here is different to any other place, and the grapes produced on this land is certain enough to make Commandaria. In fact this special sweet wine is one of the most ancient wines in the world (documented in Cyprus back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production, with the name Commandaria dating back to the crusades in the 12th century).

Then we have Pitsilia where due to the microclimate and the soil we have big production of apples, peaches and other fruits. And then we have spoon sweets because they are made of this fresh fruit. Then we have the meat products (pork matured in red wine) as xoiromeri (leg), and lountza (fillet) sausages, because this area is famous for the wine produced from local varieties.

Then in the Solea Valley we have (geology fact again) the river flowing all year and the locals used to build mills on the river, working by the water pressure. So they are famous for flour produce and olive oil.

We have also sulfur springs (due to the geology again), and now we have people investing in small hotels turning them into spa centers using the sulfur waters and all their healing qualities.

Troodos is a big thematic place with endless sources of recreation and activities. And locals know that they need to put all their local talents on the map and create a beautiful picture. Each village and each sub-region has something really unique to add in this thematic puzzle.

This is exactly why our strategy as a company serving the local needs, is formed around the Geopark. People, locals and visitors want authenticity. It is important to us, to show the world how valuable and rich our land is. In fact, Cyprus is known for the great beaches, the big hotels but the real treasure is Troodos. A four-season destination, where if you’re lucky during March you can ski at the highest peaks, and then in 30 minutes’ time you can dive into the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.


How do you change that perception? What does Geopark mean and what’s the story behind it?

Klelia Vasiliou: The Geopark now functions as common identity for 110 villages. From 1960, during the formation of the republic, our area has been divided into two public administration rules. From here and down it’s Limassol. From here and up it’s Nicosia. People were not given any motivation to act like they belong in the same mountain. They never felt that they belonged to the same area. An example I use often is that the resident of Kakopetria village which is in Nicosia part and the resident of Kyperounda (in Limassol distict) which is like seven minutes away, said, “I’m from Limassol,” and the other said, “I’m from Nicosia because my direction is focused on the city that serves my needs.” Now work has been done to make these people feel that they belong to the same area. They didn’t have any common identity. What we’ve tried to do these six last years, is to make them feel that we are all from Troodos. Okay, you are from Kakopetria and you are from Kyperounda, but we are all from Troodos. That’s what Geopark did, because now by saying that we joined the European network of Geoparks and the global network of Geoparks we get the question: “Okay, what’s a Geopark?” The Geopark is you and what you are holding as environment and culture and geological identity. Your house is in the Geopark. We have 110 villages in the Geopark, so we are all one.

That’s the real important fact of the matter because not only does the resident actually now feel the real essence of the area, but it also makes the government think of Troodos as a whole area now. When they think of the problems of Troodos Nicosia district, they also consider some problems that Troodos Limassol district faces. They are trying now to give common solutions to problems because they know that they cannot stop in Kakopetria because the problem also goes a little bit more up. It doesn’t matter if it’s Limassol district: it’s all in the Troodos area.

It’s really important for the residents to feel that the government solves chronic problems and faces the area as one single region from a development aspect, and for the tourist one as well. It is important to reveal that Troodos consists of 110 villages and more, and is not just plain forest. There are people, festivals, events, local products, activity… life!

We are now building up thematic packages that we’ll offer to travel agents based on the interests of the visitor. Group or individually shaped thematic packaging is really important because it helps us to build on authenticity and give locals motives to take advantage of every authentic element they have, even in their own village. Even in their house’s yard.


How are you working together with the government or with the communities to brand this new kind of tourism internationally?

Klelia Vasiliou: We haven’t done anything yet internationally, except the application for the European and global network of Geoparks to be recently adopted by UNESCO as official UNESCO sites. We had and still have excellent collaboration with the Geological Survey Department and the Department of Forests for the application. We also work closely and effectively with every ministry and semi-governmental organization, like the CTO. It’s the first time we have talked to the international forum because we wanted to first set up the area and make the locals believe and embrace the effort, put some things in order and then start talking about it. When you say something that you are dreaming of or designing or fantasizing in a way it’s not always good to share it because you don’t have concrete facts that these things will happen in the end. Now we’ve joined the European network as well as the global and we have some showcase, so we can now start branding our treasures.


Now are you ready to start branding your strategy of work internationally?

Saavas A. Malliotis: Yes. One thing we have in mind in terms of ecotourism is that Troodos is the climate regulator of Cyprus. If it wasn’t for Troodos, Cyprus would be a desert. It goes without saying that we have to maintain the vehicle system up there, otherwise we won’t have an island, we’ll have a desert. It’s extremely important to maintain and preserve the vehicle system and avoid big investments in terms of infrastructure, which are going to destroy the forest, which anyway the government is not going to allow to happen. That’s one point.

The second point is that Cyprus is the only country in the world that has not been affected in terms of the vineyard by phylloxera. I am sure the French will know about that. Cyprus is the only island and the only place in the world that has not been affected by phylloxera which means that we have had local, indigenous varieties for centuries. We can claim that Troodos is producing the best quality vines for wine making, not for the fresh market but for wine making. This is the reason why we have many wineries and the wine villages. Commandaria is a particular region that only the sweet wine can be produced. They can produce other wines but Commandaria can only be produced from vines growing in the particular region of the 14 clustered villages.

When it comes to wine we should say as well that we have the highest vineyards in Europe in Troodos Park. It’s 1040 meters high. It’s said to be the highest vineyard in Europe.


Do you think that the government and private companies are working together to develop a sustainable, green economic model, as highlighted by the aims of the COP21?

Klelia Vasiliou: Yes, because of the synergy of the project. I mean it is important from what I’ve said before to reestablish the relationship with the clear environment again and all this effort in geo-tourism is to produce exactly what is set to be a green economy at all levels. Whether it is business-wise or conservation-wise, in every aspect we cannot pretend to have a geo-tourism target and then,we are not careful about how we use the restaurants or the hotels. All this effort should be done in a holistic way. I don’t have exact examples to mention, but I should say that it’s quite controversial to say that you have geo-tourism orientation but you are not careful as to how you deal with the environment. It’s quite the same in a way.


What differentiates this Geopark from other Geoparks? For example, in France there are four Geoparks if I’m not mistaken. What is that unique aspect that you would like to emphasize?

Klelia Vasiliou: Every Geopark is beautiful in it’s own unique way, and every one has something really special to show. Troodos is the only park in the world which is full range oceanic crust. It's the way it was born from the upper mantle of the earth and it was reversed over its 92 million years of age. It is really important because at the top of the mountain you see rocks from the upper mantle of the earth that can be found nowhere else in the world.

For researchers it's a unique place on the planet, and actually they have a “joke” about it – they say that every self-respecting geologist must visit Troodos at least once in their life. You cannot call yourself a geologist if you have not visited Troodos yet. That's what they say. For us it's a unique opportunity to use that fact as a marketing tool to promote our gastronomy, architecture, our 10 UNESCO monuments, and Byzantine churches with beautiful frescos, painted with colors from the soils, and built from gabbros (igneous rocks).


What does the concept of “trooding” mean?

Klelia Vasiliou: It’s a good title for this interview. We just started using it. There was a need to create a verb out of the name of the area to be able to describe an action you can do there. We wanted to create something descriptive and motivating to use as a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. The idea was from Troodos to create the word Trooding, or Trood, to describe what you can do in the area. So, if you’re going to go Trooding, it’s fishing, walking, photographing, eating, visit religious monuments, nature trails, geological trails, vineyards. Whatever you can do in Troodos is described as Trooding. That was the idea.

Saavas A. Malliotis: It has to have two things in my mind: it is part of what we call geo-tourism, so it’s outdoor activities or it’s an authentic experience. Trooding would be either one of these two things. It’s not having pizza at Troodos – that’s not Trooding, it’s having authentic cuisine.

Klelia Vasiliou: In fact that’s why I was a bit surprised at the end because we thought at first that it would be a nice idea to mix it with the word true. Take the words true and Troodos and make it 'trueding'. That was the whole concept.