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The added value of LEADER

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LEADER, spearheading the
diversification of Kalambaka-Pyli
(Thessaly, Greece):

The spark


The world-famous Meteora and the
tourist flows that they generate
are not enough to sustain the
development of the region of
Kalambaka. In the vanguard to
support the diversification of
the local economy, LEADER has
helped fund a whole series of
infrastructure projects.


“Built with LEADER’s help, this is the building that will house the ‘nature and heritage interpretation centre’. Here, on your left, a cafe-restaurant is going to be built and that building over there is going to be for the municipal services.”

- Municipal services? Here?

- Absolutely. We are standing right where the new town hall of Aspropotamos is going to be. The four villages comprising the new entity all wanted to have the municipal authorities in their village, so in order not to make anyone jealous and because it was easy to reach, we chose the Three Rivers crossroads as the seat of the new town hall.”

It will still be quite a while before the “Three Rivers crossroads” has its own red light. It lies at the bottom of the very deep valley of Aspropotamos (“White River”), in the middle of nowhere, or rather in the middle of the Pindus range. It is the meeting point of two rivers and two mostly empty winding roads, one coming from Trikala, the other from Kalambaka. “In this direction, you can go to Metsovo, in Epirus, the other side of Greece so to speak,” says the inexhaustible Leonidas Stergiou, who is in charge of tourism within the local action group of Kalambaka-Pyli. And he adds: “the roads were only paved a few years ago. You could even say that it is an indirect result of LEADER.”

The place is perhaps a foreshadowing of what rural development will be in this isolated area five to ten years from now. It will be a “crossroads” in every sense of the word and offer the local community and visitors a range of public services and tourist facilities in a wonderful and well-preserved setting. In any case, it is already an illustration of how the various regional, national and European infrastructure programmes have been coordinated with LEADER, Natura 2000 and the “I.Kapodistrias” programme which is helping with the implementation of the 1997 law on the merger of Greek municipalities [1]. Nikos Manoussakis, a technician of the local action group, sums up the situation: “In many respects, LEADER was the spark that triggered the dynamic. First by formalising a specific development strategy for these very remote parts of our area. Then, through the LEADER actions to promote tourism, visitors began to come, encouraging the authorities to pave the roads. This part of the Pindus is also a Natura 2000 area, which implies an environmental management of the territory, whereas the I.Kapodistrias programme, which is helping centralise the municipal services here, is giving a strong function to this crossroads which will soon become a settled area and, we hope, a sustainable development pole.”


Existence precedes Essence

Panos Patras, head of the KANAKAP agency that is managing the Kalambaka-Pyli LEADER programme, confirms the pioneering role of the Community Initiative for rural development: “It’s as if LEADER was specially made for us!”. And he adds: “The added value LEADER has given us is first of all just enabling us to exist! LEADER has introduced in Greece the concept of ‘participatory and integrated local development’. No more no less.”

Created in 1993 with LEADER I, KENAKAP (“Kalambaka-Pyli Development Centre”) is the result of a partnership consisting of 18 of the 23 municipalities of the nomos (department) of Trikala, three unions of agricultural and forestry cooperatives, the representation of the Union of Workers and Employees of Kalambaka, ten local associations and a few private-sector enterprises.

“The aim is to diversify the economic activity of our region and to integrate into the marketing channels the most mountainous parts of the area,” explains Panos. Two small towns in the area have given the territory its name: Kalambaka in the north and Pyli in the south. But from a geo-economic point of view, the distinction is much more between the Kalambaka-Pyli area per se, bordered by the lowlands in the east and the isolated villages of the Pindus in the west. Between the two stand the Koziakas mountains which form a gigantic wall 1,900 m high.

Therefore, these Pindus villages are particularly isolated. On one side they are separated from the Thessaly plain by the Koziakas barrier and the Triggia mountains. On the other side they are difficult to reach because of the very winding roads, until recently unpaved. Nonetheless, LEADER I helped reverse the decline characteristic of this environment, and it did this primarily through tourism.

“Tourism was the only way to revitalise the area,” explains Leonidas Stergiou. The natural and cultural potential is immense, but there were no tourist facilities. LEADER I was particularly instrumental in creating twenty small hotels with a 650-bed capacity, nearly one hotel in each village.”

“LEADER is a great opportunity for the mountains. Alone, it would have been very difficult,” says Janis Manakos, one of the twenty new hotel owners supported by LEADER I. “New” in more than one way, because like his counterparts, in 1994 it was an entirely new activity for him. He was a “young pensioner” who had come home after doing twenty one years of manual work in Aachen, Germany. LEADER funded EUR 220,000 of the initial EUR 350,000 investment. It was a private project but also and especially the first time this mountain-perched village and its few hundred souls had tourist facilities and ten jobs. “Kastania is alive again, people come here now,” says the hotel owner. “Only Greeks; hikers between 40 and 50 years old, especially in the winter, but we could reach a wider customer base if we had a ski slope, for example.”

“They all want their ski slope! If we were to listen to them, we’d have ski lifts everywhere, but that’s not realistic and it’s not the kind of tourism we want to develop!,” stresses Christos Grekos, LEADER development agent. And he explains that if LEADER actually supported the development of Pertouli Meadows as a small winter ski resort, it is because it is an outdoor base for horse riding, archery, mountain biking and hiking. “Roughly speaking, LEADER I emphasised accommodation and a better use of certain elements of the natural and cultural heritage like transhumance trails, traditional bridges, small Byzantine churches. LEADER II is aimed at the creation of specific recreational attractions and collective actions,” notes Christos Grekos.



The main road between Kalambaka and Pyli runs alongside the Piníos river. It is an ailing agricultural area but is largely open to the great Thessaly plain, the “granary of Greece”. This part of the LEADER area has several noteworthy tourist sites. These include the narrow pass of Porta near Pyli and, especially, the Meteora (plural of “meteoron” meaning suspended in air), a group of monasteries on the summits of twenty four of the sixty odd rock pinnacles overlooking Kalambaka at a height of 300 m, an absolute masterpiece of nature.

“The Meteora attract over a million tourists here each year, but most of them are ‘Meteorites’ who only stay a few hours, the time to visit two or three monasteries,” explains Kostas Famisis, former president of the association of hotel owners of Kalambaka. And he adds: “I agree with the LEADER group’s strategy. We have to extend the season and encourage people to stay longer by offering attractions and promoting them.”

“As far as promoting the area is concerned, we have good coverage in the media,” says Panos Patras. “As for getting people to stay longer, we’ve thought about all kinds of ways to do this, including coercion! Some have talked about turning the Meteora into a kind of ‘cultural theme park’ and setting up admission booths on the roads leading into the area. By charging a fee, people would be encouraged to stay longer at the sites. A day trip would no longer be very practical, and tourists would be forced to spend at least one night in Kalambaka. Not only did the monks not want that but the idea set off a political debate that the national press was quick to cash in on!”

The LEADER strategy is obviously more “bottom-up” and based on various local initiatives. For example, there were two young people from the area, Thomas Morfos and Nikos Tsiaras, who were preparing in February 2000 to lay the first cornerstone of a sports centre along the Trikala road three kilometers from Kalambaka. Occupying a 2-ha site, the centre will consist of a swimming pool, tennis courts, miniature golf, and playing fields for mini-football and beach volley. “Facilities like these do not exist here”, says Thomas. “Our young people are desperate to have them. Of course there are the tourists, but Kalambaka’s young people are the main focus of this project, as customers but also as employees. We expect to hire about fifteen people by the end of 2000.” LEADER II has provided 60% of the amount of the estimated investment of about EUR 240,000.

Kostas Famisis is also preparing to build a recreational complex, more upmarket though, based on horse riding and mountain climbing. Individuals do propose projects but not enough, and usually the municipalities have to take the initiative and risk. Once launched, the ventures created will be managed by private operators. It can be said that every municipality in Kalambaka-Pyli is involved in LEADER II and specialising in some recreational activity or another like trap-shooting, motocross, paragliding, or canoeing and kayaking, not to mention long-standing activities like angling and hunting which they are modernising.


Back to the core

“Hunting attracts 7,000 hunters here each year, and most of them rent a room in a private home,” says Kostas Maravas, mayor of the new municipality of Pialion which comprises five villages and two hamlets. “It would be better if the community had a hotel and we are thinking about building one. But tourism cannot be the only sector that is developed in this mostly farming municipality. The food sector has to be given special attention. We need an abattoir and a meat-processing unit so we don’t have to sell our live sheep and pigs to the outside as is still the case today. This is especially true, since a LEADER-funded study has shown that the waste from the abattoir could be converted into methanol to produce a portion of the electricity for the municipality.”

“Although we’ve supported a certain number of agricultural projects - I’m thinking about several women’s cooperatives in particular - more of our attention has been on tourism,” admits Panos Patras. “We are now heading more towards a consolidation of agriculture, because this is still the sector of activity of most of the people here [2] and it is not your average farmer who can become a hotel keeper or a tour operator. Those are professions. You can’t improvise.”

In the meantime, Kalambaka-Pyli is preparing to organise the first “Pindos Crossing” from 7 to 10 June 2000. It is a 250-km multisport event that is part of the European “adventure racing” circuit which the LEADER group is currently setting up with its counterparts in the Western Isles in Scotland and Skogslandet in Sweden [3].



Surface area: 3 000 km²
Population: 71 144 inhabitants
LEADER II funding: EUR 10 805 000
EU: EUR 5 410 000
Other public funds: EUR 1 243 000
Private: EUR 4 152 000

KENAKAP (Kentro Anaptyxis Kalambakas-Pylis SA)

38 Kondily,
GR-42200 Kalambaka
Tel: +30 432 25370 (75250)
Fax: +30 432 25343


[1] Since the mid-1980s, Greece has been engaged
in a process of administrative decentralisation.
The most recent reform was the merger of
municipalities. With the entry into force of
Law 2539/97, the 5,318 former municipalities
(4,500 of which had less than 1,000 inhabitants)
have been turned into 1,033 “OTAs” (local
communities), and these are much larger.
The idea is to modernise local government and
to give these new municipal entities more human
and financial means to perform their
administrative but also socio-economic functions.
In this respect, the “I.Kapodistrias” programme
(named after the person who organised the first
government apparatus of the modern Greek State
in 1830), which is helping with the reform, is
encouraging the local authorities to set up
“municipal enterprises” in order to develop
profit-making activities to increase municipal
revenue and to implement development actions
of an economic, social, cultural or
environmental nature.

[2] In the LEADER area of Kalambaka-Pyli, 65% of the
working population is directly or indirectly
concerned with farming, done on parcels of
land averaging 4.3 ha.

[3] See LEADER Magazine No. 21
(autumn 1999).


source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000

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