Olympic Games visitors with an interest in nature will be able to visit nine locations of special ecological interest within and around Attica – many of them not in tour brochures – on the «Eco-trips» program launched by Athens 2004, the Olympic Games organizers, in conjunction with the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature. «This program offers our guests from around the world the opportunity to combine the experience of the Athens Olympic Games with morning and all-day trips to localities in Attica and to nearby prefectures distinguished for their scenery and ecological interest,» said Athens 2004 Executive Director Yiannis Pyrgiotis at a recent press conference. Knowledgeable guides George Sfikas, president of the society, told Kathimerini English Edition that society members with a deep knowledge of Attica and its environment would act as guides on the visits to various places in Attica for day trips as well as further afield, which will include overnight stays. «It will be an opportunity for people to get to know Athens from a different perspective,» he said. «We approached the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature as it is the oldest and most active environmental organization in Greece,» Christina Theohari, director of the Athens 2004 department for the environment told Kathimerini English Edition. The schedules have not been finalized but the visits will begin during the summer and continue according to demand, she added. «Greece is well known for its large variety of landscapes, habitats and vegetation, as well as for its wide variety of fauna and flora,» Sfikas said at the press conference called to announce the plan. «Greek flora includes 6,200 plant species and subspecies, of which about one-sixth are endemic and unique in the world,» he explained. «Its fauna numbers more than 410 bird species, 100 mammals, 110 freshwater fish and 400 saltwater fish and that, of course, is without taking into account amphibians, reptiles, insects and other forms of life. «This is only a small part of the wealth that we want to show to our visitors.» Mountains and forests In Attica itself, destinations include the Dafni Monastery area southwest of the city, including a visit to the Diomedes Botanical Garden, the Kifissos Springs – Tatoi – Aghios Merkourios area, which, despite their proximity to Athens, still retain their natural beauty. Then there is the protected forest of Kaisariani, on the slopes of Mt Hymettus, one of the mountains that surround Athens and, on the other side of the city, the Parnitha National Park, the nearest national park to the capital with 1,100 plant species and the country’s only mountain where deer can be found. About an hour’s drive down the coast is Sounion National Park, with its protected Mediterranean ecosystem, and the nearby ancient silver mines of Lavrion, which will also be included in the excursion. Further afield is Mount Dirfy on the island of Evia and the protected forest of Steni, and in the Peloponnese, Mount Mainalo, with its vast and unique fir forests, part of the Natura 2000 network. Also part of the Natura network are Stymfalia Lake, the former Feneos Lake, Doxa Lake and the historic monastery of St George, and in the northern Peloponnese, the Vouraikos Canyon, which is accessible by a mountain railway that passes through spectacular scenery in the foothills of Mt Helmos. «These short excursions could possibly also include other areas, both within and outside Attica, and the same applies to other Olympics cities. The goal of the 2004 Eco-trips program is to support efforts by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) to make the natural world of Greece’s hinterland more widely known,» said Pyrgiotis. As for enjoying nature within the city itself – which is supposed to be getting more green spaces in time for the Games – the planting of trees and shrubs around Olympic venues is being undertaken by the State within the framework of the venue construction but planting will not be done until after construction is completed. Olympic greenery Landscaping is being assigned by the General Sports Secretariat, which has responsibility for the sites. However, Theohari said that trees and plants had been made available to Athens 2004 by the Ministry of Agriculture for distribution to municipalities in areas around the venues. «We have approached all these municipalities and so far 15 have responded,» said Theohari.