THESSALONIKI – Those wanting to explore Greece’s mountains are to have properly trained official guides following months of training for young men and women on vocational programs. Until recently, Greece’s higher reaches were accessible only to mountaineers, but the growth of mountain tourism in the past decade has created a need for a more professional approach to what is becoming a year-round occupation. With the help of European Union programs, traditional settlements have been restored, guest homes built in quiet, isolated areas, and mountain refuges and forest villages made more accessible, all opening up new business opportunities. Over the past few months, 80 young people have been training in a program set up by the Organization for Tourism Training and Vocational Guidance (an Institute for Vocational Training, IEK, which belongs to the Tourism Development Ministry) in the mountains around Nestorio in Kastoria, Kastania in Karditsa, Stavroupoli in Xanthi and Kalambaka in Trikala. They are the first batch to receive this kind of training in Greece. «The further growth of mountain tourism will guarantee jobs in this field, since dozens of hostels and hotels are being built in areas of great natural beauty such as national parks,» said Nestorio Mayor Christos Gosliopoulos. His municipality provided the buildings to house the school, as an investment in the future benefits the area. The students undergo theoretical but mainly practical training in mountain orientation, meteorology, climbing and trekking, canyoning, camping, rescue techniques and dealing with emergencies. Most of the trainees hail from Western Macedonia. «Four hostels around Nestorio alone and one major hotel have indicated an interest in organizing trekking and mountain tours on Mt Grammos and the surrounding area,» he said. According to the National Tourism Organization, over 120,000 people visit Mt Olympus every year, 60 percent of them foreigners. Thessaly, Western Macedonia, Drama and Xanthi all offer possibilities for the development of mountain tourism.