40,000 olive trees transform a barren 200-hectare landscape on Lesvos
The barren land of 200 hectares on Lesvos that was transformed into a fertile olive grove with 12 different olive varieties
The concept of sustainability in all its glory being realised in a new ecosystem created from scratch to replace what until now was a barren land? Believe it, it’s true!
In a utopian environment, the rocks would become olive trees and the stones would be transformed into fruits so nutritious, that even the birds from neighbouring islands would migrate here to savour them. Foxes would once again seek shelter in the shade of these olive trees and weasels would wander around in the night through the hillocks, among the olive trees, the coastal wavyleaf sea lavender, the shrubby Helichrysum strawflower and the native wild carrots.
But why should this seem utopian? On the Sigri peninsula in west Lesvos, a ‘green’ investment is creating a new ecosystem and bringing life to what was a barren land, while also improving the quality of the existing biodiversity.
How ‘green’ investment can transform a barren land
While global warming is increasing at an alarming rate, wildfires are on the rise and desertification is no longer something out of science fiction, the Sigri olive grove goes against the grain and transforms a negative environmental footprint into a positive one.
About 40,000 young olive tress, and 20,000 fruit-bearing and ornamental trees are transforming the barren landscape of 200 hectares.
We are in the western part of Lesvos, near the seaside village of Sigri, a location filled with sites of incomparable natural beauty. All of Lesvos has been included in UNESCO’s Global Geopark Network, but in Sigri specifically there is a unique testament to geological history, the Petrified Forest, which has been declared a “Natural Heritage Monument”.
The land of contrasts: From lush green olive groves to volcanic edifices
If you look at Lesvos from above, you will note that half the island is a lush green, dominated by olive groves and thick vegetation literally extending to the sea. The Lesbian olive grove grows in the ideal microclimatic conditions (soil and humidity), covering hills and slopes, and supported by stone terrace walls which are also part of the local cultural heritage. Historically, the growing of olive trees helped build a major industrial presence consisting of traditional olive presses, mill stones, bottling plants and warehouses, some with singular architectural value that led them to being listed as monuments.
Conversely, the other half of the island to the west is void of vegetation from the peaks to the coast and appears barren. About 17 million years ago, volcanic activity completely altered the landscape and the flowing lava created impressive shapes, ultimately leaving argillaceous rock formations in its wake. When driving from Antissa, heading for Sigri, we notice here and there the natural monuments of fossilised tree trunks, low phrygana shrubs, various herbs and rare wild orchids, which quite rightly have earned the area the title: “botanical paradise of the Aegean”.
And so, we have half an island green, in shades of olive trees, and half brown in hues of stone. Or at least that was the case until recently. In the last 15 years with the olive grove being developed on the peninsula of the Faros Estate, the colours have begun to change. The entire landscape is being transformed and coming alive, millions of years later.
Geotourism and geoecology
Geotourism refers to experiencing the natural and cultural landscape in contrast to the average urbanised way of life. It is a modern-day phenomenon that has become increasingly popular worldwide since the late 1980s and is a new factor in the tourism industry. As such, in recent years it has grown into an appealing idea, attracting tourists from all walks of life and with varied interests, particularly in relation to the tourism industry and environmental organisations. The growing demand for everything “geo” has led to developing attractions based on geological artefacts such as caves, volcanic craters, hot springs, rock formations and waterfalls. These types of resources, which were converted to tourism products, have changed many areas into unique geotourism destinations and raised issues related to their management and care, including topics such as sustainability, impacts and other environmental issues. One such important undertaking to achieve planetary and human health is taking place in Sigri.
Part of the geotourism interest of Sigri along these lines is the vast olive grove of the Faros Estate creating an unprecedented, unique microclimate. The sea air and saltiness of the Aegean, the seaweed, the volcanic rocks, the sand dunes and the birds flying back and forth to Nisiopi island are all elements that have created a rare bioclimatic phenomenon. It is a microclimate taking shape along with the high degree of difficulty involved in cultivating olive trees. It presents a great challenge for Antonis Tirpintiris and his family. By making a green investment, he has made it his goal to upgrade the land of his birth and leave an invaluable legacy for generations to come.
12 different olive varieties
On a piece of land of 200 hectares, among the rocks, the beaches and low hills, 40,000 linearly planted olive trees are cultivated without radical interventions in the natural landscape, while 20,000 different species of trees around the grove function as support, not just for design purposes but mainly to protect and enhance biodiversity. The Faros Estate olive grove features 12 different types of olive trees of local, Greek and international varieties, such as: Adramytini, Kolovi, Koroneiki, Kalamon, Halkidiki, Mavroelia, Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino, Aricombi, Picual and Melolia.
A sustainable ecosystem in a desertified area
At the Faros Estate, the roots of the olive trees infuse life into the soil, stabilise the ground and make it fertile, without the added burden of chemical fertilisers. Instead, locally available natural materials such as animal by-products, clippings from tree trimming and seaweed (Posidonia oceanica) are collected to make compost that will then nourish the trees. By doing so, natural resources are returned to the earth and fortify the soil. The fertiliser derived from seaweed is not only organic, but comes from a sustainable source and can be collected without affecting the environment. Trace elements found in organic seaweed fertilisers include magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and nitrogen, which are beneficial for the olive trees as they provide the key ingredients they need for photosynthesis. In this way, what is removed from the atmosphere is returned to the soil.
It is worth noting that alongside the 40,000 olive trees, other tree species have been carefully selected and planted to make ideal companions for olives, such as the date palm, pine, cypress, tamarix, kermes oak, eucalyptus, pomegranate, fig, jojoba, autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), persimmon, walnut and pistachio trees.
Oleotourism: The olive reconnects people with nature
The production of olive oil through the centuries has given rise to a number of techniques, conventions, rituals and beliefs typical of nature and daily life. All the above, which constitute the olive culture, have survived to this day while trying to adapt to a constantly changing world which is more automated and industrialised than in the past, but equally resilient and Mediterranean. An integral part of the culture is the connection between science and the olive, such as in medicine, with olive oils legitimately claiming health benefits (EU 432/2012), in the physical well-being that promotes proper care of the body, as taste experience and of course in gastronomy. It is no coincidence that olive oil holds a prominent position on the food pyramid of the Mediterranean diet.
These properties are featured through a series of organised activities held in the Faros Estate olive grove, a perfect setting for relaxing strolls and hikes with a view of the infinite horizon of the Aegean Sea. The harmonious coexistence of the land, the trees and the sea has calming qualities and provides the ideal conditions to foster inner strength and creative grounding. That’s why the new calendar includes yoga practice in the shade of the olive trees. In this way, human beings are returning to what until recently was an unwelcoming land.
An olive mill began operating inside the olive grove in 2021, in a traditionally designed structure built of stone and other natural materials found exclusively on the island. It is one of three “smart” olive presses operating in Europe that are innovative for their continuous-flow production, as opposed to batch production. The olive mill automatically recognises the olive variety and degree of maturity and applies the best production conditions. The state-of-the-art facilities have the capacity to process 75 tonnes of olives per day. As part of ensuring quality, detailed chemical testing is conducted both at the estate’s own lab and at accredited external laboratories at different stages of production in accordance with specific parameters and using high-tech equipment for each batch.
The main olive mill area includes a fully equipped hall for organised olive oil tastings with presentations by certified tasters who are part of our team. Audiovisual material presents the history of the island, the unique features of Sigri and the transformation of the ecosystem. Visitors can tour the facilities, walk among the tanks and bottle their own extra-virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oils
Each tank at the olive mill is used to store each variety and quality of olive separately under ideal conditions. This approach allows for the standardisation of extra-virgin olive oils according to the taste preferences of consumers, whether these are monovarietal or multivarietal bottlings.
Nevertheless, the creation of blended, multivarietal extra-virgin olive oils is extremely important, as it results in products with a balanced, flavourful and exceedingly tasty profile.
Aside from the monovarietal labels, the most popular Ol’eve bottlings are the:
- Organic Special Selection, consisting of Adramytiani and Kolovi varieties with mild characteristics and an aromatic, fruity profile.
- Faros Sigri Organic of Adramytiani, Kolovi, Koroneiki, Kalamon, Halkidiki, Mavroelia, Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino, Aricombi, Picual and Melolia, with a complex fruity and aromatic profile, and a balanced bitter and spicy medium-to-intense flavour.
- Limited-edition Early Harvest Health Claim, a product with a certified health claim, of early-harvest olives with a high polyphenol content (hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal and oleacin), as verified by testing at accredited laboratories. With green, fruity aromas, and a strongly bitter and spicy flavour profile.
- Special Selection PGI, made from the two local olive varieties in Lesvos – Adramytiani and Kolovi. It has earned a Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) label.
Support for the local community
As part of the overall support of the local community, the Tirpintiris family works with the farmers of the wider area to produce, standardise and export other locally made products, such as salt from Kalloni Bay. It is also worth noting that the estate and olive mill are open to visitors year-round by appointment, and can accommodate organised groups, school excursions, or environmental, cultural and gastronomic events.
And leaving the best for last! The Faros Estate is happy to promote olive tree adoption. Through this action, visitors develop a deeper connection with the olive grove, become more aware of the environment and create a stronger relationship of care and dependence which aims at securing active participation in the sustainability of the phenomenon.
Photography: Dimitris Talianis, Maria Kardamenis, Gianna Balafouti, Sigri Olive Mill
GIANNA BALAFOUTI – olivemagazine.gr
Read the original article in greek.
Find OLEVE’s Olive Oil
Discover OLEVE’s olive oils at:
– Our SIGRI OLIVE MILL shop
– Online on our exclusive E-shop
– Lesvos’ Museum of Natural History of the Petrified Forest
– Selected restaurants & local stores in Sigri & Lesvos
– Selected restaurants, gourmet shops & Olive Bars in Athens & Thessaloniki