Monday, 12 October 2009

European Destinations of Excellence - tourism and protected areas

This year's European awards have been given for promotion of sustainable tourism in protected areas.  Not an easy task to keep areas protected and yet encourage tourism, but after my visit to the Camargue in the south of France, it's something that interests me.

There were 22 awards made, including the following:
  • Biosphere Park Grosses Walsertal (Austria) - in the Austrian Alps, this used to be a depressed area but farming and building methods and care for the environment have transformed it. They have environmentally friendly transport and biomass heating.

  • Viroinval / Viroin-Hermeton Nature Park ( Belgium) - an area free from industry and noise.  The highlights are bike trails, walking, local produce (cheese and beer) in an unspoilt and protected region. The rural look of the villages, plant life, fishing, are all carefully managed.

  • Nacionalni park Sjeverni Velebit ( Croatia) - an area best know for caves and sink-holes.  In order to preserve this recently created and unspoilt national park, there are plans to cater for tourists outside the park itself, in nearby towns.

  • Northern Vosges Regional Natural Park ( France) - surrounded by better know regions, it is nevertheless starting to make itself know in its own right.  Not only is there an abundance of hiking and cycling trails, there are châteaux, glass and crystal workshops, and few foreign tourists. It is within easy reach of several large cities such as Paris, Metz and Strasbourg.

  • Prefecture of Lesvos ( Greece) - not only is it an island with wonderful beaches, it is a nature reserve with a petrified forest, wetlands, salt flats and pine forests.  Evidence of history can be seen all around.

  • Írottkő Nature Park ( Hungary) - peace, hot springs, wine routes, are all part of the first of Hungary's natural parks.  The hot springs were named after the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century.

  • Marine Protected Area "Penisola del Sinis - Isola di Mal di Ventre" ( Italy) - a coastline in Sardinia offering scenery, walks and boat excursions. Contrasting landscapes provide wonderful beaches combined with birdwatching on wetlands.  Bicycles are being promoted as the preferred means of transport.

  • Nemunas Delta Regional Park - Unique Terrain of Harmony of Nature, Culture and Tourism ( Lithuania) - apart from the expected attractions of such a park, there is a unique Route of Lighthouses, a 14 kilometer tour.  The wetland is partly owned by the Russian Federation but only the Lithuanian share is protected.  Moves are underway to extend the protection.

  • Recreation area and nature reserve "Haff Réimech" (Commune of Schengen) ( Luxembourg) - a 42 kilometer wine route is offered in this region of rich soil and beautiful landscapes.  Most of the area is in a protected zone so that the expansion of the facilities will be eco-friendly.

  • Kars - Kuyucuk Lake Wild Life Reserve ( Turkey) - at an altitude of 1750 metres, the lake has amazing bird-watching, sightseeing and walking.  There is minimal light pollution and the area is full of historical sites.  All this is combined with a high regard for the environment.
The criteria were:
  1. “non traditional” (the visitor density rating from “low” to “very low” in comparison with the national average)
  2. be based on an area that is designated as a “protected area” by national or regional legislation
  3. manage its own tourism offer in such a way as to ensure its social, cultural and environmental sustainability, with the management being a partnership between the authorities responsible for managing the protected area and all those involved in tourism in and around the area (e.g. tourist service providers, local communities)
The full list with links can be seen on the European Commission website.

All these places have managed to encourage tourism in a way that isn't in conflict with the natural surroundings.  The Camargue is a protected reserve and is being reviewed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  It has about 50 permanent residents, but this number swells to 85,000 or so during the summer, so it wouldn't be eligible for this type of award, and you can imagine the problems there must be in managing tourism on this scale.  The tourism industry is one of the main employers in the area.

All the same, I don't believe they are doing all they could to preserve the region.  I saw more and more evidence of frankly cheap tourist attractions.  I'll tell you about them in a following post and - I can't resist - I'll show some of my photos from around and about.


  1. I've been following some of your links. Some of these places are simply fantastic. Looking forward to your other posts.

  2. Riding back from the South of France last year we took the autoroute past the edge of the camargue national park and I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the white horses and black bulls... I wished I had just more time to slow down and see more but we had a deadline to meet and a thousand miles to ride... c'est la vie...

  3. @Max, yes they're fantastic, and relatively quiet. Very appealing especially as so many are in eastern Europe which I don't know so well.

    @Sage, definitely worth a detour next time. I am always torn between wanting to see unspoilt places, and realising that to get tourist in there, they are no longer unspoilt.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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