But many of these stories go untold. There are thousands of buildings around the world which are significant sites of interest – and yet nobody knows about them, except perhaps for a few dozen local people. Europe, in particular, is packed with buildings and structures that have played a role in the continent’s diverse and long-ranging history, and yet most of them see only a tiny number of visitors passing through each year.
From ex-industrial factories that have been turned into museums, to old railway lines which have been regenerated as pleasant walking routes, Europe is truly a land of hidden treasures and undiscovered travel experiences. With such a rich and diverse catalogue of physical sites to draw on, Europe can claim to be the homeland of the regenerated building, a place where the old can become new again and ancient structures which may have seemed worthless are reborn as the most valuable buildings in their community.
European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN), the European Commission project promoting sustainable tourism development models across the European Union, has been on a quest to re-discover and promote Europe's emerging and lesser known sustainable tourist destinations since 2007 and in its fifth year has chosen to honour the theme of tourism and the regeneration of physical sites
This theme has been selected in order to reward destinations which have regenerated a physical site relating to their local heritage and converted it into a tourism attraction to be used as a catalyst for wider local regeneration. Any sustainably managed reclamation, preservation or enhancement project can be considered and the physical sites put forward could be anything from agricultural to economic, military to cultural.
The sorts of projects to be considered range from gasometers that have been turned into exhibition centres and war bunkers reborn as museums, to castles and battlefields that have played a part in European or even international history which now offer visitors the chance to discover the area’s past and learn about ancient ways of life. With such a wide-ranging theme, the possibilities are endless – and the less mainstream the site, the better.
Apart from encapsulating the theme, nominated sites must also be emerging or little known, attracting a low or very low number of visitors when compared with other tourist sites. As Europe’s most popular attractions become more and more congested, spreading visitors out across the country or even the continent becomes all the more important – and all the more desirable. Achieving this is another of EDEN’s stated aims.
Each of the participating EU member states and candidate countries will choose the destination within their borders which best represents the theme, a set of EU criteria and most positively demonstrates their country’s tourism industry. A list of the chosen destinations, one from each country, will be published on the EDEN website and the chosen sites will be awarded at a ceremony in Brussels on September 27.
But the greatest reward these sites can hope for is an upturn in visitor numbers, so this summer think outside the box, and be inspired to explore the unknown and revel in the untouched. With so many authentic visitor experiences available in a range of European countries, you may never default to the main tourist sites again. Indeed, why would you?
European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN)
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