Cultural Heritage Attraction Award


What the Judges want: Proven examples of a cultural, historic or natural resource being celebrated and protected at the heart of a tourism experience.

2015 winners

Gold award: Loop Head Peninsula Heritage Trail

Gold award: Loop Head Peninsula Heritage Trail
Many of Ireland's rugged landscapes which jut out into the wilds of the Atlantic are already well trodden on the tourist trail, such as The Dingle Peninsula or the Cliffs of Moher. But for years few people knew about one of its most stunning peninsulas: Loop Head in County Clare. However, that all changed after local community-led Loop Head Tourism Network created the Loop Head Heritage Trail in 2014. Making this a fine example of local people taking ownership of their heritage and, in so doing, setting a new, shiny emerald onto Ireland's tourism map.

The Loop Head Peninsula Heritage Trail was created by a network of 47 local businesses, now the Loop Head Tourism Network, based on the remote Loop Head Peninsula in County Clare, Ireland.

Following extensive heritage training, entitled 'Learning from the Landscape', they created the Trail in 2014, incorporating holy wells, ring forts, standing stones and ancient buildings. The Trail is now just one of many of their cultural initiatives that are nationally and internationally celebrated.

As a remote, unpopulated landscape, with wide open expanses of land, Loop Head Tourism has seen the value in protecting and interpreting its cultural heritage. All now visible and accessible to tourists who, until the network's prolific initiatives, passed by the peninsula and its heritage highlights en route to traditional tourism destinations. As well as the Heritage Trail, locally organised festivals such as The Loop Head Walking Festival, Taste the Loop and traditional currach making courses have not only instilled a local sense of pride of place, but also led to the creation of one of Ireland's most successful regional tourism brands. They use the strapline, "Be prepared to be blown away." And indeed we were.
Silver award: Bushmans Kloof
When an Australian archaeologist is flown all the way from Wollongong in New South Wales to a remote reserve in the Cederberg region of South Africa's Western Cape, you know something exciting is happening. In fact it feels like a veritable Indiana Jones movie. The real star of this set, however, is a magnificent collection of 130 documented rock art sites created by the San Bushmen, one of mankind's earliest societies, with paintings that are up to 10, 000 years old being revealed to visitors coming to this wilderness luxury resort of Bushmans Kloof.

The owners of Bushmans Kloof take their role as custodians of the San Bushmen's' ancient heritage very seriously, with ongoing archaeological excavation projects revealing more and more ancient treasures. In addition, all the art is now being professionally recorded and documented by a resident archaeologist to create a database that is linked to a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform, ensuring the preservation of these sites for future generations. Guests staying at the resort are taken on guided tours of the sites, led by specially trained guides from the local community. Guests also visit the Bushmans Kloof Heritage Centre that brings to life the history and lives of the San people. This esteemed collection isn't just open to guests, however. Bushmans Kloof hosts site visits for University of Cape Town's Department of Archaeology, as well as local schools and community groups, enabling everyone to share in what has been described as the 'world's largest open-air art gallery' and also now holder of South African Natural Heritage status.

Celebrating living culture is also a feature at Bushmans Kloof, as they have been major players in reviving the traditional Riel Dance in the Cederberg region - a traditional dance of the San Bushmen and the Khoi. Apart from being the major funder and sponsor of the Riel dance troupes, it trains and encourages the troupes to compete in regional and national competitions. The troupes also regularly perform for guests at the lodge, which is the icing on the cake for visitors to this already stunning reserve, with its cultural gems shining among the natural ones.

Silver award: Cnoc Suain
Cnoc Suain is an Irish homestead high up in the hills overlooking Connemara's coastline, converted to a place where you can immerse yourself totally in Ireland's cultural heritage. When the owners of this cultural haven, Dearbhail Standún and Charlie Troy, took over the site in 1995, they discovered ruins of cottages hidden under the overgrown lands, and slowly went about rebuilding them. In addition, being professional musician and botanist/geologist respectively, they filled them with music sessions, a nature lover's library, Irish language sessions and plenty of local fare.

Tired of watching tourists being told about their country from behind a coach window, Dearbhail Standún and Charlie Troy decided to offer something more authentic to tourists seeking out a genuine Irish experience in this Gaeltacht, or Irish speaking region of Ireland. But Cnoc Suain is no theme park. There is nothing tacky or commercial here, just beautiful traditional cottages to stay in, and a plethora of experiences, or Eispéireas, as they say in Irish one their website, ranging from traditional music and dance sessions for small groups by a roaring fire (an antidote to the overcommercialised Riverdance version of Ireland that is now so well known) to small civil ceremonies held by their 3,000 year old standing stone on the hill-top, with its dramatic and timeless backdrop of the Burren and Galway bay. At Cnoc Suain each song, story and sup oozes with a pride and determination to protect and share some of the joys of their beloved and most beautiful Irish heritage.

2014 winners

Silver award: Festivals of Puebla

2014 - Silver award: Festivals of Puebla

Festivals of Puebla was awarded our silver winner. Note: There was no gold winner in this category this year. Professor Harold Goodwin, chair of the panel of judges explains why:

"The judges look for examples of excellent responsible tourism practice, examples that can inspire and which others may replicate. We are also mindful of previous winners and each year seek to ensure that the category winners are on a par with previous winners. We can only select from amongst those nominated and based on the information in the public domain, on the information they provide and the independent references."

Tourist heading to Puebla in east central Mexico will hear about the region locked in time, a time of strict Catholicism and colonialism. However, you have to search a bit deeper on the tourism websites to dig back to the pre-Hispanic heritage in this region, or just check out on of the seven Puebla festivals, which highlight to national and international tourists the unique cultural heritage of this state from way before the Conquistadors arrived.

Puebla is home to five major indigenous groups and the festivals highlight the importance of their on-going traditions, the most famous being The Festival of Day of the Dead. However, the cultural traditions are also celebrated at other times throughout the year, such as the Festival of Huey Atlixcayotl in Atlixco which gives thanks for the harvest; the Spring Equinox Festival which takes place at various archaeological sites in the state and the Flower Fair in Huauchinango. They are just a few examples of ways in which the people of Puebla have sought to keep their traditional place on the map for tourists. Consequently, they are also preserving these important cultural events for their own people, while generating substantial economic benefit from visitor income. It is rewarding to see that, in a fast changing world, the admiration of the festivals by outsiders has also refuelled local people's pride in their own history, with communities thriving as they come together in preparation for the festivals. The end product is a collection of festivals that celebrate the vast array of cultural diversity in this region, all produced in a way that is authentic and based on a principle of cultural preservation rather than commoditisation.
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Loop Head Peninsula Heritage Trail]