The Kaunertal Valley in Austria is a land of continuous contrasts that mirror the changing seasons. The panoramic Kaunertal Glacier Road weaves through snow-covered forests and ends at eternal ice. Lush greenery, babbling brooks, and sweet-smelling pastures are all made accessible to guests with reduced mobility. That’s why The Kaunertal Valley was chosen as Austria’s most recent EDEN winner. The theme was accessible tourism.
The European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) was started in 2006 to spotlight emerging tourist destinations located in the 27 EU member states. Each year, the European Commission chooses a theme and one destination is selected in each participating country.
In 2011, destinations were rewarded for converting a local heritage site into a tourism attraction. In Ireland, a decaying railway reemerged as the Great Western Greenway cycling trail. Now a cycling-friendly destination, travelers may ride to the Atlantic Drive & Achill Secret Garden, the most westerly public garden in Ireland.
EDEN themes help demonstrate Europe’s diversity of natural resources, historical heritage, traditional celebrations and local gastronomy. Winners offer an unspoiled paradise or stories of a location’s cultured past while satisfying that year’s judging criteria.
In 2008, destinations were awarded for the traditions they have preserved. For Greece, the Prefecture of Grevena features 13 stone bridges dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Vineyards, Tsipouro (a traditional spirit) and abundant fine wine invite visitors to the village of Trikomo. The Anakatosaria street festival celebrates traditional dance and song. Local dishes include organic mushrooms, meats and cheeses.
Though the theme varies from year to year, judges always look for where efforts to develop tourism have involved the local community and conservation. The protected areas of Őrség National Park, Hungary’s 2007 winner, assure the preservation of natural, cultural, historical and ethnographic treasures, including traditional houses, belfries, Romanesque churches and an open-air museum of ethnography.
The eligible destinations, mostly lesser-known ones, can take pride in their unique offerings. In these places, the environment and its indigenous people have found a way to deliver outstanding travel experiences in a sustainable way. Visit an EDEN site and see Europe as it truly was, is, and will continue to be.