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14 Nov, 2013

19 Best European Destinations for Barrier-free and Sustainable Tourism


Brussels, 11 November 2013 (European Commission media release) – The European tourism sector remains strong amidst the economic crisis (IP/13/878), but European destinations must continue finding ways to stay competitive and expand into new markets.

One of the tourism sectors in Europe that still remains largely untapped is accessible tourism for senior citizens and people with special needs. By developing this sector of tourism we not only support equal opportunities and human rights but also improve the overall quality of tourism destinations, and have the opportunity to extend our tourism season. This is why the European Commission has decided to dedicate this year’s European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) awards to accessible tourism destinations.

Tonight in Brussels, representatives of 19 destinations from all over Europe will receive EDEN trophies for their efforts to offer accessible features and equipment such as walking paths adapted to wheelchairs or prams, specially adapted bike rentals as well as adapted access to beaches and mountains. These kinds of services and features make holidays more enjoyable for people with different kinds of special access needs: reduced mobility, visual impairments or learning difficulties; but also for senior citizens or families with children. They also mean better overall quality of services and more comfort for all tourists.

EDEN awards: promoting sustainability for six years

EDEN is an accolade that the European Commission has been giving out for six years now, awarding emerging destinations that have successfully contributed to sustainability and opening up tourism to everybody. The goal of this year’s EDEN awards is to give accessible tourism more visibility and to encourage other destinations across Europe to start following their example. In return, they will reap great benefits, because barrier-free tourism opens many new, sometimes niche, markets and attracts new clients. This in turn has a positive effect on economic growth and the jobs that come with it.

More information on the EDEN awards

This year’s winners are (in alphabetical order of countries):

1. Kaunertal Valley, Austria

With its wonderful natural scenery and picturesque mountain villages, the Kaunertal valley is one of the most beautiful and authentic landscapes in Tyrol. One of its most stunning areas is Kaunergrat Nature Park, characterized by high Alpine landscapes and a rich variety of plants and wildlife.

Accessibility: The Kaunertal Nature Park and Glacier Region has a long history of providing wheelchair friendly infrastructure, beginning in the late 1970s with the opening of the Kaunertal Glacier Ski Resort. Wheelchair users in particular loved the fact that the Glacier Road took them up to an altitude of 2750 metres where they could find spacious parking facilities and a direct access to the ski lifts and the glacier restaurant. This commitment to accessible tourism for all continues today.

2. Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve is truly a city in the countryside, with the new town blending harmoniously with its green surroundings. The city is proudly European, involved in many EU scientific, academic and cultural projects.

Accessibility: From day one, Louvain-la-Neuv was designed and built with the idea of making the city accessible to all. The town centre is car-free and each year a budget is earmarked for refurbishing downtown sidewalks, gradually removing inappropriate drop kerbs and ensuring all buildings are accessible to all visitors. City museums offer activities specifically tailored to the needs of particular groups, for example the visually impaired. Museums also have full wheel and pushchair access. Many of the city’s nature walks have also been designed to accommodate visitors with reduced mobility.

3. Stancija 1904 – Svetvinčenat, Croatia

The district of Svetvinčenat is situated at the heart of Istria, equally distant from the cities of Pula, Pazin, Poreč, Rovinj and Labin. The area is ideal for anyone seeking a quiet country holiday.

Accessibility: Most of the venues of ‘Stancija 1904’ are accessible to all. The estate also offers some high-quality accommodation fully adapted for the disabled, with easy access to the garden and terraces. Moving around the estate in a wheel-chair is easy and there are beaches accessible to disabled visitors closeby. Menus are printed in Braille.

4. Polis Chrysochous Municipality, Cyprus

Polis Chrysochous is one of the most beautiful and romantic areas in Cyprus and, many would argue, the entire Mediterranean. Richly endowed by nature, it combines plains, mountains and sea with an excellent climate.

Accessibility: Wheelchair users can get to the beach using an innovative electronic system powered by photovoltaic panels. Many pavements in local towns and villages have ramp access. A number of hotels and apartments are wheelchair friendly, offering all comforts and amenities for disabled visitors. The Municipality has installed special infrastructure for recharging electric wheelchairs.

5. Lipno, Czech Republic

Lipno is one of the most attractive destinations in the Czech Republic. The season never ends here with most attractions and activities open all year round. Visitors can enjoy ski resorts, boating on Lake Lipno, bobsleigh tracks and the Czech Republic’s only treetop walkway, from which you can see the Alps on a clear day.

Accessibility: Many sites have pedestrian only access and many paths and walkways around the lake are wheelchair friendly. The staff at the information centre in Lipno and Vltavou have been trained to understand the needs of mobility impaired visitors.

6. Haapsalu City, Estonia

The small, romantic 700-year-old seaside town of Haapsalu is situated on the West Coast of Estonia and has been called the Venice of the north. The town is just 100 kilometres away from Tallinn and is reputed for its historic, maritime ambiance, warm sea water, curative mud baths and friendly residents.

Accessibility: As a spa town and a city with a specialised school and care centre, Haapsalu has a long history of hosting people with disabilities. The local government and businesses are dedicated to improving accessibility in town. The Läänemaa Chamber of Disabled People is a local umbrella organisation that brings together disabled peoples’ groups from across the country and regularly discusses accessibility issues.

7. Morvan Regional Natural Park, France

The Morvan regional natural park covers nearly 3000 square kilometres of a craggy, sometimes mountainous terrain in France’s eastern central Burgundy region – an area famed for its food and excellent wine. Visitors come here to enjoy the great outdoors in a truly spectacular setting.

Accessibility: There are a number of events on offer in the Morvan Regional Natural Park that have been specifically designed with mobility-reduced tourists in mind. The local authorities have also made sure that specially adapted equipment is available for disabled people who want to enjoy popular activities at the “Maison du Parc”. This includes fishing tackle, swimming aids, a climbing wall for visually impaired people and even wheelchairs adapted to off-road racing.

8. Municipality of Marathon, Greece

Marathon, in Greece’s Attica region, is internationally renowned for lending its name to the world’s well known kind of endurance race. Set in surroundings that combine a stunning coastline with the interior’s breath-taking greenery, Marathon offers its visitors a chance to sample nature, culture, ancient history and modern Greek hospitality in equal doses.

Accessibility: This sunny destination is welcoming to all visitors, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age, with countless opportunities for exploring. The National Park of Schinias has many labelled paths suitable for wheelchairs. This Park also has a multi-language audio guide system, many labelled paths and an observatory with a panoramic view of the areas, all of which are suitable for wheelchair passage. Most archeological and cultural sites in the region are also wheelchair accessible and Nea Makri beach has been equipped with a special solar powered electric seat, which can help disabled visitors reach the sea.

9. Kaposvár and the Zselic area, Hungary

The County of Somogy and its capital Kaposvár are nestled among the rolling hills of South Transdanubia, embraced by the River Dráva and the majestic waters of Lake Balaton.

Accessibility: Kaposvár is a relaxed, friendly, human-scale city, accessible to all. Much of Kaposvár’s city centre is a pedestrian-only area. There are 106 fully accessible pedestrian crossings and a number have been enhanced with lamps and audible signals to assist disabled visitors. The city tourist information centre has full wheelchair access and provides Braille maps and audio guides for the visually impaired as well as a film with subtitles for the hearing impaired. Many of the city’s museums, art galleries and cultural centres are also fully accessible for all visitors.

10. Cavan Town and environs, Ireland

County Cavan is a beautiful land of lakes in the middle of the island of Ireland. It boasts some of Ireland’s best restaurants and is also a paradise for music lovers. Singing and concerts often continue into the early morning hours.

Accessibility: Cavan has made a great effort to become a fully accessible town. Since 2007 major work has been carried out to create tactile footpaths, pedestrian crossings and level paths. Accessible fishing is available at many of the county’s 365 lakes. The local library, tourist office and leisure centre are all fully accessible and most local parks and amenities have been designed to accommodate all visitors.

11. Pistoia, Italy

A few kilometres from more famous Tuscan destinations like Florence or Pisa, the province of Pistoia is a real discovery. Wherever visitors look, they find nature and art side by side in harmony.

Accessibility: The Province of Pistoia has drawn up a number of suggested itineraries in the historic city centre which include specific information on accessibility for anyone with a physical disability. The downtown area can be easily visited by wheelchair and is closed to traffic in most areas. The “Tactile Museum” of Pistoia is a permanent exhibition designed to present the city to the visually impaired.

12. Liepāja, Latvia

Liepāja city and the Baltic Sea are inextricably linked. Located 200 km from Riga, this has been a naval city for centuries. Over the years, its fortifications have served to protect the Russian empire, the USSR and the independent Baltic State of Latvia.

Accessibility: In recent years the authorities have worked with non-profit groups to put in place a number of accessibility initiatives. Particular attention has been paid to the needs of blind and partially sighted people. Special walking trails have been created through the city’s historical centre, including sections with descriptions of tourist attractions written in Braille. A trail near the Liepāja Lake allows bird watching for people in wheelchairs and there is also a beach that has been adjusted to meet the needs of visually impaired visitors and wheelchair users.

13. Telšiai, Lithuania

Telšiai in western Lithuania is one of the main towns in the country’s Samogitia region. Its historic city centre is one of Lithuania’s seven specially preserved old towns.

Accessibility: The local authorities continue to make great efforts to ensure that Telšiai is a fully accessible town. The main city street has tactile pavements designed to help blind and partially sighted people walk safely. The city’s main public buildings, shops and banks have wheelchair access. The city tourist office organises guided tours of the town using sign language for deaf and hearing-impaired visitors.

14. Horsterwold, Netherlands

The Horsterwold and Hulkestein Forest make up one huge wooded area of almost 4857 hectares to the west of the town of Zeewolde. It is a unique destination situated on what used to be the bottom of the sea. Practically all of the Horsterwold is a protected area belonging to the Netherlands’ National Ecological Network.

Accessibility: The woodlands of the Horsterwold are accessible for everyone. In and around Zeewolde there are plenty of places to stop for a cup of coffee while charging your electrically powered bike, which can be rented in the village and is very suitable for older people. Plenty of safe bicycle roads are also accessible for walkers and wheelchairs due to the even surface of the pathways. For example, the Horsterberg, a man-made hill that offers a great view of the Silent Core and Valley, has recently been made accessible for wheelchairs. In addition, a number of the forest trails are also wheelchair-friendly.

15. Przemyśl, Poland

Przemyśl is in the heart of Poland’s stunning Bieszczady Mountains. The town enchants visitors with an unforgettable landscape of steep, narrow streets, historical buildings and old churches with lofty towers.

Accessibility: Przemyśl is a friendly town whose inhabitants are keen to welcome disabled tourists, seniors and families with children. Most public buildings, museums and shops as well as a number of hotels are equipped to welcome disabled visitors. Many attractions including the Arboretum at Bolestraszyce and the Cathedral bell tower have exhibits specially designed for visitors with reduced mobility.

16. Jurilovca, Romania

Jurilovca sits in the middle of a fairy tale landscape neighbouring the Black Sea and the Danube Delta, a unique wetland area and UNESCO world heritage site known for its stunning scenery and biodiversity.

Accessibility: The local authorities are keen to welcome visitors of all ages from across Europe. Efforts are being made to ensure that all visitors can have an equally enjoyable holiday here. The local tourist centre is on hand to help all visitors find answers to any questions they may have during their stay in the region.

17. Laško, Slovenia

In this region, renowned for its unspoilt nature and relaxing thermal spas, visitors can rediscover the lost art of healthy living.

Accessibility: Since 2008, Laško’s local authorities and businesses have been working together to improve the town’s accessibility for all visitors. Many hotels, museums and public buildings are now equipped to welcome guests with reduced mobility. Facilities provided include buildings with wheelchair access, documentation in Braille, accommodation for guide dogs and induction loops for people with hearing problems.

18. Natural Park of Guara’s Mountains and Canyons, Spain

Covering more than 80,000 hectares, Natural Park of Guara’s Mountains and Canyons is one of the most iconic nature sites in Spain’s Aragon region. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities here, including rambling, canyoning, climbing, bird-watching and mountain biking.

Accessibility: Since 2006, the park authorities, the business community and non-governmental organisations have been steadily improving accessibility to the site for all visitors. There are specially adapted infrastructures in the park that help people with disabilities enjoy activities like rambling or bird-watching. The Natural Park has three visitor’s centers, the most important of which is located in Bierge and is fully accessible for people with disabilities.

19. Taraklı District, Turkey

Almost unheard of as a tourist destination five years ago, the Taraklı district in Turkey’s Sakarya province is rapidly becoming famous thanks to a programme of careful renovation of the town’s distinctive Ottoman houses.

Accessibility: Since 2010 the local authorities along with non-profit groups and the business community have worked to make Taraklı an accessible destination for all tourists. All important sites are barrier-free and infrastructure can be used by all residents and visitors. Many hotels offer services for guests with mobility problems.

Background: this year’s EDEN awards criteria

For this year’s EDEN awards, five main aspects of accessibility have been taken into consideration. The winners had to demonstrate that their destination:

  • is barrier-free (infrastructure and facilities);
  • is accessible by transport means suitable for all users;
  • has high quality services provided by trained staff;
  • has activities, exhibits, attractions in which everyone can participate;
  • has marketing, booking systems, web sites and other information services which are accessible to all.

In addition, destinations also had to fulfill the general criteria of EDEN destinations. They had to demonstrate that they:

  • are “non-traditional”, with a low number of visitors (in comparison with the national average);
  • manage their own tourism offer in a way that ensures social, cultural and environmental sustainability;
  • are managed by a partnership between the public authorities and all those involved in tourism in and around the area;
  • are preparing or have in place a marketing management structure and a defined strategy for sustainable tourism development.