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Preserving Cultures and Traditions: UNWTO’s Sustainable Village Initiative



United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recognizes villages which are an outstanding example of a rural tourism destination with recognized cultural and natural assets, that preserve and promote rural and community-based values, products and lifestyle and have a clear commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental. For the same, last year, they selected44 villages from 32 countries across five regions, From that list…. here is a list of 5 best sustainable Villages to spend your new year eve where tourism preserves cultures and traditions, celebrates diversity, provides opportunities and safeguards biodiversity.

  1. KAUNERTAL – AUSTRIA – is the region of the famous “Gepatschferner” glacier, one of the highest and most spectacular glaciers in the Tyrol. It is also part of a nature park founded on the initiative of the local population. Since 2021 it includes 40% of the entire natural area of the region. Before the development of tourism, the valley was characterized by small-scale agriculture. With the project “CLEAN ALPINE REGION”, Kaunertal faced the challenges of sustainable tourism with a special focus on climate change adaptation and environmental protection. Special projects to replace fossil fuels in heating and mobility are part of the valley’s efforts. At the initiative of the nature park, companies specialized in “nature park design” have been contracted since 2020 and offer long-term support. One of the main measures is a comprehensive ODS process with each of the companies. The main objective of the initiative is the generation of value in terms of employee well-being, regional products and climate-friendly management.  
  1. SOUFLI – GREECE – located in the Evros region, is a settlement characterized by a widely recognized dipole of tourist destinations, the National Park of Dadia-Soufli-Levkimi and the uniquely preserved in Europe, silk tradition, including, vigorous traditional economic activities, from cultivation of the mulberry trees to the production and promotion of silk as well as the historical architecture of its “cocoon-houses”. Soufli keeps its authenticity and is not saturated by distorted forms of uncontrolled development. Thus, the possibility of formulating a viable proposal in the tourism sector is strongly justifiable. The configuration and promotion of a unique culture and an attractive local identity respond to the required characteristics, standards and market demands, accessibility, clarity, relaxation, connection with the local ambience, marketable, tangible and intangible products etc.
  1. GRUYÈRES, SWITZERLAND – Local products are a large part of Gruyères’ identity. Indeed, agriculture is deeply rooted in the village’s identity and will always be at the centre of the tourism development, especially in relation with the production of the “Gruyère AOP Switzerland” cheese. The demonstration cheese dairy “La Maison du Gruyère” presents the worldwide famous Gruyère AOP. Visitors are welcome to watch the cheese making process live. Traditional restaurants serve the legendary specialty of La Gruyère: the “moitié-moitié” cheese fondue. 

The village is also an example of how a mountain destination can be sustainable four seasons a year. Gruyères was recognized for its high commitment with the nine areas of evaluation of the Best Tourism Village initiative, among them, for its advance in the conservation of natural and cultural resources (Gruyères joined officially in 2021 the Regional Nature Park Gruyère pays d’Enhaut), for the commitment of its DMO, which helps farmers develop tourism products such as cheese dairy visits and accommodations offer and for being a remarkable example in the use of intellectual property – Le Gruyère  AOP (which stands for Appellation d’origine protégée) Switzerland » in connection with tourism. 

  1. Batu Puteh – Malaysia  – In 1996 the community of Batu Puteh was at a key turning point. After large companies with big machineries transformed the traditional forest-based culture with over 40 years of extraction of huge logs from the rainforest, the community of Batu Puteh was left in the middle of a vast agricultural landscape, with no logs and no jobs.  Fortunately, the Government created a small protected Forest Reserve around the village and in 1996 a group of visionary youths from the Batu Puteh Community took it upon themselves to try to earn a living from tourism, to conserve their traditional culture and to help protect the remaining forest ecosystem, whilst creating jobs and sustainable income. 

After 3 years of research, training and planning, the core youth group of Batu Puteh had established 5 key products and had set-up four separate tourism associations across the village, including the Miso Walai Homestay, the Maya do Talud Boat Service, Wayan Forest Guide Service and Monompos Culture Group. This was in the year 2000. After the initial three years of operation and small-scale ecotourism activities, the village tourism associations joined forces to establish the Community Cooperative (co-op) KOPEL Bhd in 2003. 

  1. Le Morne – MAURITIUS –  The cradle of Séga music – Besides its charming inhabitants, the village of Le Morne boasts extraordinary natural and cultural resources which are renowned internationally.  In fact, one of the unique facet of this historical, colorful and tranquil village is that it is surrounded by the ocean and the mountain.

The majestic mountain of Le Morne Brabant located on the peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius, has gained international recognition with its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Le Morne Cultural Landscape” due to its outstanding universal value and the exceptional testimony to “maroonage” and also as a symbol to the slaves fight for freedom.

One can discover several shades of blue in the lagoon of le Morne which besides from being a source of livelihood for fishers, is also home to a variety of nautical activities.  The waters surrounding the peninsula are internationally recognized as one of the best kite-surfing spots worldwide. One of its other hidden treasures and unique to the waters of Le Morne is the famous underwater waterfall which is a spectacular optical illusion.

In addition to those unique natural wonders, culture, heritage, history, and emotions create a distinctive vibe to this fishermen’s village that one can perceive nowhere else. The local culture contributes to the identity and sense of belonging of the multi-ethnic local inhabitants, which is transmitted from generation to generation through the traditional cuisines, storytelling myths and legends, or music. The “Séga” music, which is said to have originated in Le Morne, is inscribed on the intangible list of UNESCO World Heritage.

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