Cycling the Slovenia Green Gourmet Route is about more than pedaling from one breathtaking, hilltop village to another. A ride along this trail, which covers every corner of the country, is about all the places in between. It’s about biking past vineyards that suddenly extend across the horizon. It’s about sitting with friends for a great Michelin-starred experience … or at a local farm-to-table bistro for the meal of your life. It’s about coming to a panoramic locale with the Alps behind you and the Adriatic Sea ahead. The Slovenia Green Gourmet Route (SGGR) is about moving (and eating) across one of the world’s most sustainably minded countries, while taking in community stories and learning about an oft-overlooked culture at human speed.
The SGGR, which launched last year, is the perfect itinerary for rapidly evolving world travelers who demand everything: pleasure, adventure, and responsibility. Combining food, Slovenia Green-certified destinations, beautiful and varied landscapes, challenging and safe cycling, and “the world’s most sustainable country,” the SGGR has something for everyone but never forgets its roots — the communities scattered across this beautiful and magnificent Central European nation.
The route only visits green-certified destinations and crisscrosses nearly all of Slovenia, which was named the European Region of Gastronomy for 2021. The path provides all the information cyclists need to discover Slovenia along forest roads and quiet roads. The Green Gourmet Route makes food and wine a top priority and visits Michelin-starred restaurants (Michelin awarded Slovenia its first stars in 2020), great local bistros, farmers, and wineries. The itinerary was created to give travelers all the information necessary to drink in this country’s rich wine history and learn more about its expansive food culture.
The SGGR begins in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, and utilizes the country’s convenient train system to the Soča Valley, framed by the Alps. Cyclists then pedal to the Vipava Valley, roll into the Karst Region, and then take another train east. After discovering the Sava River region, travelers go north to Ptuj, along the Drava River, to Maribor.
The SGGR is a route that makes nature, food, great wine, and green-certified destinations its main must-see activities. But, perhaps the most important aspect of the new itinerary is that it makes the people along the trail its most important asset.
There are so many historic sights in North Macedonia, that it is often easy to look past the incredible beauty sitting right under your nose. Such is the case with Vevčani, the country’s smallest municipality.
Located in southwestern part of North Macedonia, only 15 km from Lake Ohrid — Europe’s oldest lake and a UNESCO World heritage site for both cultural and natural — and under the slopes of the breathtaking Jablanica Mountain, the municipality has an area of only 35 square kilometers and a population of about 2500 inhabitants. Still, Vevčani represents an ecologically and geologically unique site with strongly cherished tradition, culture, and natural treasures.
The Vevčani Springs are located at an altitude of 960 meters and consist of seven smaller springs that conjoin and comprise the course of the Vevchani River and the cave from which they are born, arе a true natural rarity and unique to this small community. Moreover, the local context of Vevčani is particularly important and specific. People there have lived in harmony with nature for centuries, using its resources in a sustainable way. Their identification with nature is significant and they are particularly proud of the fact that there is a protected area on their territory. The Vevčani Springs were declared a protected area in category III Monument of nature by law in 2012.
However, even though the state declares and establishes protected areas, it does not allocate any funds from its budget for their financial support. So, in 2019, to help the municipality of Vevcani ensure financial sustainability, the Nature Conservation Program in North Macedonia — a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and coordinated by Pharmahem and MES (Macedonian Ecological Society), and in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning — introduced a concept to identify opportunities for designing incentive mechanisms for payment of ecosystem services to ensure financial sustainability. From the multi-criteria analysis they conducted, it emerged that sustainable tourism, as a bundle of cultural services, is an ecosystem service for which it is most feasible to design a payment scheme.
In order to continue developing in a more sustainable way, Balkan Green representatives from North Macedonia – Mustseedonia, supported by Farmahem and MES (Macedonian Ecological Society) have started working with the local community of Vevčani on their education, coaching, and involvement in the methods and practices of sustainable tourism through Green Destinations‘ Good Travel Program on a business level, and the Top 100 Good Practice Stories on a destination level. In this way they will encourage the development of the municipality of Vevčani as the first certified sustainable destination and thus a model to serve as inspiration and to be replicated in other destinations throughout the country.
Tivat, a coastal town, sits at the confluence of dramatic scenery — and pockets of sustainable tourism success stories. Green mountains and Nature Park Vrmac, which it shares along the Boka Bay with Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Nature and Culture, surround this seductive destination. The village of Gornja Lastva, on Vrmac was chosen for the “Upgrade Programme” of the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages 2021.
Tivat’s story of change is remarkable. For over a century hundreds of handymen, locksmiths, and boatbuilders were trained here. Today, the most beautiful yachts, sailing under flags from all over the world, come and stay in Porto Montenegro. A former military harbor has transformed to a prestigious home of yachts and sailing. The area’s second peninsula, Lustica, is known for its traditional local produce of olive oil, cheese, and prosciutto. Stunning beaches, cycling and hiking trails, and the Lustica Bay are the places to get active and relax.
Tivat has set a national and indeed international example for its healthy transformation from an enchanting, and somewhat underrated small town, into a beloved destination. It has preserved its tradition and amenities of coastal life, along with the Mediterranean hospitality, gastronomy, lifestyle, living culture, and the rich historical and maritime heritage, which serve as Boka’s landmarks. The town itself feels changed and unchanged at the same time.
The city park, founded in 1892, is a lush botanical garden — a protected area of fir, cedar and pine trees, as well as a range of exotic plants brought here by seafarers from all over the world — a great place to stroll and refresh. Between the town and Lustica, the Special Nature Reserve Tivatska Solila invites people to explore, walking or cycling, and to learn about the cohabitation of man and nature. The name comes from the salt pans where salt was once extracted. Today, Tivatska Solila is a well-protected area and one of the few remaining coastal wetlands and bird sanctuaries on the eastern Adriatic; an important resting place for migratory birds and home to 111 bird species, such as flamingos, cranes, cormorants, or hawks. It was named the winner of Green Destinations Top 100 Story Awards 2020 in the category “Nature and Ecotourism.”
Another practice of positive change is “TransformaTivat.” Here, local artists have redesigned electrical cabinets from blank, gray canvases into works of public art. Located along the seaside promenade stretch, they bring creative vibes into unexpected places and have beciome perfect for families, cyclists and all those enjoying street art.
Tivat is the first town in the Western Balkans to be awarded by Green Destinations for its “Green Team’s” dedication to sustainable destination management and work with the local community, serving citizens and visitors alike.
Trebinje’s claim to fame used to be that it was the most southern and sleepy town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was until it was discovered by local and international travelers visiting the nearby UNESCO sites of Dubrovnik , Mostar, Kotor or the pilgrimage magnet of Medjugorje. Today it has become one of the region’s stand bearers for responsible tourism practices and working more closely with local food producers to change the supply-and-demand narrative.
For those who don’t know, this part of Herzegovina (generally speaking, the southern half of Bosnia and Herzegovina) is known for its excellent wines, ancient orthodox heritage, and natural Karst and limestone caves and peaks. This combination makes Trebinje unique. Just 30 kilometers from the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik, it transports you to a different world — one of peace, appreciation for slow living, and making visitors feel like locals … even though they might be there for the first time.
But, Trebinje was not without its struggles. As it became more popular with visitors, it was obvious that local producers were not able to reach travelers as well as they should. In 2017, Trebinje municipality decided to change that by initiating a long term effort to engage with the producers and thus begin its journey towards sustainability.
Half a decade later — through increasing capacity and skills in manufacturing, standardization, certification, business digitalization, marketing, and branding — a local organic store called Hercegovačka kuća (Herzeg’s House) now offers over 1,000 different regional products, including honey, wine, cheese, liqueurs, natural juices, teas, and natural cosmetics, all sold directly to tourists and local buyers. This effort has increased jobs and the number of registered agricultural farms from 350 to 700 and, importantly, it helps retain local young people in the agricultural and tourism sector.
While facing the challenges of initiating and managing the destination sustainably, Trebinje leadership recognized the value in sharing what they have learned. Undergoing a rigorous review of its management, innovation, transferability, effectiveness, and sustainability pillars, (economic, social and environmental) Trebinje received Green Destinations Top 100 status. Further still, at ITB, an international tourism trade show in Berlin, in March 2022, Green Destinations awarded Trebinje as the first 2022 Top100 destinations in the category of Localizing and Decarbonizing the Destination Supply Chain.
Trebinje is now looking to continue their sustainability efforts in 2023. This time the town is aiming to address all 30 core Green Destination sustainability criteria. These actions will guarantee Trebinje’s evolution toward sustainable-tourism champion.
Sustainable tourism in the Western Balkans has always been a challenge. But lately, major investments and efforts have been made to promote sustainable tourism development in the region. Unfortunately, many locals, especially during the pandemic, have been reluctant to focus on long-term benefits in favor of immediate survival. Balkan Green, a regional initiative to raise sustainability standards and awareness in the tourism industry, aims to make this practice more accessible and attractive to residents.
Conceptually, the responsible-tourism tide is starting to turn. In 2022, for instance, a greater interest in sustainability has been seen across the sector, as sustainable development and management has been increasingly associated with resilience, customer confidence, limiting negative impacts, and cost-saving.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Albania. In March 2022, partners of SUSTOUR (Sustainable Tourism Destination Development), an EU-funded COSME project, put out a call for SMEs to apply for a comprehensive support program to improve their sustainability performance. The goal was to select 175 tour operators and travel agencies to participate. In the end, they accepted three times as many SMEs to the program, from 35 European countries, including 14 SMEs from Albania, the highest number of participants from a Western Balkan country.
This is a promising step for sustainable tourism in the country and the region. In fact, the number of applications from the Western Balkans was much higher than anticipated, indicating that the interest from business owners to further develop sustainably is growing.
The SUSTOUR program, which began in July of 2022, will run until the end of June 2023. Participating tour operators and travel agencies have the choice of pursuing Travelife Partner or Certification awards, which are based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standards for sustainable management in the tourism industry. Alternatively, they may pursue a specialized program targeting specific topics, such as sustainable plastic, carbon, supply chain management, or certification for shore excursions.
The program will include online training, comprehensive individualized and group coaching, and peer-to-peer exchanges. Participants will also be encouraged to attend European trade fairs, where they can be showcased, and where experience-exchange events will be organized, including awards presentations to those who have completed their program.
Balkan Green is supporting this program by coaching and co-financing 37 participants in South Eastern Europe. Balkan Green Representatives, five in total so far, have been trained as Travelife coaches to help meet the demands of SUSTOUR’s ambitious goal to simultaneously coach over 600 European tour operators and travel agencies in sustainable management. Our coaches will also be organizing additional support activities and resources for the participating SMEs in the region.
To get involved in this movement and see a full list of participants please visit the site.