Why people choose mountains vacation? The first and most obvious answers could be: to (re)set in motion the body and eat well; to immerse in the nature and in the identity of a territory that lives in harmony with it; find a rhythm of life that is more human than that of the cities.
If these are the reasons for departure, it is expected that once you reach your destination, the expectations are maintained. And it is not entirely obvious that they are: just consider the endless queues on the highways going and going back the vacations (I live few kilometers from the A22 Brenner motorway and I assure you that the smog infects not only the tourists themselves, but also the inhabitants of the Adige valley), the hotels, the self-service restaurants that look more like canteens or roadside restaurants. So it is not enough having the mountains to give a tangible feedback to the dreams of those who goes on the road, but it needed cautious choices by the authorities and a proactive mindset by the mountain communities.
These reflections have taken, and are taking, the steps of two realities in the Alps: Alpine Pearls and Bergsteigerdörfer. These are associations of municipalities across the Alps which are distinguished by having adopted development policies and sustainable tourism’ offer. They both promote policies related to the Green Economy as the electric transport, the emissions’ reduction and the energy efficiency, but each has a specific aspect in depth.
Alpine Pearls brings together 25 municipalities divided between France, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland, which are distinguished by the attention to soft mobility, thus using environmentally friendly solutions: electric cars, public transport to get to the holiday destinations and moving on site, the estimate of CO₂ emissions for transports and hotels.
The holiday experience completely changes if you try to imagine (for the Italians is difficult) to not move the car from the house garage and moving only by alternative means. These realities offer infrastructures that allow you to do so. In addition to their know-how and the practices already in place, they should complete the multi-annual development plans to increase the level of sustainability of its offering over time.
However, the Bergsteigerdörfer are, literally translated, the “Villages of mountaineers” and there are, for now, only in Austria, with the exception of Ramsau, located in Germany. These small towns are focusing on the promotion of active holiday in all its possible conjugations: hiking, climbing, canyoning, paragliding, cycling. There are also side events that enrich the offer, such as walking to the pasture to milk the cows and 'make' the cheese together with the sheperd (if you have never tried drinking fresh milk is an experience that I recommend) . The active holiday is intrinsically linked to the food experience, which remains at zero kilometer. The identity of a place also passes through the dishes and cuisine that over the centuries it has developed. But not only: crafts and local products are promoted, the same as the active participation in the traditions and in some cases in the local works (such as milking cows or making hay).
Both in the Alpine Pearls and in Bergsteigerdörfer, the city administration is motivated to communicate as much as possible its policy to citizens, through public presentations (both preventive and definitive) on the choices to be made and the activities done. The communities, which are the soul of a place, are invited to participate actively, because the change of mentality has to start from the bottom, otherwise the new system will never fully take root in the social and economic tissue.
If you think about the farmer who teaches you to cut hay with a scythe or about the one who let you make the butter with an old wooden churn, and you try to compare this with the image of a hotel with 400 rooms where tourists come and go leaving behind them only the money and the smell of exhausts, without having had a direct and deep contact with the territory, you will realize that you are comparing two radically opposing tourism models. If we want to continue to ensure that mountain communities retain their identity and their ability to survive economically through tourism, we have to prefer the choices behind the first image.
The change of mentality will be happen in the administrators, but simultaneously in the communities and in the tourists themselves. It is a long and complex process, which needs pioneers such as Alpine Pearls and Bergsteigerdörfer that create precedents, that produce a kind of social and economic fertile ground so others can join it, believing that another development is possible.
It’s not true that these realities actually know all the solutions, but at least they decided to ask some questions, trying to answer them, experiencing a new model.