Sometimes small is better. This may include where you live. The urban-rural battle has been hit head on by the United Nations World Tourism Organization asking countries to enter a contest naming their three best villages. There have been so many “best of” lists generated over the years, but village life has never gotten much attention by these list makers – until now.
Covid-19 has had a positive effect on the small village due to people wanting to avoid crowds, resulting in the growth of rural tourism. If you were forced to endure a lockdown, you looked forward to it ending. Where did your thoughts go when you were penned up? Probably out of the city and into the country. Green became your favorite color.
Playing off these thoughts, the UNWTO created this contest to recognize those villages which are
- embracing tourism as a driver of development and new opportunities for jobs and income, while preserving and promoting community-based values and products
- and recognizing villages for their commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects — economic, social, and environmental — and a focus on developing tourism in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. [see here].
The UNWTO sought to find villages which were promoting responsible tourism (as outlined above). They queried 57 nation-states which were members of the UNWTO inviting each to submit three of their villages which met the criteria. One hundred thirty-six submissions were received resulting in 32 villages making the cut. Only one country scored with all three of their villages: Spain. Those villages were Rupit, Alquézar, and Guadalupe.
Rupit (from the Latin rupes or rocks) is a small village in Catalonia in Northeastern Spain, 61 miles from Barcelona. Visiting Rupit, deep in the Pyrenees Mountains, is like stepping back into Medieval times with its cobblestone walkways and views of the Rupit River, which divides the village but is united with a suspension bridge, allowing only 10 persons to cross at a time. This village is home to 277 inhabitants with a smattering of tourists. If you want to get away from the urbanity of Barcelona, a respite to Rupit would fit the bill. This will make you feel like you are there now.
Even smaller than Rupit is Alquézar, population 301. Its name comes from an Arabic word meaning fort of castle. This is another Northeastern village, founded in 1099 in the foothills of the Pyrenees. If you visit here, you can bring your tent, as the town is located within a natural park with campsites around the area within proximity of sports activities including hiking the trails and crossing the footbridges, horseback riding, mountain biking, and climbing.
Your visit will not require you to totally rough it, as you can treat yourself to a glass of fine wine from the wineries nearby or visit the Collegiate Church with its Baroque pipe organ or its museum with medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque works. Alquézar was declared a World Heritage Site in 1998.
Moving on to the largest of Spain’s three best villages, population 2,113, is Guadalupe in the Southwestern area of the country. It’s claim to fame rests on its monastery, which began as a hermitage and became the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the site where, in the 14th Century, a shepherd found a buried statue of the Virgin Mary believed to have been carved by Saint Luke. It became a World Heritage Site in 1993.
The monastery of Guadalupe is prized for its architectural splendor and its artworks. The monks were skillful artists, ironworkers, and silversmiths, and their surviving pieces are on display today. Spain’s monasteries were secularized in 1835 but were returned to the Franciscans in 1908. Guadalupe serves as a holy pilgrimage destination and the area’s market town.
The lovely town square has a fountain believed to have been used by Christopher Columbus to baptize the first native Americans he brought to Spain following his second visit to America. This medieval village is one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.
The Best of Environmental Tourism
Of the 29 remaining villages, one stands out for its ecotourism: Choke Mountain Village in Ethiopia, about 200 miles from the capital of Addis Ababa. This village should get a reward of its own. The farming village uses biogas and ecological waste management, in addition to solar energy and sustainable land management. Additionally, they advocate for fair trade tourism, offering local honey, coffee, medicinal herbs, and beer as souvenirs to its visitors.
The four villages mentioned here seem far ahead of most large cities when it comes to protecting the environment. And speaking of large cities, if you were to rank the most livable large city in the world, which would it be? Let’s have our own contest. Send me a message using the contact form on this blog with your guess. If you are a winner, let me know if you would like me to use your name. The contest starts now!
Fact: The UNWTO advocates improving tourism competitiveness
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