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The Rise of Ecotourism and Slow Travel

The rising demand for meaningful travel experiences and human-centric destinations is magnetizing visitors to Italy's roots, culture, customs and spectacular nature.


By NATALIA CASCIO

April, 2023



collage artwork

The popularity of Ecotourism and Slow Travel has increased in Italy in recent years, although, some regions are more organized than others. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) strives for tourism that considers its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing human needs, the industry, the environment and host communities. According to Zurab Pololikashvili, the Secretary General of the UNWTO, “This crisis is an opportunity to rethink the tourism sector and its contribution to the people and planet.


It is an opportunity to build back better towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism sector that ensures the benefits of tourism are enjoyed widely and fairly.” While all twenty of Italy’s regions agree that change is necessary, each region has its unique way of addressing matters.


Tullia Caballero, the founder and owner of Sloways and S-cape travel distinguishes Ecotourism and Slow Travel as two different ways of traveling.



 

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In Italy, the word “slow” is often associated with walking tours: long paths that span across our country, which almost always exist due to the history of religious pilgrimages. Usually, however, tourists who come to Italy to do walking tours, whether the Via Francigena Walk, the St. Francis Walk, or the St. Benedict Walk, come to “do the walk,” and that’s it. They don’t come for “slow traveling.


“They generally have no interest in knowing anything outside of that experience, so they use the facilities that the walk offers, which are authentic but not luxurious. They only come into contact with the people they meet along the way. “Those who opt for the slow travel experience generally need two to three weeks to appreciate it, especially regarding the Via Francigena, the route pilgrims heading to Rome have been traveling since the Middle Ages. Whether one does it for devotion or the pure pleasure of walking, the Via Francigena offers a unique artistic, cultural, and spiritual heritage.”


Those who decide to walk, Caballero continues, “Do not even have the time to enjoy a spa or a swimming pool. However, on some stretches, it is possible to request charming upgrades, particularly along the Francigena in Tuscany, between Lucca and the Valdorcia, and as far as Radicofani. These are 3-star hotels, farmhouses, and country hotels that can be reached by going off the official trail, which we can include in our offer, including transportation, for those desiring more comfort. But walking certainly doesn’t get you to 5-star hotels!”



Picture of a beautiful landscape with a tree
Enjoy the golden fields of Sant’ Oreste in the Lazio region. Photo by Alessandro Camponeschi

Experts observe that slow travel done with the knowledge and in-depth exploration of Italy’s unexpected sites is a high priority for travelers who have already experienced Italy’s must-sees (Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples) and now want to better understand the depth of our country and extract the essence of the Italian lifestyle.


“Slow Travel,” Caballero confirms, “is different from ecotourism and walking tours. We come to our stop, and from there, we visit towns and explore local culture, connect to local people and culinary experiences.” Slow Travel is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment.


According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”


For those who want to combine walks with slow travel, the Dolomites in Val d’Aosta, Liguria in the Cinque Terre area and the Amalfi Coast offer breathtaking trails waiting to be explored by foot or bicycle. Further south, travelers can experience a multi-sensorial stay in Matera’s ancient cave dwellings reminiscent of ancient Jerusalem or fortified palaces dating back to the 1400s in the coveted Itria Valley near the Salento coast.


EVERY LOCATION EVOKES NEWS PERCEPTIONS AND IMPRESSIONS


Dominating the central Mediterranean with proximity to Western Europe across the Adriatic Sea, Italy’s strategic location creates an impressive cornucopia of influences. Sicily, for instance, has the ethereal power of transporting you fifty years into the past. Sardinia’s rural areas connect you to strong folk traditions with thousand-year-old roots still alive today.


Friuli Venezia Giulia offers an incredible travel experience through wine and food to discover the region that borders Eastern Europe. The Abruzzo region is the greenest in Europe, boasting protected national parks and miles of mountains and forests, making it a refuge for diverse wildlife and matchless natural scenery.


Pantelleria, Sicily’s largest outlying island, is another one of Italy’s undiscovered ecological gems. It lies closer to the African coast (70km) than Sicily (85km). Its unique geographical formation makes it a cultural, social, naturalistic, gastronomic, and linguistic goldmine.


Whether trekking in Abruzzo or following the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims throughout history on the Via Francigena, slow and eco-travel can turn a predictable itinerary into one of your life’s most cherished moments. We welcome you to explore Italy. Not only for its iconic tourist attractions but also for its lesser-known destinations, sure to leave you with what you have been looking for all along— lasting memories.


Discover:


Friuli Venezia Giulia

The Via Francigena – 3200 km from Canterbury to Rome and Santa Maria di Leuca (Puglia), of which 945 km are in Italy

The Via di Francesco (Umbria region): Sanctuary of La Verna-Assisi and Rome-Assisi following the footsteps of St. Francis. Approximately 500 km

The Way of St. Benedict (between Umbria and Lazio): from Norcia to Subiaco and Monte Cassino. Approximately 300 km

The Magna Via Francigena (Sicily region): from Palermo to Agrigento, 183 km

The Via degli Dei (between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany): from Bologna to Florence, 130 km



Credits:

Landscape Photography by Alessandro Camponeschi

Digital collage by Giuseppe Lepore 

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