September 17, 2013

“European Greenways Award 2013”: And the winner is … the Vennbahn!

The European Greenways Association, a Spanish-based organisation for the advancement of ecologically sustainable travel routes, has been granting its annual “European Greenways Award” since 2003. At this year’s ceremony in Portugal the Vennbahn (Vennbahn), a trans-frontier cycle track along a converted former railway embankment, was awarded a special prize in the “tourism product” category.


International recognition for the Vennbahn track

The responsibility for marketing this unique tourist infrastructure was conferred on the East Belgian Tourist Agency (Tourismusagentur Ostbelgien: TAO) by the German-speaking Community (Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft: DG) and its partners from the frontier region. Now their very first submission to such a prestigious award has been crowned with success.


Among the first with congratulations, DG Minister for Tourism Isabelle Weykmans thanked everyone who had been involved in the realization and marketing of this important regional and economic project: “This international prize is a confirmation of the objectives defined by the Government of the DG to position East Belgium as a leisure destination for hikers and cyclists”.


Award ceremony in Viseu, Portugal

The ceremony for this 6th edition of the European Greenways-Awards took place on Thursday evening in the Portuguese town of Viseu, some 130 kilometres southeast of Porto. Sandra De Taeye, Director of TAO and Product Manager Dany Heck were there to receive the award. Both expressed their delight that the Vennbahn project has been able to garner such a significant prize in the field of tourism.


“The Vennbahn was planned and marketed from its inception as a holistic tourism concept and thus plays an exemplary role,” said Sandra De Taeye after the ceremony in Portugal. “We are particularly proud of this European award, as it not only represents recognition for all that we have achieved so far, but will also certainly contribute to raising awareness for the Vennbahn at the European level.” For Sandra De Taeye, “The added value that such ‘green routes’ bring to tourism is often insufficiently acknowledged.”


Exemplary integration

Although it re-traces a former rail route, the Vennbahn also covers new ground. This was made especially clear in the speech given by President of the European Greenways Association, Gilbert Perrin, who noted that the jury gave particular credit in its justification to the exemplary manner with which the Vennbahn integrates ‘Green Ways’ into the tourism infrastructure. Of particular note is the recent development of an e-bike network, as well as the organization and marketing of ‘all inclusive’ Vennbahn holidays.


Officially inaugurated in July 2013, the Vennbahn cycle track, at 125 kilometres, is one of the longest rail embankment trails in Europe. Criss-crossing the borders of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, uniting three regions and three nations, it was conceived and developed as a European cooperation project. The success of the Vennbahn is already assured in its first year as ever-increasing numbers of cycle tourists, part of a positive trend observable throughout Europe, take to this charming route from Aachen (D) to Troivierges (L).


Whether in Raeren, Lammersdorf, Kalterherberg, Weismes, St. Vith or Burg Reuland, significantly more pedal powered visitors are being recorded than in previous years. On weekends and holidays, cyclists are starting to fundamentally alter the look of towns and villages, to the delight of residents, local hostelry, bars, restaurants and cafés. Such a historically unprecedented change is already having a clear social and economic effect in the region.


Promoting “Green Ways”

The “Tourist Product” category is a special one in the context of the “European Greenways Award” and its prize is awarded to only one candidate. The organisation aims to make the bridge between especially successful tourism products and the ‘Greenways philosophy’. Their goal is to promote the development and marketing of high quality, integrated tourism products in this field and to increase their visibility.


Alongside this particular prize, awards are also granted in the “Excellence” and Exemplary Initiatives” categories. In 2009 the “European Greenways Award” ceremony was held in St.Vith.


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