Catalan Pyrenees – Top rural most searched agritourism destination in 2012
Ecotourism, agritourism, alternative tourism, rural tourism – we all mean well and want to do the best for our environment, but when all these buzzwords are thrown at us is confusing at best if not quite overwhelming. After all, the only thing we want to do is to pack a minimum amount of worldly possessions, enjoy what nature has to offer and forget about the marketing and sales pitches we are subjected to every day.
So let´s see, baby steps to help us clarify.
The new – isms in the tourist industry
Ecotourism - ”responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (The International Ecotourism Society, 1990)
Agritourism and rural tourism - both names refer to the same form of niche tourism that includes travel to farms, ranches, wineries, etc. that open their doors to the public to experience the outdoors, the leisure pace, and their organic produce. Ideally, the property’s owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture. Agri-destinations offer a huge variety of entertainment, education, relaxation, outdoor adventures, shopping and dining experiences from buying produce direct from a farm stand, navigating a corn maze, picking fruit, feeding animals, or staying at a B&B on a farm.
Alternative tourism – here the lines start to blur. Alternative tourism rests on principles and attitudes that are very different to mass, standardised tourism, just like ecotourism and agritourism do but it broadens its definition to encompass other areas of interest beyond the environment like thematic tourism, usually connected with the cultural and historical heritage, justice and solidarity tourism, the esoteric, religion, wine, traditional cuisine, ethnography and traditional music and handicrafts.
Rural tourism is a very significant sector in Europe and rural destinations appear to be among the most popular for summer holidays, special interest and educational holidays and weekend breaks. Agritourism destinations bring urbanites like myself closer to the rural heart of Europe, each one offering a different and unique experience for a fraction of the cost of a hotel (double rooms run anywhere from $20 to $200, but usually around $40 to $70) but generally providing what´s to be expected from rural accommodation simple comforts, solid country furnishings, and tranquility.
What´s hot in European Agritourism?
Top Rural is one of Europe´s leading agritourism search sites with over 19,000 rural properties listed in 10 countries and more than 180 million page views per year. According to its latest statistics,the Catalan Pyrenees was the most searched agritourism destination in 2012, followed by the mountain range of Sierra de Gredos (central Spain) and the Central and Western Pyrenees. Competing in popularity with the green Asturian countryside, the Pyrenees featured some of the most visited agritourism destinations last year.
I´m no one to make judgement about these scores as I admit I am too biased towards the beauty of the picturesque towns and the unspoilt high-mountain scenery but precisely because of that, I wanted to highlight the Pyrinees as a destination for the ecologically discerning.
Being part of a youth mountain climbing group in my teens, I had my fair share of trips to these majestic mountains. Back then, however, the trip was slightly longer and winding. Today, the Pyrenees are easily reached from Barcelona – just head towards the getaway town of Ripoll, and travel up North. A three hours drive will have you surrounded by majestic mountains and pristine rivers. North of Ripoll is the village of Ribes de Freser – being my husband´s family hometown (if you ever get to Ribes, just ask for the Can Tina clan, the old pastry makers who had 10 children to feed!) - where you can jump on the famous cremallera railway which snakes its way up to the small ski town and monastery site of Núria – one of the most beautiful journeys in the Pyrenees. Imposing peaks over 3400 metres tower over green valleys traversing centuries-old alpine villages, Romanesque churches and cobblestone routes (not to forget top-notch gastronomy) - ideal setting for summer hikes and winter ski holidays.
This is a land of rich history and fascinating regional diversity, creating, as a result, a unique charm, culture, cuisine, landscape and even language to almost every valley. You´ll find from pre-historic cave paintings to medieval monasteries, castles and palaces, ancient ruins and Romanesque churches, not to mention unique folklore and festivals.
Further West, one of Catalunya´s most recognisable peaks, the Pedraforca, attempted by every single school aged child in the region. Valleys and peaks in this area offer superb hiking and trekking and wwhitewater rafting. Not to be missed, in the far northwest unfold the rugged Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, and lush Val d’Aran, one of Spain’s most chic ski resorts.
In no possible way I am giving this stunning location the merit it deserves by writing such a quick overview. I will get into more detail in the near future. Today, I just wanted to emphasise the ideal setting the Catalan Pyrenees are for rural tourism aficionados.
Cases Rurals (rural homes in Catalán) are farmhouse accommodation that usually offer bed-and-breakfast with optional evening meals. Some also offer use of the kitchen for a small extra charge. Most of them are also working farms but you can find a wide range of accommodation from converted fish farms to medieval merchant’s houses in small towns as well as former ‘posadas’ and ‘fondas’ – traditional Spanish inns . As a result price and quality vary enormously so research is key.
If I´ve watered your mouth and want to find out more about agritourism in the Catalan Pyrenees, you can start by exploring the following sites: