Sustainable tourism is hot topic these days. It seems like almost everyone is talking about it. That’s because people on the whole are becoming more conscious of their carbon footprint. And as travel is a powerful catalyst to educate and protect nature and cultural heritage, this is a good thing. Sustainable tourism allows people to travel by negating the negative impact on the environment, society and economy. Wanting to learn more it, I head out to the trail-blazing tourist destinations of Majorca and Menorca in the Balearic Islands to see for myself measures being put in place for sustainable tourism.
One of the most important measures adopted on the islands to support sustainability has been the levying of tourist tax for overnight tourist stays. The sustainable tourist tax, charged to tourists through accommodation, has been collected since July 2016 and is used to mitigate tourism’s negative impact. It’s used to protect the environment, promote sustainable and low season tourism, regenerating and restoring historic and cultural heritage, invest in scientific research to fight against climate change, training and employment and investing in social renting. Over 200 million euros has been collected since and allocated to over 150 projects.
To get to grips with some of these projects and see the money being spent first hand, my first stop was Alcudia (Arab term meaning ‘the hill’), in Majorca – one of the most visited towns loved by tourists. With more than 30 km of coastline and varied landscape it’s no wonder it’s a draw but it’s the medieval and Renaissance walls that has needed special attention.
These and the Church of Sant Jaume are two of the most iconic images of Alcudia. Constructed in the 14th Century, by King James II of Mallorca to protect the town and the island from possible enemy attack they stand tall in the town. The structure is reinforced by 26 towers distributed along its perimeter measuring 1.5km in length is still conserved today. It was declared a Historic-Artistic Conservation Site in 1974 and work is ongoing to restore parts of the wall that collapsed is recent years as well as extending the walkway on the walls.
The stone structure on the gate has also undergone urgent restorative work to ensure it is far more lasting. 400,000 euros of tourism tax has been pumped into it so that future visitors can continue to marvel this archaeological gem that’s steeped in history. Museums are both necessary and relevant by nature when it comes to sustainability. They conserve and protect artefacts from our past and therefore preserve our rich heritage. So it’s no surprise tourist tax would go towards such institutions. I went along to visit the Sa Bassa Blanca Museum on the north east of Mallorca.
Occupying a large white house with crenelated walls, domes and battlements offering dramatic views over the bay of Alcudia, this building is owned by artists Yannick Vu and Ben Jakober. They founded the museum to offer a symbolic space between art, nature and architecture and began by collecting pictures of children from the 17t5h Century. Visitors can expect a total indoor-outdoor experience because the museum located between mountain and sea and integrates art and nature in its wonderful Sculpture Park. It’s a fascinating museum but what really stood out for me was ‘art work’ in the form plastic collected in just one day by a Moroccan artist in a small town in Majorca and housed in a huge outdoor building. The artist’s aim was to bring awareness to the amount of plastic thrown away in a single day. It certainly did that.
Tourists with a particular affinity with nature are often attracted to the Balearic Islands because of its huge range of outdoor activities. The popular rugged Serra de Tramutana mountain range – a Unesco World Heritage Site – is a great lure for hikers allowing them to discover dry stone landscapes along the 164km trail. Right now, a hikers shelter project is underway in the Ses Porqueres building in Galatzó which will be funded 100 per cent by the tourist tax. The former pig pen house will cost 1.4 million euros to convert and will house 52 people.
The second project in this area ,just metres away is the recovery of the hydraulic system with the aim of preserving the cultural landscape. The series of repair works will see the gutter and mills of the Galatzo hydraulic system back in operation thus taking advantage of the water that is lost. The urgency if this work comes as hiker numbers increase year on year with some 25,000 flocking to the area already this year. And as they come, no doubt the first thing they will see from the window of the plane are windmills. They were once part of life’s necessities used by farmers to grind grain and pump water.
Fortunately, their importance to the island’s heritage has been recognised and in 2004, the Mallorcan government developed a project dedicated to their restoration and preservation. We spent some time with Toni who told us why he decided to restore his windmill.: “They are moist symbolic to our culture and heritage and it’s important we preserve that,” he explained.
Hopping on a flight just 30 minutes away and we arrive in Menorca. Half the size of Majorca and life takes on a more ‘pic a pic’ (slowly slowly) pace. But that doesn’t mean their enthusiasm and passion for suitability is any less. There’s much to discover here with its craggy caves and green hulls on one side and sandy beaches and spectacular coves on the other. The island was declared a Biosphere Reserve by the International Committee of UNESCO in 1993 thanks to natural spaces such as the Natural Park of S’Albufera des Grau.
I would highly recommend exploring Cami de Cavalls (literally meaning, the ‘way of the horses’) and walking in the footsteps of those who lived there in the 13th century. A 185km track circling Menorca’s coast was initially developed as part of the island’s defences against attack from the sea used by horse-borne militia and residents. The trail was lost for many years and might have vanished entirely had it not been for a 1990s campaign. It was restored after negotiations with private landowners and reopened to the public in 2010. Restoration work is ongoing with money from the tourism tax enabling walkers, cyclists and riders to continue enjoying the expanse space.
The trail is broken up into 20 different sections between five and 14km and we saw several walkers of different abilities tackling all or part of the circumnavigation. And where fitness is involved, food is sure to follow closely not least to replenish energy.
And good food doesn’t come fresher than from farms. We stopped by the almost 75-year old dairy farm Sonpiri (SPELLING?????) and savoured the one of the best Mahon cheese available to man. The awards and accolades won by the farm speak for themselves. Although the majority of the cheese remains on the island, it’s sold in over 44 different countries. Cows (around 40) are well looked after, eat the best grass and even have soothing music played to them. And there’s virtually no waste. Leftovers from milk (cheriegot) is given to pigs. It helps them pile on the fat and quite frankly they looked happy to us.
There’s many other ongoing restoration programs here on the island including the recovery and rehabilitation of the walls of Ciutadella (Menorca’s old capital, a project which will cost 800,000 euros beginning early next year) and rehabilitation of the Alcàsser de Ciutadella Reial. We may initially bemoan yet another ‘tax’ when travelling but when you see for yourself all the wonderful projects that have been possible as a result of it, it’s just a drop in the ocean. After all we only have one planet and it’s all of our collective responsibility to look after it for generations to come.
A number of major carriers including Easy Jet, Norwegian, Vueling, Jet2, Ryanair and Iberia offer daily direct flights from LGW, LHR and STN to the Balearic Islands.
When to go: All year round. The Balearic Islands are a destination rich in culture, sport, heritage and art, folk culture, gastronomy, nature and hiking, birdwatching, local celebrations and much more throughout the year.
Currency: £1 = 1.17€
Accommodation in Mallorca: INNSIDE Palma Center Hotel. It belongs to the Sustainable Hotels Network IB Address: Font i Monteros 23, 07003 Palma (Mallorca). Price from £78 per night in double room.
Accommodation in Menorca: Port Mahon Hotel. Belongs to the GREENSETH brand, “Stay in Green”. Address: Avinguda Port De Mao, s / n, Maó (Menorca). Price from £85 per night in double room.
More information (local tourist office website)
For more information on the Balearic Islands, please visit www.illesbalears.travel/en/
For more information on the Balearic Islands sustainable tourism initiatives, please visit http://sustainableislands.travel/en/home-en
Tags: Alcudia, Balearic islands, Citudella, farmers, hiking, Mallorca, Menorca, mountains, plastic, reducing plastic and tourism, regenerating and restoring historic and cultural heritage, Sa Bassa Blanca Museum, sustainable tourism tax, Tourism Tax, Tramutana mountain, walking
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