These five spots are making sustainability a priority – and travelers reap the rewards.
1. Oslo, Norway
On its own, Oslo forest, the 166-square-mile protected woodland less than five miles from the Norwegian capital’s city center makes a compelling case for Oslo’s designation as the European Green Capital for 2019, but it’s just one of many reasons this city of about 660,000 earned the eco-accolade from the European Commission. Oslo ranked first in eight out of the 12 competition categories, including climate change mitigation, local transport, and nature and biodiversity. The award aims to raise awareness about role-model cities and spur imitation and innovation. One thing Oslo demonstrates is that eco-friendly choices make for livable urban environments that, in turn, make for welcoming travel destinations. Long seen as a jumping-off point for fjord cruises or overland adventures in the countryside, the city has become a diverting location in its own right, with Michelin-starred dining, walkable neighborhoods, and natural diversions. – Lisa Wogan
2. The Burren, Ireland
In the moody karst region of The Burren in Ireland’s western County Clare, conservationists have spent more than a decade marrying environmental stewardship with community benefit, resulting in the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. Part of a network devoted to preserving the world’s geological heritage, the site encompasses Burren National Park, home to mysterious Neolithic tombs, and the towering Cliffs of Moher, spreading more than 11 miles along the Atlantic coastline. Local businesses undergo ten-point training in sustainable tourism to join the Burren Ecotourism Network, and the geopark’s educational programs reach adults as well as schoolchildren. In 2017 the geopark became part of the European Atlantic Geotourism Route, which links sustainably managed landscapes along the continent’s Atlantic edge.
The 25-member Alpine Pearls network strings together villages across the European Alps, from Italy to Austria, that share a commitment to environmental stewardship, cultural preservation, and car-free travel. Slovenia, home to lush valleys, sparkling lakes, and thermal springs, has two Alpine Pearls: one in Bled, a historic lakeside retreat backdropped by the snowcapped Julian Alps, and the other in the nearby Bohinj Valley, a series of mountain towns within Triglav National Park. What’s more, the country champions heritage food traditions, including wines made from the Slovenian teran grape.
4. Brittany, France
Jutting into the Atlantic, Brittany embodies France‘s rugged side, mixing wave-bashed headlands and hidden coves with mysterious megalithic sites, medieval stone-built villages, and imposing castles. Since 2006, the Brittany Regional Tourism Committee has invested heavily in sustainable development, including building nearly 1,300 miles of greenway paths for cyclists and pedestrians, part of the region’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by three percent annually. The region also recently worked with 20 restaurants to reduce food waste through smaller portions and root-to-stem cooking.
5. Nijmegen, Netherlands
Europe’s 2018 Green Capital, the oldest city in the Netherlands, was an early adopter of sustainable energy, using wind turbines to generate power for ten percent of residents with the goal of becoming energy-neutral by 2045. Greening and rewilding the city, “perma-blitz” teams descend to make over languishing gardens, and a conservation project now protects critical badger habitat. Green routes ranging from 3 to 25 miles encourage cycling and walking, and a project to create public chairs and benches from e-waste – discarded electronic devices – is underway. – Elaine Glusac
Top photo: Clara Tuma