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Belgium

Waimes - Winner 2015

Winner in the Tourism and Local Gastronomy category

Waimes provides a unique tourist experience combining nature and gastronomy. Here, visitors can recharge their batteries, experience a change of scenery and enjoy active leisure activities outdoors, as well as sample the local gastronomy – a multi-sectoral collaboration remarkably pleasurable for the taste buds!  

Local gastronomy

In Waimes, emphasis lies on multi-sectoral gastronomic tourism offering great collaboration between the private and the public sectors, between restaurants and producers, and between gastronomy and tourism.

Waimes food tourism is based on the creation of new products and producers. Among them are two new local products: Truite d'Ondeval (trout from Ondeval) and the Valèt cheese. Here you can also sample the rare Rouge Pie de l'Est (the Eastern Belgium Red) meat.

The experience reflects the professionalism of and solidarity between all the links in the food tourism chain. Moreover, Waimes has been able to take advantage of existing sites to combine local gastronomy with them, in order to offer a coherent and unique experience for visitors.

Sightseeing tips

Enjoy a unique experience combining nature and gastronomy in Waimes.

  • Outdoor and nature activities in Waimes. Take advantage of a large hiking network, notably in the High Fens area, the most extensive nature reserve in Belgium. This plateau (including the Signal de Botrange, the highest point in Belgium) features forests, lakes, and peat bogs, and plays host to unique fauna and flora, which visitors can discover during walks on duckboards.
  • Year-round activity. In summer, fishing, boating, pedalos and swimming in the pure waters of Lac de Robertville will delight you.  Many people also go cycling in the area. In winter, get out on the pistes – both downhill and cross-country skiing pistes are located in the area. Is it raining? Fit in a tour of the Château de Reinhardstein, or discover the wealth of what the area has to offer at the Fania exhibition.
  • Foodie heaven. In Waimes, products made from local ingredients are varied and are combined with natural assets. Out-of-the-ordinary culinary activities are the result. Don't miss the foodie cruise on Lac de Robertville or the flavours festival in the park of Le Domaine des Hautes Fagnes

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Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve - Winner 2013

Winner in the Accessible Tourism category

Louvain-la-Neuve bubbles with life and activity. It offers country charm, combined with urban advantages thanks to its accessibility, museums and theatres, sports centre, great shopping and vibrant, student-friendly atmosphere. It aslo has friendly markets, pedestrianised streets and green trails. In 2006, it was awarded the 'Handycity' label, underlining its commitment to accessibility for handicapped people.

This destination has a rich cultural life, which is why it was named ‘Cultural Cluster of Walloon Brabant’. The Jean Vilar Theatre, Cultural Centre, Bierau Farm and Aula Magna put on more than 80 premieres and other shows each year. Most days, a talk, show or concert can be found to attend. And festivals, folk holidays, the Christmas market and colourful student traditions such as the 24-hour bicycle race, fill the streets and squares.

Accessibility

Louvain-la-Neuve was designed and built with the idea of making the city accessible to all. The town centre is entirely pedestrianised and the city has an approach to accessibility and mobility that takes everyone into account, whatever their age or disability. This policy is ongoing and each year a budget is earmarked for improving the city's accessibility. This includes:

  • refurbishing city-centre pavements
  • gradually removing inappropriate drop kerbs
  • ensuring that buildings provide disabled access
  • adding access ramps to certain buildings.

The tourist office offers activities and walks which are open to senior citizens, children, families and people with disabilities. The museums offer activities open to various groups, such as children and the visually impaired, without forgetting site accessibility for people with reduced mobility and children in pushchairs.

A selection of marked walks welcome families with children in prams and people with reduced mobility. A Joelette off-road wheelchair enables people with reduced mobility to take part in other walks.

Sightseeing tips

  • Go on one of the many guided theme tours and discover Louvain-La-Neuve, a new pedestrian city where architects’ dreams and works of art come together.
  • Follow one of the marked walks, suitable for families and persons with reduced mobility.
  • Spend a day at the Bois des Rêves Provincial Estate, either relaxing at the beach, swimming pool, playground, fishponds, woods, or discovery trails, or working out at the health course, or on a mountain bike trail or walk.
  • Visit the Louvain-la-Neuve Museum to discover art across civilisations and eras.
  • Explore the Hergé Museum to learn about the world of the master of 'clear line' comics in a journey through Hergé’s life and works.

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Marche-en-Famenne - Winner in 2011

Winner in the Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites category

Marche-en-Famenne is situated in the Wallonian region, between the valleys of the Lesse and Ourthe rivers. This regenerated town, in close proximity to Brussels, Maastricht and Liege is today a thriving economic zone. The municipality consists of the town of Marche along with 12 surrounding villages. Combining rural traditions with a vibrant urban feel, the destination offers a unique blend of the old and new.

The town of Marche is known for its stunning architecture, museums and historical churches. Strolling through the old town is an absolute must and a perfect way to discover more about the region’s history.

In the middle of three different natural regions (Famenne, Ardenne and Condroz), the area also offers ample opportunities to get away from city life. Cycling and hiking are just two of the many options for those seeking an active holiday.

Regeneration and revival

Regeneration and maintenance of urban and rural sites in Marche-en-Famenne has been a major priority for the local authorities. Ten of the municipality’s most prominent landmarks have now been restored, including many architectural monuments which had suffered severe damage.

The Juniesse Tower, the only remaining section of the medieval fortress of the city, is now a lutherie school and museum, and the medieval castle of Jemeppe in the village of Hargimont is now a venue for seminars and conferences.

Several historical buildings, like the former church and college of the Jesuits, the Old Granary House or the Dochain House were converted into hotels or restaurants, offering remarkable hospitality to the thousands that visit the town.

These are just a few examples of how the local authorities are breathing new life into old sites and, through a carefully monitored restoration and redevelopment programme, are ensuring the survival of the town’s rich cultural history.

Sightseeing tips

  • Visit the Museum of the Famenne, located in a beautiful 18th century house. It offers a fascinating insight into the town’s history, from prehistoric times to the present.
  • Discover the stringed-instrument school and learn about the different stages involved in creating string instruments. While you’re there, don’t forget to take a look at the impressive collection of violins on display.
  • Enjoy a walk in Fond des Vaulx – a valley perfect for discovering the local flora and fauna. A circuit has been specifically adapted for the needs of disabled visitors. Take a picnic and relax in the sunshine.

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Lacs de l'eau d'heure - Winner 2010

Winner in the Aquatic Tourism category

The site of the Lacs de l'eau d'heure is located in the South-Western part of Belgium, close to the French border. It consists of five water planes separated by dams and containing almost stagnating water, which leads to a particularly fragile ecological balance. The location has been attracting more and more visitors in recent years due to the extraordinary combination of man-made lakes, nature, sea and the Ardennes countryside all in a single location.

This is a perfect family destination, offering a variety of activities such as swimming, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, rowing, rafting and deep-sea diving. An unforgettable aquatic activity to be experienced is the tour with the Red Crocodile, an amphibious bus offering a route half on the road and half on the water.

The uniqueness of the Lacs d'eau d’heure

This site strikes an ideal balance between man-made lakes and the natural heritage that Mother Nature has granted to this region. They seem to complement each other perfectly and visitors can enjoy endless water planes, as well as the silence of the woods and the roughness of the Ardennes.

Water plays a crucial role in the region. This is also reflected through the sustainability policies employed to protect the natural heritage. The waters in the five lakes are almost stagnant, which makes the ecological balance particularly fragile. This makes water management a top priority.

Before leaving, don’t forget to...

  • visit the forest adventure 'Natura Park'
  • join a guided tour around the Plate Taille dam
  • take a ride on the 'Red Crocodile' amphibious bus whose route goes partially on the ground and partially on the water.

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Viroinval Nature Park - Winner 2009

Winner in Tourism and Protected Areas category

Viroinval Nature Park is located in the south-west of Belgium. The Park offers exceptional landscapes, plant life and wildlife with little or no noise pollution. The only industry that the region is home to is farming, so over the last decade the local municipalities have focused on giving visitors a true look into the area's history. Timeless landscapes and scenery, along with the amazing local cuisine, demonstrate why the park is an attraction dedicated to nature.

With a 20-kilometre stretch that connects the north and south end of the territory, nature walkers can marvel at the pristine meadows and farmlands, thick green forests and rolling hillsides.

In the north, the Calestienne region is home to the park's rarest natural habitats. Venturing further along, one can walk through quaint historic villages where the locals proudly show off their artisanal skills in cheese-making and brewing beer. The Viroinval lies close to the town of Chimay, known for its world-famous Trappist beer. In the south, there is the never-ending Ardennes forest, which boasts the area's largest and most diverse ecosystems.

For those wishing to see the region by mountain bike, the local authorities have provided a maze of hundreds of kilometres of trails that link Belgium and France.

What makes the Viroinval Nature Park special?

The park is a walker's paradise, offering some of the most technical and spectacular jaunts through valleys and hillsides. The vista points are well-placed and the area is extremely family-oriented with picnic and barbeque areas.

For a romantic getaway, the nature park is home to Les Jardins d'O de Nismes, a fully restored campsite surrounded by brooks and streams.

Unique events and festivals throughout the year give visitors a taste of the special heritage this unmatched region has to offer.

A dedicated structural plan has been implemented to maintain the rural appearance of the villages. Several initiatives have also been adopted to keep out any intrusion of non-native plant life and measures have been taken to preserve the natural limestone grasslands.

The land and waters, along with the species that inhabit them, are of prime concern to the Viroinval Municipality. Policies have been put in place to keep visitors on marked walking paths to protect the natural habitats.

Fishing is also a major tourist attraction. This has led to a fish-breeding management plan to protect the aquatic habitat from over-fishing. The locals want their land and waters to keep its charm for many years to come.

What to look for in...

  • spring - flocks of sheep grazing in picturesque meadows
  • summer - countless barbeques, picnics and smiles
  • autumn - fruit and wine festivals with a wonderful ambiance
  • winter - brisk hikes through the dusted white hillsides.

Highlights of Viroinval Nature Park

  • Romantic strolls through endless greenery
  • Birds singing in the enchanting forests
  • The sweet-savoury aroma of a freshly-poured bottle of beer
  • Watching a meteor shower under the Milky Way.

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Ath - Winner 2008

Winner in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category

Ath is a small and welcoming city located in western Belgium at the heart of Europe. It is surrounded by two nature reserves, the 'Hills' and the 'Slopes' of the Escaut. In the last 20 years, the town has undergone a significant revival through the revitalisation of the city centre and a campaign emphasising what it has to offer. The slogan, 'The land of Ath – it’s grand!', and its logo, has come to symbolise the city’s expansion.

Culture

The people of Ath bring the 'Ducasse' to life. The Ducasse of Ath is a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage, according to UNESCO. The Ducasse is a procession of giants - a parade of characters that have been gathering for over five hundred years that draws watchers into a charming medieval festival.

Although the event only lasts a few days, its effect is felt in the months leading up to it – it is the key to the city’s identity. Folklore inspired from the giants and related traditions were a solid starting point for an urban revival campaign to boost the city’s image. In 1996, a project for quality tourism infrastructure presenting folklore tradition all-year round was born. That year, the city of Ath acquired a handsome town house located in the historic city centre. It was renamed the 'Giants’ House', becoming a museum of the folklore giants and it opened in October 2000.

The Giant’s House has provided Ath with a first-class way to welcome tourists, and has attracted more than 60 000 visitors since it opened. The city collaborates with the Ath tourist office and the Giants’ House to promote the Ducasse with an official poster, promotional flyers and a tourist guide.

Exploring Ath’s history, culture and traditions

Ath’s historic city centre boasts several landmarks, the oldest of which dates back to the 12th century:

  • the middle-age Burbant tower, one of the major historical assets of Wallonia
  • the main market square
  • St Julian’s church of the late 14th century, rebuilt in a neoclassic style after being destroyed
  • St Martin’s church, a gothic building dating back to the 16th century.
Four museums occupy prestigious buildings in Ath’s city centre and are worth visiting to get a taste of the local customs and traditions:
  • the Gallo-Roman space combining historic treasures, reconstructions and cutting-edge technologies
  • Ath's History and Folklore Museum
  • the Museum of Stone and the Maffle quarry site that recalls the mining community’s memories of Maffle
  • the National Museum of Real Tennis located in the 17th century town hall – tennis was practiced in Ath as early as the end of the middle ages.

One of the ways visitors can immerse themselves in the local way of life and discover its peculiarities is by paying a visit to the Giants' Brewery (Brasserie des Géants), to the mills (Moulin de la Marquise in Moulbaix or Blanc moulin in Ostiches), and to certain thematic paths dedicated to stone cutting and castles.

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Durbuy - Winner 2007

Winner in Best Emerging European Rural Destination of Excellence category

The district of Durbuy is located in the southern part of Belgium at the foot of the Ardennes. It enjoys all the benefits of rural life and offers a widespread network of nature trails through unspoilt forests.

It is made up of 40 small villages and hamlets and gets its name from one of the most important villages in the area. Durbuy has been recognised as a 'town' since the Middle Ages in view of the important legal bodies and commercial activities there. And so it was that the old town of Durbuy became known as ‘the smallest town in the world’, putting this humble corner of the Belgian Ardennes firmly on the map.

Situated at the intersection of three geological regions, Durbuy offers a startling array of landscapes. Shaped by the elements, the area offers majestic and often untold panoramas, such as Roche-à-Frêne, or the view of the Falize in Durbuy’s old town. Caves run along the Ourthe and its tributaries, such as the Coléoptère cave in Juzaine, the cave in Bohon and the cave in Villers-Saint-Gertrude.

The forests, densely populated with hardwood, house an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, and it is here that local authorities have laid down 175 km of pedestrian footpaths.

At the heart of Europe and close to the main transport links, yet protected by the Ourthe valley, Durbuy offers the luxury of leaving the cares of the world behind, yet remaining within arm’s reach.

For more than 150 years, the town has been famed for its cuisine, bringing in connoisseurs from far and wide. It is one of the driving forces behind Durbuy’s tourism economy. Numerous products are produced locally, which means the markets in other villages can also be patronised.

Personal touches

Durbuy is already a well-known destination and sees large numbers of overnight stays. The accommodation sector, mainly managed by small family businesses, offers a range of accommodation adapted to different tastes, length and type of visit. There are classic hotels, or those with an unusual personal touch, charming or unique guestrooms, camping areas, group accommodation, places for businesspeople on seminars or team-building exercises, rural cottages, farms, and holiday villages.

Even so, for several years the area has been implementing a strategy aimed at a more evenly spread out tourism season, a better targeted public and a more extensive spread of tourism activities throughout the region.

Additionally, a quality procedure has been implemented by the local administration, with tourism stakeholders acting in close partnership with citizens. This collaboration, forged over several years, has a dual objective: satisfying customers’ needs and instigating sustainable development.

Sustainable tourism

Durbuy is leading the way in efforts to establish a real policy of sustainable tourism that makes valuable use of all the material and immaterial resources in the area in terms of tourist activities. It is also trying to manage the impact of tourism and develop a dynamic communication strategy using the internet.

To ensure the tourism sector is managed flexibly and to allow on-the-ground stakeholders to mantain a sustainable partnership, Durbuy made the first steps in 2004 towards a participative approach in managing tourism. This led to a contract-inventory of 29 operational objectives being drawn up, along with 150 progress indicators.

Among these operational objectives, the following can be highlighted:

  • In improving the range of tourist activities on offer:
    • improving the welcome of tourists
    • raising awareness among clients
    • offering a range of walks
    • raising Durbuy’s profile
    • making tourist reception areas more visible and more similar to each other
    • encouraging tourism stakeholders to abide by quality standards in their sector
    • taking into account the opinions of clients in improving the service provided
    • drawing up a training policy for welcome staff.
  • In local development:
    • supporting the local economy through tourism
    • keeping stakeholders and citizens informed on how tourism is evolving
    • making tourist taxes more viable.
  • In sustainable development:
    • favouring out-of-season tourism
    • protecting the quality of the natural environment for each attraction and activity
    • managing visit fluctuations during peak periods
    • reducing the pressures on fragile areas from tourism
    • guaranteeing the water quality in river areas suitable for bathing
    • stimulating cultural tourism
    • mitigating the various types of urban and visual pollution within the territory.
  • Ethics:
    • raising awareness among tourists of their responsibilities.

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