Barrier-Free Nature Parks

Several European nature parks which run into each other but are separated by a national border have initiated cooperation which may eventually lead to a unification which is currently easier to envision than to put into practice.

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Meeting of French and Italian guides and refuge keepers to lay out a route through the five Viso parks. Meeting of French and Italian guides and refuge keepers to lay out a route through the five Viso parks.


Two territories share a natural area. They are separated by history but not by geography. These are the Vosges of Northern France and the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzerwald) of Germany. They share the same sandstone, water and forest as well as fauna, the most remarkable example of which is the lynx. For about 15 years now, the Parc naturel régional (PNR) des Vosges du Nord and the Naturpark Pfälzerwald have worked to draw closer together thanks to the European INTERREG programmes. A thousand kilometres further south, on either side of the Alps, the four Italian nature parks of Mont Viso(*) in the Piedmont and the nearby Queyras park in France, and the parks of the French Maritime Alps (Alpi Marittime) and of the French Mercantour are doing the same.

The challenge turned out to be greater than it initially seemed because structures were originally focused on regional and national administrations. The language barrier also had to be overcome. Not only did park managers need to learn their neighbours’ language, but documents and, in particular, guidebooks intended for tourists, had to be made available in at least of the two national languages in question. Italian classes have been organized for the employees of the Queyras PNR for the past two years.

The fact that UNESCO named the Vosges and Palatinate region as a Cross-Border Biosphere Reserve in 1998 – the first in Western Europe – helped stimulate cooperation between the two parties which had begun in 1983. Several Franco-German workgroups were set up, on biodiversity and the lynx, in particular. A scientific council has been in the works for several years although the project has encountered a number of difficulties of which the unavailability of researchers is one of the most significant.


In the Vosges, as in the Alps, one of the most concrete accomplishments has been the establishment of Sentiers de grande randonnée (GR) with common signage. Discussions are underway for the installation of trail markers with Queyras GR colours in the Parc national (French) du Mercantour and the Mont Viso parks. Plans have also been made to restore cross-border itineraries. Sandstone markers were installed along a trans-border path in the Vosges during INTERREG I (1993-1996). INTERREG II (1997-2000) enabled the continuation of a European Union LIFE programme for the creation of a joint database on the biosphere reserve’s natural resources. A thematic discovery guide of the cross-border biosphere intended for the general public is currently being completed. In the Alps, a topoguide entitled All Viso Walks between Queyras and Italy was published in 2007. In addition, the goal of the Alpine Cross-Border Tourism System (SITTALP) project, run under the aegis of INTERREG IIIA ALCOTRA (Cross-Border Cooperation in the Latin Alps – June 2005–May 2008) is to revive tourism in the Italian Val Varaïta and its Queyras cousin.

Cross-border farmers markets have been setup in both the Vosges and the Palatinate for those who, despite having different passports, have very similar lifestyles and sometimes still speak similar dialects. About forty farmers from either side of the border get together four times a year to sell their products, twice in Germany and twice in France. “We are thinking about a joint label based on a specifications book”, stated Marc Hoffsess, the Director of the PNR of the Northern Vosges. Since there is already a “Park” brand on the French side, “the idea is to “cross-borderise” the French label rather than to create a new Biosphere Reserve label”.

Tourism as a “resource” is shared far less than one might expect. Mr. Hoffsess pointed out the “navel gazing” of the offices of tourism which are not prone to spontaneously send vacationers over to their neighbour… A “cross-border tourism observatory” is being created for the Franco-Italian parks. The Queyras PNR pointed out that, among the projects for walkers is a “very successful sherpa service” which provides baggage carrying services on both sides of the border.

(*) The Nature Parks of Mt-Viso are: Gran Bosco di Salbertrand, fascia fluviale del Po - Tratto Cuneese, Val Troncea, Orsiera Rocciavrè

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