CORK AS A TOURIST ATTRACTION
Cork, tourist attraction Themed museums, visitors’ centres in national parks, “special trees” and the “Cork Route” show the tourist interest cork arouses.
EUROPA CORK reveals how themed musuems, visitors’ centres in national parks, “special trees” and the recently opened “Cork Route” show the tourist interest cork arouses. Although this must above all be compatible with the preservation of the natural environment.
What better way to make consumers aware of how ideal cork is as a stopper for wine than telling them in person about the origin of this raw material and its production process? In the Iberian peninsula various formulae have already been put in motion: themed museums, guided tours through national parks, holm oaks and cork trees declared “special trees” ... On the one hand they reveal to people the distinctive nature of the cork-stopper activity and on the other act as perfect tourist alternatives for lovers of nature and traditional activities.
However the natural environment in which cork trees are located – pastures and mediterranean mountains situated in many cases in national parks – means special care has to be taken when these areas are used for tourism. For this reason people who work in the industry still trust in the tourist potential of the product but in a “moderate” manner.
The Cork Route
The latest initiative put in motion to take advantage of the tourist attraction of cork areas is the “Cork Route”, in the south of Portugal, in the Algarve. The initial phase of this project provides for the creation, in two years, of a holiday product which structures and articulates the points of enviromental interest – mountains and cork tree landscapes -, the specialist resource centres – documentation and research –, and a centre of interpretation, which will be the entry point of the said Route.
A result of this project is the creation of the Cork Route Association as a vehicle for tourist promotion and the highlighting of this economic resource of the Algarve region. Its founder members are the Câmara Municipal de São Brás de Alportel; the Farmers Association of the Town Council; the Cork Producers and Exporters Association by way of its delegation in the Algarve and the Bajo Alentejo; the rural development association In Loco; the Forestry Producers Association of Sierra de Caldeirão and the Santa Casa de la Misericordia de São Brás de Alportel.
Acording to sources at the AIEC the action plan of the “Cork Route” has been defined on the basis of various premises, such as the growing demand for tourist products of a rural nature, supplementing sun and beach tourism, available throughout the year, and emerging demand for routes and journeys in the countryside of an environmental nature, linked to cuisine and crafts. Account has also been taken of the demand from school tourism, which is looking for routes and activities packages of an environmental and rural nature.
“Visitors, both nationals and foreigners, are increasingly demanding in terms of quality and diversity, and want prestige tourist products, adapted to their special needs (age, educational level, etc.)”, according to sources at the Association. They also emphasise the strategic position of São Brás de Alportel: “it occupies a central position in the whole cork region, at regional, national and world level, as it meets the conditions for an epicentre for a strategy of consolidation of a tourist product which must be extended to all of the cork production and tranformation region”, they say.
The ex-regional director of the Economy of the Algarve and main adviser of the General Forestry Directorate of Portugal Joaquim José Brandão has acknowledged to EUROPA CORK the potential of the cork buiness for the Algarve economy, working also as a tourist resource. “The specific conditions of the Algarve are an advantage in terms of setting out the future of the cork business and the development of tourism. There will be multiple points of contact which will be beneficial for the two sectors. Cork is, without doubt, a raw material of great potential in terms of tourist development and, at the same time, the cork tradition of the region is an important attraction in itself”, says Brandão.
He explains how in this way the “Cork Route” is being developed, which “uses the infrastructures of the “Fábrica do Ingês” – old installations of a large cork factory which was abandoned some years ago and later re-built acording to historical memory –“, he confirms.
Moderate tourism in the Parks
Although in Spain no cork route as such has yet been created, there are some initiatives to promote tourism around cork, especially in the National Parks where the cork tree has a special place among the vegetation. However those in charge of these natural areas emphasise moderation when it comes to promoting tourist activity, as this is happening in areas of high environmental value.
This is the case, for example, with the National Park of Los Alcornocales and the National Park of Aracena y Picos de Aroche which were awarded, in 2004, the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism. This recognition serves, basically, for this Andalusian area to stand out in Europe as a territory of excellence in terms of sustainable tourism and to reinforce its credibility as a Protected Natural Space.
The director, Felipe Oliveros, confirms to EUROPA CORK the attractions of the area, although he acknowledges that tourist development is happening in a “gradual” manner for different reasons. He emphasises, for example, the structure of ownership and of the municipalities.”It has allowed us to advance significantly as regards the planning of this activity, which can be a real motor of socio-economic development, but also has undoubted environmetal risks”, he states.
However he points out that a Programme of Public Use has now been approved and important developments have been added to the Ordination Plans of the National Park which seek to ensure that tourism and new installations go ahead in a sustainable manner.
The cork tree as a tourist attraction in Andalusia has also been used in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla National Park. Its director, Victor Pérez, sees rural tourism as an important activity to bear in mind in terms of encouraging the sustainable development of the area, although he wants moderation. “Rural tourism has great potential and for that reason we support it; however its growth must not be out of proportion, and I think this region should be on the low side because if not it would distort the economy and end up having a negative effect on livestock, forestry and agriculture”, he points out. He recognises how this activity can generate significant supplementary income for farmers, and says that the main objective of the Ordination Plan of the National Park is to “achieve socio-economic development which allows permanance and progress on the part of the rural population using natural resources in a way compatible with conservation”.
In Extremadura the regional government has promoted a series of tourist walks through the region, including one through the Monfrague National Park.
“This special Extremaduran Natural Space has for years offered the visitor the possibility of getting to know a magnificent example of holm oak and cork tree land and Mediterranean forest in perfect harmony with use by farmers of the region”, explain sources at the tourist department of the regional government.
Special Trees are examples of trees which deserve special protection due to their extraordinary or noteworthy characteristics (size, age, history, beauty, location, etc.). This denomination makes them a special tourist attraction.
In Extremadura there is the holm oak La Terrona. Its tourist value is such that one of the official walks in the region bears its name. The route begins in Zarza de Montánchez, where the path leading to the oak is indicated, which is at less than two kilometres. The best part of the way is through holm oaks, in the first part crossing the river Tamuja and a beautiful medieval bridge which goes over it. Shortly one glimpses on the left the spot where the La Terrona holm oak is situated, declared Special Tree of Extremadura and which is approximately 800 years old.
Also in the Extremaduran locality of Valdelamatanza is the Finca La Fresneda, a huge century-old cork tree, one of the biggest in the world, which yielded 30 hundred-weight of cork in one stripping. It has a total height of 21 metres and its trunk has a diameter of 6•6 metres.
The Basque Country also has a special cork tree. The so-called “Alcornoque de Guetaria”. This tree forms part of the biggest cork tree forest in the Basque Country, that of Meagas on mount Garate. The cork tree has been a protected species in Gipuzkoa since 1990 on account of its ecological and cultural interest and it limited presence in the area. It has a trunk diameter of 4•5 metres and top diamater of 1•8 metres, and is 22 metres high.