Amazon of Europe Bike Trail: thriving together

21. Dec. 2020

The idea brilliant. The goal ambitious. The way to get there has never been attempted before. What the Trail Angels and this extraordinary project have achieved so far. A rough assessment.

At the beginning of a fascinating journey: Just south of Graz, in the Unteres Murtal Biosphere Park, the river wilderness along the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail unfolds its full magic ©Trail Angels

So near and yet so far: The river wilderness along the Mura, Drava and Danube lies in the heart of Europe and yet exerts an exotic charm beyond compare. As it is so beautifully described on the WWF website: “Like blue ribbons, the rivers with their tributaries and islands meander through a lush landscape of riparian forests and wet meadows. Again and again, the wild waters break up the banks, creating sand and gravel bars of astonishing dimensions. A great biological diversity cavorts in these varied habitats – from the dainty little tern to the majestic white-tailed eagle.”
Panoramaweg Südalpen Sonnenuntergang
The nominated UNESCO Biosphere reserve with the two routes of the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail ©ISKRIVA

Five county biosphere park
A landscape that does not exist twice in the center of Europe. And for this very reason – as is often the case in many places – its existence is endangered by human influences. The first efforts to counter these threats mark the beginning of this story. Thus it was the two NGO’s WWF and Euronatur, which have been working since the turn of the millennium ceaselessly for the protection of these unique river landscapes and thus could convince more and more national governments of this project. In 2019, the time had finally come: Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia nominated the “Five Countries Biosphere Park Mura – Drava – Danube” and in June 2021, this should then be officially recognized by UNESCO.

Panoramaweg Südalpen Sonnenuntergang

A long-distance bike trail like no other: The Amazon of Europe Bike Trail combines a unique cycling & nature experience with concrete bookability and a concrete contribution to nature and species conservation. ©Iskriva

Responsible tourism for development
More and more, those responsible for the biosphere park project, especially WWF Austria, became aware that the new protected area must offer an economic perspective to the structurally weak regions along the three rivers. After all, nature and species conservation will only be successful if it is also supported locally. Therefore, the idea for a transnational bike path was born quickly and via the two nature conservation pioneers Arno Mohl (WWF Austria) and Klaus Michor (Revital IB) the way to the Trail Angels was not far. And thus the cornerstones for the conception of an INTERREG project in the Danube Transnational Program were set. For those who know us, suspect that we are not simply satisfied with another long-distance cycle path (of which there are already plenty in this region). We defined the project as a cross-border business model for responsible tourism, in harmony with nature and with the bike path as a bookable flagship project. And to our surprise, this ambitious and unusual approach was well received. With ISRKIVA, a committed lead partner was found, we Trail Angels joined as official project partners and the project was approved in 2018.

Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau
Thriving together: A transnational project group has become a team: The Steering Committee of the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail ©Iskriva

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World’s first ‘5-country biosphere park’ nominated! The way is clear for Europe’s largest river conservation area – 930,000 hectares of natural paradise between Austria and Serbia registered with UNESCO – ‘Amazon of Europe’ becomes an international model region for nature conservation and sustainable regional development

Press release WWF Austria 10/01/2019

Thriving together 1: Five countries
Hardly any other project symbolizes the European spirit as accurately as the transnational project of the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail. Project partners from five countries (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia) transcend national borders and work as one big team – in the form of the so-called “Steering Committee” on the realization of this fascinating task. The goal is to make the Bike Trail accessible as a single product that can be experienced as a whole and to develop the region along the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers step by step into a tremendously diverse model destination for sustainable tourism. This transformative, unifying process alone has allowed the Steering Committee to grow together. It works with perseverance and passion on the project, with the healthy ambition to complete the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail as a beacon for responsible tourism.
Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau
Perfectly symbolizes the link between nature conservation and sustainable tourism: the new logo of the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail. ©Amazon of Europe Bike Trail
Panoramaweg Südalpen Sonnenuntergang
More than “just” a bike trail: The Amazon of Europe Bike Trail introduces not only the impressive river wilderness but also the diverse culture in five different countries to cyclists. Pictured: The historic old town of Varazdin in Croatia ©Tourism Office Varazdin

Thriving together 2: A new understanding
A major goal of this project has always been to show new ways for a partnership between nature conservation and tourism. A way that already results from the fact that the 15 project partners from 5 different countries develop a common understanding for the strategy and goals of the Bike Trail. Only if we succeed in bringing the melange of NGO’s, protected area administrations, local authorities such as municipalities or districts (“counties”), regional development and tourism organizations to more than just a common denominator, our vision can become reality: A transnational tourism project that brings tangible benefits both to the people in the region and to nature itself. Thus, in addition to trail construction and product development, nature-friendly visitor guidance and a very unique program for the support of nature conservation projects (the so-called “valorization program”) take up a large part of the joint work.

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„That´s my story, but not where it ends“

Bob Dylan

There is more to come
We Trail Angels are proud to have put our stamp on this so fascinating project with our ideas and convictions. Much of it was new for a transnational INTERREG project and probably also risky. And the way is still long and probably also stony and will further weld the S-COM team together far beyond the actual end of the project. But now that even the Corona pandemic with all its restrictions has not been able to significantly hinder the progress of work, we are more convinced than ever: “Yes, we can.”

And so one or the other impact story will follow at this point. For example, about the unique valorization program, about the Amazon of Europe Booking Center under construction, about the so attractively designed visitor guidance and much more. Stay tuned!

The Amazon of Europe Bike Trail is supported by the funds of the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme (project code DTP2-002-2.2).

Author

Günter Mussnig

The geographer is one of the founders and managing directors of Trail Angels, who are responsible for the online platform Bookyourtrail.com. As a trekking & outdoor freak, he is one of the fathers of the Alpe-Adria Trail and has been exploring the Nepalese Himalayas for more than 25 years.

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