‘Off-the-beaten track’ award for Mellieħa
The village of Mellieħa has been officially recognised as one of Europe’s top “off-the-beaten-track” destinations primarily because of its sustainable approach to tourism.
The European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) awards ceremony was held in Brussels on Thursday at the end of a day-long conference about sustainable tourism.
A magazine promoting the 22 winning destinations described Mellieħa, and nearby hamlet Manikata, as one of Malta’s most important historical areas as well as a “dream-destination” for those in search of the sun.
“The people of Mellieħa are constantly looking for ways to improve their land. Major projects to clean up abandoned countryside farms and other places of neglect are top priorities on the agenda,” it said.
The magazine also pointed out that Mellieħa was especially worth visiting during the Our Lady of Victory’s feast and that there were plenty of tracks to walk along if one wanted to see “breathtaking sunsets”.
It gave the example of the Il-Bajjad area, which was once a deteriorating scrap yard but has now been transformed into terraced fields which include a vineyard, a garden and many fruit trees.
“Countless other projects have also succeeded in refurbishing old farmhouses and turning them into modern bed and breakfasts. These unique practices are what make this locality a leader in today’s world of redeveloped landscapes.”
Mayor Robert Cutajar, who was in Brussels to promote his locality and receive the award, was also lobbying to organise Eden’s annual networking conference in Mellieħa in 2011.
He said tourism was on the top of his agenda as mayor and that the local council had produced an eight-minute video feature about the village, which would be used to advertise Mellieħa in Cyprus and on Air Malta flights.
He explained that his aim was to stray away from the “sun, sea and sand” image of Mellieħa and promote it, instead, as a “destination for all seasons”, through the promotion of its culture, heritage and natural beauty.
When asked about how the new road in Għadira, which was heavily criticised by environmentalists when it was proposed some months ago, fitted into his plans for the village, he said he was mostly in favour of the road because it would extend the beach but his main concern was for the farmers.
“As a local council we have already registered with the planning authority as objectors. But I believe that we can work through the problems,” he said.
Following Kerċem and Nadur, Mellieħa is the third Maltese village to have received the Eden award, which has so far been given to 52 destinations around Europe in the past three years. Representatives of all the 52 destinations attended the awards ceremony which also served as a networking opportunity.
EDEN selects special places that value economic, environmental and social sustainability through good practices, and provides a theme each year to give different destinations a chance. This year it focused on protected areas, while next year the focus will be on coastal and aquatic regions.
To be considered for the award, each destination has to submit a comprehensive presentation for judging and each member state selects the winner. The aim of this EU-project project is not a competitive one but it gives a chance to EU member states to promote niche tourism areas across Europe.
Other destinations awarded this year included the Northern Vosges Regional Natural Park in France, Lesvos Island in Greece, the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in Ireland, the Commune of Schengen in Luxembourg and the Sinis Peninsula in Italy.