Discover Italy’s New UNESCO World Heritage Sites

By: Susan Van Allen 

Extraordinary destinations for travelers are added every year to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In 2021, three of the new sites selected were in Italy, bringing Italy’s World Heritage Site total to 58—the most of any country in the world. 

While many of Italy’s UNESCO sites from the past are packed with tourists, such as the Historical Center of Florence or Venice and its lagoon, these newly designated places are under the tourist radar.  

Equally stunning and without crowds, these places give travelers a chance to blend in with the locals, immersing themselves in unique pleasures of bell’Italia.  Their locations add to their allure, as each can easily be reached by short train rides from Venice or Florence, making them perfect for day trips. 

For your consideration, from north to south: 

Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles 

Only a 30-minute train ride from Venice is the university town of Padua, a dazzling delight, where visitors can wander through the historic center’s piazzas, entering churches and civic buildings that were fantastically frescoed by artists in the fourteenth century.  

As the UNESCO proclamation states, painters during that pre-Renaissance time brought a new image to Padua, giving it the nickname Urbs Picta, Painted City. The star of the eight frescoed buildings in the UNESCO group is the Scrovegni Chapel, painted by superstar Giotto. Entering, visitors are awestruck by vibrant colors and a striking style that captures powerful emotions.  

More breathtaking interiors are to be discovered in Padua’s Baptistry, Palazzo della Ragione, and the Basilica of Saint Anthony, one of Italy’s most popular pilgrimage sites.  To enrich the Padua fresco experience, there’s an app with fascinating commentary, and an inclusive ticket to see all eight sites. 

The Porticoes of Bologna 

Visitors to Bologna, in Italy’s central Emilia Romagna region, are enchanted by the city’s beautifully preserved medieval ambience, where sidewalks are sheltered with more porticoes than any other city in the world, totaling 62 km, or about 35 miles. The porticoes appear in a range of styles—from humble wooden structures to Renaissance loggias with carved stone columns and painted ceilings.  

UNESCO calls these porticoes “expressions of Bologna’s urban identity.” Though their original purpose in the Middle Ages was to expand buildings to make room for the many university students coming to Bologna, today the porticoes serve to expand the city’s pleasures. On a practical level, they give protection for walks in rainy weather and provide cool shade on hot summer days. Moreover, they bring an easy-going elegance to the city, as they are perfect settings for sidewalk eateries or for musicians to casually set up and play Mozart concertos.  

A traditional Bolognese experience is the 4-kilometer, 2.5 mile walk through the longest portico in the world, adorned with 664 arches, from the Porta Saragozza in the historic center up to the church of San Luca, where stunning views of the countryside await. 

As Bologna is also famous for having the most delicious cuisine in Italy, it can be an ideal escape from the crowds of Florence, (only a 40-minute train ride away), to enjoy a classic lunch of Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Montecatini 
Italian National Tourist Board c/o GettyImages 

Montecatini Terme, a Great Spa Town of Europe 

Mineral rich thermal springs have been enjoyed on the Italian peninsula since the days of the Roman Empire. Among Italy’s most famous places to “take the waters” is the Tuscan Art Nouveau town of Montecatini Terme, reached by an hour’s train ride from Florence.  

UNESCO included Montecatini Terme amongst 11 “Great Spa Towns of Europe”, praising it for its history, since the 1700s, when the town developed as an international resort destination, combining medical studies with monumental spa architecture, promenades, and parklands. 

Today there are two hundred spa hotels in Montecatini Terme that pump in curative waters, renowned for their beneficial effects on the liver and digestive system.  

A favorite spot is Terme Tettuccio, a grand pavilion that sits in the center of Montecatini Terme’s beautifully landscaped park. Gorgeous marble bars with brass spigots disperse drinking cups of the cure, as local hipsters in their gym clothes and pensioners with their canes mill about. A jazz orchestra plays on the bandstand, there’s a bookstore, caffe, and inner gardens that blend to create a blissful Old World ambience. 

To learn more, visit: www.italia.it or contact the Italian National Tourist Board in the US newyork@enit.it; losangeles@enit.it.  

About the author: Susan Van Allen is the author of 4 books about Italian travel, including “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go”. She also designs and hosts Golden Weeks in Italy For Women Only tours, that give female travelers wonderful insiders’ experiences of the Bel Paese. www.susanvanallen.com 

The Italian National Tourist Board – ENIT – supports marketing activities worldwide, promoting Italy as a unique and exclusive destination, aiming to increase the international tourist flow, while maintaining its high market share. The promotion is carried out with a corporate strategy conceived in Italy and implemented through its 28 offices abroad. In the next few years, Italy’s tourism development will be focused on a value growth to generate economic, social and cultural sustainability: enhance tourism supply, increase the value of the territories and businesses and market relevance. 


Spain’s Commitment to Tourism Sustainability 

By: José Manuel de Juan of The Tourism Office of Spain 

Spain is one of the world’s tourism leaders, ranking second among the most visited countries. As part of this leadership role, the Government of Spain has launched an ambitious scheme that seeks to promote the transformation of tourist destinations towards sustainability in three ways: environmental, socioeconomic, and territorial. 

UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts to meet the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Therefore, sustainable tourism is not a tourism product but rather a management principle that must be applied to any type of tourism product and destination. 

With this concept in mind, the Spanish government plans to invest 1.9 billion euros in the next three years to support Spain’s tourist destinations in their transformation process to integrate environmental, socioeconomic and territorial sustainability into their offer and to develop resilience strategies to face the new challenges in the tourism ecosystem, from climate change to tourism overdemand to health and safety crises.  

Specifically: 

  • To diversify the offer of tourist destinations to help generate employment opportunities, redistribute tourism revenue, and promote territorial cohesion while disrupting the concentration of the demand, particularly toward rural areas, as well as to promote arrivals all year round. 
  • To guarantee sustainability by reducing emissions, improving waste and water management, protecting and restoring ecosystems for tourism, and introducing actions to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Any municipality in Spain can present their plans to the Government to get their sustainability plans financed.  

The type of plan will depend on the type of destination. Destinations will be divided into categories which will require different actions: 

Sun and beach destinations 

Sun and beach destinations are currently facing a profound change, with consumers who are increasingly more informed, more demanding and who have more alternatives, and citizens who demand a better distribution of the socioeconomic benefits of tourism among local populations. 

All this requires a strategy that reinforces the diversity of the tourism experience, the participation of the local population in the benefits of tourism, the reduction of its environmental impact, the contribution to energy efficiency, and the recovery of an environment where a wide range of travel experiences can coexist. 

Rural destinations 

Inland Spain has an enormous cultural heritage and rich natural resources. This endows it with  great potential from a tourism standpoint and a wide margin for development.  

A better integration of this territory in Spain’s tourism system will contribute to a seasonal adjustment, a disruption of the current concentration, and the distribution of tourism income. Spain’s plan for rural destinations is aimed at improving the quality of life of their residents, generating new job opportunities, revitalizing aged social spaces, improving industries and business, and contributing to the country’s strategy against depopulation. 

Urban destinations 

Urban tourism represents approximately a quarter of the international tourism demand towards Spain. The cities are also the main points of entry into the country through their airports. 

Cities face considerable challenges: the renovation of their cultural and leisure offer and the integration of new pieces in that offer, as well as the need for maintenance and improvement of their historic centers; a balanced approach that takes into consideration the multiplicity of demographic groups that inhabit a given space or neighborhood and the expectation that each group has for that space (living , working, visiting, etc.); the need to expand and diversify areas of interest; and the need for digital tools that allow a better management of tourism flows and contribute to a more efficient management of the different services made available to them. 

Independently of the funds that are available to the destinations, the Spanish Government has just announced a 170-million-euros project aimed at financing hotels and other hospitality facilities to become more energy efficient.  

This is just a brief summary of Spain’s comprehensive plan for a more sustainable tourism industry, one that the country takes with great enthusiasm as we lead the way into a new era in world travel. 

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Board of Spain. 

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting https://ustoa.travelstride.com/trip-list/spain


Germany’s Wood Wide Web

By: Ralf Korbner of SITA World Tours

About 30 percent of German lands are tree covered. Germans have long had a mythological identification with their forests.  In German literature, the forest has often been portrayed as a place of happiness and contentment where people feel protected from social pressures and the chaos of everyday life.   

Hermann Hesse comments: “A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.”   

Prussian poet Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff expressed how the forest embodied freedom and the idea of home: “Gentle rustling in the treetops – Little birds flying afar – Springs bursting from silent peaks – Tell me where my homeland lies.”  

Towards the end of the 18th century, Romanticism became a dominant theme in poetry, painting and music including in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. The forest is the stage: Little Red Riding Hood meets the Wolf, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned, four mistreated animals become the Town Musicians of Bremen. German Romanticism also stylized the forest as a symbol of unity. The forest is more than the sum of its trees. It is a central part of German identity and culture that today is becoming a defining symbol of a sustainable future. 

Fast Forward:  

Wood Wide Web is a term Canadian research scientist and professor of forestry Suzanne Simard first coined twenty-five years ago. Simard tells us that trees communicate with each other. She describes how they are interconnected, send each other messages and she speaks about the prominence of all important mother trees.  

Simard and the German forester Peter Wohlleben are on the forefront of a much-needed new understanding of how trees live, and forests thrive. A few years ago, Wohlleben described the Hidden Life of Trees in his New York Times bestseller.  

Modern Germans understand that the mystical and religious connection of their long-ago forbearers, who believed their Gods resided in tree groves, is today the very practical knowledge that healthy forests are needed for our survival. 

Four experiences of many available:  

Image by Herbert Aust from Pixabay 

Sixty miles south-east of Berlin is the Spree Forest, a water meadow setting that has managed to stay largely natural in spite of centuries of human activity. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Spree Forest Biosphere Reserve mixes a mosaic of meadows, fields and forests with waterways. Ideal for a variety of plant and wildlife, a visit also highlights the customs and traditional costumes of the Slavic Sorbs minority living here. One-day or multiple-day visits can be included in any itinerary. The area and waterways allow for bikes, canoe or very enjoyable, traditional Spree Forest barge travel.  

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

Some fifty-five miles south-west of Cologne (35 miles from Bonn) we will find the Waldakademie (forest academy) Wohlleben in the small town of Wershofen. The aforementioned Wohlleben is Germany’s tree whisperer.  His academy provides guided tours and overnight adventures in the protected, adjacent forest reserve familiarizing the visitor with the emerging understanding of how trees communicate with each other through their root- network, warn and protect each other from danger, and look after their off-spring.  

Image by Thilo Wagner from Pixabay 

The town of Neuschoenau, some thirty-five miles from Passau, puts you at the center of the Bayerischer Wald.  Munich is under three car hours to the south. Here the woodland of beech, spruce and fir is densely packed with tall trees, wild and ancient.  However, it is accessible offering many hiking paths and even a treetop walkway with gorgeous views of the surrounding Bavarian landscape.  

Photo by vonMitzscha on Unsplash

The UNESCO World Heritage site Hainich Forest, twenty miles from Eisenach of Luther and Wartburg fame, features the last remaining central European beech forest. The forest offers miles of hiking paths, a canopy walk and horseback riding. During winter one can take horse drawn sleigh rides.  And there are guided tours available, explaining every aspect of the forest and how care is taken to  safeguard its continued health.  

With 89 years of exemplary service in travel, SITA remains as the go-to tour operator for exotic destinations worldwide. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SITA is renowned for its highly experienced team of international specialists and is dedicated to travel excellence in every element of its programs. As a deluxe, luxury tour operator specializing in Packaged, Independent, Customized and Groups travel, SITA has become a key source for both the Consortium and Agent network nationwide. SITA’s well-planned tours focus on a destination’s culture, history and unique geography providing the greatest value to clients. 

About the author: Growing up on a horse ranch in Germany with a younger brother, two cousins and lots of animals, travel was part of our annual family rhythm as long as I can remember. Summers were spent in Italy or Spain, winters in Austria for skiing and there were trips to the Baltic Sea or along the Rhine and Mosel with visits to castles and towns along those rivers. After graduating from high school on an island in the North Sea and while a university student in Germany, friends and I drove all over Europe during summer vacations. Those trips also included Turkey, Morocco and several of the countries then still behind the Iron Curtain. I became a member of the travel industry community after completing my studies at a California university. Visits to countries in Asia, Africa and travel in Australia and New Zealand have since broadened my geographic and cultural knowledge.