Italy seeks to beat overtourism with outdoor tourism

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(CNN) – Are you planning a post-vaccination vacation this year? Chances are, you spend a lot of time outdoors.

With destinations slowly opening up to tourism again and travelers tentatively booking flights, outdoor travel looks set to explode after the pandemic.

And in Italy – the first country to be flattened by the pandemic and one of the hardest hit destinations in Europe – things are no different.

Italians have spent months mostly confined to their homes at different stages of the pandemic. Now they can’t wait to get out.

But it’s not just the Italians. Travelers to Italy are looking for vacations, sports and outdoor activities, according to the Italian national tourism agency, ENIT – there has even been strong growth in demand for camping.

“Last year, the impact of the pandemic was less strong in mountain areas,” explains Marketing Director Maria Elena Rossi.

But for 2021, she says, people are banking on nature, outdoor relaxation and outdoor activities.

Pierluigi Serlenga, who wrote a report for management consulting firm Bain & Company on post-pandemic travel trends for their Travel Digital Summit, says there is a real search for “more individual outdoor experiences. personalized and more flexible “.

And he says Italy is not only rising to the challenge, but could also help counter any return of overtourism.

“It’s very positive,” he says. “There is a clear desire to diversify and extend the offer beyond the traditional [city] destination.”

The large exterior (scented)

The restoration of Villa Arconati has been a labor of love for 25 years.

Dario Fusaro / Archivio Grandi Giardini Italiani

It is in this brave new outside world that Italian gardens see a resurgence.

Alongside Renaissance art that attracts visitors from all over the world, Italy has centuries-old gardens and green spaces.

The world’s first botanical garden was created in Padua in 1545. Still open to visitors today, it has retained its original plan: a circular central square, symbolizing the world, surrounded by a ring of water.

And that’s just the start, says Judith Wade, who spent 40 years promoting Italy’s botanical heritage as the founder of Grandi Giardini Italiani (Great Italian Gardens), a private network of nearly 150 of the world’s finest gardens. ‘Italy scattered throughout this famous boot.

Before the pandemic, 8 million people visited the garden network – and although the numbers fell for obvious reasons last year, she says that once they reopened in July 2020, the numbers immediately went down. increased by 35% over one year.

Wade is hoping for a spectacularly successful 2021 – and says Italian gardens have the potential to change tourism for the better.

His network helps private garden owners promote their properties, generating income and jobs for the local community in places that might otherwise go unrecognized.

Links with Leonardo

9_Villa Arconati_ph.  Dario Fusaro_Archivio Grandi Giardini Italiani

When the current owners bought it, it was completely run down.

Dario Fusaro / Archivio Grandi Giardini Italiani

Take Villa Arconati, outside Milan, for example.

Dating from the beginning of the 17th century, it was in a state of complete disrepair. When current owners Cesare and Isabel Rancilio got their hands on it 25 years ago.

The estate is of great cultural and historical significance – it once housed some of Leonardo da Vinci’s original codices, the owners say, and today what Rancilios claims to be the largest Roman statue in northern Italy is in the spotlight.

The restoration work has been enormous. Even today, the frescoes that line the walls of the villa are painstakingly restored and in some cases uncovered – after having been repainted.

The vast gardens have been carved out, and the many fountains and theaters have found new life.

Today, the villa and its garden house the Augusto Rancilio Foundation, created in memory of Cesare’s brother. The locals have adopted his new leadership, says cultural curator Sonia Coraim, who grew up in Bollante, the neighboring village.

“As a child, I always dreamed of visiting Villa Arconati,” she says.

“My father would bring me here and I would gaze at the doors imagining what lies beyond.”

Over 100 local volunteers help out on the property.

This sweet island life

La Rocca di Angera is part of the Borromeo properties on Lake Maggiore.

La Rocca di Angera is part of the Borromeo properties on Lake Maggiore.

Courtesy / Terre Borromée

One of Judith Wade’s very first clients was the Borromeo family, who own the three breathtaking Borromean Islands, located in the middle of Lake Maggiore since the 15th century. Tourists have flocked to the islands since the days of the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Borromeo estate is made up of six different sites: sumptuous palaces, magnificent botanical gardens, a zoo and an outdoor adventure park.

“There is a lot of pressure because we are always trying to raise the standards – and you have to do constant maintenance or sooner or later there will be a disaster,” Prince Vitaliano Borromeo said.

For the prince, a flurry of outdoor-loving tourists would be a godsend. The number of visitors fell from 880,000 in 2019 to just 350,000 in 2020.

By 2021, he hopes the numbers will hit half a million, not least because the estate relies on entry fees to employ its more than 150 employees. And he plans to expand the outdoor adventure park into the hills above the lake, to accommodate families enjoying the new outdoor vibe.

The future is outside

Prince Vitaliano Borromeo owns the three islands of Lake Maggiore.

Prince Vitaliano Borromeo owns the three islands of Lake Maggiore.

Dario Fusaro / Courtesy of Terre Borromeo

As the prince strives to preserve and enhance his family’s legacy, a Swedish couple are doing something similar in Tuscany.

What started as a passionate project quickly turned into a full-time job for Henric Gronberg. In 2014, he and his wife (who preferred not to be named) bought the historic Villa Reale di Marlia, which dates back to the Middle Ages, near Lucca.

The current villa, which once belonged to Napoleon’s sister, dates from the end of the Renaissance. It is surrounded by extensive gardens, with more follies and villas in the park. The property has undergone a complete restructuring and was opened to the public in 2015 for the first time in its history.

So far, the renovations have cost more than the advertised purchase price of 10 million euros ($ 12 million). But despite the huge investment, Gronberg is convinced that the future is bright.

Last year they had 24,000 visitors – but that’s counting with the new emphasis on outdoor tourism, which will grow to 200,000 within a few years.

“I have no doubts that this type of garden and property will gain popularity in the long run,” he says.

“It’s not just the beauty – people want to breathe fresh air, and you get fresh air when you have thousands of plants and micro-climates in the gardens.

“If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t do this.”

If Italy manages to disperse its visitors from the city of art’s honeypots, this center of overtourism could start to look very different. Only time will tell if the pandemic has improved the country’s tourism industry.


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