Tourism for Conservation – the Balkans Bear Story

Through the Western Balkans Geotourism Network of responsible local businesses, (the ones which value culture, nature and local communities), and with the support of USAID (REG) program, National Parks in Europe’s wildest corner are creating new conservation experiences for visitors.

Guests will responsible for setting and monitoring camera traps.

Starting at the end of this year, visitors will be able to join in the conservation work undertaken by Park Rangers in Macedonia and Serbia. Tracking, setting of camera traps, park rehabilitation work and stocking of the feeding stations are just some of the activities which help to preserve Europe’s last truly wild populations of: Bear, Lynx, Wolf, Wild Boar, Horse and Deer. This vital work goes on year round and dependent upon the season guests will travel to work on skis, (with some Nordic skiing instruction) or snowshoes, by mountain bike or by boat (another partner in the program is the Hydro-biology Institute on the beautiful Lake Ohrid).

Tara NP – Serbia

The work undertaken by guests will be a crucial contribution to the parks, as will be the large percentage of the tour price which goes directly into nature protection and study programs. The first guests will even help to create the infrastructure for future visitors. So build the first Bear viewing hides alongside local volunteers and be the first to sit in watch for the animals!

Food for the bears donated by local farmers (they died of natural causes)

The Parks involved are Tara in Serbia, Mavrovo and Pelister in Macedonia (Macedonia has the highest bio-diversity in Europe!). All have large areas of primary forest, and provide a home to all of Europe’s Big 5 Land Mammals. (The region also has Dolphins … in the Adriatic). Within these 3 small to medium size parks live at least 300 Bears, at least in the parks they can be safe. These are wild animals and not fenced into the protected areas, many wander freely across the borders and roam throughout the Western Balkans and Dinaric Alps.

Camera Trap footage …its not just about the Bears…

So look out for more new in the next couple of months! Just now we are preparing the activities, sourcing equipment and starting to spread the word among communities and conservations groups/NGO/NVOs in the region.

In the meantime, if you would like to find out more about the program – you can contact me on: jack@travelconsult.me or our local tour partner in Macedonia Gorki Balojani on: gorki.balojani@balojani.com.m

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Walking the halls of hope and despair, WTM 2014 (from Conscious Travel)

I was lucky enough to attend both the ATTA sessions mentioned in this piece. They were inspirational.

The problem of constantly chasing growth is common to all industries, but Tourism directly values assets such as culture , nature , escape , tranquility, which are the most vulnerable to volume growth. The case was made very convincingly for a new approach, to consider the travel companies as a community, not as an industry, and to value quality experiences over quantity products.

In the Western Balkans we have a chance to get this right , we must do.

ConsciousTourism

World Travel Market 2013, ExCel, London, ExCel, London

I confess I have never been wild about the World Travel Market – its central hall was the site of my personal “Road to Damascus” several years ago when I experienced the full extent to which tourism has become an industrial production and consumption machine.

I admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer scale, busyness and sterility of the event where products are pushed and deals done; brochures and media stuffed into plastic bags then discarded; and sustainable clichés fall like feathers from the upper galleries onto the hard selling activity in cubicles on the shop floor.

Walking the central hall this year I felt a visceral inner and outer tussle between despair and hope.

The number of “responsibility” seminars was, encouragingly, greater than ever before but still totally outnumbered and out attended by sessions devoted to trends, technology, social media, and market segments. Within the responsible tourism stream, the same…

View original post 3,006 more words

“Making Moonshine” Montenegrin style.

Every October, wherever you travel in Montenegro, you can smell ‘Rakija’ – the fiery loza distilled from Grappa, clear, smooth, 50% – 55% proof and unbelievably a favourite breakfast tipple for many!. This is the time of year when the drink is distilled creating a pleasant but distinctive aroma.

Many households own a still, (they can be bought from any good local garden center).  This afternoon I joined Jelko, Mikki and Zee to help them with distilling.

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Miiki and Zee own Portfino Restaurant on Bela Vista square in Herceg Novi. Jelko owns a 150 year old organic farm in the hills above Kuti – just below Mount Orijen.  Each year they produce their own domestic red wine and this year about 50 litres of Rakija. They learned their skills from a neighbour who at 80 years old passed on his techniques and his local recipe collection so that the knowledge would not be lost.

Using locally sourced grapes at just under 20% sweetness, fermentation is natural – no sugar is added to the process. Each distilling takes about 3 hours, so 3 batches can be prepared each day.

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Why not try it yourself?

Wine and Rakija making will be on offer to visitors and guests next year. The farmhouse will be opening as a Gastronomic cookery school with programs allowing guests to experience Balkans ‘living’ culture,  as they source local ingredients and learn the centuries old arts of Mediterranean Balkan cuisine. Do you fancy night snorkeling for mussels? a trip out on a squid boat? hiking with villagers to collect herbs? a visit the stone olive mill?  or shopping for fresh produce at the farmers market? At Kuti the cooking is only the last part of the process as visitors will need to experience as much of the lifesyle as the food. When the ingredients are collected guests will learn how to make traditional dishes unique to this region. Fun and informative cookery classes indoors and out. Organic food, raw food and eat local, specialities for all tastes… and the Rakija, of course. Come in season and make your own, to take home, or enjoy with all the local people you will meet during your trip.

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50% proof – straight from the ‘still’ no added sugar and no hangover.

Introducing ‘Leave No Trace’ in Macedonia

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As part of the Regional Economic Growth project, the Western Balkans Geotourism Network gave a ‘Leave No Trace’ trainers seminar in Macedonia for 5 directors/managers working in Outdoor Tourism and the National Park Service.

Emilija Fildishevska
Kiril Ruzhinov
Katarina Georgievska
Aleksandr Klenov
Valeria Klenova
Jovan Jovanov

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The training took place deep in the back country close to Demir Kapija, at a disused hunting lodge. The location was suggested by Emilijia Fildisevska from Macedonia Travel and was perfect for our purposes. The surrounding forest and a nearby river were pristine. The immediate vicinity of the lodge showed the effects of careless visitors, trash and campfire rings. Before we began we cleared up the worst of the rubbish.

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LNT 1 Macedonia part 2 136

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To become recognised LNT trainers, the delegates had to complete a two day, one night training program in which they taught the 7 principles of outdoor ethics:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
Repackage food to minimize waste.
Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In popular areas:
Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

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Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find
Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

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Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

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Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

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All the delegates completed the training and their certificates ‘are in the post’.

If you would like to find out more about how R.E.G. and the Western Balkans Network are raising standards in new tourism in the Balkans – join our group on Linked In at: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Western-Balkans-Geotourism-Network – or contact me on jack@montenegroholiday.com

You can find out more about Leave No Trace outdoor ethics: https://lnt.org

logos final

REG Logo

Link

The theme which the Western Balkans Geotourism Network has adopted for promoting the whole region is variety.  We know the region is pretty unique , landscapes, cultures, languages, musical traditions, cuisines and climates all collide in the western Balkans, like nowhere else.

The Gastronomy of the Western Balkans tour explores many cooking styles, techniques and recipes. Guests will travel through the region guided and joined by local experts, chefs, farmers, fishermen small holders and every day unsung experts in Balkan cookery.

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As we journey between societies, across dramatic landscape changes, from the coast to the peaks, our menus reflect the local ingredients and seasonal conditions – this was ‘eat local’, before there needed to be a label for doing what once just came naturally.

In Montenegro the themes will of course be the Adriatic Sea food – Montenegro has one of the best preserved fishing stocks in the Mediterranean. We follow the pairing of ingredients from the sea, coastlines and the mountains of the coast.

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Guests can choose a variety of cooking styles and themes – with their chosen ingredients – if local and available. In Montenegro alone you can from:

1. Claypot. The basics but also one of the most versatile techniques and the flavour combinations are superb – Octopus and potato with carrot, goat cooked in milk, or fresh mussels local herbs and wine.

2. Grilling on Vine sticks, outdoor.

3. Tanjiraća. Literally plough- share fashioned into a very shallow cooking pot which stands on 3 short legs – like a large wok. The fat collects in the center of the pot and round the edges are placed the meats. The meat is traditionally basted with branches of wild rosemary which is dipped in the fat.

4. Large flat heated fire stone for sizzling – a pork chop is recommended.

5. Spit roast – usually sheep or lamb. Goat is available. 4 hours slow cooking often with beer and then one hour to cool.

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For vegetarians – Montenegrins eat far more fresh fruits and vegetables than the tourist restaurant menus would suggest. All types of techniques are still remembered for cooking and preserving all of this natural abundance . Pickles, conserves provide some really good ingredients for winter cooking , quite different from the summer salads.

Gastronomy and Wine – Montenegro 1. Bay of Kotor. 

Gastronomy and Wine – Montenegro 2. Hiking the Bay leaf forest

How to use the Geotourism MapGuide

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GeoTourismMapGuide

Online Map that captures and conveys the authenticity of the region through the eyes of people who know best – You!

mapguide capture

What are people posting? What can you share?

Seeks to promote and enhance the region’s natural, historic, and cultural sites to domestic and international visitors seeking authentic travel experiences

What can I nominate?

  • Historical/ Cultural Site, District, Village, Town
  • Festival and Event
  • Outdoor Adventure
  • Natural Area
  • Local Artist, Musician or Craftsperson
  • Regional Tours
  • Local Businesses (e.g. locally owned food, drink and accommodation provider)
  • Local Points of Interest (Market, Statue, Religious Structure, Unique shop, etc.)
  • Participation Opportunities (Voluntourism Opportunities)

… anything that is authentic to Western Balkans and sustains or enhances the character of the region.

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Open the map!

What is Geotourism?

Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

A test for inclusion on the MapGuide: “Is the spot, attraction, business, activity or experience distinctive to our town, area or region, and is it authentic to The Western Balkans?”

GeotourismPrinciples

–          Promotes and supports character, tradition and cultural heritage of the site

–          Promotes and supports positive practices of environmental and heritage protection

–          Promotes and supports involvement and prosperity of local community

–          Offer and method of work focused on authentic and quality offer

 

How?

  1. Go to:

http://www.balkansgeotourism.travel/participate.php

And create your profile

  1. Click on +ADD NEW NOMINATION
  1. Select the best category for your nomination
  1. Follow the steps and add full description of your nomination:

Click SAVE AND EXIT at the bottom of the page to move from Text to Media to Contacts to Mapping

  1. Once you have entered all the information, change the status of your nomination and submit it to the editor for review, approval and activation (at the bottom of the page)
  1. Click SAVE
  1. If you want to link your nomination to other nominations on the MapGuide and/ or the themes, click on  CONTENT RELATIONSHIPS  at the top of the page and click every nomination that could be associated with yours then click SAVE             to keep the changes.

If you want to add another nominations, click in the top left corner and repeat the steps.

  1. Contact the Country portal director or the editor to review your nominations and activate them.

Gastronomy and Wine – Montenegro 2. Activities

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Hiking the Bay Leaf Forest

Above the bay of Kotor , just south of Dubrovnik, a mountainous ridge line runs from Mount Orijen to join the Montenegrin Coastal Transversal range, where high mountains fringe the sea. The coastal cuisine blends Mediterranean sea dishes with mountain meats and vegetables. Use of native wild plants in traditional cookery also reflects the incredible diversity of wild habitats.
Authentic Balkans cuisine should not only be prepared, ingredients must first be gathered following tradition as old as the landscape. The wild hillsides are a source of herbs and spices to create the most distinctive of local flavours. Depending upon the season it is possible to collect all manner from the hills: olives, wild asparagus, wild garlic, mushrooms, figs, pomegranite, lemon, sweet oranges, sage, copriva, shaffran and more than 100 other types of medicinal plants and herbs.

Guests will be guided by knowledgable guides and with a shopping list of seasonal items to collect, for use in their dishes.

An example hike, close to the farm is the impressive ‘forest of bay trees’ – an evergreen and ever fragrant forest comprised of only one tree species, the Bay tree. Balkan Lore sets a limit of 3 bay leaves used, maximum for any dish, the bay is a popular ingredient in so much Balkan cooking.

The first water stop.

Hiking the Bay leaf forest

The way to walk through the bay forest is barefoot, the evergreen leaves have a short life so the forest floor is buried beneath a layer of bay leaves – said to have medicinal properties, certainly one cure for foot odour, I am guessing.

A walk through the forest with out shoes was said to be a good deterrent to the Tenjac (Vampires from hereabouts).

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Plenty of hiking staffs are left by other walkers at the start of the church path.

After we leave ‘the last house in the village,’ along this road at least, the path becomes a forest track again . Only the church is still to be reached, sitting on the peak above us. Before we departed we had to stop and sample Zova Juice (Sok), chilled, a gift from the family who live here – We would be collecting some to make and use in our recipes. At this last house we were entrusted with the key to the village church and invited to go in and if needed take a drink from the many left there, for passing walkers in the hills.

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Cold drinks on this shaded terrace from gracious hosts.

Below the church is the large forest clearing – the church lawn – long the picnic and party place for villages, for weddings and saints days, dances and important gatherings.

There are several established fire cooking sites here which guests can use to cook outdoor and festive dishes – reviving a tradition of meals that were cooked here for village gatherings.

The woodland enclosed green is a perfect venue for yoga – which can also be arranged, (and will be included as an option in our package).

The climb to the church is a steep but short one, until suddenly the bay trees give out and you have reached the summit – enjoy the view!

Typical Cottage

The end of the road

RECIPE FOR ZOVA SOK
Equal measures of sugar and Zova flowers by weight.
Add 2 litres of warm water for KG of Flowers/Sugar mix.
Stand, stirring often , for two days until the sugar disappears.

Strain the flowers and serve – chilled if you can wait for it to cool – never easy.

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Also: http://vojvodjanskakuhinja.blogspot.com/2009/05/sok-od-zove.html (na srpskom)

Why not nominate your travel ideas to National Geographic Western Balkans Geotourism Mapguide.  Where tourism can help . thankyou

To do list for the Western Balkans – Kirsi H.

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To do list for the Western Balkans  Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kirsi Hyvaerinen of National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro and features the ATTA’s Chris Doyle, Executive Director of Europe.

Kirsi (far left)

Kirsi (far left)

ATTA's Chris Doyle

ATTA’s Chris Doyle

Link

Gastronomy & Wine – Montenegro 1.

The story…

The basic idea started with brothers Micky and Zee who own “Portofino” restaurant in the old town center Herceg Novi.

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Zee (left) and Micky in front of Porto Fino – Bela Vista Sq

 

Bela Vista at night

Bela Vista Square

They collect natural foods for the restaurant and buy organic produce from Vesko  in nearby Kuti. Vesko is renovating his family home 150 – 200 year old Ethno-House, as a traditional working, organic farm.  The three friends produce their own wine and olive oil at the farm.

Ethno House Kuti, Vesko and Jeep :-)

Ethno House Kuti, Vesko and Jeep 🙂

The ‘farm’ produces only organic foods, there is a wine cellar, and room for catering to groups of up to 40.  Vesko is also renovating an old stone mill in a steep wooded ravine behind the property. The property is supplied with its own potable fresh water springs.

The Mill

The Mill undergoing renovation

With network and marketing help and advice through  the REG. Western Balkans product,  development project – Ethno House Kuti will open in 2015 as a high end – Gastronomic Holiday retreat offering classes and active training  in the collection and preparation of traditional Adriatic coast foods – such as eels, wild herbs, seafish and shellfish. The farm streams will be re-stocked annually with eels, the brothers already cultivate mussels nearby, the whole site is only 4km from the sea. Seasonal wild herbs grow in the hills close to the site and can be reached by long (1 day) and short (1 hour) hiking paths. The organic farm can supply all necessary fruits and vegetables, there are goats and a couple of horses.  Active excursions include – squid fishing with fishermen in the bay, olive orchards and stone presses on the Lustica peninsular, Trebinje in BiH for wine and honey recipes (*below), smoke houses at Njegusi. Buying produce from local farmers and fish markets.

Ethno House has wine cellars, stone fire pits, iron cooking ranges, and a training kitchen will be added by Zelko .

Ethno House has wine cellars, stone fire pits, iron cooking ranges, and a training kitchen will be added by Zelko .

The waterfalls and streams in the high cliffs behind the house also offer opportunities for some adventurous activities. Other adventure active options will be available.

Yoga courses can also be arranged in combination with herbal teas therapies using locally collected plants.

The cookery courses will be linked to Portofino restaurant – with guests preparing a final ‘graduation’ group meal in the old town

Gastronomy and Wine – Montenegro 2. Hiking the Bay leaf forest.  https://montenegroadventure.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=425&action=edit

Tour Features

  • Bay of Kotor
  • Flight connections – Dubrovnik, Tivat.
  • Links to: Trebinje BiH  in 1.5 hours, Albania via Lake Skadar. Kosovo and Serbia.
  • Main attractions – Ethno House, Traditional food gathering and cookery lessons. Sea food and wild herbs.

Local Connections

 

  •  A German company is building a large  accommodation complex  500 meters from Ethno – House. The buildings follow traditional architectural styles and contain only traditional, locally sourced building materials. We want to set up a joint meeting and include this business in our plans. Ethno house can provide a major year round attraction to fill the new accommodation.

 

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Through our project we will facilitate cooperation and joint promotion between the businesses.

  • A number of large, high value developments are taking place close to Kuti – the super marinas at Porto Montenegro and Kumbor for example. The project will create connections so that these larger developers can help Ethno House to be more sustainable (for example, providing hessian sacks for compost, recycling etc.) In turn Ethno House can provide an attraction of  these developments and a source of organic produce.
  • A local travel agency partner will be invited to create a range of excursions and activities – such as white water rafting.

Regional / W. Balkans Connections.

We are assisting in the preparation of a short 3-5 day program which can link to complementary Gastronomic and Wine attractions regionally to create multi center holidays.

The first of these supporting attractions has been identified in Bosnia at Trebinje (1.5 hours by road). Here we will create a similar ‘cluster’ of local businesses to deliver the following guest experiences:  honey production and cookery, domestic wine production, fresh fish dishes (using trout from the Trebinjica River), greenhouses for organic salads, horse back riding and village monasteries to learn about sacred foods and church wine making techniques.

Other countries in the Western Balkans  will add – Muslim, Turkish cuisine, Serbian smoke houses, outdoor cooking (in the ground) in Macedonia, mountain cheese production and much more.

How is REG and the Western Balkans Network helping?

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We offer : advice, ideas, best practice examples and fact sheets. We meet with the businesses and find connections. We help the businesses to develop a product plan. We use the product development model developed by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (because they are the best) . We explain target markets, customer preferences and market planning. We help businesses overcome  vital issues like – sustainability and safety. And when everything is ready, we will help our partners to sell these tours to support local communities and to give our guests  life changing , memorable and sustainable travel experiences.