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The Amazone Europe cycle path allows you to travel more than 1000 km along a cycle path that winds between rivers and forests, from Austria to Serbia
1,250 kilometers by bike through the meanders of three major European rivers, through forests, swamps, villages frequented by storks, solitary pastures and border towns. It’s the European Amazon Cycle Path , the cycle path that crosses one of the most important river systems on the continent, which is home to a UNESCO biosphere reserve shared between five countries: Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Hungary. The route was created thanks to two European territorial cooperation programs to promote the sustainable development of a territory with an invaluable naturalist and cultural heritage, but financially fragile, and will be officially launched this spring.
A European journey
The route runs with the current, from Mureck on the Mura River in Austria to the banks of the Danube in Mohács, Hungary. Two paths are possible. The southern variant, in sixteen stages, takes place largely on the Slovenian and Croatian banks of the Mura and the Drava, then runs along the Danube mainly on the Serbian side. The shortest northern route (eleven stages), on the other hand, remains on the Austrian and Hungarian side. In both routes, traditional villages, mills, vineyards, spas and towns rich in history, such as Varazdin, Osijek and Sombor, alternate with natural beauties.
Rivers know no boundaries and the entire region they cross has clear interconnections. The same cannot be said of the administrations of five countries, including one outside the European Union. A sustainable development project for such a vast territory could therefore only be based on a supranational framework. The European Amazon Cycle Route was created thanks to two European territorial cooperation projects, integrated into the broader framework of Interreg Danube, a program dedicated to the entire Danube basin, from Germany to Ukraine.
During a first phase which lasted from 2018 to the beginning of 2021, the partners traced the routes by identifying the old cycle paths, passages and paths already present in the territory, concerned on the one hand to enhance the most precious sections and on the other hand on the other hand to avoid the most fragile areas. They then install common signage and divide the route into intermediate stages, indicating rest areas and routes in both directions and on both banks.
The next stage, Responsible Green Destination – Amazon of Europe , which will end at the end of this year, is instead dedicated to promoting responsible tourism practices along the way. The aim is to achieve an integrated approach to land management, which combines the need to protect the environment with genuine sustainable development.
“From the beginning, we tried to directly involve local suppliers for hospitality, transport to and from cycle paths, restaurants, luggage storage, etc.,” says Anja Krajnik from Iskriva, the Slovenian Institute for the development of local potential, project coordinator. “In the longer term, however, we hope that once the influx of cyclists continues, more and more locals will see the potential of this project, and try to adapt to our environmental standards and join the circuit.”
Amazon of Europe, in fact, is a real brand, with an official website where you can find all the necessary information and make reservations. To assess the impact of tourism in a hitherto unfrequented area, the group uses models made by UNESCO staff.
The partners thus hope to promote zero-emission initiatives, pushing for green jobs in an area where, with the exception of the Austrian section and the Croatian town of Osijek, unemployment and depopulation are a constant threat. “At first, people were skeptical,” comments Krajnik, “but over the years more and more people have realized the uniqueness of the place where they live and the opportunities it offers.”
A threatened paradise
The UNESCO Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve was established in 2021 and many of its functions have also been funded by European cooperation projects. The only United Nations reservation to be shared by five countries, it aims to “create a model of international cooperation for the management of river basins, and at the same time build bridges between people and nature”.
Historically a border region of out-of-control flooding, “Europe’s Amazon” has been largely untouched by the tumultuous development that cemented and channeled major rivers elsewhere on the continent. It is therefore a unique green belt, 700 kilometers long, covering nearly one million hectares in the heart of central Europe.
In the thirteen protected areas that make up the reserve, unique habitats have been preserved, essential to the subsistence of around 250,000 migrating waterfowl each year. The reserve is home to the largest colony of white eagles on the continent and many other endangered species such as little tern, black stork, beaver, otter and sturgeon. The cultural heritage of the region is also particularly varied, while there is no shortage of gastronomic specialties, such as Sombor cheese made exclusively from the milk of sheep that graze near the Danube in the vicinity of the Serbian town.
The area is crucial for flood protection, clean water supply and fertile soil for almost a million people, and in times of climate change its protection is even more essential. However, not everyone thinks so. “Contrary to EU environmental laws and international standards, river management in Croatia, Hungary and Serbia is still based on outdated concepts,” write environmental NGOs led by WWF on the website. of the reserve. Despite UNESCO protection, they explain, there are plans for new hydropower plants and river regulation, which until now have been largely in the wild. New embankments would also impact some iconic areas of the area such as the Kopački Rit wetlands in Croatia.
Two diametrically opposed visions clash on the future of the European Amazon. “If the cycle path is also a success from the point of view of sustainable development”, comments Krajnik, “it will make an important contribution not only for the population living there, but also for the safeguarding of the entire reserve”.
This content is published as part of the “Work4Future” project co-funded by the European Union (EU). The EU is in no way responsible for the information or opinions expressed within the framework of the project. Responsibility for the content rests exclusively with OBC Transeuropa. Go to “Work4Future”
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