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From the hunter king's holidays to smash and grab tourism

Tourism in the Maritime Alps

A ranger helping a visiting couple (A. Rivelli/PNAM)

The mountain region, crowned by the spa, is almost unknown to the sporting and mountaineering world. The summer migratory flow of the wealthy, attracted by the cool valleys, the high peaks, alpine lakes, is directed almost exclusively towards those places already known to the universe, which have had the good fortune to be discovered and put in a place of honour in the world earlier in time. The Maritime Alps, forgotten so far, it could be said, have begun to be visited by mountaineers. How many know the inmost recesses of Switzerland, Val d'Aosta, Val Sesia, and yet ignore the beauty of the Maritime Alps and especially of the Gesso valley! And yet there is no lack of high peaks or passes either easy or dangerous, nor charms of lakes, nor beauty of waterfalls, nor fright of cliffs, nor breadth of vision. Marchisio, Le Terme di Valdieri

Touristes roamed the Alps from the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century in search of bucolic views and scary and sublime vistas of cliffs and glaciers, but for a long time they ignored the Southern Alps . Similarly, climbers set to with their alpenstocks and rudimentary crampons on the most famous and desirable peaks. The secluded peaks of the Maritime Alps have long been the Cinderellas of the Alps: not high enough to be among the most desirable, but severe enough to scare the less daring; they had to wait before finding their admirers.
So it came to be that the forerunners of latterday tourists in the Maritime Alps were unusual visitors, arriving at the end of the nineteenth century: the kings of the House of Savoy, the main sponsors and figureheads of Valle Gesso for many years.

In Val Vermenagna, winter tourism was the first to take off, with the ski slopes of Limone Piemonte. Despite being located away from the major Alpine ski resorts, curiously and rather unexpectedly, Limone Piemonte has historically been one of the protagonists not only of the history of skiing in Italy, but also of its birth. The beginnings of the Riserva Bianca go all the way back to the nineteenth century: in fact it was in 1896 that the 'Swiss engineer Adolfo Kind brought skis to this side of the Alps, explaining their practical use in a living room in Turin. It is not strange, therefore, that Limone Piemonte and Bardonecchia were the two Italian Alpine resorts that, thanks to the convenient rail connections with Turin, saw their slopes furrowed by these innovative "planks".
The interest in this new way of moving in the mountains met considerable success, especially with the Alpini regiments who, after having created a special corps of 'Alpine skiatori' chose Limone Piemonte as the site for their training. The affinity of Limone Piemonte with skiing, and the competitiveness that had developed with Bardonecchia in the meantime, prompted three friends from Cuneo to lay the foundations of what would later become the prestigious ski resort of Limone Piemonte.

The increase of tourist flows and the phenomenon of holidays for the masses which began in the sixties has resulted in a general increase in construction of housing, hotels and sports infrastructure at high altitude. In many cases these were questionable accomplishments due to the miscalculated impact on the Alpine environment. Today, however, there is a new, widespread sensitivity regarding the mountain landscape, thanks to the work of awareness-building carried out over the years by the Park.

The tourism model of holiday homes that we see in the Maritime Alps is not an isolated case, far from it: second homes are the backbone of tourism in the Italian Alps, since, together with apartment rentals they account for about 75% of capacity. It is the way the Aosta Valley and Piedmont have transformed mountains for tourism almost exclusively with an extensive development of second homes and a lack of hotel accommodation. This choice was also determined by the particular geography of the Northwest : short valleys, quickly gaining altitude, arranged radially around the plains, and large metropolitan areas near to the mountains. This configuration is completely different from the French one, which allows citizens of Turin, Milan, Genoa to reach tourist resorts in the mountains with relatively short journeys every weekend. Not to mention the success of skiing as a popular sport, the stock market boom and the low level of interest between the sixties and the eighties which were a clear invitation to invest in building in the Alpine region.
It is the period of the Golden Age of Travel : with the first warm weather holiday-makers move from the cities "into the pastures", to the villages in the middle valley and remain there throughout the summer, spending plentifully in local businesses.

Today holiday home tourism with long stays is finished: there is more and more housing lying vacant or uninhabited for most of the year. Tourists have become more flexible and demanding: they want to change resort more often and require more equipped infrastructure to play sports, have fun, relax ... This is the choice forced on many alpine resorts: grow old and die or renew, focusing on new forms of quality tourism, that is sporty, interested in nature or culture, but always sustainable. \ \

Tourism in Protected Areas is emerging more and more compared to other segments: IX Ecotur Report on Tourism in Nature shows that 60% of tour operators reported an increase in nature tourist flows and foresees, based on the judgment of the tour operators and park managers, a further increase of 70% in 2012. This trend is confirmed by Alpi Marittime Nature Park. The quantitative analysis conducted in parallel with the qualitative survey on tourist demand, as part of the PIT Plan (Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Mercantour Plan), shows how the small communities of the park are well positioned destinations, from the point of view of tourism flows, in the province of Cuneo: considering the data for the four municipalities together in 2011, 21,254 arrivals and 72,910 admissions were recorded. \ \

Alpi Marittime Park, was among the first in Italy, as early as 2000 to sign, the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas. Since then it has been engaged in a policy on several fronts: firstly aimed at the sustainability of its own facilities and then investing in sustainable mobility and the creation of an association of stakeholders inspired by the principles of ecotourism. Founded in 2002, the association Ecoturismo in Marittime brings together nearly fifty tour operators, local authorities and the Park Authority to promote a model of tourism, within the protected area, compatible with the principles of the European Charter.

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