Slow tourism: the European idea of ​​a deliberate, leisurely vacation

    12 Jul 2021

    Vacation will never be the same: instead of surfing the top 10 attractions, more and more travelers lean towards slower tourism. The idea of ​​slow entertainment was born and became popular in Italy, and pilgrimage routes through Europe became the main routes.

    Let’s get to know how to spend your holidays leisurely, thanks to geographer and tourism specialist Alexandra Poyarkova interview with Knife.

    The primary condition for slow tourism is to have a rest without haste: to move on foot, on a bicycle, horses or donkeys; live in a tent, a houseboat or on a farm; get acquainted with the local culture, customs, buy food and souvenirs “0 km” (grown and produced locally, not Crimean avocados with quinoa or Chinese magnets from around the world). A tourist is no longer a tourist but a traveler.

    Nothing, of course, is new under the moon of vacation: not that hiking, leisurely tourism with a backpack on your shoulders was invented yesterday. But since trips around the world have become available not only to representatives of the very top of the social pyramid, the race “around the world in 80 days” has ceased to be interesting, and the traveler begins to choose not the most expensive, but what brings both pleasure and benefit.

    The same thing happened with plastic bags: in childhood, I had to go shopping with my grandmother’s string bag, then plastic bags appeared in supermarkets, and my grandmother’s handbags disappeared as unnecessary. But twenty years passed – and cellophane bags became an attribute of philistinism, and then irresponsibility, ecologists sounded the alarm. It turned out that the granny knew a lot about eco-shopping, and canvas bags can be quite a fashionable accessory.

    Comparison of mass tourism with a threat to the Earth could be an exaggeration, but no: the world cultural heritage is suffering from the uncontrolled flow of travelers; local residents, flora and fauna, ecosystems are destroyed during the construction of another giant hotel or amusement park, water bodies are polluted, etc.

    One of the goals of slow travel is an environmentally friendly vacation, but it shouldn’t be confused with ecotourism. The main goal of the slow trip is knowledge, calmness, rejection of the usual frantic rhythms.

    From food to travel: how to procrastinate

    The first slow movement originated in one of the most leisurely countries in Europe – the cradle of the “dolce vita” of Italy.

    In 1986, Carlo Petrini founded the Arci Gola cultural association in the small town of Bra (Arci stands for the cultural association, Gola stands for “gulp” or “gluttony”), which opposes the fast-food system. The goal of this movement was to preserve local food and wine traditions, revive unique, endangered products, stop intensive and monocultural agriculture, conserve biodiversity and create caterers with slow food philosophy. Instead of throwing a plastic cheeseburger into themselves on the run, visitors enjoy healthy food and dishes prepared according to local traditional recipes.

    With slow food, movimento slow was born in Italy, “Slow Motion”, which encourages you to take your time and live more calmly and more consciously. Slowly, different directions of slow philosophy began to be born: in 1999, the “Slow City”, cittaslow, was born in Italy; science, education, reading, aging, and, last but not least, vacations wanted to become slow.

    So it is not surprising that the leisurely manner of travel received the most widespread resonance in the Apennine Peninsula. 2019 is declared the year of slow tourism in Italy: the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism has launched a portal with a map of the main routes of slow travelers.

    The atlas contains only those trails that meet a whole series of criteria: for example, they must be safe, under the control of human rights bodies, be asphalted by a maximum of 40%, and places with food and lodging must be located no further than five kilometers from the road.

    The map also shows bike paths between cities, the most exciting towns, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, historic cemeteries, and many other exciting sights.

    Another Italian site,, ​​published ten commandments of the slow tourist, which quickly became immutable rules on all portals on the topic:

    ·        Choose rural tourism, eco-hotels, or scattered hotels.

    ·        Avoid out of place or overly popular places.

    ·        Move by bike, eco-car, horse.

    ·        Wherever you are, clean up and properly recycle your waste.

    ·        Do not use plastic utensils.

    ·        Study the local culture. Learn a few words of the local language and tradition.

    ·        Adapt to any situation.

    ·        Buy only local products to boost the economy of your host region, organic products or clothing made from natural materials.

    ·        Do no harm to local animals and do not purchase endangered animals.

    And finally, the good old:


    Slow tourism in Europe: in the footsteps of the Italian pilgrims

    In Europe, slow tourism is developing much more actively, but also not everywhere. The most developed are those directions that pilgrims have long trodden. Spiritual tourism and religious sites began to attract not only adherents of religion but also lovers of trekking, cultural heritage, and historical monuments.

    Many routes have associations that include security control, cleaning, first aid, and transportation of travelers’ luggage from yesterday’s overnight stay to today.

    One of the most famous religious routes in Europe is the Route of the Franks from Canterbury to Rome.

    According to the latest study by Touring Club Italia, already in 2015, only 10% of pilgrims traveling in the footsteps were driven by religious reasons. The remaining 90% followed this path for entirely different purposes. For example, 25% walked for cultural property, 17% just wanted to try another vacation format. Three-quarters of the holidaymakers walked. The rest rode a bicycle.

    The average duration of the whole journey is 80 days. However, a rare tourist passes it entirely: many limit themselves to short sections of the path (the average length of the journey is ten days), remembering that the primary purpose of their trip is rest and not overcoming any obstacles at any cost.

    Whether you have arrived for religious purposes or not, do not forget first to obtain (issue via the Internet or ask at the tourism office) your pilgrim’s passport (la credenziale in Italian, aka la credencial, or la créanciale) and receive significant discounts with it in places of accommodation, catering and transport companies when you are thinking of returning home.

    The Way of Saint James: Through France, Spain, and Portugal

    Italy, of course, is not limited to the slow travel atlas. Religious sites in France attract about 51 million visitors every year. In 2018, about 327 thousand travelers traveled the Way of St. James, which begins in the south of France or Portugal (there are several routes), and most of it passes through Spain.

    Apparently, pilgrims prefer this route to the Way of the Franks: only 10% of visitors overcame the Way of St. James for purely cultural and in no way religious purposes.

    Offers of slow and contemplative tourism and various eco-destinations can be found in any country. One has only to request a search engine, but most of the information will be on Italy, Spain, and France, which is not surprising. This trinity is firmly entrenched in leading positions in the lists of the most popular countries in the world.

    Slow vehicles: legs and bicycles

    The usual means of transportation for slow travelers is on foot. Based on the statistics of different routes, approximately 89% of tourists in 2018 traveled on foot. Many people make their own routes, pack their backpacks, and download applications to smartphones with GPS sensors. Still, suppose you are not a very experienced slow traveler. In that case, you may not consider various essential nuances, and it would be easier and safer to join an organized group.

    The number of tourists choosing a bicycle is an order of magnitude less: a two-wheeled friend is still not only a means of transportation but also a luxury. Equipment and cycling accessories cost money, and not everyone can cope with vehicle breakdowns in field conditions. At the same time, a bicycle is more traumatic than legs and bulkier – if a tourist decides to change the route and travel part of the way, say, by hitchhiking, this can be an obstacle.

    While gender equality reigns among pedestrians, men dominate among cyclists, women often refuse such a means of transportation, considering it unsafe.

    Most cyclists go on touring – touring bikes with durable wheels and a wide range of speeds, designed for long journeys at a fast pace. Mountain bikes are chosen by about 15% of travelers – mainly those who plan to ride off-road or on poor-quality roads. Hybrid is a good compromise and a lightweight mountain bike that is more comfortable to ride on the highway. An option for couples is a tandem: a two-seater bike, heavier, faster, and more spacious, since it allows you to fasten more bags and bike bags on yourself (cyclists, unlike pedestrians, physically cannot carry heavy backpacks on their backs for a long time).

    A regular city bike should be left at home: as the name implies, it is designed for a leisurely ride and good roads, not for long trips over rough terrain.

    More and more cyclists (the market is growing at about 9% per year) are switching to e-bikes. About 40% buy city electric bicycles, the rest – touring or mountain bicycles. Traveling on such vehicles is faster and less tiring: exhausting climbs become shoulder (and wheel).

    Cons – e-bikes require charging, so you will have to plan your route, focusing on gas stations or unique hotels (which significantly reduces the range of choice of places to rest).

    The leader in the number of e-bikes and services for them is the Asia-Pacific region (especially China, Japan, India), followed by Europe (Germany, France, Italy).

    Equestrian tourism requires much more preparation and scrupulous organization than cycling, so it is logical that there are much fewer people who want to spend a vacation “just us with a horse”. It is difficult to calculate exactly how much since the concept of “equestrian tourism” includes not only travel in the saddle (lasting more than 24 hours) but also rest, implying any equestrian movement, be it performances (although the equestrian theater in Russia is still widely known only in narrow circles, you can join art in Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other cities of Russia), races or short walks.

    In Europe, equestrian tourism is most prevalent in Great Britain, Germany, and France (for example, the total number of members of equestrian clubs in France is 700 thousand people). By the way, about 2% of pilgrims make their way on horseback.

    If you go on an equestrian tour, then you do not need any license exams or driving certificates: you just need to be over 14 years old, have a certificate of good health and medical insurance. The choice of routes is quite diverse both on the territory of the Russian Federation and in different European countries. A guide-instructor will be next to you throughout the trip, and the night will be booked only in places with exceptional services and services for animals. So, perhaps, due to the complexity of organizing such a tour independently, preparing for an equestrian trip can become the least energy-consuming and exhausting – tourists have no choice but to trust the organizers.

    By the way, about lodging. Not all travelers prefer to stay in campsites, because, due to the growing popularity of wandering tourism, a night in a tent costs about the same as a night in a hostel, but at the same time you have to lug your own tent, foam, sleeping bag, saucepans, and food.

    For this reason, many – and also out of a desire to get to know the host country’s culture – choose couchsurfers and Airbnb apartments.

    Why there are no statistics on slow tourism

    It would be nice to move from sublime chatter about spiritual travel to facts and back up this material with numbers and the number of people who chose to abandon the frailty of mass tourism, but this is where the difficulties begin. There are no statistics as such.

    First, it is not very clear who to count. The concept of “slow tourism” is very vague: for some, it means a vacation in the countryside, communication with local residents, and leisurely walks. For others, it means tracking and unity with nature; for still others, it means traveling to big cities but without fuss.

    Geographer Rafael Matos identified two whales on which the concept of slow travel is based: lack of rush and attachment to the place, which can be interpreted in entirely different ways.

    Secondly, it is technically impossible to count all slow travelers: tourism statistics are compiled based on the number of registrations at hotels, sold railway or air tickets and tickets to cultural heritage sites. If the traveler got to the resting place on his vehicle, lived in a rented private house or room, and did not visit mass gathering areas, no mention of him will remain.

    Do we really need slow tourism?

    There are also no serious statistics on the satisfaction rate of slow tourists. Personal experience suggests that many travelers, after the fact, enthusiastically talk about the number of kilometers traveled per day on bumpy roads, overnight stays in dubious rural areas, and share photos of villages. Still, on their next vacation, they go to wallow on a sun lounger on the Turkish coast.

    Someone confesses that they left on such a journey with the goal of finally not rushing anywhere, but they got even more tired than after the gallop across Europe. It’s one thing to want to stop running somewhere forever, and it’s another to really learn not to run.

    But personal sampling is still not an indicator. And planning such a trip requires information, preparation, the right company, and mood, and these factors do not always coincide. In other words, everyone prefers a healthy, rustic, fresh food lunch to fast food, but still grab a cheeseburger, shawarma, or something similar for a snack, fast, cheap, and filling.

    Vacation is still not rubber; not everyone has the opportunity to afford not to rush. Moreover, one of the attributes of the constant fuss is dependence on the Internet and social networks.

    Judging by the number of photos (measured in hundreds of thousands) under the hashtag #slowtourism or #sustainabletourism, most vacationers do not take a break from their smartphones at all in the hope that selfies against the backdrop of rural expanses or waterfalls get even more likes than photos of thighs against the background of the sea.

    The assertion about the environmental friendliness of such travels is also doubtful, since not all tourists get to their places of rest on their own two feet, on a bicycle or an electric car. To get from a point in the CIS to a destination, it is most convenient to fly by plane. Due to this fact environmental friendliness of the trip becomes even not zero, but entirely negative, no matter how many times the tourist would refuse plastic on the way.

    Last year’s survey of the website showed that 42% of the 10 thousand customers of the service called themselves ecotourists. Nevertheless, 65% have never been or do not know if they have been to an eco-hotel. Many host parties are also sounding the alarm and talking about, albeit environmentally friendly, but not thoughtful tourism and its negative consequences: for example, Antarctica.

    In any case, slow tourism is not yet an alternative for everyone. It includes less popular destinations, the fewer services and facilities for the most delicate segments of the population, for example, wheelchair ramps. However, perhaps it remains a matter of time: more and more regions are investing in developing such services, and tourists with special needs can afford more and more choices.


    Figures by numbers, services by services, and the main reasons for slow tourism, researchers say, are factors such as relaxation, introspection, escape, diversity, discovery, and interaction with an external culture or environment.

    To achieve these goals, it is not necessary to go far. It is enough to turn off your head, stop rushing and just relax, and it does not matter where you are: in an Italian village or on your six hundred square meters in the suburbs.

    You may read our author’s pieces of advice on how tourists can cause no harm to wildlife here.   

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