MADRID, Spain, October 25, 2006 â€“ Ecology-conscious travelers, who prefer walking or biking to riding around in a car or bus, will be glad to know about Spainâ€™s 930 miles of vÃas verdes, or greenways, unused railway lines that the Spanish government has converted to more than 70 walking and biking trails. Marked by yellow signs to show a green leaf, the words â€œvÃas verdes,â€ and the number of kilometers, they wind over green hills, through scenic valleys, along meandering canals and under ancient stone bridges all over Spain. They are easy, accessible and far removed from automobile traffic, though often close to picturesque farms, villages and the everyday life of the Spanish people â€“ a great way to discover the hidden corners of Spain.
The VÃas Verdes (Greenways) Program was launched in 1993, when the Spanish Railway Foundation (FFE) was commissioned to research abandoned railway lines. The FFE discovered some 4,700 miles of unused railway lines, which resulted in the government budgeting some $7 million per year for Greenways construction. By 2005, Spain had invested more than $70 million for construction of these hiking and biking trails.
In 1998 the European Greenways Association was established to promote and encourage Greenways throughout Europe. In 2000 FFE received the United National Best Practices Habitat International Award, encouraging it to organize the first international conference on VÃas Verdes in Latin America two years later.
Twelve years after its start in Spain, the Greenways Program is a great success. It has not only created tourism (both Spanish and foreign) but also increased employment in rural areas. The 60-mile Carrilet VÃa Verde, for example, which goes from a volcanic region in the foothills of the Pyrenees to the city of Girona and onto the Costa Brava has already received more than 120,000 visitors per year. In the case of the Sierra VÃa Verde in Andalusia, unemployed young people have been hired to turn former railway stations into rural hotels with restaurants.
The FFEâ€™s website gives useful information â€“ in English â€“ about the Greenways. There are two volumes of Guias de VÃas Verdes (Greenways Guides) with over 1000 miles of itineraries that include maps, pictures and information about accommodations, local fiestas, and railway connections. These are available â€“ only in Spanish â€“ in some Spanish bookstores and on the web site under â€œpublicaciones.â€ The books cost 17 euros each ($20.50) plus postage. An Official Road Map (with CD-ROM) published in Spain by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport is also available in bookstores giving itineraries for 75 greenways. For more information go to http://www.ffe.es/viasverdes/programme.htm
For further information about Spain, contact the Tourist Office of Spain,www.spain.info
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