The Võrtsjärv region centred on Estonia's second "great lake" was declared the winner of the Estonia's Hidden Treasures 2010. Aquatic tourism" competition. Võrtsjärv won over the jury with its strong, diverse tourist products, well-functioning cooperative networks and preservation of rich traditions. The winner will present its attractions in September at the European Tourism Forum.
The final selection, which was made at a aquatic tourism seminar held at the Museum of Coastal Folk, was very close. The head of competition's Estonian national jury, deputy director of the Estonian Tourist Board Marje Braunbrück said that the strength of the Võrtsjärv region was its very well-organized cooperation network, which spans the entire region and is expressed in real terms in municipal development plans and investments into tourism. "As a result of the investments, Võrtsjärv today has five primary gateways, all of which are tourist destinations in their own right," says Braunbrück. She also emphasized the diversity of the tourist products of the Võrtsjärv region and the fact that they are orientated to people with different interests. "Võrtsjärv offers recreational opportunities for people seeking cultural, nature and active holidays and its tourist products succeed in uniting history and the present-day in superb fashion," said Braunbrück.
Director of the Võrtsjärv Foundation Jaanika Kaljuvee says the Võrtsjärv region is characterized by three major strengths. First of all, Võrtsjärv is itself a unique natural resource, being a Natura 2000 bird and nature reserve area and home to hundreds of plant and animal species of interest. Second, Kaljuvee highlights the region's rich historical and cultural tradition and sustainability of these traditions. And third, high-quality and multifaceted tourist packages are available, which were developed as a result of effective cooperation between all parties in the region - rural municipalities, non-profit associations and local firms in the tourism sector. The Võrtsjärv region is home to ancient fishing villages, and has a historical fishing vessel endemic to the region - the kalepurjekas. The lake, which is rich in eel, carp bream and pike-perch, also features Estonia's only freshwater fish museum. There is also a vernacular bagpipe tradition which dates back many centuries. Tourists can get the best preview of the sights and activities in the Võrtsjärv region online at www.vortsjarv.ee or on location at the Võrtsjärv visitor centre in at Jõesuu - at the mouth of the Suur Emajõgi.
The competition international jury comprised renowned nature and tourism experts from Estonia and abroad. The jury was led by Gerald Broddelez, a nature expert who works for the internationally well-known travel firm Naturetrack and has experience from 160 countries on all of the world's continents.
Three destinations reached the final round: the island of Muhu (nominated by MTÜ Väinamere Uisk); the Peipsiveere Sibulatee ("onion road" along the shores of Lake Peipus (nominated by MTÜ Sibulatee) and the Võrtsjärv region (nominated by Võrtsjärve SA). The destinations were each vying for the honour with three different tourist products, which were rated on a five-point scale. Criteria included the authenticity of the region and its tourist products, the appeal of the products for domestic and foreign tourists, the sustainability of the destination and the extent of the planning for at least the next three years. An additional important criterion was the thoroughness of marketing and the infrastructure.
The "Estonia's Hidden Treasures 2010. Aquatic tourism" competition was announced by Enterprise Estonia in early March and took place in the framework of the project "European Destinations of Excellence" (EDEN) initiated by the European Commission. The aim was to recognize tourism destinations on coasts, lakes and rivers that embody innovative approaches and provide water tourism services in a way that leads to the development of a higher-quality environment while coping with problems of seasonality. Read more www.edenineurope.eu.
A total of nine destinations were entered in the competition: the island of Muhu (MTÜ Väinamere Uisk), Vilsandi National Park, the island of Saaremaa (MTÜ Meremaa), the coastal villages and manors of Lahemaa National Park - the settlements of Käsmu and Vergi and the Sagadi, Palmse and Vihula manors (MTÜ Lääne-Viru Turismiklubi), Peipsiveere Sibulatee (MTÜ Sibulatee), the Võrtsjärv region (Võrtsjärve SA), Otepää (Otepää Municipality Government), Romantic Beach Byway in Pärnu County (MTÜ Pärnu Lahe Partnerluskogu), the village of Ruhnu, and Ruhnu municipality on the island of the same name (MTÜ Ruhnu Kultuurielu) and the River Emajõgi-Lake Peipus-Võrtsjärv region (MTÜ Emajõe Lodjaselts).