The Interreg Europe Programme provides support to the protection and development of cultural heritage as part of the environment and resource efficiency theme.

In the European context, a cultural route has been defined as a route crossing more than one country or region. Such a route is organised around themes for which the historical, artistic or social interest is patently European, either by virtue of geography or because of its range and significance. 

The Council of Europe launched its Cultural Route programme in 1987. It currently includes over 30 routes, which cover a variety of different themes, contribute to the sustainable management of heritage and emphasise the importance of European cultures and identities.

By their nature, most cultural routes have an interregional dimension. The European Cultural Routes, Transferring Experiences, Sharing Solutions (CERTESS) project supported by INTEREG IVC programme brought together 12 partners from 10 countries and resulted in the development of a toolkit for design, planning and implementation of a cultural route. The partners also developed route implementation plans in their regions.

Of current Interreg Europe projects two work on cultural routes:

  • Cult-RInG (Cultural Routes as Investment for Growth and Jobs) aims to highlight the value of investments in cultural routes to support growth and jobs, particularly innovation and competitiveness of SMEs. The project plans to focus on three themes:

    • evaluation of existing cultural routes in terms of their contribution to socio-economic development, innovation and employment, as well as quality of life and attractiveness of place
    • capitalisation of best practices from completed INTERREG IVC projects, such as CERTESS
    • development of new cultural routes based on the above evaluation and capitalisation.

  • Green Pilgrimage will explore how to protect the cultural heritage associated with pilgrim routes alongside the development of growth and jobs, including fostering low impact tourism, use of digitisation and strengthening of local traditions. This project responds to the need to balance the increased popularity of pilgrimage routes with the need to protect their heritage. The overall objective is to provide an evidence base for regional policymakers to demonstrate that green pilgrimage is a socially and economically viable cultural heritage tradition, and to share best practice on route management, promotion and business engagement. In addition, the project aims to:

    • improve understanding of green pilgrimage
    • develop growth policies to both develop and protect natural and cultural heritage
    • increase the value of pilgrimage tourism.

The project also aims to maximise learning from the CERTESS project, particularly in terms of the standards and best practices that were developed.

Development of cultural routes, which link common heritage, can be a way to increase awareness and understanding of these assets, and also a way to facilitate closer cooperation in their management and governance, and in fostering sustainable cultural tourism.