#8 Alden-Biesen lies in the eastern part of Limburg, a province in Flanders (Belgium). The environment is mostly rural and peaceful, attracting walking visitors and bike tourists. The Castle of Alden-Biesel (Vertelkasteel) is part of the cultural heritage of the area. Although it was built in its current form between the 16th and the 18th century, the castle actually dates back to the 11th century. Unfortunately, because of its border location, Alden-Biesel and its castle cannot easily be reached from Flanders. Accessibility is also limited. There is a train station in Bilzen, but the castle site is about 3 km from the town. For this reason, the main objective of the intervention was to promote the castle and make it feel more familiar to visitors, with an exciting cultural programming in the rooms inside. The focus chosen was education, targeting primarily schools, from kindergarten through to secondary schools and adult education. The most important activity that the castle organizes and that has become its brand image is the annual International Storytelling Festival. The festival started in 1996 and has become one of the biggest multilingual storytelling festivals in Europe thanks to the promotion of storytelling as an art and technique. It includes two events per year, one in January (for kindergarten and primary schools) and one in April (for high schools and adult education). What is special about the event is the fact that it is a pure storytelling festival: it is about the narrative, the spoken word, and the transmission of the unique artistic tradition of storytelling. It also addresses foreign languages, becoming the biggest multilingual storytelling festival in Europe. Over the years the castle has become a creative hub where imaginative people can meet and share knowledge with an enthusiastic audience in a wonderful historical setting. The impact of the event’s promotion is huge. The festival receives 12,000 visitors per year. Each of them generates an economic return and similarly, the art promoted by the storytelling leads to a cultural development for the whole region. The only drawback is the limited involvement of the local community, which of course can be improved easily in future editions. The importance of the intervention is that it teaches how rural areas are often rich in extraordinary, hidden pieces of cultural heritage. When used coherently and respectfully, they can provide unique opportunities to innovate the cultural offer of a region and position it in a specific niche of cultural tourism, thus improving its specificity and attractions.
#3 Pernik, in central-western Bulgaria, is a post-industrial town facing issues of rapid depopulation due to unemployment and lack of opportunities. Despite not being a famous tourist destination, Pernik is well-known for the International Festival of Masquerade Games, the most important event in the region. It takes place every year on the last weekend of January. Nowadays, more than 100 groups from Bulgaria and other countries, with more than 6000 (up to 9000) masked performers take part in the Festival, while national and foreign media actively cover the events. Each edition attracts approximately 250,000-300,000 visitors. It lasts three days and its core attraction consists of the parade of masquerade groups along the roads of the city centre which, ultimately, culminates in the main square where the stage is set up. Today, the Festival can be considered an umbrella intervention, encompassing both cultural tourism interventions and interventions that, instead, mainly target the local community. For instance, during the month of January, museums, art galleries, and cultural community centres usually put on exhibitions related to the Surova tradition. Here, the local community has an essential and active role in the organization of the Festival-related events and takes action voluntarily to support the organization. Local businesses are also involved. Some of them are willing to make financial donations and give their support to strengthen the event and cooperate in its development. In addition, since 2015, the NGO “Local Heritage” has been working in the field of heritage conservation with the aim to support the Festival through communication and dissemination activities. For instance, in 2019, the same association organized workshops to make traditional Survakari masks and created an interactive website to present the masquerade tradition and the Survakari identity. Of course, the overall intervention had a huge impact on the territory. The arrival of approximately 300,000 visitors generates a positive economic impact and, at the same time, enhances socialization among people from different social, professional, and age groups, strengthening social cohesion. In particular, the Festival offers the opportunity to become more acquainted with the cultural specificities of different regions, contributing to intercultural dialogue. There might also be, to some extent, an impact on socio-demographic trends, due to the increasing number of foreigners settling down in the villages around Pernik, attracted by the Festival and the local cultural heritage. Finally, although the Festival has to improve its strategic vision to preserve the sustainability of the entire event, the constant passion, commitment, and resources invested by local administrative entities and cultural institutions have been decisive for the socio-economic benefits generated by the Festival. Their actions have certainly been inspired by the peculiar participatory approach that allows for a continuous flow of inputs from the local community.