The thing with city maps, the kind you pick up free at the tourist kiosks, is you can never trust ‘em. The walking routes always take you through the shopping district and the recommended eateries are always, coincidentally, steak joints run by the biggest advertisers.
But the map in my hands is different. It’s the Montréal MapGuide, published by the National Geographic Society’s “geotourism” arm this past June, and it works differently. No flack from the chamber of commerce choosing the sites, stops, shops, tips and points of interest; the people of Montréal, QC, did, by write-in nomination.
It’s the kind of “Wiki” approach to telling visitors what’s great about the city. And it turns out that Montréalers have enough taste and sophistication that what they think is great is usually pretty green, too. Parks, art museums, organic bistros, bike paths along the canal, nightclubs in refurbished old pieces of civic history.
Green is what geotourism is all about. Check that: green is partly what it’s about. True, geotourism is about sustainable travel—places you can visit in good conscience, because they were designed with a nod to future inhabitants seven generations down the line. So the places that bear the NatGeo geotourism stamp of approval are usually wild, pristine redoubts: you’re not gonna hear traffic, you’re not gonna have power lines in your photographs or PCBs in your drinking water. (Case in point: the “Crown of the Continent,” a border-straddling region just a few hundred miles from the 2010 Winter Games site.)
But the true bottom line is, ecotourism is about local character and even soul. Ecotourism destinations say: This place is unique—and we aim to keep it that way.
When Montréal became the first city to sign the Geotourism Charter, receiving NatGeo’s official geotourism-destination designation, it was an easy choice. Look: the two cultures cheek-by-jowl, the European-style elegance, the multicultural tolerance, folks on BIXI bikes—or on foot in one of the countless walkable neighbourhoods. All this and smoked-meat sandwiches to make you turn pale and face east. The MapGuide just points out what folks around here already know: Montréal is a city that understands what great cities were, are—and need to be, going forward.