After a forced period of time indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) of Valongo (Portugal) has found a silver lining in the shape of the return to nature. The city has observed an exponential increase in the usage of the municipal natural spaces in recent months. This has thrown new challenges and opportunities to the Valongo Municipality which is working on its Green and digital transition in tourism as part of its ICC adventure. 

This increase in demand for natural spaces brings challenges regarding sustainability, security, maintenance and access to information. Large parts of Valongo’s green areas are located in mountains which are protected under sensitive conservation status and have many hidden dangers. There are many remote areas which are dangerous for visitors who are unfamiliar with the area.  

To counter these challenges, the Municipality decided to invest in special routes designed to regulate use, protect nature and avoid dangers. The newly created routes take into account all types of activities from cycling to trail running to horse riding. Other routes are intended for pedestrians and trekking. Each of these routes were carefully crafted to ensure they are interesting enough for users while minimising the impact on the local habitat and species. By providing designated routes, the Municipality also ensures the safety of those exploring and enjoying nature.  

The latest developed route is called “Valongo Contemplation Circuit” which is a pedestrian circuit of approximately 30 kilometres and offers visitors the possibility to rest, enjoy the landscape and magnificent views over the Porto area and to record their passage through this territory. Visitors can also take advantage of three swings and Roman thrones placed on top of the mountains. This natural bliss can be found only 10 minutes away from the city centre of Porto.  

Valongo quickly realised that their ICC participation could help them to tackle these new challenges. Therefore, they have used the ICC framework to enable the monitoring of environmental variables and usage of the routes to develop new information and educational materials for the users of these routes. This monitoring hopes to help to regulate usage, monitor the human impact in the environment, protect users and ensure their safety. Further, having this contextual geographical information will create unique visitor experiences that will support future developments and also facilitate accessibility for disabled people (especially the visually impaired). The project is being developed with a strong community of stakeholders who involved in the design and implementation process. 

Valongo’s desire to improve its natural infrastructures does not stop with the creation of new routes. Inspired by the momentum gained through the ICC project, the Municipality has another project in the pipeline - a wooden stairway connecting the city centre to the highest mountain in the area. This will permit people to easily access this panoramic spot in a secure, fast and sustainable way. 

Valongo’s accomplishments and ideas provide inspiration to other ICC cities focusing on green transitions in tourism and economy.