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Alastair Sawday: Being green has transformed Bristol – and visitors love it

Something to Declare

We all know by now, though most of us seem to have forgotten, that flying off on holiday needs a heavy dose of justification. Planes are fuelled in tons, not gallons.

So I am keen on anything that can seduce us into staying at home for our holidays. I’m even beginning to think that staying in, or visiting, Bristol (my adopted home) will one day be a real alternative to going abroad.

British cities are beginning to stir. When, in 2012, I returned from a day in Stoke-on-Trent, I was on a high. I had met nothing but charisma, warmth and surprises – including a pottery tour and an unpretentious lunch with Stoke’s finest. It had been a delightful travel experience.

It was Stoke’s deliciously warm people that I was taken by. So what makes a city attractive to outsiders, travellers and tourists? It appears, from the evidence of Bristol, that green success for a city can make it a more appealing travel destination.

Bristol has won the European Green Capital Award, and the  city has stepped up a gear. Our new mayor, George Ferguson, along with others, is bubbling with ideas and support. Money has been squeezed out of empty coffers; businesses have pitched in; renewable-energy schemes have mushroomed and the tourist office is firing on all cylinders.

We won the award because we have a pulsating community that makes it a great place to live, work and dream in. That’s why the national cycling charity, Sustrans, is here. And its a great place to visit: there’s the Festival of Nature, the Happiness Project, the Balloon festival and dozens of small-scale festivals.

Our street parties are terrific, we are an official Cycling City, new media businesses are bustling, as are hundreds of low-carbon companies. Thousands of devoted citizens pour their energies into community schemes.

Recently, the city has been awash with visitors, many here to spot Aardman Animations’ colourful Gromits, scattered around the city as part of an outdoor exhibition.

Winning the award has reinvigorated the city, giving our mayor a welcome excuse to push harder on real sustainability too. If we get the green policies right, Bristol will be an even better place to live, and to visit: 20mph general limits, a lot of cycling and walking. These things matter.

The winds of change since the award brush the cheeks of us all. At the first of the mayor’s new monthly street closures, Bristolians emerged from wet-weather gloom in thousands – singing, dancing, buying local food, enjoying each other and, yes, smiling. What is more seductive than other people having a good time?

The British travel in their thousands to Spain for its festivals, to soak in the astonishing surprises of Barcelona and Bilbao. We relish the loveliness of Florence and its culture, of Paris and its sheer elegance. But we can do better for ourselves at home, and Bristol is making a start. I believe that our green credentials, and energy, are part of the picture.

Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Bristol – it’s beginning to  sound possible.

Alastair Sawday is founder of Sawday’s, the guide to special places to stay in the UK and  Europe. See sawdays.co.uk