NPE is the first ever digital overview of all national parks on the European continent. The website will be expanded until every national park is represented. The accessible overview and inspiring stories promote sustainable tourism and nature management. Visitors are given all the tools they need to go and discover things for themselves with the ‘DIY-adventures’. “Because you really don’t have to fly to Thailand or South America to discover a whole new world.”
How did you get the idea to create a website of all the European national parks?
At first I wanted to write a book. But that’s so final. You work on it for years, until you have all the pieces of the puzzle, and then it’s there. Online, your stories can live and evolve more. You can get to work on it faster, but also let it live much longer. You can also really build a community online and start conversations with your audience. And of course there’s a big added value in that.
Absolutely! Why the idea of limiting yourself to Europe?
I lived in Bolivia for two years, studied in Wallonia, traveled to Mauritania, Iran, Thailand, Congo, Brazil, Jordan, Peru, Rwanda… Every year I was away at least three times. But in the end, I didn’t care about the local cuisine, the metropolises or the big resorts; I only felt truly relaxed when I could immerse myself in nature. Slowly the realization dawned that I certainly didn’t need to travel thousands of miles for that.
How did you become interested in such outdoor travel?
As a kid, I always thought it was absurd that some classmates didn’t have bone nails. That they went hiking in rubber boots or the straps on their backpacks were crooked.
In those – very traditional – scouts, I learned to read maps, recognize trees, build campfires (and ovens), lash and cut… It was a group where great value was placed on those skills. Now I’m still better at making fire than my sweethearts. (Laughs)
After my time as a scout, the bone nails were put back in the closet and the straps on the backpack were slightly crooked.
I really got into the outdoor lifestyle quite late. Sure, I already traveled a lot. And I sometimes retreated into nature. But I also went to museums and cult cinemas or explored a city for a weekend.
Do those cultural trips appeal to you less now?
The last 5 years I worked for the Vranckx editors at VRT. I worked hard, and a lot. And many of the images we received were anything but pleasant to look at. Traveling far was my escape from that daily stress, but those museums, cult cinemas and exotic cities lost the power to completely re-energize me. Only when I could see nothing but trees, or dunes, or water all around me did my batteries recharge.
Reasonably coincidentally, I did a road trip with my sweetheart a few years ago. I wanted to get away again – needed to get away – from the city and the grind. He didn’t want to go too far, and not too expensive. My only requirement was to see waterfalls. We ended up driving through Germany all the way to Slovakia. We visited 3 national parks and there I came to rest. Since then I have been completely sold.
And now you pour this information into beautifully packaged ‘adventures’?
The best thing of course is to go into nature alone or with friends, without having to worry too much about difficult preparations. You don’t want to be stuck with a group of strangers or have to go with a guide, but you also don’t want to get lost. We provide routes that users can use very simply, along with additional information from travelers who have done the route themselves. That also makes it much more personal than a travel guide.
And then there’s that soon-to-be huge list of national parks. How many parks do you need to visit before your list is complete?
Europe has an incredible number of parks! If we don’t count countries like Turkey and Russia, for example, which are partly on the European continent, we now count 421.
You have everything: tiny islands, vast fields, dense forests and high mountains.
Plenty of choice! What was your best personal experience so far?
Without a doubt, Slovak Paradise. My time there was way too short so I hope to get there again soon. In Biogradska Gora, in Montenegro, I did a three-day hike along all kinds of small, inhabited mountain huts. Those encounters, in that wonderful setting, are unforgettable. See, now I still have my doubts. And I have never seen such a surprising landscape as the views of Lake Skadar. Now I’m going to stop daydreaming. Although I also want to return to the fantastic Saxon Switzerland….
National Parks of Europe Logo graphic design typography artist
What were you looking for in a graphic partner for this project?
This project is really my baby, as they sometimes say. And you’re protective of children. And insecure. Moreover, you don’t know how they will evolve. So for me it was especially important to find someone with whom I felt comfortable. Someone who finds the connection with nature and adventure equally important. With Sander, I never had to explain or justify my choices or subjects. This allowed us to focus all our attention on how best to present the project to the world. Moreover, his enthusiasm for the project was really contagious. Impossible to get discouraged, then!
Do you think the right branding is an important part of your project?
Design really plays a big role. On the one hand, we want the design to convey the arena a little bit: through the colors and the style, we are really taken to nature. But it is equally important to be approachable and reliable, without losing our sense of fun and adventure.