In addition to the exciting cultural centres, Europe also has many destinations to offer for nature lovers. Off the beaten tourist track, you can still experience a real outdoor adventure. We have compiled a list of some of the most beautiful destinations.
If you are looking for unspoilt nature, you do not necessarily have to travel to exotic and distant countries. In the neighbouring regions of Europe, too, there are many opportunities for outdoor activities away from civilisation.
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The most important information about nature holidays in Europe
Unspoilt nature is often subject to special protection, especially in Europe. In order to preserve the pristine nature, the corresponding areas are often designated as nature reserves, national parks, reserves or protected areas.
There are around 90 different protection categories for natural areas worth preserving in Europe alone. Depending on the protection status and type of area, different strict rules of conduct apply. For example, different rules apply to sporting activities on the water than in the forest. In the latter, for example, the avoidance of fire risks plays an important role.
However, if you stick to a few rules, you are always on the safe side:
- Everyone should always behave in nature in such a way that the environment and its natural inhabitants are not disturbed as far as possible. When hiking, it is important to respect the retreats of animals and to stay on designated trails.
- After the visit, everything should be left in its original condition. Taking your own rubbish with you should be a matter of course.
- A popular rule is: "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures".
- Special instructions, regulations or warnings should be respected and followed in any case. Failure to do so may result in severe penalties.
Those planning a real outdoor adventure often want to spend the night directly in nature. Here, too, there are precise regulations on wild camping in the individual countries that should be observed.
If you want to feed on indigenous plants during the tour, make sure you have the necessary expertise. You must know mushrooms and berries well and know that they are edible on the one hand and not protected on the other. When fishing, it is also important to take into account the respective country's regulations.
Some areas are considered at risk for rabies or tick-borne diseases. It is therefore essential to find out in advance whether additional vaccinations are advisable.
Douro Valley: Cross-border National Park
With these important details, outdoor enthusiasts can now start planning their holiday. The first insider tip is a national park that stretches across the Spanish-Portuguese border on both sides of the Douro River.
On both sides of the border river, gentle hills give way to a steeper and rockier landscape. Near villages, the slopes are sometimes terraced and are mainly used for viticulture. Further away from civilisation, the area is even more unspoilt. In the sections with rugged mountain slopes on the banks, the Douro then meanders as if through a wild canyon.
The nature reserve is divided into two parts:
- Parque Natural de Arribes del Duero: On the Spanish side, the nature park covers an area of 106,105 hectares about 80 kilometres along the river. Since 1990, the region has also been a European bird sanctuary.
- Parque Natural do Douro Internacional: The Portuguese part of the national park covers 85,150 hectares and stretches along the other bank of the river.
In the rugged rocks and gorges of the region's relief, there are many opportunities for hiking or climbing tours. Mountain biking, canyoning or canoeing are also possible.
The area is very sparsely populated and many tourists have not yet discovered the idyllic landscape. The best conditions, therefore, for a pristine nature experience. After all, there are some special highlights to discover there.
On both the Spanish and Portuguese sides of the river, there are viewpoints and platforms that offer fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding landscape:
- Cachón del Camaces: Viewing platform of a wild waterfall
- Majada La Arena, Mirador de Las Janas: Viewpoints in the hinterland of the southern park in the Spanish part
- Miradouro do Carrascalinho, Mirador dela Peña del Águila: In the middle part of the river in the protected area, the riverbank cliffs are particularly steep
The northern part of the park in particular can already boast a few metres of altitude. In winter, there can therefore also be snow there. Then, instead of the summer trekking tours, hikes with snowshoes are also possible. A good starting point is the adventure sports centre Zamora Natural near the Spanish village of Pino del Oro.
The North of Finland: Mythical Nature in Winter
Those who also like to be outdoors in winter and are looking for a change from the usual sports in the ski resorts will certainly find what they are looking for in Lapland. While the extensive water areas in the land of a thousand lakes tend to extend across the south, the north has its very own scenic highlights to offer.
The likelihood of seeing the magical Northern Lights here is very high - especially in winter. In the cold season, it's fresh outside even for hardy outdoor campers. That's why Riisitunturi National Park is a recommended destination. There are various accommodation options here that are suitable for a successful nature holiday.
The wilderness area is located about 60 kilometres northwest of the city of Kuusamo and about the same distance from the Russian border to the east. The national park is "only" 7,700 hectares in size, but still offers plenty of variety for winter activities:
- Cross-country skiing
- Dog sledding
Always impressive is the mythical and often bizarre landscape in the Finnish winter with the special light moods of the low sun. There are also other highlights in Lapland.
About 60 kilometres west of Riisitunturi National Park lies a unique spot in the middle of a rugged valley. In the centre are several frozen waterfalls that not only make a spectacular sight, but are also suitable for ice climbing. There are also various hiking and trekking trails all around.
This place in the far northwest of the country is the only Arctic village in Finland. It is close to the Malla Nature Reserve and offers encounters with moose in the warm season as well as glimpses of the short but spectacular summer amidst the unique fauna.
Hiking in the Bulgarian Pirin Mountains
For many people, Eastern Europe is still a blank spot on their tourist map, but there is a lot to discover for fans of outdoor holidays. In addition to Montenegro as a hiking region, we have already presented the worthwhile Derdap National Park in Serbia and the Iron Gate Nature Park in Romania.
A good starting point for hikes is the town of Melnik - located about 180 kilometres south of the capital Sofia and about 25 kilometres north of the Greek border. An impressive backdrop for the mostly historic houses is provided by the so-called Pyramids of Melnik - a special sandstone formation that formed as a foothill of the Pirin Mountains.
The region on and around the mountain has been designated as a national park for several years and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The protected area covers an area of 26,490 hectares. Although the area is well developed for tourism and there are numerous huts as places to go on hikes or other outdoor activities, you are often alone there on excursions into nature.
Varied routes lead through narrow, rocky valleys along rivers up to the higher altitudes. Highlights are small waterfalls in the mountain waters, which are also suitable for swimming, or the narrow paths between the craggy sandstone rocks.
If you are also a little interested in culture besides the beautiful nature, you should not miss the various monasteries in the region:
- Rozhen Monastery: 7 kilometres and about an hour and a half walk from Melnik lies this impressive 16th century Rozhen mon astery complex, one of the most beautiful and oldest Orthodox monastery complexes in the country.
- Rila Monastery: The Rila Mon astery is located in the neighbouring Rila Mountains about 120 kilometres north of Melnik and with its richly decorated walls is almost more worth seeing than the Rozhen Monastery. It is also a UNESCO cultural heritage site.