‘A water world teeming with wildlife’: readers’ favourite national parks in Europe

‘A water world teeming with wildlife’: readers’ favourite national parks in Europe

Suddenly the Polish sky was filled with cranes

One of the most incredible bird scenes in Europe took place as I hiked through the Bielawa nature reserve in northern Poland, about 40 miles north of Gdansk. I had left the village of Sławoszyno via a dirt track and was heading towards Kłanino, the open countryside and fields disappearing from my sight as the hedgerows grew taller either side of me. As I stepped forward, a gap appeared in the hedge and in front of my eyes a flock of nearly 100 cranes, which had been silent, took off across the field, honking with their red-tinged heads and faces, and feathery wing feathers flapping. I could almost touch them. The 19,000-hectare (47,000-acre) park is a mix of forest, wetland and coast.


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A true wilderness in Georgia

Our reader, Penny, found visiting Tusheti was like being transported to a lost era. Photograph: Georg Berg/Alamy

Tusheti national park in Georgia transports you to a lost era. A hair-raising journey over the twists, turns and sheer drops of the 2,830-metre Albano Pass delivers you into a wild, beautiful landscape with the Caucasus mountains as your backdrop. Stay in off-the-grid guesthouses with showers heated by wood-burners; homemade cheese for breakfast hosted by hardy people shaped by their rugged landscape. Walking trails wind along deserted valleys and up over the mountains. In the absence of roads, horses transport luggage and walkers just have the clean, crisp air and roaring rivers for company. This is a remote, beautiful world.

Wolves and waterfalls in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes is the largest national park in Croatia. Photograph: blickwinkel/Alamy

Imagine 16 interconnected lakes, surrounded by pristine forest teeming with wildlife and leading down to impressive waterfalls. I spent a day wandering this magical place. Plitvice Lakes is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia (at more than 30,000 hectares) and a Unesco world heritage site. You can explore marked trails ranging from two to eight hours. The park is open during hours of daylight. At night the park returns to the lynx, wolves, bears, snakes, bats and owls that call it home.
Susanna C

Hike to Corsica’s high-altitude lake

A view of Lac de Nino, which is on the well known GR20 path through Corsica’s mountains. Photograph: joningall/Getty Images

The Parc naturel régional de Corse has stunning scenery. The best way to explore it is on the hike to Lac de Nino, among Corsica’s highest lakes at 1,743 metres. You start by ascending through forest of Corsican pines, where you might be lucky enough to see the endemic Corsican nuthatch, before you clear the treeline and are surrounded by granite mountain tops. After a scree scramble you reach the lake, where mouflon (a feral subspecies of domestic sheep) graze the marshy grasses. B&B L’Auberge des Deux Sorru (doubles from €75) is a great base to explore from.
Rob Dalziel

An avian paradise on the coast of Greece

Flamingos in the wetlands of Mesolongi. Photograph: ivotheeditors/Getty Images

With a day spare in Mesolongi, western Greece, and realising we were in the coastal nature paradise of the Ethniko Parko limnothalasson Mesolongiou-Aitolikou, we booked a bird expert, Spyros Skareas, from Greece Bird Tours, to help us get the most out of a day tour. Spyros arrived at 8am in a battered car that turned out to be a mobile bird hide. Whenever we stopped, windows wide open, the birds did not move as long as we didn’t open the car doors. More than 70 birds, including two griffon vultures, endangered dalmatian pelicans (one of the world’s largest freshwater birds), flamingos, avocets and many more delighted. A stunning day. At 6.30pm we departed exhausted but ecstatic.
Sarah Ackroyd

In Slovakia we were surrounded by ground squirrels

Muránska planina national park has more than 200 miles of hiking trails. Photograph: jarino47/Getty Images

We stumbled on the Muránska planina national park in central Slovakia by accident while stopping at a bakery for fluffy buns. We turned off the main road close to the village of Muráň, parked, then set off across a rolling grass meadow that is home to a colony of about 1,000 ground squirrels running in and out of their burrows in the hope of being fed. The park is huge, at more than 21,000 hectares with 200 miles of hiking trails and is mostly forested karst scenery. The squirrels were adorable (although we didn’t share our buns).

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A walk in the Black Forest, Germany

Gengenbach proved a great base for exploring the Schwarzwald for our reader. Photograph: emicristea/Getty Images

The Schwarzwald has much more going for it than gateau. We spent a glorious two-week Easter break in sleepy medieval Gengenbach village, 25 miles south-east of Strasbourg. Our Airbnb overlooked lawns sprouting spring flowers and had a balcony from where we could enjoy the views and birdsong. We spent our days hiking in the forests spotting wild boar and woodpeckers. We rode our bikes through fields of flowers and returned to refuel in the evening at beautiful restaurants. A guest card available to all tourists who pay the visitor tax gave us free train travel throughout more than 2,000 square miles of forested hills. We used this for day trips to Strasbourg and the spa town of Baden-Baden. A perfect trip.

A dive into Iceland’s geology and history

Visitors can scuba dive the Davíðsgjá and Silfra fissures in Lake Thingvellir, where two tectonic plates are pulling apart. Photograph: WaterFrame/Alamy

The Thingvellir national park, 30 miles east of Reykjavík, was my favourite stop along the Golden Circle route. This Unesco world heritage site was the chosen place for one of the world’s oldest “democratic” parliaments – Althing. Local clans found a natural amphitheatre perfect for public speaking, including the high rock wall of Lögberg (Law Rock). The park is fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in geology: here the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of two centimetres a year, creating a rift valley. There are crevasses visible in the Almannagjá canyon. The Silfra fissure is one of the top sites in the world for snorkellers and scuba divers. We saw the northern lights from here, which was awe-inspiring. We stayed in Flúðir (25 miles away).

A rugged corner of Andalucía, Spain

Sierras Subbéticas natural park is between Córdoba and Granada and full of ruins from antiquity. Photograph: Pavel Dudek/Alamy

The Sierras Subbéticas national park in Andalucía is a little off the beaten track. Between Córdoba and Granada it fits easily into a trip taking in the two cities. There are no permits or charges for this 32,000-hectare park. You can wander for hours without seeing another (human) soul, but can see vultures, eagles and other raptors, and if you’re lucky (as we were one early morning) wild boar. In spring the mountains are alive with wildflowers. Bronze age and Roman hill forts can be seen, and we’ve found a few fossils on the hillsides. Paths, often old drovers’ trails and olive farmers’ tracks, can be clear and level or more challenging so it’s crucial to take directions before you set off. Stay at Casa Olea (doubles from €136 B&B) on the edge of the park: the co-owners Tim and Claire are a fount of local knowledge: they will make you a packed lunch and you can hire mountain bikes. Return to a delicious dinner and watch the bats and owls from the terrace under the stars.
Stephanie O’Brien

Winning tip: glacial lakes in Montenegro

The lakes of Durmitor look inviting to swim in but are extremely cold, our tipster recalls. Photograph: Alamy

Durmitor national park can often be overlooked by tourists visiting the Bay of Kotor and the coast. We stayed at the Mlinski Potok campsite, which has views of the Dinaric Alps and is just a short walk from the town of Žabljak on the edge of the park. The drive up narrow winding roads took us to a craggy landscape and along the edges of deep gorges. Exploring the area revealed excellent walks and beautiful blue-green glacial lakes, tempting to swim in but so cold!

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