Every European country has natural treasures to explore, but where to begin and what to do? From iconic natural formations to national and regional parks, an ecotourism vacation provides the chance to experience natural settings, observe unique wildlife and support conservation efforts.
The most popular ecotourism vacations follow an Ecotourism Pan-European Route. These five itineraries feature iconic natural heritage sites, national parks and regional parks stretched across multiple countries. The longest is the Nordic Pan-European Route, which stretches 11,500 kilometers. Vast landscapes hold endless chances to boat on the lakes in Finland, cruise the fjords in Norway, and hike the immense forests of Sweden. Sound tiring? Board one of many railways or ferries and take in the landscapes while sitting down.
Hiking in Europe is even more popular than before as more visitors discover awe-inspiring views from the Dolomites, Pyrenees or Portugal’s Serra da Estrela. The sight of a wild chamois while hiking on the slopes of Italy’s Gran Paradiso shows there are more thrills outside a city’s confines. Trek through Lithuania’s Curonian Spit, the highest drifting sand dunes in Europe for an experience in an untouched, breathtaking environment.
Bird-watchers flock to Europe’s natural areas. Finland’s vast forests shelter owls, woodpeckers and grouse. Its lakes host magnificent whooper swans, black-throated divers, red-necked grebes and little gulls. The BirdLife International Partnership links to country-specific sites with extensive information on endangered species, habitats and conservation efforts.
Some of the best protected wilderness areas in Europe are members of the PAN Parks network. These parks work together with local communities to develop sustainable tourism and protect their natural areas. A favorite for tourists, naturalists and scientists alike is The Central Balkan National Park in Bulgaria. Considered one of the largest and most valuable of the protected areas in Europe, visitors can tour centuries-old forests of beech and spruce. Large high-mountain meadows, vertical rock faces, waterfalls and numerous peaks invite hikers and explorers into the great outdoors.
To really experience a rustic lifestyle, Spain, Portugal and Italy offer authentic agritourism experiences. Visitors stay in rural homes, farms, wine estates or ranches while dining on locally grown foods, horseback riding in the countryside, and walking rural trails. Some even learn to cook with local products, or lend a hand in harvesting.
As ecotourism continues to increase in popularity, consider the adventure of this responsible form of travel that promotes Europe’s natural surroundings and preserves local ways of life.