Τετάρτη, 31 Αυγούστου 2011

Ten of the best...European national parks.

 
From the volcanic caldera of Mount Teide to the craggy tors of Dartmoor, Europe’s national parks combine stunning scenery with wonderful flora and fauna. Ruth Styles rounds up ten of the best.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN], there are a staggering 113,000 national parks worldwide, which cover approximately six per cent of the Earth’s surface – an area larger than all the cultivated land in the world put together. In Europe, there are 359 national parks, including 10 in England, three in Scotland and three in Wales. Although the UK has maintained national parks since the 1950s, the USA was the first to start a national park scheme with the opening of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The first British park was the Peak District in 1951 and followed the same year by the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor. In all national parks, whether Uganda’s mountainous Bwindi National Park or the UK’s Lake District, conservation and the environment are the top priority. As Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General says: ‘protected areas are not a luxury and their value lies outside the economy.’ From providing wildlife with a safe haven to preserving ancient landscapes, national parks play a key role in preserving our natural heritage. Whether you’re looking for a spot of wildlife watching or just a chance to kick back and soak up the view in some of the planet’s most beautiful spots, Europe’s national parks are the ultimate green destination.

Dartmoor National Park, UK
One of the UK’s smaller national parks, Dartmoor’s asperous heathland has been protected since 1951 and is home to around 3,000 free-roaming ponies. A rare patch of true English wilderness, the moor’s acidic soil supports beautiful patches of mauve heather, fruit-bearing bilberry bushes and clumps of gorse whose sun-coloured flowers bring a splash of brightness to the park in summer. The 23 conservation sites on Dartmoor include blanket bogs, ancient woodland and patches of heathland, and support rare fauna including the dormouse plus birds such as the golden plover. Away from the wild areas, the moor is also home to a number of picturesque villages including Widecombe in the Moor whose pretty Rugglestone Inn serves up hearty fare based on locally sourced ingredients.

Where to stay: Located just outside of the Dartmoor village of Liverton, the prettily-named Gorse Flower Farm is home to the Yurt Camp – an eco-friendly collection of fully-furnished tents. Yurts sleep between two and six people each. www.yurtcamp.co.uk

Get there: Southwest Trains run an hourly service to Newton Abbot on the edge of the moor from London Waterloo. Once there, the Transmoor Link bus plies a semi-regular route from Exeter to Plymouth that takes in part of the moor.

For more information, go to www.visitdevon.co.uk

Saxony Switzerland National Park, Germany
Despite the name, the Saxony Switzerland National Park is located in the heart of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains on the German border with the Czech Republic. Only 40 kilometres from Dresden, the craggy gorges and fissured heights of the park are almost completely covered with forests and provide a habitat for rare wildlife including a number of species left over from the Ice Age. Lynx, otters and kingfishers can also be spotted in the woodlands and along the banks of the Elbe River or on the outskirts of the pretty town of Bad Schandau. Elsewhere, the park has over 700 summits, including the majestic Lilienstein (415m) and the Königstein, which is home to a mediaeval town and a striking mountaintop fortress.

Where to stay: Located in the centre of Bad Schandau and overlooking the river Elbe, Hotel Helvetia is the first ‘bio-hotel’ in Saxony Switzerland and runs on eco-friendly lines including a 100 per cent organic guarantee for food and the use of renewable energy sources. The light, bright rooms are furnished with eco-friendly textiles and bathrooms are stocked with a selection of gorgeous, green beauty products. www.hotelhelvetia.de

Get there: Take the Eurostar to Paris, then head to the Gare de l’Est for the overnight sleeper to Berlin. From Berlin, catch the EuroCity train to Bad Schandau. Once there, the 40 per cent solar powered Kirnitzschtalbahn – the only tram in the world that serves a national park – runs along an eight-kilometre stretch from Bad Schandau to the stunning Lichtenhainer Waterfall.

For more information, go to www.saechsische-schweiz.de

Vysoke Tatry National Park, Slovakia
Vysoke Tatry or High Tatras National Park is one of the last places in the world where you can, if you’re lucky, spot the mountain chamois – a critically endangered species of antelope. Along with the chamois, the park is home to a colony of marmots along with European brown bears and a wealth of bird life. High Tatras is also home to Slovakia’s highest mountain, Gerlachovský štít, whose gaunt, snow-capped peak towers 2,655 metres above the pretty Velická Dolina valley, where you’ll find the 15-metre high Velický Vodopád waterfall. Štrbské Pleso with its large glacial mountain lake is the starting point for many the walking routes leading up to the glorious Kriváň peak; one of the symbols of Slovakia.

Where to stay: Dedicated eco-hotels are few and far between in Slovakia, so international hotel chains with a decent record of dealing with green issues are your best bet. The Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras is located in a pretty, old-fashioned chalet and has comfortable rooms with views over the lake. www.kempinski.com/hightatras

Get there: Taking the train to Bratislava is a bit of a palaver but takes in some of central Europe’s prettiest views. From Paris, take the sleeper train to Munich from the Gare de l’Est. From Munich, catch the RailJet train to Vienna, then transfer to Südbahnhof station for the intercontinental train to Bratislava. Once there, catch the train to Poprad and switch to the Tatra Express which takes you direct to Štrbské Pleso.

For more information, go to www.slovakia.travel
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