Bison graze in Poland, polar bears roam the shores of Norway’s Arctic Sea: Europe still has pockets of pristine nature populated by wild animals. All it takes to find them is stamina, patience and some pioneering spirit
ITALY: ROYALTY ON THE ROCKS
ffortlessly scaling steep cliffs, scrambling along precipitous ridges, twisted horns proudly on display, the Alpine ibex is the ruler of Gran Paradiso. The national park in the Aosta Valley was the first of its kind in Italy, founded in 1922 after the royal hunting expeditions had dangerously decimated the ibex population. With a little luck and lots of patience, you may spot marmots and eagles here too. In recent years, even bearded vultures and wolves have returned to the western edge of the Alps.
ICELAND: THE CLOWNS OF THE SEA
Human inhabitants have long since abandoned Papey, and their place has been taken by one of the largest puffin colonies in the world. Around 30 000 pairs live on the small island off the east coast of Iceland. The black-and-white birds may look endearingly clumsy as they waddle along the cliffs, but they are extraordinarily fast in the air and the water. Its remoteness also makes the two-
square-kilometer island a paradise for seabirds and seals. You are only permitted to take the small ferry from Djúpivogur across to Papey if you have booked a tour with a local operator.
SWEDEN: ANTLERS AT DAWN
Awake at last? In Sarek your chances of finding a reindeer outside your tent in the morning are good. The indigenous Sami people breed their herds in the national park, and the animals graze between Lapland’s green valleys and glaciers. There are no wilderness huts here, not even signposted trails, which is probably why the reserve is called “Europe’s last wilderness.” However, the other national parks in northern Sweden, like Abisko or Stora Sjöfallet, could put up some stiff competition for this title.
NORWAY: SEAL SPOTTING
Spitsbergen’s inhabitants have adapted to the icy environment: The bearded seal pictured here slides over the rocks on a thick layer of blubber while Arctic foxes keep warm with a dense, fluffy coat. The group of islands belongs to Norway, but with temperatures as low as minus 30° C, it can feel like the North Pole. Human visitors need plenty of warm clothes to avoid freezing on their snowmobile or dog sled. Enjoy watching blue whales or polar bears – but make sure you travel with a guide to ensure they don’t get too close!
POLAND: ROAMING WITH BISON
Ancient oaks with a circumference of six meters, fir trees as high as houses and babbling brooks: Białowieża is a primeval forest that has been growing without human disturbance for 10 000 years. Wild bison roam the forest, which straddles the border between Poland and Belarus. The area is home to around 500 European bison along with wolves and lynxes, most of them on the Polish side of the border. The undergrowth is also buzzing with rare beetles and reptiles – equally wonderful wildlife, but on a slightly smaller scale.
GREECE: PEAK BEAK
One of the most diverse wetlands in Europe was built by humans: In 1932, close to Kerkini in Greece, the surrounding rivers were dammed to create a lake plus surrounding marshlands. Now, as many as 300 different species of migrating birds stop off here to rest on their journey. The most spectacular are the flamingos and pelicans with their crimson throat pouches. If you explore this man-made lake by boat or on foot, you’ll probably spot otters, foxes and jackals. Even water buffalo have been seen grazing along the shores.
FOUR PRIME WILDLIFE TOURS
On the water
Oikoperiigitis Hotel organizes canoe tours on Lake Kerkini.
Set off on a four-day bison safari with Wild Poland’s expert guides.
Arctic Adventures offers snowmobile tours of the island.
Catch of the day
Fly fishing in crystal-clear rivers with European Safari.