Central Europe is perhaps the best place on this diverse continent to experience nature. The high-altitude areas of Slovenia, Slovakia and other small countries are less urbanised and so national parks can flourish – and even the most developed Central European countries such as Poland and Germany still have protected areas of beautiful natural land.
Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz is at the centre of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony, a free state in Germany. The region is very hilly, with over 1,000 climbing peaks. Crumbling Saxon hilltop castle walls still remain, from when Switzerland bordered three tribes in the Middle Ages. Today it connects onto the Bohemian Switzerland National Park in the Czech Republic, which shares a similar tribal history.
Black Forest National Park, Germany
Cattle, sheep and goats graze in the open heathland of the Black Forest just outside Ruhestein in Southern Germany. Thick fog lingers in the forest, known as “wilder” or “the wilderness”, during the Bavarian winter. The darkness and fallen trees from Hurricane Lothar in 1999 can make walks in the forest seem spooky, but the bountiful fauna, plants and wildlife are professionally conserved all year round.
Hohe Tauer, Austria
The highest mountain in Austria is in Hohe Tauer, The Grossglockner, as well as mountain brooks which sometimes contain traces of gold. The Bearded Vulture is among the native birds. Highly trained rangers lead guided tours along forest trails and teach you everything you could want to know about this rocky park.
Poland is arguably seen as the gateway to Eastern Europe, as it has less of the cultural and political differences that other Eastern countries often have with Central Europe. Wigry is one of eight national parks on Poland’s mountaintop borders. This conservation area, near the border with Lithuania, is a great place to embark on hiking or cycling activities – or explore the wildlife and birdlife in the open forests.
Croatia has some of the most underappreciated natural landscapes in Central Europe. Mljet is a little-known conservation area surrounded by two lakes. The national park is so vast it stretches over many villages in the south-east of the Adriatic Islands. There are clues to the island’s volcanic history, for interested explorers. The islands consist of limestone and dolomite, which form its ridges and slopes, and rock depressions lie below sea level.
Triglav is Slovenia’s most geographically impressive area – it contains the highest mountain and is the only national park in the country. The summit of Mount Triglav is 2864m high and attracts many hardened rock climbers – however Triglav is protected from damage and permits must be granted before mounting an expedition. The view of the Slovenian mountains from the top is a joy to behold. The mountain may be the biggest attraction, but it’s worth noting that various shimmering lakes, complete with interesting local flora and fauna, occupy the lower land of the National Park too.