Europe’s Best National Parks

The Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, Italy

Photo by E. Vettorazzo

Photo by E. Vettorazzo

The Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park (in Italian: Parco nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi) is a national park in the province of Belluno, Veneto, in the northern Italy. It has an area of 32 square kilometres (12 sq mi), entirely included in the province of Belluno, between the Cismon river and the Piave river, the Maè valley and the Agordo valley.

Established in 1988, the national park is included in the section “Pale di San Martino – San Lucano – Dolomiti Bellunesi – Vette Feltrine” of the Dolomites declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2009.

Mountain ranges
The national park includes mountain rages of Alpi Feltrine (Vette di Feltre, Cimonega, Pizzocco, Brendol, Agnelezze), Monti del Sole, Schiara, Talvena, Prampèr, and Spiz di Mezzodì. There are high-altitude areas, karst rocks, and debris slopes, ideal habitat for high-mountain species.

Rivers and streams
The territory of the national park, except for some high-altitude karst areas, is extremely rich in water resources, like springs, swamps and streams including: Cordevole, Mis, Caorame, Stien (Caorame tributary), Falcina (Mis tributary), Ardo, Vescovà , Prampera (Maè tributary), that improve the biological richness of the Park. Some of these streams flow into deep canyons, and all are subject to variation.

The national park includes 15 municipalities: Belluno, Cesiomaggiore, Feltre, Gosaldo, La Valle Agordina, Longarone, Pedavena, Ponte nelle Alpi, Rivamonte, San Gregorio nelle Alpi, Santa Giustina (Italia), Sedico, Sospirolo, Sovramonte, and Val di Zoldo.

The flora of Bellunesi Dolomites is composed by rhododendron, Carduus, edelweiss, and other alpine plants. There are broad-leaved tree and pine forests, pastures and alpine meadows.

The national park hosts a big alpine biodiversity. Among the most important species are:

  • Mammals: Marmot, Stoat, Marten, Roe deer, Chamois, Red deer, Mouflon
  • Bats: Greater mouse-eared bat, Common pipistrelle, Grey long-eared bat, Brown long-eared bat, Daubenton’s bat
  • Birds: Black woodpecker, Wallcreeper, Northern goshawk, Kestrel, Golden eagle, Eurasian pygmy owl, Boreal owl, Tawny owl, Eurasian eagle-owl, Hazel grouse, Western capercaillie, Black grouse, Rock ptarmigan, Rock partridge, Hoopoe, Corvidae, Tit, Corn crake, Black redstart, White-winged snowfinch, Northern wheatear
  • Reptiles and amphibians: Alpine newt, Italian crested newt, Fire salamander, Alpine salamander, Yellow-bellied toad, Common toad, Mountain frog, European green toad, Vipera ammodytes

For more information: Official Site

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

The Durmitor is a massif that gave its name to the national park which is located at wide mountain region in North West of Montenegro, limited by Rivers Piva and Tara between which there are 23 mountain tops over 2,300 meters of altitude. Park is 39,000 acres large and includes 82 kilometers of canyon of the Tara with altitude of 1,600 meters above level of the River. The office of the park is in Zabljak. in northwestern Montenegro. The highest peak, Bobotov Kuk, reaches a height of 2,523 meters.

The massif is limited by the Tara River Canyon on the north, the Piva River Canyon on the west, and by the Komarnica River Canyon on the south. To the east, the Durmitor opens to a 1,500 m (4,921 ft) high plateau, called Jezerska Površ (Plateau of Lakes). The Sinjavina mountain is located to the east of Jezerska Površ plateau.

The Durmitor mountain range is for the most part located in Žabljak municipality.

Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal

The Peneda-Gerês National Park, also known simply as Gerês, is the only national park in Portugal (although many natural parks, protected landscapes, and reserves exist across the nation). It is located in the Norte region, in the northwest of Portugal, specifically in the districts of Viana do Castelo, Braga, and Vila Real.

The park was created on 8 May 1971 due to its national and international scientific interest, with the aim to protect the soil, water, flora, fauna, and landscape, while preserving its value to the existent human and natural resources. Education and tourism are also goals of the park.

Hortobágy National Park, Hungary

Hortobágy is an 800 km2 national park in eastern Hungary, rich with folklore and cultural history. The park, a part of the Alföld (Great Plain), was designated as a national park in 1973 (the first in Hungary), and elected among the World Heritage sites in 1999. The Hortobágy is Hungary’s largest protected area, and the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe.

Until recently it was believed that this alkaline steppe was formed by the clear cutting of huge forests in the Middle Ages, followed by measures to control the course of the Tisza River, allegedly resulting in the soil’s current structure and pH. However, Hortobágy is much older, with alkalinization estimated to have started ten thousand years ago, when the Tisza first found its way through the Great Hungarian Plain, cutting off many streams from their sources in the Northern Mountains. The formation was finished by grazing animals and wild horses during the Ice Age, followed by domesticated animals.

One of its most iconic sites is the Nine-holed Bridge. Traditional T-shaped sweep wells dot the landscape, as well as the occasional mirage of trees shimmering in the reflected heat of the Puszta. Part of the national park is a dark sky preserve.

Hortobágy has also had negative connotations. Hortobágy was a place where Hungarian Stalinists sent their political opponents to work in forced labour, especially after the Resolution of Informbiro (Cominform or Communist Information Bureau). In much the same way as prison Goli otok functioned in Tito’s Yugoslavia and Bărăgan in Romania.

Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Vatnajökull National Park is one of three national parks in Iceland. It encompasses all of Vatnajökull glacier and extensive surrounding areas. These include the national parks previously existing at Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north.

The unique qualities of Vatnajökull National Park are primarily its great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity.

Vatnajökull is Europe’s largest glacier outside the arctic, with a surface area of 8,100 km2. Generally measuring 400–600 m in thickness and at the most 950 m, the glacial ice conceals a number of mountains, valleys and plateaus. It even hides some active central volcanoes, of which Bárðarbunga is the largest and Grímsvötn the most active. While the icecap rises at its highest to over 2,000 m above sea level, the glacier base reaches its lowest point 300 m below sea level. Nowhere in Iceland, with the exception of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, does more precipitation fall or more water drain to the sea than on the south side of Vatnajökull. In fact, so much water is currently stored in Vatnajökull that the Icelandic river with the greatest flow, Ölfusá, would need over 200 years to carry this quantity of water to sea.

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park is a national park in Norway that encompasses the largest glacier on the European mainland, Jostedalsbreen. The park was established by royal decree on 25 October 1991, and then in 1998, it was enlarged to the northwest. The park now covers 1,310 square kilometres (510 sq mi), with the glaciers covering about 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi) of the park.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a national park along the Pembrokeshire coast in west Wales.
It was established as a National Park in 1952, and is the only one in the United Kingdom to have been designated primarily because of its spectacular coastline. It is one of three National Parks in Wales, the others being the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia.
The National Park has a varied landscape of rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, wooded estuaries and wild inland hills, covering a total area of 629 km2 (243 sq mi). It falls into four distinct sections. Running clockwise around the coast, these are the south Pembrokeshire coast, including Caldey Island; the Daugleddau estuary; the St Bride’s Bay coast, including the coastal islands; and the Preseli Hills. However, not all of the park is coastal, and there are even forests and marshes on the edges of the park.

Vikos-Aoös National Park, Greece

The Vikos–Aoös National Park (Greek: Εθνικός Δρυμός Βίκου–Αώου Ethnikós Drymós Víkou–Aóou) is a national park in the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece. The park, founded in 1973, is one of ten national parks in mainland Greece and is located 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of the city of Ioannina in the northern part of the Pindus mountain range. It is named after the two major gorges of the area and encompasses 12,600 hectares (31,135 acres) of mountainous terrain, with numerous rivers, lakes, caves, deep canyons, dense coniferous and deciduous forest. The park is part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and one of UNESCO Geoparks and spans an elevation range from 550 to 2,497 meters (1,804 to 8,192 ft). Over 100,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including rafting, canoe-kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.

The core of the park, an area of 3,400 hectares (8,402 acres), comprises the spectacular Vikos Gorge, carved by the Voidomatis river. The gorge’s main part is 12 km (7 mi) long and attains a depth of 1,000 meters (3,300 ft). The Aoös gorge, mount Tymfi (2,497 meters (8,192 ft) at Gamila peak), and a number of traditionally preserved settlements form the park’s peripheral zone. The park’s remoteness and relatively small human population, combined with the great variation of biotopes and microclimatic conditions favors the existence of a rich variety of flora (1,800 species) in the area. Vikos–Aoös National Park supports a wide diversity of fauna, with a plethora of large mammals such as the brown bear, for which the park is one of the last European strongholds, and a variety of natural habitats and ecosystems that rank it among the most valuable parks for nature conservation in Greece.

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