Top 10 National Parks
Many of our walking holidays explore regional or national parks, areas protected because of their great natural beauty or rich flora and fauna.
Some of our Top 10 National Parks are wild and remote-feeling, others are easy to access yet nevertheless shelter a variety of wildlife, but all will amaze you with their often unusual landscapes.
North York Moors National Park, Britain
With so many of our staff living right by the park (our office is only a 25-minute drive away), this had to front our Top 10 National Parks. The expanses of open moorland – at their best in August, when the heather is in bloom – are, of course, just part of the story: there are also tranquil wooded valleys, pretty stone villages, huge forests, historic abbeys and a rugged coastline peppered with tiny fishing ports. Our North Yorkshire Villages
walk is perfect for a long weekend in the park.
Swiss National Park, Switzerland
Established in 1914, this was one of the first national parks in Europe, and – somewhat surprisingly given the country’s majestic mountain scenery – remains the only one in Switzerland. It is a haven for a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, chamois and ibex on the ground, and golden eagles and bearded vultures in the air. The second day’s route on the Villages of the Engadine
walk takes you through the park, with further opportunities to explore it on days three and four.
Madonie Regional Park, Italy
Although Sicily’s Madonie Mountains
are home to some impressive wildlife – peregrine falcons and golden eagles are among the birds which roam the skies – its fauna is even more remarkable. Amid the dense woodland of beech, holly and oak are stands of the endemic Nebrodi fir, which have survived unchanged for 10,000 years in the Valley of Angels, and 300-year-old gigantic holly trees which are not found in such number in any other part of Europe. Rare flowers include endemic violets and the tulip silvestre.
Teide National Park, Spain
The Teide National Park
in the centre of Tenerife is important in that it incorporates Spain’s highest peak, El Teide (3,718 metres). The park’s volcanic, desert-like landscapes – coloured red, brown, yellow and ochre – boast a stark beauty, and the views over the island are astonishing. The park is also home to a wide variety of plants, fifty of which are endemic to the Canary Islands, including the Teide violet. High above, Egyptian vultures and red kites patrol the blue skies, watching for reptiles such as the tizon lizard.
Cabo de Gata Natural Park, Spain
This is another protected area whose landscapes can appear almost desert-like, not surprising given that the region of Almería
is the driest in Europe, with fewer than thirty rainy days a year and an enviable 3,000 hours of sunshine. The clear waters that lap the tiny coves and secluded bays are the warmest in mainland Spain; while, inland, the landscapes are more reminiscent of North Africa than of Europe, with the cliffs, bays and salt flats of the coast giving way to bare, reddish hills dotted with small oases. Truly unique.
Monti Sibillini National Park, Italy
Perhaps the most picturesque part of this wild and remote-feeling park is the Piano Grande (‘Great Plain’), a high, windswept prairie that in late May and early June is carpeted with poppies and other wild flowers. You can admire the plain from on high as you walk across the slopes of the surrounding mountains on the thrilling add-on to our Olive Groves, Vineyards & Abbeys
walk in central Umbria.
Hardangervidda National Park, Norway
The park encompasses just a third of Europe’s largest mountain plateau. The entire Hardangervidda, and hence the park, is above the tree line, with some parts so rugged that they look like lunar landscapes. Elsewhere, rolling fells are interrupted by expanses of lichen-clad rock, a good source of food for the herds of wild reindeer that roam the plateau. In the west, the national park extends almost as far as the Hardangerfjord, and you can ascend from the fjord to the edge of the park on our Serene Hardangerfjord
Garrotxa Natural Park, Spain
Like the Teide National Park, the landscapes of the Garrotxa Natural Park are also volcanic, but, rather than being dominated by one large volcano and its huge caldera, this is characterised by lots of smaller volcanoes, plus several ancient lava flows. One of the best times to enjoy our Foothills of the Pyrenees
walk is autumn, when the beech woods which coat the cones provide wonderful displays of colour.
Mercantour National Park, France
Mercantour features in our Top 10 National Parks for just one valley, the mysterious Vallée des Merveilles. As well as being very dramatic in its scenery, the valley is of great archaeological importance as it shelters tens of thousands of Bronze Age rock carvings. The carvings seem to suggest that the valley was once the focus of a cult of bull-worship linked to fertility, the bull being a symbol of virility. You can join a fascinating guided excursion through the valley, past a variety of carvings, as part of our Alps to the Mediterranean
Cévennes National Park, France
Not only has this southerly part of the Massif Central been designated a national park, but it is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. On our Beneath Mont Lozère
walk, look out for flowers such as the military orchid which in Britain are so rare that their whereabouts are kept secret – here they grow freely at the side of tracks. At the height of summer, the large expanses of heather and broom paint the scenery purple and yellow, while the open grassland – grazed by goats with gently clanging bells – turns golden in the sun.
If our Top 10 National Parks has inspired you, please contact our friendly reservations team for more information about our holidays.