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.
  • 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.
    Related holiday: Villages of the Engadine walking holiday >
  • 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.
    Related holiday: Mountains of Sicily walking holiday >
  • 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.
    Related holiday: To the Top of Spain walking holiday >
  • 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.
    Related holiday: Serene Hardangerfjord walking holiday >
  • 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.
    Related holiday: Coast of Almería walking holiday >
  • 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 visit is autumn, when the beech woods which coat the cones provide wonderful displays of colour.
    Related holiday: Freewheeling in Catalonia cycling holiday >
  • The fact that the golden eagle is the emblem of the Berchtesgaden National Park in southern Germany indicates that you have a reasonably good chance of spotting one here. There are, in fact, seven breeding pairs in the national park, which may sound modest until you consider the fact that it was once hunted almost to extinction. Even if you're not lucky enough to see one, you can take consolation in the views of the mighty Watzmann (2,713 metres) and the fjord-like lake of Königssee.
    Related holiday: Where Eagles Soar walking holiday >
  • Like Switzerland, Portugal has only one national park. Look at the statistics, and you'll understand why the area is protected: of the 235 vertebrate species found in the park, 204 have either national or international protection and 71 are officially under threat. It is the last refuge of the Iberian wolf, which you may be lucky enough to glimpse in the distance (they are nervous of humans), and the only place in the country where snipe (Gallinago gallinago) still breed. Keep an eye out, too, for red squirrels in the trees and otters in the rivers. But it's not all about the wildlife. Another of the park's great features is its sanctuaries, which have drawn the faithful for centuries – many of the paths you follow are ancient pilgrims’ trails.
    Related holiday: High Paths of Northern Portugal walking holiday >

More top tens...

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