airBaltic recommends some of its favourite nature parks in Europe. Explore the incredible mountain ranges of the Alps, the awe-inspiring landscapes of Norway, hidden corners of Latvia, and the epic sunsets of Valencia. Europe’s national parks are so diverse, and that’s exactly what makes them so unique and special.
Albufera Natural Park
Destination: Valencia, Spain
A trip to Valencia is not complete without exploring La Albufera. It’s pure nature only 15 kilometres south of the city. La Albufera is one of the largest lakes in Spain and a stunning freshwater lagoon separated from the Mediterranean Sea by a strip of pine-forested dunes.
La Albufera was formed by the collapse of the coastal band between Valencia and Cullera. The lake has six small islands, and three canals connect the lagoon and surrounding wetlands to the sea. This is the home of Albufera Natural Park, a lovely spot to escape the city’s heat and spend a day out in nature. The park is surrounded by the Dehesa del Saler forest and the El Saler, Pinedo, and Cullera beaches.
Here you’ll find local flora and fauna in its wildest state, but keep in mind that the lush Mediterranean pine forest is subject to special protection because of its exceptional value. A walk along one of the six routes through the nature reserve is a great way to discover the coast and the birds and plants that live there. The region is an important nesting area and stopover point for migratory birds, so bird-watching is a major attraction at the park.
A boat trip is a great way to switch gears and experience a bit of the life of a fisherman. Local people here still follow fishing traditions established more than 750 years ago. You’ll spot houses with adobe walls and steep, thatched roofs, which is a style that’s very common in the countryside of Valencia. Called barracas, these are the traditional homes of local farmers and fishermen. The upper floor of a barraca, accessed by a ladder, was used not for sleeping but for raising silkworms. The silk industry was one of the main economic pillars of Valencia from the 15th to the 19th century.
After a stroll or a boat trip around the lagoon, head to the small villages of La Albufera to explore the origins of Valencian cuisine. After all, this is where the famous Valencian paella was invented!
Slītere National Park
Destination: Riga, Latvia
Slītere National Park is famous for a good reason. It’s basically an open-air museum that shows the historical development of the Baltic Sea. Located at the northern tip of the Kurzeme peninsula, the park is famous for its breathtaking sights and untouched nature consisting of broadleaf forests, bogs, wetlands, and swamps. In addition, the coastline with dunes and sandy beaches stretching for dozens of kilometres leaves visitors in awe.
One of the main sightseeing points in this park is the second-oldest lighthouse in Latvia, built around 1849 by the baron of Dundaga Manor to watch for forest fires and serve as a landmark for ships passing through the Irbe Strait. The red tower of Šlītere Lighthouse was built on the steep slope of the Blue Hills that rises 20 to 30 metres above sea level and used to be the shore of the Baltic Ice Lake more than 10,000 years ago.
Because the lighthouse is only five kilometres from shore, it’s a great place to experience spectacular views of Slītere’s forests, coastline, the sea, and ships travelling back and forth. Nowadays, the lighthouse is used as an observation platform and has an exposition on the region’s nature and history, including the settlements of the Livonians, a Finno-Ugric people still living in this part of Latvia.
Šlītere Lighthouse is like a gatekeeper to the park’s forests, which are home to deer, elk, and beavers as well as several cycling and hiking routes. The information centre at the lighthouse will help you choose the best route. Bear in mind that you’ll need to hire a guide for some of the trails in the nature reserve area. The area is home to many specially protected plant and animal species; for example, some of the mosses growing here are exclusive to this area and do not grow anywhere else.
The best-known trail, the Slītere Nature Trail, starts at the lighthouse and runs for 2.2 kilometres. The first part of the trail is a boardwalk through lush wetlands, while further on it leads past century-old pines shading large ferns. The 3.5-kilometre trail Pēterezers Nature Trail is another one worth checking out. For cycling lovers, the Narrow Gauge Railway Trail from Mazirbe to Sīkrags is highly recommended, as is the route through the Livonian fishing villages from Kolka to Sīkrags.
Entlebuch Biosphere Reserve
Destination: Zurich, Switzerland
Almost no other region in Switzerland possesses as many natural treasures as Lucerne’s Wild West. Located southwest of Lucerne, the UNESCO-listed Entlebuch Biosphere Reserve is rated the number-one nature park in the country – not just for its peace and serenity but also for the endless outdoor activities it offers, including mountain biking, hiking, and golfing.
With sprawling moorlands, idyllic Alpine pastures, waterfalls, and mountain streams, Switzerland’s first biosphere features natural beauty at its finest. The local flora and fauna are of great importance here, hence its protected status. Among the 100 or so mountains in the biosphere, the highest and most prominent is Brienzer Rothorn.
But the Entlebuch region is far from being just a quiet wilderness spot. It’s also home to around 17,000 people, many of whom are still engaged in traditional dairy farming. And regardless of what you’re searching for – whether relaxation, sports, gastronomy, or adventure – the biosphere has something to offer for everyone. Some highlights include gold panning, charcoal burning, and the ‘stairs to the soul’ in the pilgrimage village of Heiligkreuz.
For those who enjoy an active lifestyle, the biosphere will surely make their hearts beat faster. The karst landscapes and mountain streams rise from 600 to 2350 metres above sea level, and the nature reserve has hiking routes for every difficulty level and physical condition. Unique natural sights, including mysterious paths and ancient trails, also await on the hiking trails throughout the biosphere. If you prefer cycling, the area offers mountain bike tours at all levels of difficulty that pass through idyllic towns and past mountain cabins and inns – all of which let you become acquainted with local specialties.
Hardangervidda National Park
Destination: Oslo, Norway
Hardangervidda National Park lies just east of Bergen, at the midpoint where the country’s eastern region meets the western and southern regions. The enormous plateau offers incredible scenery and countless outdoor adventures.
Due to the high altitude, the park boasts various arctic flora and fauna and is home to Europe’s largest wild reindeer population. The sloping mountain formations of Hardangervidda once lay on the seabed but have been exposed by ice erosion over millions of years. Remaining mountain peaks can be seen at Håteigen and under the Hardangerjøkulen glacier. Several hundred nomadic Stone Age settlements and ancient trails linking western and eastern Norway have been found in the area. Nordmannsslepa is one of the oldest trails; it connects Eidfjord and Veggli in the Numedal valley with Hol and Uvdal.
Whether you’re looking for a place to hike, fish, or explore stunning wilderness, Hardangervidda National Park has it all. The visitors’ centre in Skinnarbu, south of Hardangervidda, offers an interactive wild reindeer exhibition and a café with one of Norway’s best panoramic views. It also has information about the various nature trails in the park.
There are numerous paths for experienced as well as less experienced hikers – and beautiful landscapes for everybody to enjoy. The park is great to explore for a few hours or for multi-day hikes. The best hiking season is from June to September. There are also many mountain lodges along the routes to stay overnight for those who head out into nature for several days. Booking must be done in advance at hardangerfjord.com.
For a shorter hike, park at Fossatromma and follow the old road down to the waymarked trail from 1872 leading to the waterfall.
Read more about national parks in Baltic Outlook.