Forget African safaris, Europe is a nature-lover’s dream. The continent is home to scores of fascinating species, many of which are endangered.
But that’s not all it has to offer. Much of Europe’s flora and fauna is surrounded by enchanting places to stay, eat and drink. If your idea of a holiday is being at one with nature (but with full luxe comfort), head to one of these destinations.
Why it’s great: The Sebino Natural Reserve in Lombardy has been declared a ‘wetland of international importance’. Also close by is Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy (so big that it alters the local climate). Birdwatchers will love it: everything from redstarts, house martins, swallows and hoopoes fly in and out of the surrounding trees.
Where to stay: Agriturismo L’Unicorno, the oldest house in the hamlet of Macesina, is just a few minutes from Sebino Natural Reserve and the perfect base to explore Lake Garda. It sits among the vineyards, fruit and olive groves of Valtenesi. Stay in one of the 16th century rooms, sip a glass of local wine in the sunny courtyard or take a dip in the hotel pool.
Why it’s great: The hot sun and long, warm days have encouraged a plethora of wildlife to inhabit the national parks, wildlife reserves and dense woodlands of Tuscany. Delve deep in the countryside and you’ll see everything from red foxes and deer to porcupines and wild boar.
Where to stay: There’s a reason why many birdwatchers head to Villa Le Barone. The countryside hotel is the perfect spot to see, listen and discover our feathered friends. The resident blackbird comes hopping by to visit you in the garden, then there are the swallows, the swifts, the pheasants, the hoopoes, the wagtails… not to mention the sounds of cuckoos, owls and doves. Birding bliss.
Villa Le Barone
Slovakia: High Tatras
Why it’s great: Many rare animals live in the High Tatras, the mountain range along the border of northern Slovakia. These include the highly-protected Tatra chamois (goat-antelope) and Alpine marmots. You may even be lucky enough to spot brown bear, lynx, marten, wolf and fox.
Where to stay: Explore the lakes, waterfalls and wildlife of Slovak national parks in the Tatras while staying the comfort and luxury of the historical hotels in the area. The Grandhotel Stary Smokovec and the Grandhotel Praha are both in Vysoké Tatry; at the bottom of the High Tatras. If complete rejuvenation, award-winning accommodation and sublime cuisine are as high as nature on your holiday criteria; you’ll be in seventh heaven.
Grandhotel Stary Smokovec
Why it’s great: Sligo is a forager’s paradise; abundant in wild garlic, wood sorrel and bilberry. It’s also home to a vast range of birds. As well as the kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards that soar through and over the oak woods, you can visit Eagles Flying, Ireland’s largest sanctuary for birds of prey and owls.
Where to stay: Just a 15 minute drive from the sanctuary is Coopershill House: a Georgian family mansion with 500 acres of private grounds. Inside are warm welcomes, open fires and four poster beds. Outside are deer pastures, mature hardwoods and Coopershill’s very own river. Don’t miss the hotel’s Hawk Walks: where you can stroll with a hawk on your arm, casting it into the ancient woods as you go.
Why it’s great: As well as being home to The National Reptile Zoo, Kilkenny is overflowing with green spaces. Kilfane glen and waterfall is one such hidden gem: a romantic era garden dating back to the 1790s. Ancient trees, wild foxgloves, ferns and resident wildlife galore.
Where to stay: Another Kilkenny garden of historical significance is at Mount Juliet. Bask in the beauty for longer by dining and staying in the 250 year old Georgian manor house. The hotel offers both horse riding and falconry walks (with expert falconers): a profound experience working closely with the magnificent creatures.
Why it’s great: It’s easy to become enthralled by the Kildare landscape. For one, it’s home to Killinthomas Wood; a hardwood conifer forest with stunning fauna and flora (the bluebell forest floors are straight out of a Sleeping Beauty scene).
Where to stay: Head to Barberstown Castle. As well as having a rich and famous history (Eric Clapton bought the castle in 1979 before selling it to the current owner), the hotel also boasts the largest peony collection in Ireland. The floral collection surrounds a Buddha statue and 20 acres of landscaped gardens. Guests also use the 13th century castle as a base to explore some of Ireland’s best historic gardens, castle and houses.