There are few other places in the world where you’ll find such an eclectic mix of languages, cultures and landscapes crammed side-by-side. Europe is simply brimming with ancient monuments, artefacts and landmarks and while it exudes the past from every orifice this diverse continent readily embraces the new, and with that, ecotourism – a new way of travelling.
France has much more to offer than its capital; forget Paris, venture out of the city and explore what makes the French so proud.
Book an eco chalet in the Alps, take a train to the Bordeaux region to visit the farmers’ markets and wineries or stay with a family on a farm in the Loire Valley or in a traditional self-catering gitê. If you’re travelling on a budget, do like the locals and spend your vacation in one of the many caravan and camping grounds found throughout the country.
Spain is a funny old place. In the south it’s impossible to move without bumping into a Brit abroad where miles of beautiful sandy beaches are forever over-shadowed by high-rise complexes crammed with holiday-makers determined to have a good time whether the locals like it or not. Inland and to the north of the country time stands still in remote rural villages, landscapes are untouched and rugged; these are the places eco travellers will fall in love with.
El Camino, a 100 km walking trail is a wonderful way to explore the north west of the country from Galicia although there are still plenty of activity holidays to choose from, especially in the Sierra Nevada and Pyrenees mountain ranges, also in the north.
Extending into the Mediterranean Sea, the frequently visited boot-shaped peninsula has a wealth of ecotourism options, from the Albergo Diffuso in the north westerly Alps to the Agriturismo in the low-lying plains.
Culinary trips are becoming popular as the Italian Slow Food movement entices eco travellers in search of the real deal. Go hiking or walking in Abruzzo National Park where bear and wolf roam free, learn Italian while staying with a family on a farmstay or go local and take to the pistes of the Dolomites.
UK and Ireland
Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales have a number of walks and tours for the budding eco adventurer and now that the Republic of Ireland has finally cottoned on to the idea of eco travel they are providing more opportunities and tours around a land that’s steeped in history and still holds dear many of the old traditions.
Wildlife is not as abundant as in some countries in Europe but both the UK and Ireland have rich marine life fed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, making it a great area for diving.
Accommodation is plentiful; B&Bs, natural retreats, canal boats, cottages, camping and holiday parks are easy to find and are regaining the popularity of the 50s and 60s as less people choose to holiday abroad.
The war-torn Croatia of the 90s has turned itself around into one of the hottest destinations in Europe, as it was in the 70s. The turquoise waters lapping the Dalmatian coastline hold hundreds of little islands and inlets that can only be discovered by boat. Old coastal fishing villages are thriving and inland towns are once again flourishing thanks to the tourist buck.
Plitvice National Park is the perfect backdrop for ramblers and hikers; cycling, kayaking and canoeing are also popular on the inland waterways. For those not into the wet and wild life, picturesque medieval villages, town and castles offer a chance to get to know the true Croatia.
The largest country in Europe remains the least visited, no doubt due, in part, to the Chernobyl disaster and flagging post-Soviet economy, but like many countries in Eastern Europe Ukrainians have put the past behind them and are moving forward to a brighter future, especially in regards to ecotourism.
Visit Carpathian National Nature Park, home to the Hutsuls people, descendents of a nomadic tribe, explore the wetlands and wildlife of Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve or enjoy scuba diving and sailing in the Black Sea. Ukraine is certainly a country to keep an eye on.