Who says safaris must be in long-haul locations? Including Scandinavia, Europe has plenty of amazing wildlife experiences, if you know where to look…
Bison in Poland
Photo by Valdemaras. D Via Unsplash
Bison herds once roamed across Europe from Spain to Russia, before being hunted to extinction. Since World War II, captive animals have been rewilded, however, and the biggest number—between 500 to 800 depending on which estimate you believe—hide amid northeastern Poland’s Białowieża Forest.
Guided tours to see them are usually successful, and also promise pretty meadows, small wooden houses and occasional wolf sightings.
Iberian lynx in Spain
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Andalusia: home to sherry, flamenco dancers, marvellous Moorish architecture and… a critically endangered feline. The fox-sized Iberian lynx scrapes an existence here, stalking rabbits in rugged pockets such as the Doñana National Park.
Taking in local village life, and also likely to meet wild boar and imperial eagles, lynx safaris with operators such as Naturetrek and Wildlife Worldwide have a decent track record.
Wolves in Italy
Photo by Michael Mazzone via Unsplash
Aided by the charity Rewilding Europe, a population of wolves is being stabilised in the Apennine-spiked Abruzzo National Park, 90 minutes east of Rome. Three-day, conservation-minded safaris involve tracking them and brown bears, plus monitoring camera traps—so, even if you don’t enjoy a live sighting, a video version should happen.
Other good places for seeing wolves in Europe are the Naliboki Forest in Belarus, Finland’s Karelia (see below) and Berlagen’s forests in Sweden, not far from Stockholm.
Polar bears in Norway
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As any Philip Pullman devotee will tell you, snowy Svalbard is the kingdom of the bears. Okay, so they aren’t armoured and don’t—as far as we know—speak English, but the Lord of the Arctic definitely dwells in this Norwegian-owned Arctic archipelago, monitoring seal holes and padding icebergs.
Expedition cruise ships are the best means to see them, and typically also deliver walruses, beluga whales, reindeer, and Arctic foxes during summer’s eerie 24-hour daylight.
Brown bears in Finland
Photo by Ryan Grewell via Unsplash
Sweden, Russia and Romania might boast Europe’s biggest populations, but no hide is more tolerable than the Luxury Bear Cabins recently unveiled amid eastern Finland’s fir forests.
Two kilometres from the Russian border, the cabins contain sound monitors and night-vision binoculars, plus underfloor heating and hot showers. Sighting chances are estimated at 90-99%.
Flamingos in France
Photo by Gwen Weustink via Unsplash
A natural regional park where the Rhone Delta meets the Mediterranean east of Montpellier, southern France’s marshy Camargue practically turns pink during summer when tens of thousands of flamingos come en masse to breed.
Its wild, winding waterways and pans also support herds of white horses, black bulls, beavers, snakes and the rare wallcreeper bird. Naturetrek operates guided small-group tours.
Egyptian vultures in Portugal
Photo by Anton Petrov via Unsplash
Between April and October, bright yellow-faced Egyptian vultures—Europe’s smallest type—nest high and seek carrion in the Faia Brava reserve in northeastern Portugal. The same skies are also filled with bigger griffon vultures, and other raptors such as black storks, golden eagles and eagle owls.
Ecotourism operator Wildlife Portugal provides half or full-day photographic trips into one of Portugal’s most uninhabited spots.
Starlings in Somerset
Photo by Tim Hobbes via Unsplash
One of Europe’s most magical wildlife spectacles takes place right here, in Britain.
Visit Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve—where Exmoor ponies also tread—at dawn or dusk in winter, and you’ll see vast black clouds of swirling shapes. This is a starling ‘murmuration’: an aerial performance made in order to deter predators. It prolongs until, suddenly, the birds as one settle down to roost, and you wonder if you imagined the whole thing.
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