Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Hiking in Hungary, beaches on Lesvos, touring in the Vosges and eating in the Estonian ogre"s cave
Irottko Nature Park (Hungary)
With its many hiking, walking and biking trails, the Írottk- " offers visitors unsurpassed contact with nature. The Blue Tour, Hungary's most important and oldest hiker's movement dating back almost 120 years ago, starts on the top of Írottk- " Mountain and winds its way through some of the most breath-taking sceneries in the park.
For less-extreme alpine lovers, there are many study trails offering shorter hikes through detailed rock formation and flower zones. The Stichwort study trail, which curves its way through some amazing floral areas on Koszeg Mountain, is a popular choice amongst nature lovers.
For those wishing to see the region by bicycle, there is a regional cycling center at Rowling Lake that rents bikes daily.
The sense of inner peace that Írottk- " gives to its visitors is memorable. The Seven Springs located close to the Austrian border provide a relaxation experience like no other. The hot springs were named after the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century. The structure that houses the springs was built in 1896 to commemorate Hungary's millennium.
A new program called the Wine Route of Koszeg was formed in 2004 to give tourists an understanding of the time and energy dedicated to producing some of the country's unique wines. Other products such as honey cakes, goat cheese and apple products are produced in the region and are tasty delights loved by visitors. The newly-built Herb and Spice Garden opened its doors in 2005 and it focuses on all-natural products.
With many links to the past, the Írottk- " Nature Park's secured place in Hungary's rich history is a priority. Eco-friendly practices in agriculture, construction and forestry have been at the forefront of local municipalities for some time now.
Measures to renovate the springs in environmentally friendly manners have been implemented with help coming from volunteers. There are also yearly cleaning movements that rid the park of waste deposits and other undesirables.
Prefecture of Lesvos (Greece)
An island best known for its beaches, Lesvos is home to some of the most spectacular natural attractions in the world. On the western part of the island, visitors flock to the Lesvos Petrified Forest. It's an area that was formed over 20 million years ago and to this day, there are vast concentrations of fossilized tree-trunks and plant remnants trapped in volcanic rocks.
Resting on the bottom slope of Mt. Olympus is the Gulf of Kalloni, a magnificent refuge area that draws birdwatchers from around the globe. It is a region consisting of wetlands and salt flats on the coast, surrounded by large pine forests.
Getting to the remarkable sites on the island is easy and fun. Charted yachts are available for the more marine-inclined, while horseback and hiking trails are available for outdoor enthusiasts.
With a history that dates backs to Neolithic times, Lesvos has a flare for the spectacular. The Mytilini Castle, one of the largest in the Mediterranean, overlooks the city and boasts a maze of underground tunnels in the hillside it rests upon
Another "must-see " is the Bridge at Kremasti. It's an architectural masterpiece built of stone around the 14th Century AD, and is still used by locals today.
Greece is a country that has been home to many different religions throughout time and Lesvos is no different. The ruins of the 5th Century AD Church of Saint Andrew rest in Eressos, while the Turkish-built Yeni Mosque is in Skala.
The local municipalities in Lesvos realize they are blessed with a pretty special slice in the "history pie" of the world. Scattered all around the island are constant reminders of past ancient civilizations. To protect these gems, rest areas, mandatory paths and vista points have been built to preserve their places in time.
Environmental and eco-friendly programs have also been implemented to guide Lesvos smoothly through this century.
Northern Vosges Regional Natural Park (France)
With an inspired century-old association, The Club Vosgien, running the show, the park maintains a superior maze of over 1,650 km of hiking paths. In addition to this, there are over 900 km dedicated to cycling, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The region is also home to many of the finest glass and crystal makers in the world. Activities and workshops dedicated to this art are offered to visitors. The French are also known for their world-class cuisine and the Northern Vosges does not disappoint. Fine restaurants specializing in the region's unsurpassed tastes are plentiful. Culinary classes taught by renowned local chefs are available for foodies.
For museum goers, the park is home to many, such as the popular Clog Museum and the Heritage Centre. The Miesenthal glass site is also nearby as well as a covered market for modern plastic arts and music.
In addition to the region's unrivaled local charm, the Northern Vosges is a historical mecca. Word is getting around and tourists from neighboring countries have been flocking to see such notable landmarks as the Fleckenstein Chateau and Wasenbourg Chateau. Since the region is rich in sandstone and crystal making is a regional art, the ruins leave an everlasting trace in time.
With less than 90,000 local inhabitants living in such a broad area, the park retains its quaintness. The French account for nearly 80% of the tourism industry, with many of them venturing less than 2 hours from their homes.
The Northern Vosges' close proximity to major cities like Paris, Metz and Strasbourg make it an extremely desirable place to visit. High-speed trains from France, Germany and the surrounding Benelux region deliver travelers within 2-3 hours. An emphasis on using public transportation is highly regarded.
Eco-friendly re-designed buildings are an on-going theme in the park. Many older structures are being rebuilt to meet eco-friendly standards as the local French municipalities do their part in ushering France forward into the "green" future.
Soomaa National Park (Estonia)
Only after visiting this region can an outsider truly understand the so called "fifth season" and the importance the flooding rivers play in developing the area's natural beauty.
The fifth season (coined by the locals) gives way to majestic flooding in the Soomaa National Park. The floods are essential for the continued development of the park's ancient bogs. An absolute must to visit is the Kuresoo Bog, one of the best surviving large bogs in all of Estonia. Almost 200 species call the bog home and its effect on the area is unparalleled.
In the winter there are snowshoe tours over the bogs and frozen rivers, while in the other seasons nighttime canoe tours are available. There is even a beaver safari available for outdoorsmen.
Local accommodations are plentiful in Vijandy and a "must do" is to eat traditional Estonian food served at Sookolli Soogituba (Ogre's Dining Room).
It is an ecosystem like no other. Surrounding the massive maze of bouncing bogs are magnificent meadows and forests. In June, the meadows are filled with Siberian Iris' and their radiant blue color
For wildlife enthusiasts, the region is home to over 185 different types of birds such as cranes and the Ural owl. In addition, carnivorous animals such as lynx, wolves and brown bears roam the lands.
The Soomaa also has played a key role in Estonia's history by sheltering many antagonists and freedom fighters. Some of the more famous Estonians to call the area home have been C.R. Jakobson, L. Koidula and M. Saar.
In an area that floods so heavily, the locals understand what life is like being cut off from the outside world. At times a 175-square kilometer region of the park can be flooded with water rising nearly a meter a day for 3-4 days straight. Roads are completely impassable during the fifth season.
The local municipalities value the isolation the flooding brings and have taken steep measures to protect the lands from intrusion. The types of species are monitored and water levels are recorded to see what effect the different levels have on the ecosystem.
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