Visit Bohemian Switzerland, explore Trodos Mountains, stroll Northern Velebit, meet dancing bears in Belitsa
Bohemian Switzerland (Czech Republic)
With a multitude of great natural attractions, the hardest decision to make is which one to see first. A few that leap out immediately though are the Tiske Steny (rock towers and rock city), Edmundova Gorge and Pravcice Gate (largest stand stone rock gate in Europe). There's also the amazing Canyon Labe by Hrensko, which is the place with the lowest altitude in the Czech Republic.
To get the absolute best elevated views in the area, look no further than the Decinsky Sneznik, which just so happens to be the oldest stone tower in the Czech Republic. And to stay on the path of history, the region boasts a great number of different castles and ancient ruins, such as Tolstejn, Saunstejn and Falkestejn.
Other modern attractions include the Zoo Decin, Rumburk Museum and an underground air force factory from World War II. There's also a world-class golf course in Janov.
For those interested in Bohemian culture, there are a number of folkloric monuments, wind mills and historical villages. The House of Bohemian Switzerland, which is a visitor and educational center in Krasna Lipa, is a great source to learn about Bohemian crafts such as textiles and glassmaking.
As is the case with any high-altitude nature region, the weather plays its part. One of the key goals of the park is to promote tourism throughout the year, giving visitors a true sense of how the landscapes change with the seasons. There are offers designed especially for "low season" and activities are plentiful even during bad weather.
The ministry is also focused on keeping the park as green as possible. Modern economical bus lines take visitors to designated entrance points, while parking lots have been built to keep traffic controlled and out of the park's untainted soils.
Vouni Panagias (Cyprus)
With its winding countryside and picturesque settings, the area is known for its walking and hiking trails. Vouni Panagias Nature Trail, with its varying altitude and rugged terrain, covers an area of nearly 10 kilometres. Hikers who reach the zenith are rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Panagia village, the Akamas Peninsula as well as sunsets over the Trodos Mountains.
Walking the wine routes is another "must do" in the Vouni Panagias. The region hosts three vineyards which produce some of the Island's most exotic wines. Pairing the wine with local cuisine like mezze (an assortment of traditional small dishes) is highly recommended.
For ancient history, drop by the Agios Nikolaos Monastery. It was built in the 4th Century AD and is founded on top of the ruins of the ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Hera.
Extremely rare species of predator birds and wildlife inhabit the Vouni Panagias area. The four largest mammal species indigenous to Cyprus roam the mountain sides. One of them, the Cyprus Mouflon, appears only in the Pafos Forest. For nature lovers, there are over 650 plant species, including trees, shrubs and rare herbaceous plants. The natural splendor of vegetation is prominent year around and is one of the main reasons the landscape is second to none.
Panagia village is also the birthplace of one of the most-prominent men in recent history, Archbishop Makarios III, the first President of the Republic of Cyprus.
And don't forget about the hospitality of the people. Visitors rave about how receptive and friendly the locals are to tourists.
The Northern Velebit National Park (Croatia)
In 1981, the Northern Velebit was rightly declared a nature park with its lush forests, diverse plant life and vast species of wildlife standing out amongst many things.
The area has a rich heritage that dates back many centuries with the town of Senji being the gateway to the park.
The Northern Velebit National Park is an explorer's paradise. Deep sinkholes, caves and other forms of depressions give the park an unparalleled sense of multiplicity. The Hadjuk and Rozan hips together contain over 150 caves, with the most well-known being the Lukina Jama (Luka's Cave), which descends 1,392 metres deep into the Earth.
For visitors wanting a taste of alpine sports, the park is second to none. There are a great number of hiking, cycling and cross country skiing trails through the mountains that reveal some "eye-popping" panoramic views. A walk along the Premuzic Path leads trekkers through enchanted forests and endless lush green grasslands.
Warm, sultry seaside weather combined with mountains that rise into the sky make the Northern Velebit Park a truly extraordinary region for nature. Predatory animals such as wildcats, bears and wolves, roam the mountainsides, while the largest population of wood grouse makes its habitat in the heartlands.
Plant life is also abundant. 1,500 plant species ranging from sub-Mediterranean to mountainous types fill the park. In the warmer months, the mountain flora is spectacular, with a rainbow of colours dotting the hillsides.
The region overflows with local fare throughout the year, with many Croatians lured to the park in search of mountain fun and relaxation and it has also recently started to see a rise in foreign tourism..
Belitsa, Blagoevgrad region (Bulgaria)
In 1912, Belitsa gained independence from Turkish rule and joined the Bulgarian Kingdom. The town is said to be named after a beautiful maiden named Bela Itsa, who chose death by jumping off the steep cliff-tops in her town, rather than marry a local Ottoman ruler.
A part of history that cannot be missed in Belitsa is the Thracian territory. Some of the oldest traces of human civilization, dating back to Neolithic times, were discovered in this region. There is also an ancient burial ground that sits atop the high-mountain sanctuaries north of Belitsa, in an area called Babiachka Chukka.
For history buffs, the Cultural Centre of Belitsa maintains one of the largest ethnographical museums in Bulgaria, ranging from Thracian and Roman occupation, to the 1944 Soviet Declaration of War on Bulgaria.
With a rich history in sports, such as skiing and hiking, Belitsa is an ideal area for alpine enthusiasts. The mountain resort Semkovo, located 17km from the town, rises 600 metres above sea level and draws visitors year-round. The government has also set up a number of nature trails that lead through some of the most unspoiled passages in the country.
The Dancing Bear Park is truly one of the special "feel good" attractions in Belitsa. It is the largest of its kind in Europe and is home to a growing population of rescue bears being prepared for re-introduction into the wild. The park receives monetary support from the Bridget Bardo Foundation and the local Belitsa municipalities
No trip to Belitsa is complete without tasting the enticing local cuisine and enjoying the festivities that follow dinner. A stop at one of the town's quaint restaurants to try the hearty, Mediterranean-influenced food ends with a night of Belistisian songs, which are sung around the tables.
With a calendar filled with festivals and events, Belitsa stays vibrant throughout the year. The region is home to Muslims and Christians alike, whose religious rituals keep the area lively throughout the holidays.
Valere Tjolle: Valere is editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report Suite 2011 Special Offers HERE
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011