National park holiday ideas

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Sophie Gackowski

Sophie Gackowski
HomeAway travel expert


Woodland in Plitvice LakesIt’s hard to write an article on Europe’s best National Parks. Not due to lack of inspiration, of course – there are 359 to choose from. And that’s the difficulty, really: a whole lot of beauty, and just one article to fit it into. 


Here, we take a look at five of Europe’s best, but also diverse, National Parks – covering bleak moors and mineral-rich lakes, cliff-clinging towns and Caribbean-like islands, finishing it all off with lava-laden landscapes. Feeling inspired? Read on.

 

 

Top five National Parks in Europe


   

Dartmoor National Park, England Dartmoor National Park, England

We had to start with one of our own, right? Well, not exactly – this choice has more to with sheer beauty than national pride. The 368 square miles that make up Dartmoor National Park are nothing short of cinematic: ponies roam wild on it sweeping, tawny moors; gurgling streams moisten already verdant, mossy rocks; and enormous tors (or granite hills) stand proud when turbulent, sleeting skies appear. Dartmoor National Park is arguably Devon’s most alien landscape, but something the entirety of Europe should be proud of. And speckled as it is with rustic cottages and warming pubs, it is, in short, an outstanding place to explore.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Have your finger on the pulse of trending travel? Then you’ll know Plitvice Lakes has soared in popularity over recent years. Perhaps a little sad for those who wanted to keep it a secret; all the better for those of us who can now gaze upon, and help to protect, its majesty. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its 16 mineral-rich lakes have gradually meandered through the rocks, creating cascading waterfalls and trickling streams all the while. Aside from the flurry of butterflies here, its wooden bridges are some of the most photographed in the world. And at just two hours from Zadar, it’s now amazingly easy to take a day trip to the fairytale park.

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Cinque Terre National Park, Italy Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

A little different to the others on this list is Cinque Terre National Park – not big, bleak or brimming with rare wildlife, but just as beautiful. The ‘five lands’ cover just 15 square miles, but Monterosso and Manarola, Vernazza, Riomaggiore and Corniglia are awesome – and not in the overused sense of the word. Since they gained National Park status in 1997, not a single tourist trap, souvenir shop or vehicle has been allowed to pass their pastel-coloured houses (though Monterosso was already a little resort-like – you’ve been warned!). Clinging perilously to the cliffs, the man-made terraced vineyards slope down to deep-blue waters.

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Cíes Islands National Park, Spain Cíes Islands National Park, Spain

Made up of three islands – Monteagudo, Do Faro and San Martiño – the Cíes Islands are possibly Spain’s most enchanting. It wasn’t until 2000 that they were given National Park status, but since then, here are the rules: no watersports (though snorkelling is permitted); bring all rubbish back with you; only 2,200 people allowed to visit each day. It may seem like a tightly run ship, but all of these things help to protect its beauty. One of the country’s most important spots for wildlife, particularly birds, it’s also covered with white, sandy beaches. While it’s not possible to stay on the Cíes Islands, most take the 45-minute boat trip from Vigo.

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Teide National Park, Tenerife Teide National Park, Tenerife

Ok, ok – so we’ve technically given Spain two spaces on the list. But Teide is so grandiose that it’s hard not to pay it attention. And, for the same reason, it doesn’t really matter where you stay on holiday in Tenerife – it’s that big. It offers over 50 walking trails through its volcanic landscape, topped with El Teide itself, reaching 3,718 metres high (the highest in Spain). With 14 plants found nowhere else in the world, almost 1,000 archaeological sites pertaining to the Guanche people (many aren’t signposted to avoid you lot taking souvenirs...) and some of the world’s most alien geological structures – well, I don’t need to say any more.

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Holiday Homes Away From It All

The Queach Z45, traditional, stone and slate cottage with stunning sea views

150 yards up from Mousehole’s bustling little centre of shops, pubs, cafés and pretty harbour is The Queach, a very traditional, stone and slate cottage with stunning right-out-to-sea views. A few granite steps and a pretty bit of front garden rai...

Clovelly Cottage Z47, granite cottage with fine long views out to sea

A mile inland from Mousehole by hedgerow lane is the hamlet of Sheffield (cluster of sturdy granite cottages surrounded by farmland), perched high looking seaward. Recently discovered artefacts reveal this area has been inhabited since Mesolithic ...

Venwyn Manor Z442, single-storey, stone-built cottage, well-decorated

1½ miles inland from both Carbis Bay and St Ives but peacefully in farmland, a single-storey, stone-built cottage, semi-detached from the owners’ house. Plenty of space outside; own patio and garden area looking on large courtyard with fishpond an...

Tregwynne Z41,semi-detached,19th cent.,slate and granite cottage with long views

In Rinsey, ½ mile from the cove beach and coastal path and ¾ mile from a good food pub, a semi-detached, 19th cent., slate and granite cottage with long views across farmland to the sea and along the coast. At the front, hedge and parking; at the ...

Trecam Z28, recently built semi-detached cottage on the seaward edge of Pendeen

On the seaward edge of Pendeen, known as Lower Boscaswell, a recently built semi-detached cottage blending in with its 18th cent. neighbouring stone cottages, but with the benefit of 21st cent. insulation and comfort. At the front, a neat gravelle...

Glebe Farmhouse Z24, sturdy, detached, 19th cent. stone cottage

In Brane, snuggling amongst its sister cottages, a sturdy, detached, 19th cent. stone cottage. A neat garden, safely enclosed by a wall, with large lawn (good for ball games, table/chairs) surrounds it. Inside, depth-of-cottage living room (20...

Penti Dowran Z21, 17th cent. granite cottage good for relaxing

In Dowran, a Grade II listed, 17th cent. granite cottage, 30 yards of hardcore track from the lane. Enclosed, sheltered, mature lawn/shrub garden (barbecue) back and front, good for energetic youngsters or for relaxing. Inside, lots of pine fl...

Mural Cottage Z19, split-level, terraced, 18th cent., Grade II listed cottage

In the heart of Mousehole, 100 yards from the pub, shops and harbour, a split-level, terraced, 18th cent., Grade II listed, fisherman’s cottage with a tiny, traffic-free lane at the back. Front door from the tiny ‘no through road??? lane to ha...

Larkspur Cottage T12, beautiful, Grade 2 listed, part-thatched, detached cottage

On the edge of Germoe and a mile from Praa Sands is this beautiful, Grade II listed, part-thatched, detached cottage. To the front, a little, well stocked cottage garden; to the rear, an enclosed, private, level lawned garden (summerhouse, table/c...

East Barn T6, detached thatched stone cottage set back from the quiet lane

In Crowan, by the church (bells 10.30am Sunday mornings/Thursday evenings) and set back from the quiet lane, two little detached thatched stone cottages thoughtfully converted from old barns. Both have their own little sitting-out area (tables/cha...
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