‘All you have to do is keep your eyes open’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Brown bears padding. Sperm whales fluk­ing. Wolver­ines ma­raud­ing. Long-tailed mayflies rush­ing. Dol­phins bowrid­ing. Musk ox hulk­ing… All these spec­ta­cles – and more – can be wit­nessed in the wild with­out leav­ing Europe. And as our se­lec­tion on these pages shows, a wealth of wildlife sight­ings can be com­pressed into a sin­gle week­end break, in des­ti­na­tions as main­stream as Vi­enna, the Loire and Madeira – and even from the up­per deck of a ferry as it plies the Bay of Bis­cay.

Once a by­word for At­ten­bor­ough­style ad­ven­tures in far-flung places, wildlife hol­i­days have be­come en­tirely com­pat­i­ble with low-cost, high-fre­quency in­ter­na­tional travel. Be­low are blue­prints for 13 wildlife mini breaks – one for ev­ery week through­out June, July and Au­gust. So when­ever you have a sum­mer week­end free to im­merse your­self in all things Eu­ro­pean and nat­u­ral, there is a sug­ges­tion for you. moun­taineer­ing goats, the for­mer stocky, thick-necked and big­bot­tomed; the lat­ter slighter, with short horns and a rac­coon-like mask. The mar­mot is some­where be­tween a chip­munk and a beaver – with a squirrel’s bushy tail. Also look out for but­ter­flies: glanville frit­il­lary, green hairstreak, small blue and pos­si­bly even swal­low­tail and Apollo.

The near­est air­port is Turin, it’s then a 1 hr 50 min drive to Val­savarenche. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: tinyurl.com/gp-ac­com­mo­da­tion they do pro­vide plen­ti­ful food for waders: snipe, com­mon red­shank, whim­brel and golden plover. The shore­bird star, how­ever, is the red-necked phalarope – tiny and tame. Many of north Ice­land’s small pools and road­side ditches har­bour phalaropes – but nowhere more so than in the Lake My­vatn wet­lands.

Fly to Ke­flavik, then take a 45 min taxi to Reyk­javik do­mes­tic air­port. From there take a 45 min flight with Ea­gle Air (ea­gleair.is) to Husavik. For whale-watch­ing op­er­a­tors, see ice­whale.is. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: hos­tel.is only sound is the whistling of mil­lions of wings as they fer­tilise the eggs of ev­ery fe­male they can. By 6.30pm, the first of the spent males are dy­ing, their bod­ies lit­ter­ing the wa­ter. The fe­males lay their eggs up­stream be­fore they too ex­pire.

It’s what lo­cals call Tisza­vi­ragzas (“the bloom­ing of the Tisza”), for you the cul­mi­na­tion of a week­end spent 92 miles (150km) up­stream in Hor­to­bagy Na­tional Park. Key species there in­clude fire-bel­lied toads, drag­on­flies, ter­rap­ins and tree frogs.

Fly to Bu­da­pest and hire a car for the 1 hr 15min drive south-east to Tisza­kurt, then drive a fur­ther 45 min to Hor­to­bagy (hnp.hu/en/ sz­ervezeti-egy­seg/tourism). Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Hor­to­bagy vil­lage has sev­eral op­tions (search book­ing. com), while the town of Szol­nok is clos­est to the mayfly sites.

La Brenne Re­gional Na­ture Park, Cen­tre-Val de Loire, France

Drag­on­flies (lily­pad white­face, yel­low-spot­ted emer­ald), Brenne marsh-orchid, whiskered tern From the air, this re­gion – a two-hour drive south from Paris – re­sem­bles a shat­tered mir­ror, the glis­ten­ing frag­ments ag­gre­gat­ing into one of Europe’s most vi­tal wet­lands. How­ever, ev­ery etang (pond) is man made, the re­sult of a huge drainage pro­gramme in the Mid­dle Ages. The ponds now serve as com­mer­cial fish­eries, re­strict­ing wildlife to the most sen­si­tively man­aged ex­am­ples.

At Etang de Belle­bouche you can view nest­ing pur­ple and night herons from ei­ther of two hides – as well as yel­low-spot­ted emer­ald drag­on­flies, with green eyes and golden dots the length of their ab­domens. Etang Vieux is the place to head for but­ter­flies, while along the road at Saulny you might see Brenne marsh-orchid, a pink en­demic flower. Look out for lily­pad white­face drag­on­flies along the board­walk to the hide at Etang Cis­tude (within La Cher­ine Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve), and for whiskered terns nest­ing among the float­ing veg­e­ta­tion at Etang de la Sous.

Fly to Poitiers from Stansted or Ed­in­burgh, then drive. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: parc-na­turel­brenne.fr/en/home/or­ga­niz­ingy­our-stay/ac­co­mo­da­tion/fa­vorites

Kainuu and North Kare­lia, Fin­land

Wolver­ine, grey wolf, brown bear The pro­ces­sion of wildlife watch­ers to pri­vately run prop­er­ties in east­ern Fin­land is length­en­ing year-on-year, not least be­cause wolver­ines are now reg­u­larly spot­ted from hides (all equipped with bunks, dry lava­to­ries and snacks to see you through the night) that were orig­i­nally de­signed for view­ing brown bears. There’s a fair chance of see­ing grey wolves, too – the triple crown.

Era-Eero, near Lieksa, is the world’s best site for wolver­ines. The odd bear is of­ten seen in the for­est, while wolves are oc­ca­sional vis­i­tors. If you have the stamina, drive two-and-a-half hours north to the Kuhmo area, where the Wild Brown Bear Cen­tre and Kuikka Base Camp are among the best places for both ursines and wolf sight­ings. You may even see the car­ni­vores in­ter­act­ing.

From Ka­jaani air­port (fi­navia. fi/en/ka­jaani) it is a 2hr 15 min drive to Kuikka Base Camp (wildfin­land. org), 1 hr 30 min to Wild Brown Bear Cen­tre (wild­brown­bear.fi) and a 2hr 30min drive to Era-Eero (er­aeero. com). Ac­com­mo­da­tion: avail­able at all three bases. It is hard to avoid feel­ing in­signif­i­cant in the Pyre­nees. Yomp­ing along a glaciated val­ley that un­folds for 12 miles (20km), you look up at the ver­ti­cal cliffs en­cas­ing you. Their lime­stone top steeples akin to stack­ing Lon­don’s Stock Ex­change Tower above The Shard, the cap­i­tal’s lofti­est build­ing. Atop a rocky plat­ter above a whif­fling river, a Pyre­nean rock lizard sat­is­fies its so­lar ad­dic­tion. Un­der a stone shel­ter­ing the bed of a sparkling sidestream lurks a Pyre­nean brook newt. At your flank, a cor­nu­copia of mon­tane flow­ers kalei­do­scopes your vi­sion. An Alpine mar­mot slouches in the sun, wan­tonly. Over­head, a lam­mergeier fol­lows a sin­gle­minded path through the air, sniff­ing for an­other bone to break. The Pyre­nees chain of­fers a sur­feit of great wildlife walks, but none com­pares to Ordesa.

Fly to Zaragoza with Air Europa or Ryanair, from there it is a 2 hr drive to Torla, gate­way to the park. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Torla (ordesa.net/alo­jamiento-yser­vi­cios) be­fore the walk, then Refu­gio de Góriz (go­riz.es).

Clock­wise from main: the brown bear can be spot­ted in Fin­land; a wa­ter­fall in Ordesa Na­tional Park; mayflies can be found in Tisza­kurt; hump­back whales are fre­quently seen in Ice­land

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