James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

Europe’s Wild Places

After spending the preceding months counting things in the Amazon and trawling through hours of footage in Oman, I confess to wanting some sort of deliberately (read foolishly) unplanned holiday. A break away from computers and schedules, papers and journals. So with very little planning Jess and I set off for Istanbul. We quite simply aimed to get there from London, without flying, visiting as many wild places on our way as possible.

So without further ado, here’s six of Europe’s most wonderful Wild Places, and better yet, you can follow the links to view them on a map of our journey (courtesy of the guys behind Punkt!)


Curonian Spit, Lithuania and Kaliningrad

Jointly owned by two countries, we were on the Lithuanian side. You’ll have to take a short ferry if you want to visit, but the dense forest and sand dunes are definitely worth it and quite distinct from anywhere else in Europe.


Bialowieza Forest, Poland and Belarus

We asked a Polish biologist about this place and the part of his response that stuck with me was “Oak tree’s the size of cars”. This is one of the last surviving patches of primeval forest in Europe, and gives a clue to what most of the continent would once have looked like. It’s also home to one of the last surviving populations of European Bison, but considering their size, they are incredibly hard to see!


Crimean Mountains, Ukraine

This little peninsula thousands of miles away in the Black Sea has actually played quite a big part in British history. While hordes of Russian and Ukrainian tourists escape to the Crimean coast, the stunning mountains are in fact very quiet, dotted with fresh water springs and large enough to allow you to disappear into the wilderness for several days at a time.


Piatra Craiului, Romanian Carpathians

We ended up here by accident, deciding to go where the first train would take us. We stayed in a little town called Zarnesti, where horses and carts don’t quite out number, but at least equal, the number of cars. The reserve is home to some of the most exciting wildlife Europe has to offer like bears, wolves and lynx; animals that only persist in the wild places away from human encroachment.


Lake Koman, Northern Albania

Possibly one of the strangest, but most rewarding places we visited on our journey. Lake Koman is actually an artificial reservoir created by damming the valley in the 1980s, but actually serves as a very convenient way for local people to get around. If you can work out how to get there – not easy – and survive the mildly precarious mountain road to the end of the lake, then you will be treated to a surreal journey between vast vertical walls of white rock and densely wooded valleys.


Demosaris Gorge, Greece

The contrast between the Northern and Southern sides of Mount Ochi are astonishing. Whereas the South is dry and sun parched, crossing the ridge and descending to the North immerses you deep in to the rich Demosaris gorge with crystal clear waters, towering hundred year old plane trees and breathtaking views. The reward for completing it’s length is throwing yourself into the sea.

We only scratched the surface, if you have any other suggestions for Europe’s wild places, let me know in the comments below.