The word ‘safari’ might conjure up visions of stalking the ‘Big Five’ in deepest darkest Africa but you can actually get a binocular-ful of wild animals in their natural habitat without stepping foot out of Europe… if you know where to look.
Here are five places in Europe where you can still walk on the wild side and have a close encounter of the herd kind…
1. Brown Bears: Romania
During the reign of Ceauşescu, brown bears were vigorously protected in Romania, though not as part of any global conservation efforts, merely so he could enjoy the pleasure of shooting them himself. Thankfully the trivialities of iron-fisted governing meant he didn’t have that much time to partake in too much trophy hunting.
Today Romania is home to over half of Europe’s brown bear population who go about their daily business protected from gun-toting dictators and other ne’er-do-wells. Track and observe from the safety of wooden hides in the foothills of the Southern Carpathian Mountains near Zărneşti.
Expect to also see wolf and lynx tracks.
Cost: £675 incl. 3 nights guesthouse accommodation, meals, transfers and guided activities.
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2. Iberian Lynx: Spain
Ten years ago there were less than a hundred Iberian Lynx on the whole planet. Thanks to conservation efforts that number is now up to around 300. Not a lot, but enough to bring the species back from the edge of extinction and provide Lynx spotting opportunities in Andalucía, Spain.
Spotting this elusive feline in the folds and forests of the Sierra Morena is no easy task – unless you have a wealth of patience, an abundance of luck and an experienced guide. Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays provides the latter, taking clients deep into the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park for a 5-day safari in search of the Iberian Lynx, with the chance of also spotting otter, wild boar, moufflon and deer.
Cost: £750 incl. 4 nights accommodation, meals and local transport
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3. Beavers, Bears and flying Squirrels: Finland
Beavers, bears and flying squirrels might sound like a circus act but this is part of the big five on view in the fir-lined forests of Finland.
A fly-drive safari with the Mighty Fine Company enables wildlife spotters to see many of the species that inhabit the pristine landscapes above and below the Arctic Circle along the Russian border, including wolves, lynx and arctic fox.
Cost: £885 incl. 7 nights log cabin/hotel accommodation, meals, car hire and driving directions, plus a daily sauna
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4. Bison: Poland
Africa may have its elephants but Poland also has its own mammalian heavyweight champ in the form of the ‘wisent’, or European bison – a mighty, horned beast which weighs up to a hefty 900kg. Just over decade ago it was on the endangered species list but thankfully it’s now been downgraded to just ‘vulnerable’.
Winter is the easiest time to find Europe’s most cumbersome land mammal, especially in the primeval forests of Puszcza Borecka and Romincka. Elk, red deer and beaver can also be tracked in the snow.
Cost: £1,375 incl. 8 nights in lodge/hotel accommodation, meals, land transport and guides.
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5. Wolves: Sweden
The wilds of Bergslagen, just west of Stockholm, are one of the best areas to get up-close-and-personal with wolves, despite their complete disappearance from Sweden during the early 1970s. After re-emerging in the latter half of the same decade, the population is being carefully controlled by the Swedish authorities.
Track and observe packs of wolves on this overnight safari, escorted by an expert guide from Sweden’s top research centre. Lying in your sleeping bag listening to the primal howls of Europe’s most mysterious predator is a definite highlight of overnight camping in traditional Sami tents.
Cost: £232 incl. 1 night tepee accommodation, dinner and breakfast, local transfers and guided activities.
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Joe Cawley is an award-winning travel writer, copywriter & author.