Norwegian fjords, Cliffs of Moher, Chamonix, Isle of Skye, Black Forest… Most of us are familiar with these exceptionally beautiful sights. These are the type that remind us how lucky we are to live on this extraordinary planet. They are continuously shown on TV, in travel magazines, and all over social media. Contrary to popular belief, there are many other breathtaking places in Europe which you don’t get to see as often. Often ignored for their West European neighbors, Slavic countries have no shortage of scenic spots. Here are some of our favorites, in no particular order:
Devetàshka Cave, Bulgaria
The Devetàshka cave is a picturesque karst cave near Veliko Tarnovo, a beautiful historical city in central Bulgaria. Discovered in 1921 by Bulgarian explorers, the cave went a number of years without being recognized for its cultural heritage and was even used as an oil depot in the 1950’s. Today it’s an internationally recognised and nationally protected natural landmark. Devetàshka is very well lit and its floor is covered by lush greenery, especially in spring and summer. At the entrance, the cave is 35 meters wide and 30 meters tall. The cave widens to 40 meters at most. The cave itself has been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years, starting from the Old Stone Age about 70.000 years ago. Keep in mind when travelling to Devetashka that the caves are closed between the 1st of June and the 31st of July. This is due to the bat breeding season, which interrupts standard operating hours.
The Crooked Forest, Poland
In a small corner of western Poland, near the town of Gryfino, a strange and eerie woodland exists. The Crooked Forest consists of around 400 pine trees that grow with a 90-degree bend at their base, the vast majority of which are bent northward. Some people suspect that these trees, planted in 1930, were warped intentionally by a human to get naturally-curved timber, although many other theories exist (aliens)!
Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal is a lake located in southern Siberia, Russia. Baikal is the deepest, oldest and most voluminous of all lakes. Today, Lake Baikal contains some 20% of the Earth’s lake and river water, making this Russian lake comparable in volume to the entire Amazon basin. In and around Baikal live more than 1,500 animal species, about 80% of which live nowhere else on the planet. If you visit Lake Baikal, remember that winters here are very cold, with low temperatures a layer of surface ice as thick as two meters. Summertime is friendlier, offering long, long days and superb opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and fishing. However, in winter you get to see the famous blue ice of Lake Baikal.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Made up of 16 terraced lakes, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is a famous sight in Croatia and probably the most touristy attraction among the ones on this list. This UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its waterfalls, caves and lakes, which were created due to water flowing through limestone and chalk terrain for centuries, and for the shade of its turquoise water, whose colour changes from one day to another. Visiting the Lakes is totally doable in one day. There are plenty of day trips offered from Zagreb or Split. However, many tourists feel that one-day trips are a bit rushed, so if you have the time – consider staying overnight! Staying overnight will also allow you to visit the site early in the morning – you will take amazing pictures and will walk the park without the crowd.
Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
A mosaic of mountain peaks, glacial lakes, and the deepest gorges in Europe, Durmitor National Park in Montenegro is one of the continent’s most magnificent natural treasures. Among its many wonders, the park is home to the Tara River Canyon, which runs for 80 kilometers and reaches a depth of 1,300 meters. One of the largest canyons in the world, Durmitor is thickly forested with pine trees, some of which are more than 400 years old and tower some 50 meters high. Durmitor National Park is the perfect place to take up a huge variety of outdoor activities, from white-water rafting along the Tara River Canyon, to zip lining, climbing and mountain biking.
The Caves of Aggtelek Karst, Hungary and Slovakia
The Caves of Aggtelek Karst are located between Hungary and Slovakia and contain 712 caves spread out over 55,800 hectares. The caves are made of limestone and have high humidity so dripping water formed into stalactites and stalagmites over millions of centuries, creating the decorations you can witness today. It is the largest stalactite cave system in Europe, and its stalactite and stalagmite formations are spectacular. The caverns and their surroundings have been designated a national park by both Hungary and Slovakia, and the area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
Neretva River, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Neretva, famous for flowing below the Old Bridge in Mostars, flows through Bosnia and Herzegovina and a small part of Croatia. It’s famous for its pristine emerald water, and is yet to be be fully discovered by the mainstream. It’s one of the cleanest rivers in Europe, and also one of the coldest. Its source is in Dinaric Alps, more than a mile above sea level. Visit Mostar, but also take a short journey from to Blagaj, a small town with a natural cliff-side. Take a little boat ride into the depths of the cave itself.
Djavolja varos, Serbia
The name Djavolja Varos (Devil’s Town), because the locals believe that these changes occur as devils fight each other for power. These pyramids came into existence by water erosion, in heterogeneous material; the more massive block on the surface prevented the material beneath it from being destroyed and eroded away, resulting in the formation of the “towers” – pyramids.
Tunnel of Love in Klev, Ukraine
The tunnel of love is a natural wonder which is situated in a small town called Klevan. During the war time it used to be a strategically important railway so many trees and bushes were planted on both sides of the railway to cover it from the war crafts on the ground and in the air. Nowadays this railway is not used for trains anymore and the trees with bushes have stopped being cut. Continuing to grow they’ve formed the rush of the tunnel made completely of the tree branches and leaves.