Seeking peace in the New Year? Spending time in nature has been proven to work wonders for our mental wellbeing. It’s not a fix-all solution, but it definitely does help to get out in the fresh air.
Long walks, taking in your surroundings, and caring for your local plant and animal environments are all low-effort, high-impact ways to remove yourself from everyday distractions.
In turn, we unlock parts of our brain we often forget to nurture, and reap the benefits, while being reminded of how beautiful and simple things can be.
A Money.co.uk survey revealed that Europe is home to six of the world’s best national parks for mindfulness.
They analysed features such as amount of green space and lakes, plant and animal species,air pollution levels, visitor numbers, and availability of mindful activities such as hikes, boat tours, wellness centres and spas.
Here are the six European national parks where you can go to get away from it all.
6. Surround yourself with greenery at the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, Czech Republic
Founded 22 years ago, the Bohemian Switzerland National Park was built with the purpose of preserving the region’s flora and fauna that had suffered greatly over decades due to human impact.
The park is now one of the Czech Republic’s go-to spots for the reintroduction of animal species that used to live there - take the return of the salmon back to the Kamenice River, for example.
A trip here is now a colourful one, with lush greenery contrasting sand, rocks, and clear waters.
The Kamenice is one of 16 rivers and lakes delicately strewn among the park's canyons, which are popular with hikers travelling in to unwind from city life in nearby Prague.
5. Dip in the crisp, cool waters of Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
The Plitvice Lakes are one of Croatia’s most popular natural settings to visit year-round, especially in summer, when it’s waters come to life. They range from deep sapphires to a bright turquoise, depending on the time of day and the lakes’ mineral content.
Tumbling tiers of pools, four different hiking trails and thousands of plant species make it hard to run out of sights to appreciate.
There is no presumption of heavy physical activity though. People are encouraged to cover as much or as little of its 73,000 acres as they wish, even providing seven pre-mapped walking routes customisable based on your energy levels and ambition.
Plitvice is perfect for chilled out walks around the wooden boardwalks, and just as good for climbers wanting to fill their lungs with some of the crispest, cleanest air in the Balkans.
4. Get an endorphin hit in the Lake District, United Kingdom
England’s largest national park often feels like a universe in itself, a gigantic green patch enveloped by rugged mountains and smooth pools of water.
Millions of Brits visit each year to decompress among the natural landscapes and surrounding quaint market towns.
The Lake District is rife with activities that cater to those looking for downtime in a calm setting. That could be a bike ride through some of its more manageable hills, or a stargazing trip - both of which the park offers planning for.
Of course, there’s no shortage of brilliant walking routes for all abilities, but the real endorphin boost lies in the sheer number of water sports - whether you’re a wild swimmer, a sailor, or a paddler, there is something on offer.
3. Give back to the natural landscape at Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
Cinque Terre - literal translation being 'five towns' - is at the forefront of Europe’s journey to responsible and sustainable tourism.
The Italian wonder is one of the smallest in surface area on this list, but comes up trumps where biodiversity, mindful activities, and cultural sites are concerned.
Visitors are encouraged to embrace the natural landscape by giving back to the land.
This could be through a stay at one of the Park’s many organic farms or by foraging and replanting some of the herbs that grow between the coves and the countryside, such as rosemary and thyme.
2. Float above the unique sculpted landscapes of Göreme National Park, Turkey
Described by UNESCO as 'spectacular' for the distinctive shapes of its eroded terrain dating back to the Bronze age, the valleys of Turkey’s Göreme National Park are well worth exploring for their unique design that is all down to once being a former volcano site.
Göreme’s dramatic hiking paths and rust rock tunnelling managed to pip the US’s Yellowstone National Park - thousands of times larger in size and in visitors - to the post in this survey’s ranking.
The landscapes on offer here are like something out of a fairy tale. So much so, the grounds of this heritage site host a hot-air balloon tour every morning at sunrise to soak up the magic of this baffling, yet beautiful, scenery.
1. Breathe in Europe’s cleanest Alpine air at the Swiss National Park, Switzerland
The oldest national park in the Alps has been crowned the best for mindfulness in not just Europe, but the entire world.
It doesn’t take a genius to know why - it is one of the best protected areas in the Alps, with only 150,000 visitors per year, and one of the lowest overall air pollution scores of any National Park on this list.
The Swiss National Park comes top for mindful activities, offering 83 spas and wellness centres, 75 boat tours and cruises, and a number of opportunities to connect with its vast array of wildlife.
Caution must be taken not to visit in the winter months as the park stays closed for conservation purposes.
In the meantime, it’s not uncommon to spot mountain hares, ibex, red deer and golden eagles on one of 14 possible walking routes across this staggeringly beautiful stretch of land.