Neretva River, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Zachary Collier (CC 2.0)
Today, the discovery of all that nature has to offer is easily within reach of every traveller to the Balkans, who can choose from an astonishing array of marine, coastal and terrestrial destinations and in the process support local economies, preserve cultural identities and protect our natural heritage.
Among these destinations are those within the European Union (EU) network of more than 30,000 EU registered protected sites, known as the Natura 2000 Network, which is the largest single network of protected areas in the world covering more than 1 million square kilometres, equivalent to roughly one fifth of the entire EU territorial land mass. The Natura 2000 network extends across the full European range of terrestrial and aquatic habitats throughout all of the EU Member States while operating under the same protective legal instruments thereby creating dynamic, living sites that have proven to be sustainable ecologically as well as socially and economically. As of December 2013, the Balkan countries belonging to the EU and the number of their Natura terrestrial and marine sites, respectively, are as follows: Bulgaria (336/23), Croatia (780/266), Greece (419/152) and Romania (531/11). We invite you to visit the European Commission website to learn more about Balkan Natura 2000 sites as holiday destinations known for their unsurpassed beauty and unforgettable wildlife.
Visitors to all of the Balkan countries can also select from a stunning array of protected UNESCO World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves, Ramsar sites and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) designated by BirdLife International. These and other Balkan travel destinations feature spectacular mineral springs, lakes, rivers, wetlands, marshes, bird migration flyways, forests, mountains, land and sea caves, waterfalls, beaches, bays and lagoons as the region’s natural heritage has something to offer every nature lover.
As our natural environment has for billions of years faithfully served as a cradle of evolution as well as a nursery, food source, shelter and final resting place for all life on Earth, the significance of taking greater care of our irreplaceable natural resources becomes ever more clear. In recognition of this philosophy, many Balkan tourist destinations have distinguished themselves by their investments in sustainable tourism manifesting this commitment through the use of renewable energy, green technologies and organic farm products in their business operations for the protection of the environment. The industry is becoming increasingly aware of the fact that biodiversity and the ecosystem services provided by our natural resources are fundamental as well as indispensable to the entire tourism industry. And every year as public awareness about the benefits of environmental conservation grows, more tourists are inquiring about the sustainable operations that are employed by various tourism businesses including hotels, transport companies and restaurants with which they engage during their holidays, because what the industry regards as tourism expenditures are in reality hard-earned and long awaited investments by those travellers who have laboured toward this end for their health and well-being on which a value could never be realistically placed.
In juxtaposition to the visitor, nature tourism concurrently delivers direct economic benefits to the host community and country through the visitors’ procurement of guide services and local excursions, accommodations, food services, transportation and local crafts. Additional benefits accrue from national park and nature reserve fees as well as enhanced national foreign currency reserves.
The growth and popularity of nature tourism along with its contributions to local and national economies, natural resource conservation, cross-cultural understanding, inter-species connections and visitor health/recreation, are reminiscent of advice once given by Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the German theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Laureate in Physics, who suggested that you should “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”