Wetlands are wonderlands in our view. We highlight some of these important and idyllic places in Europe that are accessible by train.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance isn’t something that runs off most people’s tongues. Nor does it evoke a sense of wanderlust really, sounding a bit more like a grey, besuited business meeting. In the rain. In fact, Ramsar* rocks. It is the organisation that protects over 2000 waterscapes around the world. Not only to protect wildlife habitats but also to provide fresh water, control flooding and proffer a place to store excess carbon from the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, they are also exquisite places to visit. From peatlands to marshlands, estuaries to salt pans, reservoirs to tidal flats, here are just a few of these wet, wonderlands that are accessible by train.
Thanet coast and Sandwich Bay, Kent, UK
The best train stations for the Thanet Coast wetland site are Ramsgate or Sandwich where, if you turn your back on the sea for a bit, you can take in the maritime grasslands, salt marshes and dunes that are home to many breeding seabirds. And a beautiful chill-out ground for urban dwellers living in flight from the densely populated south-east of England.
Minsmere and Walberswick, Suffolk, UK
This Suffolk coast beauty spot is a haven of shingle beaches, bird-filled mudflats and reed-lined lagoons where boardwalks carry you from one habitat to the next. The nearest station is Darsham, 8km away from the coast, but you can cycle along quiet country roads as far as Minsmere RSPB Reserve for an excellent starting point.
Loch Lomond, Scotland, UK
There are two main spots on the south-east corner of this vast lake that are Ramsar protected, the nearest station being Balloch. From here it’s a 8km cycle ride to the Loch Lomond RSPB Nature Reserve. Or you can get a bus at the station to nearby Balmaha, where you can take a ferry out to Inchcailloch Island, also part of the Ramsar area. Scotland has always celebrated all things wet, wet, wet.
Arcachon Basin, France
Famous for Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe, take a train from Bordeaux to Arcachon to visit the Réserve Ornithologique Du Teich, the hub of this stunning wetland. Along this stretch of the Atlantic coast you can walk or cycle through seasonally flooded forests, meadows and salt marshes where la vie est belle for birdlife.
Marais du Fier d’Ars, Ile de Ré, France
When you arrive on Ile de Ré, just half an hour from La Rochelle train station, you know that you have entered a very special seascape. You can hire bikes all over the island, which is just 30km long and 5km wide, and head to the northern tip. Here, the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de Lilleau des Nige is at the heart of the wetland, boasting freshwater marshes, saltpans and seagrass beds where tens of thousands of birds flock in winter. Tens of thousands of tourists flock to this island in the height of summer too, but these northern shores are still relatively untouched by humans.
Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds, Sicily, Italy
Travellers delight in taking the train to Sicily, as the train is shunted onto a ferry to cross over from the mainland. You can go as far as Trapani to visit these salt ponds where over two hundred bird species have been recorded, from flamingoes to falcons. More famous, perhaps, as a region where salt production goes back to ancient times, the contemporary importance of this island wetland is significant. Stretching between Trapani and Marsala, it is salt of the earth really.
Valle Averto, Venice Lagoon, Italy
Escape the crowds of Venice to this natural haven where Venice’s greatest natural carnival takes place all year round. Stroll around Valle Averto’s reforested area, or enjoy one of the hides tucked into the reeds to look out for everything from kingfisher to water buffalo. There are guided tours here, run by the World Wildlife Fund which manages it. Take a train to Venice and then a bus from Liberta' Santa Chiara.
Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, Catalonia, Spain
This is a beauty and just 40 mins cycle ride from the Catalan town of Figueres. A town famous for celebrating all things Dalí and the surreal, the nearby sight of thousands of flamingos, storks, purple herons, glossy ibis and even rare black storks is most definitely real. This coastal plain is a fiesta of fauna between March and May, August and October.
Marismas de Santoña, Cantabria, Spain
This Ramsar site is part of the larger Santoña, Victoria and Joyel Marshes Natural Park, and one of the most important coastal wetlands on this Spanish northern peninsula. You can take a train to Gama or Cicero to access it, but these tickets are only bookable locally. The nearest main train stops are Bilbao and Santander - but venture deeper into coastal Cantabria where many rivers join the sea, creating a piñata of prettiness with loons, grebes, cormorants, herons and terns joining the party.
This blog gives you just a small flavour of wetlands to be discovered in Europe. Read more about World Wetland Day and worldwide events here, as well as Ramsar Wetlands, their mission and myriad marvels. You may also enjoy our blog on RSPB Reserves in UK by train.
*Named after the Iranian city of Ramsar where the Convention was signed in 1971.
Photo credits top to bottom: Murmuration over Minsmere iStock ©N_J_Roche, Loch Lomond iStock ©DEREKMcDOUGALL, Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds iStock ©font83, Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l’Empordà iStock ©bitbeerdealer
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