wildlife of Austria, Czechia and Slovakia (by train)
A leisurely introduction to the wildlife of Central Europe, exploring flower-filled meadows, limestone hills, ancient forests and reed-fringed wetlands.
We will travel by train, crossing to Brussels by Eurostar and then taking one of the comfortable and newly-modernised Nightjet sleeper trains across to Austria. Here we start our holiday by visiting two of Vienna’s most endearing residents: Black-bellied Hamsters, at home in the city’s historic cemeteries, and European Sousliks, the characterful ground squirrels of eastern Europe’s grasslands.
Our next port of call will be South Moravia, where Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) rubs up against Austria, in a region of rich and diverse habitats: oak woodlands and riparian floodplain forests, craggy limestone hills and steppe grasslands, oxbow lakes and reed-fringed fish ponds, all with an almost Mediterranean climate. This is also a traditional wine-growing area, and we are sure to sample some of the area’s home-grown specialities.
The Carpathians form the backbone of Eastern Europe, curving eastward in an arc from Slovakia through Ukraine to Romania. Here at their western end, the White Carpathians are shared between Czechia and Slovakia – much of the area is protected within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is famed for its patchwork of flower-rich meadows and extensive mixed forests. It is not surprising that this is one of the best areas in Europe for butterflies. Flowers are also abundant here and local meadows are amongst the richest in Europe.
Our guide for this exploration of Central Europe will be Martin Hrouzek, an excellent Czech naturalist, experienced guide and great friend of Wildlife Travel, who has led all our previous visits to this part of the world.
Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
Day 1 After our morning Eurostar to Amsterdam, with some spare time to explore the city, we will join the excellent Nightjet sleeper train for our overnight journey to Vienna, arriving just after breakfast the next morning.
Day 2 The city of Vienna is home to two notable mammals: on arrival we will walk the short distance to a nearby cemetery, where a healthy population of one of Europe’s most endangered mammals, the Black-bellied Hamster survives amongst the city’s gravestones. We will then travel a little way into the suburbs, to visit a colony of European Sousliks, the endearing ground squirrels, before travelling on into Czechia, to our first hotel.
Day 3-5 Our first few days are spent in South Moravia, where Austria and Czechia meet, a region of limestone hills, reed-fringed wetlands and oak woods. The forest and scrubby woodland edge are home to Collared Flycatcher, Wryneck and Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Barred Warbler sing their scratchy songs from the scrubby areas, while Black Stork and Honey Buzzard may be seen overhead. We will visit the limestone karst of the Palava Hills, the riverine forests along the Morava valley, and the parklands and baroque palaces of the Lednice-Valtice complex.
Day 6-8 The White Carpathians form a 96-kilometre long ridge of hills on the border between Czechia and Slovakia and rise to a maximum elevation of 1,000m. Famed for its patchwork of large, flower-filled meadows dotted with solitary limes and oaks, and extensive mixed forests, it is not surprising that this is one of the best areas for butterflies in Europe. We will spend our days exploring the area, looking for some of the local specialities such as Twin-spot Fritllary, Large Chequered Skipper, Woodland Brown and Poplar Admiral. Many attractive flowers should be in flower, perhaps including the magnificent lousewort Pedicularis exaltata whose single Czech locality is in these mountains. Local meadows rank amongst the richest in Central Europe. We will pick out Grassy-leaved and Variegated Iris, Mountain Germander, Cross Gentian and Crested Cow-wheat among many others. Orchids could include Globe-flowered, Greater and Lesser Butterfly, Military and Burnt, as well as the endemic Ophrys holubyana. The nearby Vah River Valley and the low dolomitic hills to the east offer another interesting area to explore. Amongst the diverse flora is the endemic pink Dianthus lumnitzeri, while more butterflies include Assmann’s Fritillary, Turquoise and Chequered Blues, Woodland Grayling and Safflower Skipper.
Day 9 Time to head south, stopping along the way to visit the sandy forests of Zahorie if we have time, before we bid farewell to Martin in Vienna, and re-board the Nightjet sleeper train for our journey back to Amsterdam, and from there back to London by Eurostar (arriving Day 10).
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.