Primeval Beech Forests
The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe cover forests of the European beech in 18 countries.
They comprise the largest remaining 'virgin' forests of the European beech ('Fagus sylvatica'). They also hold the largest and tallest beech specimens in the world.
The European beech is a very adaptable species and it is spread across areas of different altitudinal zones, with different climatic and geological conditions.
Map of Primeval Beech ForestsLoad map
Even though I had been to all WHSs and TWHSs in Germany, upon learning that Germany was offering a 9-Euro, monthly train pass in summer 2022, I decided to take advantage of it and to visit the north-east corner of the country, where I had hardly travelled before, for about 10 days. As such, the final destination for this trip was the Jasmund National Park, which includes the Primeval Beech Forests WHS.
I took a bus from the Sassnitz Busbahnhof straight to Königsstuhl National Park Centre.
At the NP Center I first checked out the multimedia exhibition with an automatic audio guide, which, as you might expect, did not work very well. On the other hand, the 20 min. movie playing continuously titled "Migration of Ancient Beech Forest," produced around the time of its inscription in 2011, was quite good and informative, I thought.
In the early afternoon there were 2 walking tours of the NP, one for families with children and the other for the little more serious-minded. So I decided to join the latter. It turned out that I was the only participant, and the guide, a park ranger, did not speak much of English. My German is certainly not good enough. So what do we do? Consequently, because the first tour had 2 guides, both of whom spoke decent English, one of them decided to join my tour because this woman, not from the UNESCO office but from the German office that takes care of the WH aspect of the NP, said she was eager to improve her English. So suddenly I had 2 guides for myself. The knowledgeable but low-key ranger was the main guide and the woman with such an enthusiasm was more like a German to English interpreter.
As I remember, the most interesting thing I learned was the difference of shape in the beech trees. The ranger said that until 1990 when the area became the national park, the beech trees in the area were an important commodity in the hands of forestry corporations. Because they wanted to keep the beech trees as highly-prized as possible, they somehow came up with a way to keep the trees grow straight up. He went on to say that all beech trees you see rising straight up are done so artificially. But then after 1990 when forestry got prohibited, trees were allowed to grow naturally and no longer grew straight up. The ranger showed me the area where the trees are still straight and another area where they aren't (photo) and even an area in-between.
The woman from the German WH office occasionally offered supplemental information, such as, "When it's hot, we go to beach or go under beech."
After walking through the forest, talking about all this, we came out to a clearance at the edge of the cliff at Victoriasicht where we had the sweeping view of the Baltic Sea and the iconic Königsstuhl. The tour lasted about 90 minutes.
With this trip to Jasmund I have visited all 5 Primeval Beech Forests WHSs in Germany at the 4 national parks and at Grumsin but none in the Carpathians or in other countries in Europe, at least consciously. As far as the Beech Forests WHS goes, however, my favorite is the Shirakami Sanchi WHS in Japan, which claims to have even older species of beech trees than the ones in Europe. (This is what I was told by the WH center at Shirakami and has not been independently verified.) At Shirakami the visit can even be capped by a short dip in Onsen right at the village with the trailhead.
I wish I had time to walk back along the coast to Sassnitz, but instead I decided to spend more time in Binz where I left my luggage at my accommodation earlier in the day, so I just took the bus back to Sassnitz. Stunningly white, Binz, supposedly one of the premier beach resorts in Germany, looked unlike any other cities I have seen in Germany but more like Baltic beach resorts such as Sopot in Poland or Jūrmala in Latvia.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Grumsin Beech Forest, June 2022
The forest can be visited as a half-day trip from Berlin via public transport. As other reviewers have pointed out the actual UNESCO-listed property is “verboten” to be visited on your own – there are paid official guided tours available, which require pre-booking well in advance. There are four official signposted hike trails which pass through the buffer zone and touch the borders of the core forest areas, but do not enter or cross it.
Even though Grumsin is close to Metropolis Berlin the area of the forest is very rural and the main access road to the little hamlet of Grumsin proper (half a dozen of farmhouses) is shockingly rough for a country like Germany. The wider area used to be the hunting grounds of the Brandenburg princes of lore, then followed by the clique around Goering (the remains of the Carinhall estate are nearby), and finally the red barons of the GDR stalked their deer and wild boars there, which may explain why the area remains relatively underdeveloped and relatively untouched. Even today, hunters’ high seats abound in the area.
With the UNESCO listing of Grumsin came change to the community around the forest – what used to be a quiet backwater now is being heavily marketed by local and regional tourist boards. Apparently, nobody asked the locals if they had an opinion, and the UNESCO listing came as a surprise (and shock) to many. Around Grumsin there are a number of banners hung up in the trees protesting the change and linking to a (well-made) Web page giving more background. I would recommend reading the articles on that page either before or after a visit to learn more about the impact tourist hordes can have on small local villages, the rift and controversies it can cause within a community, and how to behave responsibly as a temporary visitor.
If nevertheless you decide to visit the “verboten” protected core area on your own there is an old cobblestoned path that traverses the forest. The forest is no longer being managed; hence it looks “unclean” to the modern eye, with tons of wood and trees lying crisscross on the ground (some of it seems almost having been put there on purpose to block visitors from entering). This is especially true for the trails inside the core forest, hence hiking becomes tricky at times, and more time needs to be planned. The forest itself is – well, it’s a beech forest, with wonderful old, high trees (the same trees, pretty much, that can be seen from the official trails around the protected area). The canopy is quite thick, and as no wood is being chopped any more, little light reaches the forest grounds, with little in the way of undergrowth, bushes, flowers, or the like – hence, no need to bring a machete into the forest.
Grumsin forest lies in an area formed by ancient glaciers, hence it is a bit hilly, but there are no cliffs or rocky areas, really, so totally safe for hiking. Internet reception can be a bit spotty at times, hence probably a good idea to download an offline map.
As can be seen by looking at a map, the wider area is covered with gazillions of larger and smaller lakes and ponds, again, a result of glacial activities. I was constantly being followed by an amazing number of mosquitos, so next time I would bring gloves to cover my hands, as they were quite swollen up after my trip due to many mosquito bites.
It goes without saying that you should not leave any trash in the forest and stay on the marked paths. Weekends are probably very crowded and best to be avoided. I visited on a weekday, leaving Berlin with the first train in the morning, to be able to start my hiking at 7 am, which is a good time to spot animals and enjoy the scenery, with nobody else around so early. I was back in Berlin for lunch.
Please do not arrive by car. There are a few car parks around the forest, but apparently not nearly enough, causing significant trouble with “wild parking” and all the issues that causes to the local small communities.
There is a “tourist bus” (#497) to the Grumsin forest area from Angermünde, the nearest train hub and a nice little town on its own. It has a big UNESCO logo plastered on it. There is another local bus (#452) going a bit further, all the way to Grumsin proper. At 6:30am, there were only two passengers on that bus. There are other buses on the other side of the forest running to and from the Ziethen area. Most of these buses run on weekdays only, tied, apparently, to the local school schedules, with big gaps in between. However, it can all be done quite easily with a bit of pre-planning in order to avoid having to wait for hours for a connecting bus returning you back to civilization.
This is a hard site to rate: There is no doubt at all that these areas should be protected. But this site has been so "successful" with its many extensions that it has kind of ridiculed its on OUV: How can a site have OUV that has 82 locations in most European countries? The locations are so numerous that nobody can still consider unique so it would actually only be consequent to remove the site from the list! It implies the strong question how many locations a serial site can or should have (I couldn't answer this question in respect to the Compostela sites though I think definitely that a much stronger selection would improve the sites). To me it seems that serial sites and especially those with a long list of locations are increasing on the Unesco list and this seems to imply almost always a mediocre or weak site. To select one example pars pro toto (as the Nuragic momuments) or of a few outstanding examples (such as the Begijnhofs) seems the better way to go.
The second drawback of this site is the visitor experience and once more I am amazed how a site which offers obviously little excitement to most visitors has such a high rating on our website (similar to the Limes sites which seem rather crappy apart from Hadrians Wall). In the meanwhile we have even two of those forests in Switzerland and I had once even hiked around Bettlach but I am not sure if I entered the core zone so I hadn't counted the site yet. Therefore I took my recent trip to Brussels as an opportunity to visit not only several additional locations of the Belfries, Beguinages and Horta houses but also to add a new site by visiting the Brussels beech forest. There are several reasons to do this in Brussels: There are five areas, they are close to the city centre and easy to reach by public transport (though connections don't run very often). One of those areas lies behind the charming Groenedaal Arboretum and the local Forest museum Van de Roesbruuk, which has unsteady opening times and was closed in the morning when I passed it. Both are in the large buffer zone. Heading further west you get to the small remains of a former monastery with a nice pond and a café. When you continue along the pond you are still in the buffer zone but the woods are already quite charming and clearly dominated by beeches. I am sure the pond and the beautiful spring day added to my delight. When you arrive at the sign with the "Joseph Zwaenepoel Forest Reserve" you enter the core zone (Zone number 8 on the Unesco map) without a obvious change in the landscape. I walked around the nice Ganzepootvijver pond counterclockwise but instead of returning east to my starting point I continued northeast for about two kilometers towards two other core zone areas. First I crossed the southern end of "Sonian Forest – Grippensdelle A" from west to east before making another half-hour walk through "Sonian Forest – Grippensdelle B) roughly from south the north to take the bus back to the city center from the Foresterie bus stop.
The whole walk of about two hours was pleasant and I liked the big fallen trees left in place to decay something's forcing me to detours. The best part though was clearly the walk around the pond as I had expected. While I often try to visit all interesting parts of a serial site I have no aspiration to see very many the other 81 locations of this site. If I get the opportunity I might visit the two Swiss areas for a small hike but I will certainly try to visit the Jasmund forest of Rügen with its chalk cliffs which has been a place of dreams since my childhood because of the famous painting by Caspar David Friedrich. Nonetheless I suspect that all other locations will make for a nice hike as well but won't add much new.
Summer holidays with my son ticking of all that Macedonia has to offer and a bit of Albania. Of course with the Beech Forest listed for 2021 (I think it should) I wanted to go as we wanted to make some hikes anyway. UNESCO gives coordinates N41 45 06 E20 35 23 for the center. Good for me and it has 168ha with a 200ha buffer zone. I made it to about 200 meters from N41 45 06 E20 35 23 as it was exactly on a slope so couldn't reach it.
How to get there? It's the REAL wilderness of Macedonia and the area is home to bears (we did see fresh tracks in the mud!!!), wolfs etc and not without risk if you don't know what you do. I decided to have a local hiking guide with me so we would be with 3 people rather as just 2 plus he had enough knowledge about the area. Even he, hadn't been there often. There is actually just 1 trail which is possible and it starts in Ribnica (small village but nobody is there anymore). It goes to the summit of Ribnicka Skala and passes the coordinates mentioned by UNESCO for the Beechforest. It's a 8km one way trail. It is marked, but, partly very dense vegation and no way to see a path. Finally I didn't make it to the summit (secondary objective) due to rain.
The forest was beautifull pristine. Lots of flowers. Butterflies. Some birds. Mammels we didn't see except the paws. I do understand the importance and I think it should be UNESCO. Not sure if the core area keeps being accesible but it is now.
Once again, allthough not to difficult terrain, don't go alone and know about the (dangerous) wildlife!
(photo licensed for worldheritagesite.org by Els only!)
Read more from Christravelblog here.
The beech forests of Germany are a continuous running gag in my family. Both my father and my uncle pick this site when they want to point out that something is fishy about world heritage sites. Now, you need to know that neither of them knows much about world heritage sites. But they do know a bit of beech trees, having run a tree nursery specialising in German beech trees for most of their adult lives. And they aren't really impressed about this site, at least the German component. And I think I get why.
The designated areas in Germany are all National Parks, but .. Germany is densely populated. You simply won't find huge, rugged areas of virgin forests in Germany. It's limited patches of forest, intercut by roads or trails and close to villages. Civilization is never that far off and it makes it hard to appreciate the OUV of the German component.
So far, I have managed to see three forests in Germany: Kellerwald, Hainisch and Jasmund. If I was to pick, I would single out Jasmund for the best visiting experience due the iconic scenery of Cape Arkona, the white cliffs of Rügen. Forest wise though, none of the national parks impressed me.
The Kellerwald visitor center is accessible via rail from Vöhl-Herzhausen. Major town nearby is Kassel.
From Bad Langensalza or Eisenach, you can take an infrequent bus to the Hainich visitor center. Next major town nearby is Erfurt.
Jasmund National Park can be reached via Sassnitz. In season, there are plenty of busses. Out of season you should be able to manage to get there, too, but I couldn't find a connection. In any case, you should walk one way along the coast.
While You Are There
Being a Europe spanning series of sites, means that you can combine them with plenty of other sites. Frankly, I would assume that you tick this site off on the go.
In Germany, Hainich is probably the most combinable being located in Thuringia with Eisenach, Weimar and Naumburg nearby. Visiting Jasmund, you will pass through Stralsund. Kellerwald has the Bergpark Kassel-Wilhelmsruh nearby. And you can go on to both the Ruhr or Frankfurt and on from there.
Adding a beech forest to the long list of inscribed beech forests seems to be the easiest way to get a new WHS in Europe. Switzerland also wants a piece of this cake and added two beech forests to its tentative list. I visited one of them, the Bettlachberg forest during the coronavirus lock down weekend. The forest is easy to reach by car. It’s just a few minutes outside Grenchen and there is a road leading right into the forest. We parked our car next to the street and hiked up to the old castle ruin of Grenchen, within the forest. It’s a rather easy uphill hike. Doable in less than one hour and really fun on a sunny day. In the end it is just a forest and it is heard to gasp the OUV. But I have the same problem with the already inscribed parts, so why not. On a positive note, there were lots of beech trees. Much more than I saw in the forests in Bulgaria or Italy. On the other hand, it is not a virgin forest. It is clearly maintained like any other forest in Switzerland.
It will probably be inscribed one day. I, personally, am against it. I would like this beech forest madness to stop. Further, Switzerland has with Corbusier and Pile Dwellings already too many of these underwhelming multi national WHS. The forest is only for hardcore collectors, but can easily be combined with Berne and La Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle.
COMMENT TO EXTENSION (SLOVAK and POLISH COMPONENT)
I am sorry, Els. I cannot help myself and have to add further comments on the planned extension to the WHS Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of Europe. The news that the ultimate extension of this WHS is going to happen made me very happy. It would be very strange world, where Sonian forest is the part of this beautiful WHS but fine beech forest in Poland and Balkan region are not. I am also happy that Bieszczady component (Poland) is included this time (unlike in 2017) as well as the forests of Czechia, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
The Polish component comprises of ca. 11-% of National Park area. One of the parts is shown in the photo - This is the view from the Slovak-Polish border close to Kremenec hill towards Bieszczady mountains. After extension, the entire trans-national range of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine will be protected as WHS site.
WHS in the area: the church of Smolnik, part of Wooden Tserkvas of Carpathians
SLOVAK COMPONENT - EXTENSION
I am very happy to see that the sad story regarding Primeval beech forests WHS of Slovakia is coming to an end!!! I commented it in more detail in my review to the corresponding WHS.
After more than 10 years, Slovakia state party will propose modifided nomination that should be in line with the WHS standards - it means sufficient protection, clear boundary and legal status, etc.. The existing sites will be re-nominated with modified boundaries and buffer zones (Havešová, Rožok and Vihorlat components will remain; Stužica-Bukovské vrchy component will be cut into two pieces: Stužica and Udava), and another component Kyjovský prales will be added. I have not yet visited the additional component. It has special regime because it is a part of military area with restricted access. I was ca. 3-5 km from the Kyjovský prales only... but not directly there yet. Despite the special regime, it is possible to visit the area. The schedule is published on-line. What I know, this somponent is of perfect quality and protection. Thus, it is excellent candidate to enrich this WHS.
I include the photo of Carpathian blue slug (Bielzia coerulans) from Stužica-Bukovské vrchy component. I am happy to know that creatures like this will be finaly protected by highest possible level.
Updates, February 2020 (more than 12 years after firts nomination of the Slovak components):
My enthusiasm towards the substantial border modification slightly faded, but I am still happy anyway...
The 10 km long strip of valuable forests along the border with Poland between newly proposed components Stužica-Bukovské vrchy and Udava will be removed. Instead, so-called southern appendix, the side-ridge of Velký Bukovec covered by forests of partly lower value will be added. The reason is that the stakeholders, who owned the forests between Natural Reserves Plaša and Udava, do not agree that their land to be part of this WHS. OK, for the state party of Slovakia it is "the art of the possible". The overall impact to the forests of the Slovak components should be, however, very positive. New natural reserves with the highest level of the protection are to be created in 2020: (i) Velký Bukovec in the Stužica component (I visited this part by turning from the main ridge of Bukovské vrchy at Ďurkovec, and it is still nice area), (ii) Rydošová in Udava component, (iii) very large Vihorlatský Prales natural reserve should merge all previous small strict reserves into the new big one.
Concerning the new delineation of the Vihorlat component, there is a controversy initiated by the NGO Wolf. The protection of the lake Morské Oko (water surface and banks of the lake) in the middle of Vihorlat component has been lowerd from 5th to 4th level. A week before the elections in Slovakia, the NGO claims that it is a mean act that should help developers to destroy the area, and the NGO invites people to vote in the elections accordingly.... IMHO, the WOLF NGO behaves hysterically as usual, since even in the 1. buffer zone (now the area of the lake) should enjoy very high level of protection with all new developer activities banned or strictly regulated.
All in all, the core zones of the Slovak component will be finally strcitly protected that is very positive. Even the creation of 1. and 2. buffer zones are the progress towards much better protection than in the past. When reading the justification text of the state party of Slovakia, I was in shock that the newly established strict protection of the core zone and very high protection of the buffer zones mean that the decenial production of the wood (logging in the National Park) will be reduced by 45,267 m3 in the core zone, 65,647 m3 in the 1. buffer zone, and 564,979.2 m3 in the 2. buffer zone = all together loss of profits 14,627,004 EUR!!! The logging was fully legal and planned in the WHS components from 2007 till now. It has changed fortunatelly.
Extension approved in July 2021! and I am very happy with this. From beech forests I have visited/seen, the Slovakia/Ukraine/Poland cluster + Foresta Umbra in Italy + the Czech component are all beautiful and deserve the WHS status.
Thus, five stars again to beech forests!
I re-visited the site in June 2021 just before the realease of the IUCN evaluation. It was an uncomplicated day trip from Prague (excellent bus connection to Liberec, and then to Oldřichovice v Hájích by local train - there are marked trails uphill to the site: National Natural Reserve Jizera Mountains Beech Forests). I must say that I was pretty impressed by the quality of the forest and its ecosystem I found at the site. Several parts of this component have very similar character to the sites in Carpathiens. Nevertheless, they are at the same time very different because of the difference in geology.
The Natural Reserve and its buffer zone (all together ca. 2000 ha) encompasses almost 17 km long range and I walked around/through at least half of it during my last visit. Only the parts around Poledník Mt. (PHOTO) and Štolpichy canyons (444 ha) are proposed as the core zone, and the rest is planned as the buffer zone. The strength of the site lays in its size and diversity. Even though no genuine virgin forest survived there, quite large parts have very natural character (the core zone) and the entire site has very promising perspective for becoming natural forests in one-two hundreds years. Another important point is that the site is surrounded by other protected mountainous areas. Furthermore, there are increasing numbers of carnivores (lynx and wolves) which are essential for the beech forest ecosystem. The site is interesting also for beech forest laymen because of very numerous rocks, thus, it is not just a huge boring forest.
All in all, the proposed site is of a very high quality and deserves the WHS status.
Firstly, I was in shock when I found out that the beech forests of Jizerské hory Mountains are to be included to the giant project of Ancient and Primeval Forests of Europe. Now, I like this nomination more and more. "Jizerské hory" are located in the fromer Sudetenland in northern part of Czechia. Although this part of Czechia is very interesting, it was heavily afected in the last century: (i) Once highly developed region with textile and glass industry (bijouterie/imitation jewelry from Jablonec nad Nisou was world famous with quality that Swarovski can only dream about) were turned into "not such developed region" by an expulsion of German minority after WWII, and this is visible even today. (ii) In 80-90s of 20th century, the large pine forest areas of Jizerské hory and Krušné hory (Erzgebirge) were killed by sulphur- and nitrogen-oxides air pollution from heavy industry of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. Thus, this is a region of big contrasts. The forests in the area are mostly regenerated, so, do not expect disastrous place nowadays.
The Jizerské mountains are formed by large mountainous plateau that together with one of the highest rainfall in Europe results in very fine peat-bogs. Another natural curiosity is one of the finest deposite of sapphire and related precious stones, such as iserine (named after Jizerka) in Europe. It is in Jizerka plateau - a beautiful place of worth-visiting!. Due to their shape, the Mountains are famous also for cross-country skiing. There is the annual race "Jizerská padesátka" (meaning 50km long race) with tradition over 50 years.
The large beech forests are located on the rocky northern edge of the plateau, and can be reached for example from the pilgrim place Hejnice with interesting baroque church. One can see there the viewpoint Ořešník on the granite rock accesible by red tourist trail. The beech forest of the National reserve are one of the finest in Czechia, but I think that the area is only little know for that. Fortunately, beech trees are more resistant to polution than pine forests.
POLISH COMPONENT - BIESZCZADY
Bieszczady mountains NP in Poland is popular tourist destination, and no wonder why. The national park is simply beautiful and I take it as quintessential Carpatian mountains. Due to the depopulation after WWII, the area is not affected by utilitarian pressures as it can be found on Slovak side, which is already WHS.
I comment it in my review to WHS Primeval Beech Forests:
It certainly deserves WHS status. It is more touristy and maybe not so wild as forests on Slovakia part. Due to a bit higher attitude there are large poloninas (mountain meadows) on the mountains ranges, which are very attractive and worth-visiting as well (although poloniny area itself is not part of proposed WHS). I also admired forest management that is 1000-times better than in official WHS of Slovakia. Only shadow on my optimism concerning Polish contribution to this WHS lays in unclear politics in Poland nowdays. Therefore, the nomination was withdrawn by state party in 2017 in spite of high qualities of Polish component, which would be perfetly complementar to sites in Slovakia and Ukraine. I am afraid that it is somehow related to issue in Bielowieza forest, and Polish side wants to avoid "problems" with UNESCO in case of controversial management in forests.
The extension is planned for 2020, we will see...
COMPONENTS of SLOVAKIA, GERMANY and ITALY
I really love this WHS and spent quite a lot of days&nights in beech forests mostly of Slovakia components. Paradoxically, I am not surprised by low ratings of other travellers, since it is not easy to recognize qualities of this WHS. Though this huge transnational property looks a bit odd and quality of individual comonents is hardly comparable, if it results in better protection of beech forest it makes me very happy. In my case it was love at first sight, and as true love it has its ups and downs. To be clear: the entire ecosystem of primeval beech forests is simply amazing and fascinating, sadly, this is not definitely true for several state parties and even their NGOs (ego of NGO) that should take care about WHS...
(1) Slovakia - they have incredibly valuable naturale heritage in these WHS components, but even after 10 years after inscriptions the state party of Slovakia has not been able to decide what belongs to the component and what not, because there are huge discrepancies between reality and official proposal. The worst thing is that the strict protection has been declared in the nomination text, but reality is completely different - only certain parts of WHS are sufficiently protected by law. Unfortunately, almost nobody form Goverment, Municipalities, and local people carred about this problem in the past. Even NGOs attitude and action were problematic in my opinion. In the past and even now, logging and hunting is legal in several parts of WHS.
The management of National parks of Slovakia in general is simply said one big tragedy, and wood production is sometimes prefered to nature protection. Thus, you can see too many clear cuts terribly close to WHS or even inside.
Fortunately, after pressure from UNESCO, they are working hard to propose modifications of components and their buffer zones to ensure sufficient protection of OUV. The new boundaries should be examined by UNESCO together with extensions of this transnational WHS in 2020.
(i) main range of Bukovske Hills between Udava and Stuzica natural reserves is still relatively unspoiled, and accesible from both Slovak (Osadne village - yellow-marked track uphills to beautiful Udava; Nova Sedlica - three tracks to the main range, red or blue to the most valuable part of WHS in Slovakia Stuzica reserve (PHOTO), yellow to very nice Jaraba skala reserve; or Runina - green track uphills or blue track to Ruske Sedlo saddle) and Polish sides (ca. three tracks from Ustrzyki Gorne and nearby villages, or alternatively by narrow track railway - getting-off at Balnica station - highly recommended - fortunately now it is legal to cross the border from Polish side, but I remember times it was quite adrenaline sport not to be caught by Polish border police...)
(ii) Vihorlat main range around Morske Oko lake (accesible by ca. 5 marked tracks from Snina, Remetske Hamre, Strihovce, etc.). This are is very nice area with beautiful views and large virgin forests, but protection is even lower as compared to Bukovske Hills, because Vihorlat is not national park. Thus, relatively unspoiled areas are surrounded and penetrated by destroyed ones.
(2) Germany (i) Jasmund - the chalk cliffs surrounded by beech forest is certainly beautiful and valuable, but I am afraid it is not comparable to genuine primeval forests of Carpatians.
(i) Monte Cimino close to Viterbo. I could see it only from distance when travelling to Lake Vico. The site seems impresive and well protected, and I am planning to visit it as well as nearby Monte Raschio in near future.
(ii) Foresta Umbra in Apulia region, Promontorio Gargano. The area is simply amazing and deserves protection as WHS. Unfortunatelly, the site is crossed by road from Mattinata to Peschici, but the most valuable parts are fenced due to strict protection. There are however footways that allows visiting the interior of the forest. The forest is unique and is influenced by so called gigantism due to excess of nutrients and minerals - I have not seen such huge yew and beech trees before. What I also liked is a contrast between nearby Adriatic cost and the beech forests in attitude 800m.
My only criticism goes to the visitors center of Foresta Umbra, which is advertised on numerous road banners in Gargano region. In fact, there is no visitors center at all. There are several buildings within the forest. Most of them are military or National Park management properties and thus inaccesible; The Natural History Museum looked very bizzare; Trattoria was closed in September; The nearby lake was however quite pleasent to stroll around.
(Possible extension) Poland - Bieszcziady
It certainly deserves WHS status. It is more touristy and maybe not so wild as forests on Slovakia part. Due to a bit higher attitude there are large poloninas (mountain meadows) on the mountains ranges, which are very attractive and worth-visiting as well (although poloniny area itself is not part of proposed WHS). I also admired forest management that is 1000-times better than in official WHS of Slovakia.
Only shadow on my optimism concerning Polish contribution to this WHS lays in unclear politics in Poland nowdays. Therefore, the nomination was withdrawn by state party in 2017 in spite of high qualities of Polish component, which would be perfetly complementar to sites in Slovakia and Ukraine. I am afraid that it is somehow related to issue in Bielowieza forest, and Polish side wants to avoid "problems" with UNESCO in case of controversial management in forests.
We will see in 2020...
Although I had been to the Heinrich National Park before, I stopped at the Grumsin area of the MAB Reserve in September 2017. Both are part of this Primeval Beech Forest WHS in Germany (as well as in 11 other countries).
A bus from Angermünde dropped me off right in front of the WHS Info Center in Altkunkendorf, but this 30 min. public bus ride that went around the most rural area I have ever seen in the state of Brandenburg was like a roller coaster ride and is highly recommended.
The couple at the Info Center was extremely helpful and recommended me to take a combination of two color-coded hiking trails in the area during the 5 hours I had there.
But the trails only go around the core zone, and the couple had told me that it was prohibited to walk into the core zone (as it is in the Shirakami Mountains Beech Forest WHS in Japan). Although I saw several trails that branched out into the core zone without any prohibiting signs, I didn't bother walking in, as all beech trees looked like the same to me.
But because I had only driven through the Heinrich NP, this leisurely hiking, breathing the O2 emitted by the WH beech trees, was a much nicer experience.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Driving out to Hainich I apologised to my wife, "I think I have gone too far with this one." The calm non-vocalised acceptance indicated I had indeed probably overstepped the mark a little.
By this time our car was weaving on the deep snow atop the single track road outside the village of Craula and I had already started budgeting for how much the recovery vehicle would cost to haul us out. But we made it to the small car park at the entrance to the WHS core zone parked up and hoped that we would be able to get out again.
A thick white blanket wrapped the whole landscape as the deep snow blended seamlessly with the heavy skies when I jumped out of the car and donned my coat, scarf and gloves.
"It's ok you go do your thing, I'll take some photos around here and stay warm." said my wife, again cementing her role as the sane one in our relationship.
So off I trekked, not really planning on getting far, just hoping I could find something that I could comfortably identify as being a beech tree. It didn't take me long, as a few hundred meters from the car park were the tall thin black stalks of trees. Snow and ice clung to the dark wood of the leafless trees which were set against powdery grey skies and made the whole scene a glorious monochrome tableau.
There was utter silence as I gawped at the spectacle, broken only by the crunch of snowy footsteps behind me. I turned and saw a familiar beaming face, as my wife had been sucked further from the car by the highly unique surroundings. Almost a year to the day after we had shared the same gleeful, uncomprehending glances at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Mexico we were repeating them in front of a clump of trees. A most unexpected outcome, even a few minutes beforehand.
That was about it, we tried in vain to capture the scene in photographs, but nothing could really do it justice. Feeling cold and not really sure that another half hour of walking would provide us with anything to top the experience we decided to head back to the car, after a swift but magical visit.
I started up the car and was exceptionally relieved to make it out of the thick snow and back on the main roads for the short drive to Wartburg.
Unexpectedly magnificent and utterly stunning. The specific weather and timing of our trip made this a rather magical visit to what may otherwise be a slightly underwhelming site but for us it was one that left that indelible imprint of a really special location that we only visited because of its place on the list.
Site 6: Experience 9
Read more from Ian Cade here.
All five of the protected areas in Germany offer a variety of experiences. From the white cliffs and coastal breeze of Jasmund National Park through to the inland mountain ranges of Kellerward-Edersee National Park.
There are hiking trails and recreation facilities in all the parks and some of them have modern and informative visitor centres with detailed information about the remaining beech trees and the forests that once covered the country.
One of the best information centres is at Jasmund National Park – and this is the one I visited. It has an excellent video presentation and a detailed museum with facts and figures about the forests. There are also guided tours and talks from local experts.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
The Sonian Forest near Brussels is proposed as an extension to the Primeval Beech Forests of The Carpathians and ancient beech forests of Germany. If all goes well, this is scheduled to materialize in 2017. The extension proposal is a trans-border series consisting of 33 components, located in 11 State Parties: Albania, Slovenia, Romania, Italy, Poland, Austria (in the lead), Croatia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Spain and Belgium. This in addition to the current WHS that already covers 15 beech forests in Slovakia, Ukraine and Germany.
The listed Primeval Beech Forests represent pure and mixed stands of European Beech in various environmental conditions. One wonders if so many more examples are really necessary. The nominating countries are serious about it though, and have developed a classification system defining Beech Forests of Regions (BFR) in Europe. Each BFR is characterized by specific climatic conditions and flora, and demonstrates an individual piece of history of the beech forests.
The Sonian Forest is the only remaining beech forest in the Atlantic climate zone. It marks the western limit of the species range in Europe. 74% of the forest area is covered with beech, part of the scattered remains of the ancient Silva Carbonaria or Charcoal Forest. The Sonian Forest furthermore has nice trivia value as its area covers parts of all three regions of Belgium: Flanders, the Brussels-Capital Region and Wallonia. And it would be another addition to the already extensive Brussels WH Hotspot.
I feel a bit bad about my first visit to a WH listed Beech Forest: in 2008 I spent half a day driving around the east of Slovakia. I saw a lot of forest, probably beech - but I searched in vain for an access point. So I try to make up with this Belgian location once it is inscribed.
The Sonian Forest website shows various ‘entry points’ of which I choose ‘Toegangspoort Groenendaal (Hoeilaart)’. This is also where the Jan van Ruusbroec Museum is, a somewhat old school museum about the forest including the obligatory stuffed mammals. I was surprised to learn from it that exotic fauna species such as parakeets and squirrels have been introduced to the Sonian Forest and are thriving. Its many species of bat led to it being classified as a Natura 2000 protected site.
The Sonian Forest is nicknamed ‘Beech Cathedral’: the beeches can reach a height of 50 meters, giving the forest the character of a gothic cathedral. Some are over 250 years old. They originate from Austrian Habsburg times, when the landscape architect Joachim Zinner planted beeches on a massive scale. This resulted in long avenues with lines of trees running along each side. It's a pleasant place for a Sunday walk, but I had trouble finding the designated hiking paths (marked by orange or red painted wooden stumps) and got bored quickly by the endless rows of trees.
A coordinated nomination from 11 countries is pretty difficult to follow through in one attempt. The so-called Vienna Short List even included no less than 20 countries, including Kosovo! As most beeches in the Sonian Forest date back to human intervention in the 18th century, I don’t really grasp their ‘primeval’ or ‘virgin’ classification. But somewhere along the way during the nomination process 'primeval' has been changed into 'ancient'. And 'ancient' is now defined as 'at least 150 years old'.
The title of the future extended WHS will probably be 'Ancient Beech Forests of Europe' - steering away from cumbersome constructions such as 'Primeval Beech Forests of The Carpathians and ancient beech forests of Germany and those of Albania and the beeches in Austria and those in Poland (and so on)'.
Read more from Els Slots here.
With the exdtension of this WHS to include some German beech forests, I have now visited three of these.
Of them the Jasmund National Park on Rugen Island was the most spectacular, where the forest appears to tumble down the cliffs to meet the Baltic Sea. I reached the Park HQ at Konigsstuhl by bus #20 from Sassnitz station and enjoyed the comprehensive audio-visual displays at the HQ.
The Kellerwald National Park had many hiking trails on offer, of different lengths and grades. I reached the park from Kassel on bus #555 travelling one way via Frankenberg and returning via Korbach.
I also visited Thiemsburg in the Hainich National Park, travelling on bus #27A from Eisenach station. The main attraction here seemed to be the Baumkronenpfad, a walkway through the forest canopy.
The "easiest" way to see the inscribed area within Vihorlat is to hike up to Sninsky kamen, which is just within the core area, and which offers panoramic views of the overall protected area within Vihorlat. The hike up to Sninsky Kamen starts from Morske Oko, which in turn can be reached by driving to the end of the road from Remetske Hamre (around 20km from Michalovce). Morske Oko seems to be a somewhat popular tourist location (at least for locals) as the site features a car park, signposted trail markers, and there also were several people strolling around the lake. The trail up to Sninsky Kamen, on the other hand, is less popular even if being relatively easy (with the exception of some missing trail markers). In fact, the main challenge is to reach Vihorlat in the first place as the park is located closer to Ukrainian border (only Ukrainian mobile network provider was occasionally within range inside the park) than any major Slovakian city.
In terms of sights, the descriptions of the sights within the other reviews seem rather well fitting also for Vihorlat. The forest areas are rather thick and pristine, with the best areas located close to the peak (and hence the inscribed area). As the area is quite far from large cities and relatively undisturbed by human visitors, the site also offers possibilities for spotting wildlife (managed to spot a fox and a small deer during my visit).
All in all, an area well worth of protection, and a nice (even if not outstanding) location to visit, albeit at a rather remote location.
Jasmund National Parks is on Rugen. My ferry from Sweden was along Jasmund National Park so I really enjoy watching closer to Konigsstuhl and the part of the Jasmund National Park. There was also blue/ green water at this unique park. Stena Line has ferry service between Trelleborg, Sweden and Sassnitz, Germany daily. I should to visit this park in the next time but on foot in this park.
Berlin-based travelers can easily visit the Grumsin Forest in one day. The closest train station to the park is Angermünde (about an hour from Berlin Hauptbahnhof). Buses run hourly from there to Altkünkendorf town. The new visitor center in Altkünkendorf provides information on hikes, trails inside the forest.
Walking inside the forest is quite an experience, the type you read in German fairy tales. The forest is dark; some areas do not get sunshine.
When choosing which of the 5 German Beech forests to visit we looked for one which was reasonably close to our main route for other WHS and gave us the chance definitely to enter the inscribed area with a hike of 1-2 hours from a roadhead. It came down to 2 – Hainich which is north of Eisenach and therefore convenient for a visit to the Wartburg and Kellerwald-Edersee which is west of Kassel and therefore convenient for a visit to the Bergpark.
It is worth noting that in the case of all 5 WHS inscriptions the inscribed area is significantly smaller than the National Park or Reserve within which they are situated. The inscribed area will have been chosen because it contains the most significant primary growth forest - inevitably that tends to put it in the centre of the Park/Reserve which will also encompass secondary growth areas which will probably contain areas of modern re-planting or re-growth.
We homed in on Kellerwald-Edersee where its northern inscribed boundary is, for a kilometer or so, contiguous with that of the NP at the point where it flanks the Edersee itself. On the drive in it is possible to pick up a reasonably detailed map of the NP at Information Centres - perfectly adequate for a hike following a named trail. The UNESCO inscribed area is clearly differentiated from the NP on this map by green “hatching”. Some German road maps show a “white” road going all the way along the southern side of the Edersee through the inscribed area but this is only a rough path and not open to motor vehicles. The village of Bringhausen is about 10kms west of Edertal and beyond at the park boundary is a (free) parking area titled “Kirchweg”. Here we set out on the “Bloßenberg Route”. See map here http://www.nationalpark-kellerwald-edersee.de/de/naturerleben/wandern/blossenbergroute/
Taking it in a clockwise direction you need to leave it at the bottom where the lake arm reaches in and then cross the bridge going west. But you are still not in the inscribed area!! You need to follow the path towards Asel Sud along the banks of the Edersee and, at some (unmarked) point will enter the WHS. However, as we had copies of both the Nomination File and the Information Centre maps we felt able to strike inland and uphill at the bridge so as to make a circuit coming back along the shore and thus get into a “wilder” part of the forest. We eventually made our way back down to the lake approximately where the Western end of the inscribed area should have been – but we had still not seen ANY “proof” in the form of notice boards, logos etc that we had actually entered the inscribed area! The frequent notice boards both at the car park and along the route describing land form, flora and fauna were liberally covered with logos for numerous ministries and programs but the UNESCO one was notablye absent! This is possibly due to the fact that the NP was created in 2004 and all the signage was completed then – whereas UNESCO inscription only came in 2011. But it isn’t like Germany not to, very visibly, “celebrate” Welterbe status - even if it did mean redoing all the signs! As another attempt we set off further towards Asel Sud than we had intended in order to scout the western boundary and there it was – in the undergrowth, where the path crossed a stream, a small post with an even smaller metal tag screwed to it displaying UNESCO and WH logos! (photo).
Apart from the “proven” success of entering the inscribed area, what else did we gain from our c 2 hour hike (we could by the way easily have continued to Asel where food and drink is available). The path along the Edersee is quite busy with cyclists and is set up for park ranger 4 x4s so I would certainly recommend going inland. There we found some very pleasant quiet mossy glades with vast numbers of fungi and glorious vistas through the trees in the dappled sunlight. We didn’t see any mammals but did get nice views of Great Crested Grebe on the Edersee and, for us, the star sight of an Osprey swooping to catch a fish – a sight we have tried to see on many occasions without success in Africa and Scotland!
I visited the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park in Germany and spent a great day hiking around the primeval beech forest. Minimal human intervention occurs in the national park which means that trees are left to grow freely. I encountered several beech trees that fell naturally and were completely taken over by wild mushrooms, moss, ferns and other vegetation. The Kellerwald Information Center was my starting point, with interesting informative leaflets, videos and hiking maps for free! Plenty of parking free of charge too! The easiest route (Hagenstein) turned out to be quite rewarding and I spotted the splendid Red Kite, Black Kites, and a woodpecker. There are many species of beetles to be found and interesting flora too. I hope to visit other sites in other countries to be able to compare between them, nonetheless the Kellerwald-Edersee Park surely deserves to be inscribed in the list.
The local people in eastern Slovakia do not understand the interest in their trees; they have been surrounded by them for millenia. But having these forests protected for the future is priceless.
I felt a certain ownership of this WHS as I had attended the meeting in Christchurch when the site was first listed in 2007. I was reminded of this each time I inspected a National Park information board. I visited two parts of this site :
Vihorlat : I reached the end of the road in Zemplinske Hamre by bus from Snina, the same spot that Els reached. I crossed a bridge and found a few marked tracks into the forest, but without the benefit of a trail map did not follow them very far.
Stuznica : this part of the Poloniny National Park is accessed by bus from Snina to Nova Sedlice. From the bus stop a track continues past the National Park office up the corner where Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland meet.
In July 2011 I planned a long weekend Germany. After my visit to the Fagus Factory (Alfeld) I drove to the Kellerwald NP. The Kellerwald is part of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany. Kellerwald is inscribed in July 2011. I arrived late in the afternoon and decided to visit first the Kellerwald information centre. The centre is build in 2008 and easy to find at the edge of the parc. The building is very nice and I paid 6 euro for the little exhibition about the wildlife inside the parc. The information is totally made with computergraphics. Also at the end they showed a 3D-movie about the parc.
The visit to the centre is a good start before the hiking. Free maps with the trails are available at the desk of the centre. I went to my hotel at the other side of the parc, near the Wildtierparc (animalparc). That was a ride of almost 40 minuts along the Edersee. Beautiful !
The next day it was raining and cold, not really perfect for a good hike. The trails where slippery and muddy . So...I changed my plan and decided to go up with the cable train (standseilbahn). In 10 minuts I was 300 meters higher into the forest. First I walked to the viewpoint and later I walked a little bit on different trails.
Kellerwald NP is easy to visit. There are a lot of trails (difficult and easy). The signs are very good. On the internet and in the information centre is a lot of information available. It was the visit more then worth. Only the rain was not so nice that day. I walked back to my hotel where I had parked my car. I was tired and I had no more energy to visit the wildtierparc. With a good feeling I drove back to my home (Netherlands).
In 2009 I visited Hainich national park, one of the five german properties that extend the Carpathian beech forrest WHS in 2011. It is easy to get there, the park is at the motorway A4, very close to the Wartburg castle in Eisenach. The nominated area is the core zone of the park and represents about one-third of the entire national park. I first went to the information center „Thiemsburg“ and asked which of the many marked trails will give the best impression of the area nominated for WHS. A very nice man at the information recomended the „Sperbersgrundweg“, a 6 km loop walking trail, that starts at the car park „Craulaer Kreuz“. He was very exited about the upcoming WHS nomination and explained to me that is a major difference between the German and Carpathian forests that they are located at different heights. The three sites in the north-east of Germany are at sea level, Hainich and Kellerwald are in the lower highlands (200 to 600 m above sea level), and the Carpathian forests are above 1000 m sea level. I'm not an expert in botany, so that I can not judge whether this warrants the inscrption. For me it was just a forest, certainly a beautiful forest. Beeches are large and amazing trees and I really enjoyed my walk through the forest. But it is just a forest. For those who think of Grand Cayon or the Jungfrau Protected Area in the Alps as an natural WHS, would probably be disappointed. However, I have to admit that the other german properties could be more interesting in terms of the landscape: Jasmund lies on the coast of the island of Rügen and there are impressive chalk riffs, Serrahn and Grumsin are in the Mecklenburg lake district.
In the „Thiemsburg“ information center is also the entrance to a treetop walk (entrance fee 8,50 Euro), which does not belong to the WHS but is worth a visit.
Basic info about Slovakian part only. Stuzica Reserve is the only easy accessible part of Heritage (with marked footpaths). Havesova and Vihorlat are located in remote part (if you have good map you can go there but there are no roads), Rozok is close to Ukrainian border with a road passing through but its not a marked footpath.
Stuzica in Slovakia is somehow similar to Bialowieza Forest, not in type of flora but as the area of no human activity. All fallen trees stay as they are the whole area is big enough to host big mammals, there are no paved roads inside the reserve. Two marked footpaths are the only way to get there.
In preparation for my visit, I had a difficult time finding any practical information about the nominated properties in Slovakia. My guidebook has nothing of any value on them but does include a handy map called 'Snina wooden churches' that covers the same area. The IUCN evaluation holds a shady map, which seems to point out only 3 properties on the Slovak side instead of 4. A better bet for maps is the Slovak/Ukrainian nomination dossier. I also found a regional website that has information about villages and parks. It describes access to the Vihorlat Protected Landscape via the village of Zemplínske Hámre. So I turn this route into the goal for myself today, possibly (weather and other circumstances permitting) with a walk to Morské Oko lake.
On the road eastward from Kosice, I quite suddenly encounter a sign 'Morské Oko' (near Remetské Hámre) - which is the lake on Mt. Vihorlat. I drive on (foolhardily), determined to give the other side of the mountain a go. The closer I get to the Ukraine border, the more dense the soft green-coloured forest gets. Especially the area around Ubl'a is very scenic. Here I also find two villages with domed Orthodox (or Eastern Catholic?) churches. Finally, I arrive at 'my approach' to Vihorlat: Zemplinkske Hámre. Its streets are filled with churchgoers, who stare at me, the outsider. I drive all the way to where the road ends ... and then there's nothing! Well, this is where the mountain starts but I can't see myself walking into the forest without any guidance.
So is this WHS number 273 or a near miss? I believe I've straddled the borders of the inscribed area (or at least their buffer zones). I have seen mountains covered in the thick forest of what I suppose are beeches. And I give myself some bonus points for trying! Actually, I wonder if visitors ever reach the core areas, which are quite small (see the maps in the nomination dossier) and I wouldn't know how to get there without a local guide or camping out.
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- Full Name
- Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
- Unesco ID
- Albania Austria Belgium Bosnia Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Czechia France Germany Italy North Macedonia Poland Romania Slovakia Slovenia Spain Switzerland Ukraine
- Natural landscape - Forest
- By ID
To include 15 more locations in 7 countries
To include more forests in 10 countries
2017 Name change
From 'Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany' to: Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
Includes former TWHS Monts Pollini (Italy 1982) and Umbra Forest from FTWHS Promontorio del Gargano (2002)
To include the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany.
2011 Name change
From "Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians" to "Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany"
Beech forests of Havešová, Stužica, and Rožok were included in former Slovak TWHS Poloniny Vorgom Forests (1995)
2004 Requested by State Party to not be examined
As "Primeval Forests of Slovakia"
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