One of Scotland’s best loved scenic areas has been voted among the most spectacular natural parks in Europe by an international travel comparison website.
Cairngorms National Park, the second of only two designated national parks in Scotland, is among seven sites across the continent recognised for their unique landscapes, clean air and top-class attractions.
The park appears alongside the likes of the Dolomites in Italy, the French Alps and Croatia’s Plitvice Lake in a hit list of top eco-tourism destinations selected by the online travel firm Hundredrooms to mark the annual International Day of Forests, which takes place next week.
The Lake District, in England, is the only other UK beauty spot to make the list.
Cairngorms national park, designated in 2003, covers more than 1,700 square miles and takes in parts of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland, Angus and Perth and Kinross.
It is Scotland’s second national park, set up a year after Loch Lomond and Trossachs, and the largest in the UK.
It boasts a wide variety of landscapes, including five of the country’s six highest mountains – Ben Macdhui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Gorm - and is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
Activities on offer include walking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, golf, horse riding and water sports.
The park provides a home for many of Scotland’s rarest and most iconic wildlife species, from golden eagles, ospreys and capercaillies to the elusive wildcat and much-loved red squirrel.
The area also has a rich cultural past that takes in everything from castles and battlefields to whisky distilleries and traditional music.
Tourism contributes £115m to the local economy.
Recognition of the park as a top nature tourism destination has been welcomed.
Peter Argyle, convener of Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “Naturally we’re delighted to be listed in the top seven but anyone who lives in the Cairngorms national park or has visited will not be surprised by this accolade.
“The Cairngorms national park is truly an amazing landscape, from majestic mountains and heather-covered moorlands to ancient woodlands and pristine rivers and lochs.
“I think it’s the diversity and variety within the park that makes it so special.”
Eco-tourism is becoming increasingly popular worldwide.
The team at Hundredrooms believe it has positive benefits both for travellers and the environment, highlighting the importance of conservation and natural spaces while offering people the chance to get involved in educational, research and leisure activities.
Verónica Rosselló, head of communications at Hundredrooms, said: “The international team at Hundredrooms have selected these spectacular national parks as a team effort to celebrate the incredible beauty that nature has given us.
“The Cairngorms is a special destination due to its natural beauty and the range of activities available for tourists who prefer local experiences in sustainable environments.”
Aigüestortes national park in Spain and Berchtesgaden in Germany are also on the list.