If you ever felt regret that – having been born in contemporary times, you’ll never be able to see the Seven Wonders of the World, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza survives, you needn’t fret any longer. Since 2001, The New7Wonders Foundation – established by the Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker, author and adventurer Bernard Weber, undertook a campaign to identify the world’s new seven wonders – democratically elected, all intact and accessible to anyone willing to fly around the world and see them.
In July of 2007 – chosen as a result of more than 100 million votes, the Foundation launched another campaign – to identify the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Vlašić, Bosnia and Herzegovina
As part of the Dinaric Alps range, the Vlašić Mountain – located in the very centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina, dominates like a giant fortress. Its forests, pastures and springs make it an important tourist site in the summer, when it is frequented by eco-tourists, but it is most popular for its winter sports opportunities. The mountain’s highest peak is Paljenik (1,943 metres above sea level). In addition to its appeal for nature lovers, the Vlašić Mountain also has a historical importance, albeit a ghastly one. In August 1992, during the Bosnian War, it became the scene of the Koricani Cliffs Massacre, when over 200 Bosniak men were slaughtered by a Bosnian Serb reserve police.
Mount Olympus, Greece
With its 2,919 metres in height, Mount Olympus is Greece’s highest mountain. It is located about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki. Though it is currently known for its rich plant life, including some endemic species, it will always be associated with being “the home of the gods” from Greek mythology. To honour it, on June 21 of every year, the day that marks the summer solstice, Greeks – who consider themselves descendants of the Ancient Hellenes not only ethnically, but also ideologically, come in crowds and gather under Mount Olympus’s peak in order to take part in the several days of festivities. Setting up contemporary tents, they walk around in togas and try to speak ancient Greek, dance pagan dances, name themselves with ancient names, get married and send prayers to Zeus and company, helped along by the Dionysian quantities of wine.
Belogradchik Rocks, Bulgaria
A group of bizarre sandstone and limestone formation which stretch over 30 kilometres and reach up to 200 metres in height. Varying in colour from deep red to sandy yellow and grey, the rocks of Belogradchik were formed some 200 million years ago. This makes them about the same age as two of the world’s largest mountain ranges: the Alps and the Himalayas. The pressure of the tectonic processes that gave rise to the mountains pushed residues from the sea bottom, bringing the red sandstone from the depths to the surface. The landscape was completed by erosion which has, over the millennia, insistently carved faces, ears, chins, and noses onto personages, named the Schoolgirl, the Monks, the Hare and the Bear, with a legend attached to each of them.
Vrelo Cave, Macedonia
Located in the Canyon of Matka on the right bank of Treska River near the Macedonian capital of Skopje, Vrelo is a system of two caves, one above and one underneath the water, and a lake which is 30 metres long and up to four metres wide. A highlight of the top cave is a three-metre high stalagmite, called the Pine Cone. The actual depth of the submerged cave has not yet been determined; it seems to lie well over 500 metres, which is why some consider it to be Europe’s deepest underwater cave.
Tara River Canyon, Montenegro
The Tara River Gorge, located north of the capital Podgorica, is the deepest canyon in Europe and the second longest in the world. It stretches for over 80 kilometres in length and has at an average depth of 1,100 kilometres. Part of the Durmitor National Park, the area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In many spots along the gorge, one can see the river running wild in all shades of blue, far below the road. The nature around seems at most places intact. The most popular activity on the river is rafting, with routes passing by many natural and man-made attractions – a few of them are the Ljutica and Draga Waterfalls, the Tara Lever, the bottom of the 1,650-metre Curevac Peak. The rafting route also goes under the impressive historical Đurđevića Tara Bridge, on the crossroads between Mojkovac, Žabljak and Pljevlja and by a couple of monasteries, shining white on the banks.
Đavolja Varoš Rock Formation, Serbia
Named ‘devil’s town’, this group of rocks described as earth pyramids is located in the Radan Mountains in the southern region of Serbia. Although the scientific explanation for the towering forms is volcanic activity and erosion, legend has it that they are wedding guests turned into stone by God as punishment, very much like the story of the Stone Wedding rock formations located in south-eastern Bulgaria.
Cappadocia Rock Formation, Turkey
Spanning over a territory roughly the size of Belgium, Cappadocia – in the west-central part of Turkey, stretches between Kayseri in the east, Aksaray in the west, Hacibektas in the north, and Nigde in the south. Created by persistent volcanic eruptions, it possesses one of the most fantastic landscapes on the planet: valleys strewn with sand cones; tall stone pillars with triangular roofs; canyons in rocks, seemingly made out of melted butter. Here mankind began building its Old Testament human ant-hills – over and underground colonies, as early as prehistoric times. Thousands of metres of corridors link the different levels of dwellings dug into the rocks, in places chiselled into elegant façades. Millions of pigeonholes frame the heights like freezes, adding a slightly urban feel to the magical landscape. Many centuries ago this was the centre of the Hittite Empire. Later it became an independent kingdom, and then it was turned into a large Roman province mentioned in the Bible. Carved into the rocks, there are hundreds of Early Christian churches scattered around the valleys. Because of its diverse terrain, Cappadocia can be explored by trekking, climbing, crawling, and abseiling, but it is most impressive at sunrise, viewed from a hot air balloon.
Retezat National Park, Romania
This natural reserve area covers 38.138 hectares in Hunedoara County in western Romania. In addition to the diversity of its landscape – characterised by the beautiful Retezat Mountains, glacier lakes, valleys and caves, the area attracts with its biodiversity. It shelters around 1190 superior plant species of the 3450 species known in Romania, as well as many kinds of birds, fish, vertebrates and mammals, such as wolves, brown bears, wild boars, roes and red deer. Traditional grazing activities are still practiced by local people in the park as well.
Drin River, Albania
The Drin River, with its total length of 160 kilometres, is Albania’s longest. From Kukës, the Drin flows through northern Albania, first going through the Has area to the north, passing through the towns of Spas, Msi and Fierzë, and then, upon reaching the Dukagjini area, it descends to the south, flowing through Apripë e Gurit, Toplanë, Dushman, Koman, Vjerdhë Mazrrek, Rragam, and Pale Lalej. At Vau-Dejës, it enters the low Shkodra Field and splits into two arms. One empties into the Adriatic Sea southwest of the city of Lezhë, while the other flows into the Bojana River. In addition to the great variety of flora and fauna, including recently introduced fish species such as the zander, the Drin River is very important for the Albanian economy, especially for its electricity production.
Lake Ohrid, Albania and Macedonia
Lake Ohrid spreads on the mountainous border between south-western Macedonia and eastern Albania. It is one of Europe’s deepest and, at 3 million years, it may be the oldest lake on the continent. Its unique aquatic ecosystem with more than 200 endemic species is of worldwide importance. The lake was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979. But while the town of Podgradec on the Albanian side has been left largely outside the tourist radar, the town of Ohrid on the Macedonian one is one of the most popular summer spots not only for Macedonians, but also for international travellers. The lake’s coasts and waters provide plenty of entertainment opportunities, including fishing, sailing and going to the beach, while the town’s steep, cobblestone streets, numerous ancient churches and yearly festival events allow visitors to dip into a historical and cultural atmosphere.
Danube River, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia
As Europe’s second largest river, the Danube starts out in Germany’s Black Forest and, nearly 3,000 kilometres further to the East, flows into the Black Sea. It passes by some glorious and well-known cities – like Vienna and Budapest, but also numerous, less-known historical cities and natural sites in the Balkans. Among them are the towns of Vucovar and Ilok and the Kopački Rit National Park in Croatia, the Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Belgrade and the Đerdap National Park in Serbia, the Iron Gate Gorge, which forms part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania, Turnu Severin and Giurgiu in Romania, Belogradchik, Vidin and Ruse in Bulgaria. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the river is the Danube Delta – a World Heritage site large parts of which are protected, as it houses unique plant and animal species. As part of the Via Pontiki – the pan-European route which starts in Northern Europe, passes by the Ukraine’s Black Sea shore and continues all the way down into Turkey, the delta’s wetlands are crucial for migratory bird flocks, which include a number of rare and endangered species, such as Pygmy Cormorant.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
The sixteen translucent, turquoise lakes with their fresh waterfalls and walking paths through the water remain one of the top pleasures Croatia has to offer and one of the most memorable and refreshing experiences in the Balkans, as testified by the crowds that flock here all year round. Located between two mountains, the lakes are divided into two clusters – an upper and a lower one, stretching over eight kilometres and flowing into one another through naturally formed travertine dams. Their varying flora and fauna affect their colours, which distinctively vary from grey and blue to green and turquoise. Visitors can explore the lakes on foot or take a guided tour, which uses electric boats. The park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fragile structural and functional complex, sensitive to natural changes and to incautious human actions, and swimming and fishing is allowed anywhere within the park’s confines.