Europe is brim-full of stories of fairytale creatures. Here are some places you can visit, to try and catch a glimpse of these elusive beasties.
Norway – trolls
In Norse mythology, trolls are cave-dwelling creatures who live in social groups. Some accounts describe them as slow but dangerous beasts, which turn to stone on contact with sunlight. Others say they are harmless, but shy, and choose to live as far away as possible from humans.
These days, they’re a popular emblem of the Scandinavian nations. You’ll find slightly gormless-looking interpretations of the troll in every tourist gift shop in Norway. But there are plenty of places in Norway where you could imagine real trolls living. For instance, if you take the funicular 320m up to the top of Bergen’s Mount Fløyen, walk past the replica trolls at the Trollskogen clearing and out into the wooded wilderness beyond, it’s easy to imagine those big-nosed beasties are peering at you, from the undergrowth….
Finland – Moomins
Of course, Norway isn’t the only country to claim that trolls haunt its forests and mountains. These fairytale creatures are also native to Finland. But children’s writer and illustrator Tove Jansson dreamed up a variant: the Moomintroll. In her charming stories, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Moomintroll, Snork Maiden and a host of other characters live together, occasionally battling adversity. They always end up together, usually over a tea table laden with teacups, saucers, and plates of cake.
Jansson wrote the Moomin stories partly from her island summer home, in Finland’s archipelago, the largest in the world. Moomin fans can take a trip to see the archipelago’s old wooden towns, lighthouses and national parks. A new Moomin Museum has just opened in Tampere, with original artworks by Tove Jansson, and an interactive journey through the world of the Moomin stories. In the summer months, Moominworld, a Moomin-themed amusement park for young families, opens its doors in Naantali.
Ireland – leprechauns
The leprechaun is a type of fairy. These little critters spend their time making and mending shoes, stealing tools from unsuspecting humans, and hoarding away their gold in a pot, hidden at the end of a rainbow.
Leprechauns are country folk, who are said to live in the pretty towns and villages of the Celtic island. Travellers who are looking for a slice of rural idyll, as well as the opportunity to catch a leprechaun (they supposedly grant three wishes to any human who can capture them), can pick from an array of beautiful destinations, like Carlingford, with oyster farms, medieval buildings and a 12th-Century castle. If Dublin city life’s more your thing, the National Leprechaun Museum gives guided tours through the history of this Celtic sprite, with adult-only, spooky tours in the evenings. Travelling to Irealnd can be remarkably cheap, too – just check out budget tour operators like netflights).
France and Spain – goblins
If you like your fairytale creatures mean and dirty, then goblins are your thing. Legend has these beasties as foul, wizened creatures who burrow under the earth and can swim through rock. Goblins are said to come out at night, curdling milk and bringing nightmares to sleeping humans.
Legend has it that these fairytale creatures first emerged from a crack in the Pyrenees Mountains, a range of almost 500km that runs along the border country of Spain and France. Although the savage goblins swarmed over the rest of Europe, goblin disciples can take a trip to the majestic mountains that spawned the creatures. And beautiful they are, too, with more waterfalls than anywhere else in Europe outside Scandinavia. Aragon in Spain or the Pyrénées National Park in France would be good places to start.
Greece – dryads
Over 25% of Greece is covered by forest, which makes it an ideal location to seek out dryads. Dryads are shy tree-spirits who can live for centuries. They have their basis in Greek mythology, which says that dryads don’t like humans entering the forest, in case they harm the trees. If you think that you can brave their wrath, though, the 40km Pholóē oak forest, on the Peloponnese Peninsula, is a magical place of dense, ancient oaks. As well as dryads, the Greeks also believed that centaurs and fairies lived there – so, a bonus for fairytale creature-spotters.
Germany – gnomes
Gnomes were known as custodians of the earth and nature, caring for wild creatures. This is where the tradition of the garden gnome originated. They were made so that gardeners could plant them next to lawns or flower beds, to help keep the place healthy and fertile.
Garden gnomes were first produced in Germany in the 19th Century. Dresden firm Baehr and Maresch was credited with producing the first versions, in 1841. The gnomes must have been looking after the Saxony town, because it’s now difficult to believe it was all but wiped out during the Allied bombing of 1945. With a cityscape of spires and towers, and 110 museums and galleries crammed with treasures from Old Masters to 21st Century art, the city remains a gem of a place.
With accompanying gnomes.
Where would you go to find fairytale creatures?
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