When you say the word ‘desert’ it is common to think of the sahara, or of large sand dunes. Not often would your mind ever wonder then to Europe and most people would consider this a place with no deserts at all. However this is actually inaccurate and it might surprise you to learn that there are actually hundreds of deserts in the world and that yes, some of these are located in Europe. Meanwhile it might surprise you further to learn that the term ‘desert’ is not so easily defined and that there is actually some contention regarding what should and shouldn’t classify as a ‘desert’. As such there are European deserts as well as European ‘semi-deserts’ that don’t quite make the grade by most definitions.
A semi desert is a ‘semi-arid’ climate or a ‘steppe climate’ and this means that it doesn’t meet all of the definitions necessary to be a desert or not to the same degree. A desert is defined not by the temperature as one may think, or even the presence of sand, but rather by the ‘precipitation’ of the ground. This refers to the amount of water that the soil can hold and thus the amount of plant life and grass it can/could sustain. In the case of a semi-desert then, this is somewhere between that of a desert and a humid climate. Both are in Europe.
Accona Desert: Accona desert is not technically one of the European deserts but an afforementioned semi-desert (semi-arid). Found in Tuscany, Italy, it is notable for its dome shaped formations known as biancane (from the Italian for white).
Deliblato Sand: Deliblato sand is a large sandy area that is situated in the Vojvodina province of Serbia. This is the largest sandy terrain in Europe and is the remains of a ‘prehistoric desert’. It was formed when the Pannian Sea withdrew and is today a nature reserve, but also a popular hunting ground.
Oltenian Sahara: Who knew that Europe had their very own Sahara? The Oltenian Sahara is roughly 800km2 in size and is found in the Romanian province of Oltenia. This is not a natural desert however but rather the result of heavy deforestation in the 1960s resulting in vast sandy areas. The name Oltenian Sahara was created by the press and this is the only one of our European deserts to feature its own ‘sand museum’. Worth visiting just to find out what you could fill such a museum with (presumably sand…).
The Highlands of Iceland: This is a European desert that is an easy example of a ‘semi-desert’ that does not rely on ‘sand’ to be one nor a hot climate. It is ‘effectively’ a desert in that it has volcanic soil that so quickly absorbs precipitation as to allow no plant growth at all in the area.
Piscinas: This is one of the largest European deserts and is found in Sardinia, Italy.
Tabernas Desert: A desert found in Almeria in Spain, making it one that could conceivably be visited during a European holiday.