Greece contains the richest flora in the Mediterranean, some of its finest landscapes and antiquities that have unpinned Western civilisation. It is a beguiling mix and the perfect opportunity to combine plants and culture. Pretty endemics are tucked away in mountain retreats, sometimes confined to individual peaks, others spread themselves wide and colour the countryside, which itself varies from indented coastline to dense emerald forests and snow-capped alpine uplands. An exciting exploration into the botanical wealth of the Pindos Mountains in search of orchids, crocuses and Judas trees, as well as ancient cultural treats.
Day1 To Parnassos
On arrival at Athens airport we will drive to our comfortable hotel at the foot of Mount Parnassos.
Day 2 Parnassos
The limestone of Mount Parnassos is botanically rich and near the melting snows we’ll find big numbers of Crocus sieberi and masses of Anemone blanda. The pretty pink Aubrieta grows on the rocks, large flowered Viola graeca is common on slopes and searching lower down we'll find Orchis pallens, O. anthropophorum, O. quadripunctata and colonies of Ophrys lutea. Right next our hotel, set on the edge of Grecian fir forest, is a thriving population of Iris pumila ssp attica in both purple and cream forms flowering among tufts of pink Aethionema saxatile. Overnight Parnassos.
Day 3 Delphi
The classic site of Delphi is well worth exploring, not only for the rich history, but also for some interesting flora with Campanula topliana tumbling from the stone blocks along with Cerinthe retorsa and Alkanna orientalis and the golden spires of Asphodeline lutea. On the terraces nearby are stunning mixed colonies of Ophrys sphegodes ssp aesculapii and O. ferrum-equinum, as well as the odd O. spruneri. Other orchards are swathed in annuals and punctuated with spires of Leopoldia comosa and the vibrant red of Papaver apulum. Mats of Hypericum empetrifolium sprawl across the rocks with superb views across the landscape to distant Mount Chelmos. Overnight Parnassos.
Day 4 To Meteora
Colourful roadsides will be swathed in spring flowers such as Campanula spathulata and Linaria pelisseriana, whilst lovely tumbling masses of Onosma frutescens that bear golden-yellow flowers that age though orange to red. Phlomis fruticosa is abundant, mingling with spires of Verbascum undulatum, there are meadows choked with hundreds of Serapias vomeracea and hidden populations of delicate Anacamptis boryi. After a picnic lunch among the flowers we'll complete the journey to spectacular Meteora in time to view the rock formations with the warm late afternoon light. Overnight Meteora.
Day 5 Meteora and to Zagoria
The incredible landscapes of Meteora are embellished with a series of precariously positioned monasteries (most inactive) that were constructed to ensure peace and quiet. Some are now open for visitors. There are also some fine orchids with the delightful Ophrys reinholdii and sombre Serapias vomeracea. Masses of Crepis rubra colour the roadside along with a suite of spring flowers. Moving on the landscapes are no less dramatic as we enter the heart of Zagoria and wend our way to delightful Papigo, a perfectly restored stone village nestled beneath the towering ramparts of Mount Tymphi. Cercis siliquastrum will be in full bloom and grassy areas will have deep pink Anemone pavonina. Overnight Papigo.
Day 6 Vikos Gorge
The spectacular Vikos Gorge is the deepest in the world and the centrepiece of a magnificent scenic area. The woods have many hellebores, orchids, geraniums and drifts of Corydalis tuberosa and whilst deep pink Malcomia orsiniana and cushions of Saxifraga moschata sprouting from limestone crevices in the remarkable 'lost city' - an area of peculiar limestone pancake rocks. And there is the added bonus of some interested cultural sights, with elegant Ottoman bridges and precarious monasteries. At one particular bridge we'll find a stunning colony of lovely Ramonda serbica, the rosette decorated with lilac saucers. Overnight Papigo.
Day 7 Bourazani
A fascinating day of exploration along the Greek-Albania border. Swirls of raspberry Orchis quadripunctata combine with the rich cream of O. pauciflora and wonderful stands of smooth-lipped reddish-brown Ophrys helenae mingling with O. sphegodes subsp. mammosa. Elsewhere are plentiful Orchis simia and the big red bowls of Paeonia peregrina, Fritillaria graeca and superb trees of Cercis siliquastrum bursting with pink pea flowers. Overnight Papigo.
Day 8 Aoos Lake
The serpentine hills around Aoos Lake burst into flower at this time with drifts of Fritillaria montana, Muscari botryoides and Primula veris, whilst lakeside areas are golden with Caltha palustris. A pleasant walk through beech woods to open slopes will find plentiful Crocus veluchensis around snow patches, perhaps with a few golden C. chrysanthus too. There might also be the first delicate flowers of the Soldanella pindicola. Overnight Metsovo and pleasant mountain town imbued with some wonderful big plane trees.
Day 9 Katara Pass
Above Metsovo the road winds quickly uphill to where Crocus veluchensis chases the melting snow alongside Corydalis solida. Lower down are populations of Fritillaria graeca and Tulipa sylvestris amongst the bushy clumps of Bornmuellera tymphae. Snow permitting a side track leads past more fine patches of crocus and hellebores to where we might find Soldanella pindicola if the season is advanced enough. Overnight Metsovo.
Day 10 To Mount Voras
Heading east we travel through Epirus to Mount Vermion and climb to the ski centre to see the populations of golden Crocus cvijicii that colour the high turf. Moving north to an area close to Northern Macedonia, both yellow and purple colours of Iris reichenbachiana can be found on the limestone slopes before we reach Kajmakcalan on the slopes of Mount Voras. If the weather is good we will go to the upper slopes to see the crocus displays. Overnight Kajmakcalan.
Day 11 Kajmakcalan
This is an area renowned for displays of Crocus pelistericus, but the even larger shows of C. sieberi have to be seen to be believed, numbering in their countless thousands. Lower down is the pretty endemicViola voliotisii and we'll see the deep blue of Scilla bifolia and dainty Corydalis solida too. Hopefully the weather will shine for us and we can enjoy a wonderful finale to the tour. Overnight Kajmakcalan.
Day 12 Flights
Departure flights from Thessaloniki airport (just two hours away).