Posted by: Christine | May 17, 2012

Wild Flowers of the Peloponnese

Last week I had a break from genealogy (and the rain!) and went off to Greece for a holiday. It was a guided holiday by Travel Editions on the Wild Flowers of the Peloponnese. We flew from Gatwick to Kalamata and then travelled by coach to Stoupa and the Hotel Lefktron. Stoupa is about an hour’s drive south of Kalamata, on the west side of the Mani peninsular. It was a wonderful base for our holiday, with a lovely sandy beach and plenty of restaurants – we visited several during our stay and all were excellent.

View along the beach at Stoupa

Our guide was Graham Kendall, who has led similar trips to Crete. His knowledge of plants was outstanding . The tour manager was Tracey Konidaris – always smiling and helpful and keeping everything under control.

Monday 7th May was the first full day and we walked from Stoupa, up into the hills, through the local olive groves.

Display of annual wild flowers in the olive groves near Stoupa

View of Stoupa from the hills

In the afternoon we walked along the coast to Aghios Nikolaos. Although late in the day it was very hot (there was no shade) and we enjoyed iced coffee by the harbour there before returning.

The harbour at Aghios Nikolaos

The next day (8th May) there was a re-arrangement in the programme as it was thought the Orchids might not last until the end of the week. So, we took the coach a short trip north along the coast and inland, to Proastio. We did a rather rocky circular walk through beautiful countryside, and found several orchids, before returning to the monastery of Aghios Georgios.

Graham points out something interesting

Eyes down – anyone spot an orchid?

End of the walk at Aghios Georgios, but still taking photos!

We returned to the coast for lunch in Kardamyli and then back into the hills for more botanizing. Again it was very hot and this was all a bit too much for my husband, who had unfortunately caught a cold just before we came away, so he had to miss out on the following day’s trip.

On Wednesday (9th May) we had a long coach trip to Mystras. We travelled to Kalamata and then through the Langada Gorge towards Sparta. We stopped several times to look at roadside flowers and for refreshments at the top of the pass.

View of snow-capped mountains at the top of Langada Pass.

Eventually we reached the ancient city of Mystras, overlooking the Laconian Plain. This is a World Heritage site with a rich history and the place where the last Emperor of Byzantium was crowned. It also has plenty of wild flowers.

Has Graham found a flower in the Mystas car park, or is he just tying his laces?

View from the Venetian castle at the top of Mystras

View across Mystras

The next day was a free day. It was also the day that the Olympic Flame was lit at Olympia. We had the chance of going, but it was a long journey and we had been to Olympia before, so we stayed in Stoupa and watched the ceremony on TV in the hotel bar.

On Friday (11th May) there was another long coach trip. This time we turned left at Kalamata and headed down the opposite peninsular to Methoni. The advantage of this type of holiday is that if someone sees some interesting plant from the coach (and it’s safe to stop!) we have a chance to look at it.

This group of Allium amethystinum (or it might be A. atroviolaceum or sphaerocephalon) was spotted by the side of the road.

 We had a walk around Methoni spotting coastal flowers. A yellow horned poppy was at the centre of a random collection of plants on a waste piece of ground in the village.

Graham demonstrates how nature is a better designer than any human gardener.

We also saw several caper bushes (Capparis orientalis formerly C. spinosa). It is the bud of this plant that preserved and used in cooking. Next time you put some tartar sauce on your fish, you have prevented some of these lovely flowers from blooming.

One caper flower that avoided the tartar sauce!

We also had a short time to look round the Venetian castle at Methoni.

Botanizing along the coast towards Methoni Castle

Inside the Venetian castle at Methoni.

A colourful display of plants inside Methoni Castle.

 After Methoni we drove back up the coast to Pylos, for lunch. Pylos is on the Bay of Navarino where there was a famous Naval Battle in 1827, during the Greek War of Independence. A combined force of British, French and Russian ships defeated an Ottoman Armada. However all was peaceful while we were there and after lunch we travelled to the Gialova Lagoon – an area of the Bay cut off by a sandbank and now a nature reserve. We spent time in a hide and spotted several interesting birds, including a flamingo which shouldn’t have been there at that time of year, and black winged stilts. 

Black Winged Stilt at Gialova Lagoon
(Photo by Malcolm Hancock, whose telephoto is better than mine)

On the final full day (12th May) we travelled down the Mani peninsular, for some more mountain botanizing. We stopped on a road near Milea and walked up a side road.

View of Milea from the road.

Is that an orchid on the bank?

Yes, but which one? (Graham says Anacamptis fragrans)

Two different Pimpernels by the side of the road. Red (Anagallis arvensis) and blue (Anagallis foemina or might be arvensis as well)

Different types of poppies growing together.

Afterwards we went to Neo Oitylo for our final lunch. Another tableful of different dishes including fried fish and giant prawns.

The whole group enjoying the lunch at Neo Oitylo.
(Graham is on the left and Tracey looking over her shoulder)

and a view of party from the other direction.

Fortified by all the wine at lunch we then traveled to the Diros Caves. These amazing caves cover 14km, but the tourist route is 1,500 metres. The first 1,300m are by boat and you are provided with life jackets – hard hats would have been more useful as the roof is very low in places. This boat trip takes 25 minutes, then you get out and walk the final part.

View from the boat in Diros Caves.

Stalactites in Diros Caves

and some stalagmites and columns.

Later that afternoon, during the coach trip back to the hotel, it started raining. Looked like it was the end of the holiday!

Next day there was plenty of time to pack and take a final walk around Stoupa before leaving for Kalamata airport. There were no problems on the journey home and when we arrived at Gatwick the sun was shining.

Although it had only been a week, but we had done so much it seemed more like a month. Considering this was the first time this particular holiday has been run, everything went very smoothly. The accommodation and venue were good. We saw a vast range of landscapes and plants. It is a little known but fascinating area of Greece and I would thoroughly recommend the holiday. Just make sure you take plenty of camera memory, I took over 500 pictures – this blog contains just a few of them.

Finally, thank you.
To the rest of the group for being so friendly.
To Graham for being so patient when asked for the name of a plant for the 100th  time, which we then forgot.
To Tracey for always being there to help with any problems.
And of course our coach driver (whose name I have lost) for his fantastic driving under sometimes difficult conditions.
Not forgetting Travel Editions for organising the trip.

Sunset from the Taverna Pefko in Stoupa.

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