Virgin forests, mountains and canyons, unique landscapes, breathtaking lakes, rivers, lagoons, environmental parks and museums make up the unique landscape of Greece. In spring, when nature “awakes”, anything you may have seen in Greece is now different. We’ve put together a top 5 of spring activities in the heart of the Greek nature.
Crossing Vouraikos Gorge aboard Odontotos, the rack railway
Vouraikos gorge is the pride and joy of Achaia District, holding a place among the top Greek natural sights, and the best season for visiting it is spring. Board the rack railway from Diakofto and enjoy the 22-km fascinating ride to Kalavryta town at a 750–metre elevation above sea level – it is said to be one of the most spectacular journeys by train across Europe.
The stunning view to the cliffs, the successive ravines and the amazing natural surroundings will take your breath away; cascading waterfalls, caves with stalactites and stalagmites, dense forests, lush vegetation and rare plant species create a picture of great beauty. At first you will pass by large lemon and olive groves. Then the scenery changes completely as you go past tunnels and red precipitous mountainsides eroded by the continuous flow of water. While altitude increases, the toothed rail engages with a cogwheel to help the train up the steep slopes. At springtime, the station of Zachlorou looks amazing as the crystal-clear waters and the huge, age-old plane trees lining the river banks make up a picture-perfect landscape!
Wine routes of Halkidiki
Explore the gorgeous region of Halkidiki, walk through its wine routes and visit the area’s renowned wineries next to endless stretches of vineyards! They are all to be found on the west part of Halkidiki, mostly in the area of Kallikrateia, Sithonia, Mount Athos (on the north slopes of Mt. Cholomontas), in Arnaia, Marathousa as well as in the areas of Triglia and Panagia. Taste the excellent local wines, on the location they are produced, accompanied by mouth-watering traditional local dishes.
Start your trip at the vineyards in Agios Pavlos, an area where viticulture is the leading activity. Make sure you pay a visit to Petralona Cave, where the “Archanthropus of Petralona”, the oldest human skeleton in Europe was discovered. Continue your journey through the western side of Sithonia, where the verdant slopes of Mt. Meliton meet the waters of Toroneos Gulf. The vineyard on the “Slopes of Meliton” is one of the largest in Europe and a model organic viticultural unit. Head towards the mountainous areas and visit Arnaia, one of Halkidiki’s most picturesque villages, then you will continue to Chromitsa and end your journey at Mt. Athos.
Wine lovers can sample the local fruit of the vine in the wineries of Halkidiki; among them stand out the PGI Halkidiki (Protected Geographical Indication), the PDO Slopes of Meliton, the PGI Sithonia wines and the PGI Mount Athos. The climate is ideal for cultivating top quality Greek varieties such as Assyrtiko, Athiri, Malagouzia and Roditis, out of which excellent white wines are produced. Limnio, a renowned local red wine comes from a native variety, already mentioned in the writings of Aristotle.
Lake Kerkini is a wetland in Northern Greece, high in the list of the most important ones in Europe, and it is considered as one of the top European bird watching destinations. About 300 bird species have been observed here: some of them nest, some winter, and others just stop over for rest or food. Among them, Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants are threatened with extinction. The area is also one of the most important cormorant and heron colonies of the Northern Balkan Peninsula.
The lake is surrounded by Mt. Belles and Mt. Mavrovouni; birdwatchers in this area can observe birds of Prey, such as the Lesser Spotted Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle, the Great Spotted Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon, the Eurasian Hobby, the Levant Sparrow hawk and the Northern Goshawk. The ideal time for birdwatchers to enjoy this paradise is during the spring and autumn migration periods, when a great number of species can be easily spotted. Just remember to get kitted out with the right equipment!
The lake is a rare example of positive human intervention: the delicate balance of the ecosystem has been preserved, offering great benefits to the region. The Lake is approximately 15 km long and its maximum width, when full, reaches 8.5km. In the surrounding area you can spot the largest groups of buffalos in Greece. There are also at least 10 amphibian species (frogs, salamanders, tritons), 5 snail species, 19 reptile species (lizards, snakes, turtles) and a great variety of insects.
During your visit, don’t miss the chance to go on a romantic boat ride (with traditional boats called plahves), and observe – at a safe distance from the birds– the special constructed platforms where pelicans nest. Go canoeing, horseback riding or hiking and enjoy the undulating scenery!
The Environment Museum of Stymphalia
Built in a mountainous area of northern Peloponnese - at a 600m elevation- the Environment Museum of Stymphalia invites you to take an unusual journey through time; according to Greek mythology, it was here that Hercules shot dead with his arrows the man-eating birds of Lake Stymphalia. Featuring the largest mountain lake of the Peloponnese, the southernmost mountain wetland of the Balkan Peninsula is known for its rich biodiversity, acknowledged by the European Network of Protected Areas NATURA 2000.
The exhibits of the Environment Museum of Stymphalia show how important it is for us humans to restore and preserve a harmonious coexistence with Mother Nature. The Museum’s permanent exhibition is presented through various means of display, such as models, three-dimensional digital reproductions, screenings etc that will turn your tour of the museum into a memorable experience.
Note that inside the Museum there is an accessible cross section of the lake offering you the possibility of first-hand observation of some of the region's plants and fish. Bird watching lovers can get a pair of binoculars outside the museum! Discover the particular geological features of the area, the flora and fauna inhabiting the lake and the mountain and their use by Man over the years. Presented themes have to do with the influence modern technology has had on culture. You will get an idea about the customs and traditions of each area by examining the interesting collection of objects of daily use that are typical of the locals’ way of life and activities such as fishing, hunting, agriculture, viticulture, animal husbandry and bee-keeping.
Hike through the Pindus National Park - Valia Calda
Set out on a fascinating journey to Valia Calda, in the Grevena district. The name of Warm Valley is euphemistic as it really is one of the country’s coldest and most humid areas. The winter’s snow-covered forested mountainsides change colour in the spring. The age-old dark green forests of conifers and meadows covered by different shades of green create this unique natural environment. Meet the challenge of exploring the wonders of nature, and feel your adrenaline rise. Travel through amazing trails in an unspoilt paradise where gurgling confluent streams meet Arkoudorema, the largest river of the Park, which eventually flows into the bigger River Aoos. These waters are home to the otter, an aquatic mammal, as well as two species of trout. The E6 trail will get you to the Waterfalls.
This forest is the habitat of many wild animals – some species are protected by international treaties. There are mammals (wolf, fox, wild hog and mountain antelope), rare bird species (the golden eagle and the black stork) as well as reptiles. The Forest also hosts 415 plant species and 86 mushroom species. During spring, in the highlands of Valia Calda you are likely to spot brown bears ambling down to Arkoudorema (meaning Bear Creek) to drink water while searching for their food.
Hike across the woods and be seduced by the beauty of the unspoilt mountainous forested expanses.