In the middle of a large and fertile plain marking the boundary between the regions of Rhodope and Xanthi, lies Lake Vistonida, one of the most beautiful wetlands in Greece. It is the fourth largest lake in the country, covering an area of 45 km2, a dreamy location where the green hues of the forests meet the azure of the sea.
The lake is situated in the middle of a group of wetlands which cover the area from the Nestos River Delta up to and including Lake Ismarida (Mitrikou). Within a short distance lie the lagoons Lafri, Lafrouda and Porto Lagos in Xanthi District, as well as the lagoons Daliani, Xirolimni, Karatza, Alyki, Ptelea and Elos in Rhodope. The above wetlands constitute the National Park of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace as they are very important water reserves.
Vistonida was named after the Vistones, a Thracian tribe who once dwelt in the area. Their legendary king Diomedes was famous for his man-eating horses. The beasts were captured by Hercules who took them to Mycenae, following the order of king Eurystheas. Out of Hercules’ Twelve Labours, this was feat number eight!
Lake Vistonida is separated from the sea by a narrow strait created from silt depositions and is connected to it through canals. On the east there is a natural canal with two mouths on the lake, which connects it with the sea via Porto Lagos lagoon; on the west, there is an artificial canal built during the 1950s, which allows direct access to the sea. The result of the above connections is a phenomenon occurring nowhere else in the country: the north part of the lake contains fresh water as a result of the rivers flowing in, whereas the south part contains saline or brackish water depending on the volume of seawater entering the lake.
It was created approximately five million years ago, as a result of an abrupt subsidence of the land allowing seawaters to fill in the present lake area, through the wearing action of tidal currents which eventually formed a closed lagoon. At the same time, adverse currents led to the creation of the isthmus which separates the sea from the lake.
There are over 300 species and subspecies living in the area. These form the basis of plant and animal life in the lake which offers accommodation, protection and food to many more. Along the lakeshore and in the shallow parts of the lake, reeds form a wall that is impenetrable and therefore provides the ideal shelter for nesting to many bird and fish species. In river mouth areas there are willow and aspen trees, manna ash, elm, alder and plane trees. Their trunks are covered by climbers such as hops, viburnums and clematis. There are also single trees and bushes lying scattered around the lake, such as oak trees, vitex, elms, kermes oak etc.
The species that live in or visit the wetland are many and rare. The local fish community counts 37 species, 21 of which live in the lake and 16 come from the sea. The common carp, the common rudd, and the alosa vistonica are to be found in the fresh water area, whereas the eel, the european seabass, the flathead mullet, the gilt-head bream, the sole, the sand steenbras, among other species, are to found in the saline water area.
There are also 20 mammal, 19 reptile and 11 amphibian species enriching the biodiversity of the local fauna. The European otter finds shelter in the lake’s waters and the river currents. The shrub growths by the lakeshore and by the Kosynthos and Kompsatos river deltas are the preferred habitat for the wild cat, the badger, the jackal and other animals.
The flying bird populations you will meet in the area are impressive with regard to their numbers as well as to diversity of species. Out of 260 recorded species, nine are rare or endangered in a worldwide scale. For more information click here.