For all lovers of the natural world there is no finer spectacle than a meadow brimming with wild flowers attended by dancing clouds of brightly coloured butterflies. This is a scene that epitomises the drowsy days of summer and yet, for those of us living in the intensively farmed regions of Great Britain, it is one that is consigned to the wistful memories of the elderly. Fortunately, there are still areas in Europe where a century of change has scarcely diminished the profusion of flowers, and where the spirit can still be uplifted by the myriad of butterflies sipping nectar in the summer sunshine. Southern Greece is particularly favoured in this respect and the destination for this Naturetrek holiday. Our relaxing, week-long tour focuses on two of the most famous butterfly mountains of Greece — Mount Chelmos and Mount Parnassos. Situated on opposite sides of the Gulf of Corinth, these two mountain massifs present a wide range of habitats from hot Mediterranean scrub, pine forests and olive groves, to mountain streams, alpine pastures and meadows, rocky scree and even patches of snow! We will be searching mainly for butterflies, dragonflies and other insect-life, but also keeping an eye open for birds, lizards, and any other wildlife we might encounter.
During our week we will be based firstly in the small town of Kalavrita, situated on the north-west slopes of Mount Chelmos, part of the Aroanian Mountains on the Peloponnese. After several days spent in leisurely exploration of this fascinating area by minibus and on foot we will then transfer to Delphi, home of the famous Temple of Apollo and very convenient for access to the Parnassos National Park situated just to the north. The richness of the butterflies of this region is legendary amongst entomologists, but it is perhaps not so much the scarce or restricted species which impress the visitor as much as the sheer diversity and abundance of individual butterflies in some areas. The identification of over 50 species of butterfly in a day is quite feasible, and the sight of hundreds of Balkan Marbled Whites, Black-veined Whites and Clouded Yellows, all crowding together on patches of thistles, is astonishing to those of us more used to a mere scattering of butterflies in cooler northern climes. On the forested slopes of Mount Chelmos we can find Grecian Copper, Escher’s Blue, Meleager’s Blue, at least three species of ‘Anomalous Blue’ (including the endemic Chestnut Anomalous Blue and Grecian Anomalous Blue), Great Banded Grayling, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Cleopatra and another south-east European speciality — the White-banded Grayling. At the summit plateau we will search for the very local race of Greek Clouded Yellow, Mountain Small White, Clouded Apollo and we might even track down the famous but elusive Chelmos Blue! Sunny woodland glades in the surrounding valleys are graced with numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries, Large Tortoiseshell, Southern White Admiral and the occasional Camberwell Beauty. Descending to the river valleys to the south of the massif we will encounter various dragonflies such as Calopteryx virgo, Lestes barbarus and the bizarre Onychogomphus forcipatus as we walk along the edges of the streams, whilst Cetti’s Warblers pour out their explosive torrents of song from riverine bushes and Great Reed Warblers grate noisily from marshy vegetation. This is also a good area to look for the endemic Peloponnese Wall Lizard basking in the morning sun and Kotschy’s Gecko, an Asian reptile with a range that just stretches into southern Greece.
Our final destination, Mount Parnassos, is similarly blessed with an abundance of butterfly species and has its own range of attractions, including Blue Argus, Balkan Copper, Krueper’s Small White, Zephyr Blue, Freyer’s Grayling and Oriental Meadow Brown. Ascending to the alpine meadows, haunt of Alpine Chough and Rock Thrush, we will search for some of the butterfly species of the higher altitudes such as Clouded Apollo, Purple-shot Copper, Greek Clouded Yellow and perhaps the unobtrusive Black Ringlet. Two full days exploring the various elevations and habitats of this butterfly-rich mountain will be interspersed with a visit to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Even at this world famous archaeological site there is an impressive population of butterflies in the surrounding hillsides and a diverse selection of bird species including Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Wheatear and Ruppell’s Warbler.
Greek hospitality, warm Mediterranean weather, magnificent scenery, a touch of history and, above all, a bumper show of butterflies make an unbeatable combination for everyone with an enthusiasm for these jewels of the insect world.
Phil did his utmost to find us as many different butterflies as possible. His organisation was faultless. He also appreciated my interest in plants and made a point of identifying endemic or interesting species.
Mr & Mrs D
The sheer quantity of butterflies was extraordinary and the chance to see species not seen in the UK. We enjoyed the cultural side too, such as visiting the Delphi World Heritage Site. Phil's knowledge of birdsong and other flora and fauna was comprehensive and added another dimension.
The daily schedule was fine with time to rest in the evening. The leader was knowledgeable and patient and keen to pass on his knowledge. He was also a good minibus driver. The scenery was spectacular. The visit to the Delphi Temple site was good.
The leader Phil Thompson was excellent. He was knowledgeable, helpful and provided tasty picnic lunches. He really made the trip memorable.
This was one of my best butterfly trips with Naturetrek - the superb weather, excellent number of butterflies and very good accommodation and food all contributed to the result.
Overall, a very well organised tour with group leaders with a great deal of knowledge.
There were great sites for butterflies, superb skills by leaders - a memorable holiday. It was very good indeed.
I especially appreciated the way we stayed in small friendly guest houses serving local food.
I just had to give Naturetrek a try and I'm glad I went and saw some wonderful things (the highlight for me was the successful search and discovery of the Grass Jewel near Delphi).
Rob Parker did an excellent job ... he really did work hard to give everyone what they had paid for. Phil Thompson was also very good and both were friendly and approachable.
The holiday itself was most enjoyable and I think Rob Parker should be congratulated for leading it so well ...
Rob was very pleasant, knowledgeable and well organised. He is spectacularly effective with a butterfly net and a calm and efficient administrator. Phil is an all-round naturalist who expanded the natural history range of the holiday very productively.
Very good and informative, especially to a butterfly novice like me. Being based in Delphi for the second half of the trip was a master stroke.
I feel that the two leaders, Martin Davies and Mike Prentice, need special mention for their outstanding leadership and dedication to their subject. They both worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone experienced the maximum enjoyment from the holiday.
Again trip made by leaders! Enthusiasm shown by them was infectious.
This was my first butterfly holiday. It was good to have the chance of spending time seeing the butterflies at really close quarters.