How better to break the chilly monotony of a long northern hemisphere winter than to journey to a sun-drenched Greek island? Springtime comes early to Rhodes, the capital of the Dodecanese Islands of the south-eastern Aegean, and the island comes alive with an abundance of wildflowers. Everywhere we go will be bathed with vibrant colour, and foremost amongst this cornucopia of flowers will be the orchids.
Rhodes is the perfect island upon which to indulge in an unashamed orchid-hunt. Home to some 50 species of orchid, we will hope to find in the region of 40 of those in the space of our week exploring the island. Our tour here is timed to coincide with the ‘Goldilocks’ moment in their flowering period – the moment when most species burst into flower, but with the chance of adding late-flowering examples of the earliest species like Fan-lipped Orchid Anacamptis collina, and early-flowering examples of the species that usually flower later in the spring, like Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum and uncommon, subtle Serapias politsii tongue-orchids.
After years of exploring the island, our knowledge of its orchid hot-spots is intimate – to the point where we know some special orchids as individuals. This means that, in addition to the wide range of species we’ll see during the week, we will also be sharing with our guests some exquisite orchid hybrids and colour varieties that we’ve located on recent tours.
The jewels in Rhodes’ orchid crown have to be the Ophrys bee orchids, and we’ll see many examples of their varied kind during the week, including sought-after species such as Ophrys colossaea, Ophrys regis-ferdinandii, Ophrys reinholdii, Ophrys cretica ssp. beloniae, Ophrys rhodia, Ophrys attaviria, Ophrys persephone, Ophrys lucis, Ophrys oreas, and more besides. Many of their names feature in the geography, history and mythology of the region, a heritage as colourful as the flowers themselves.
Our base for the week is at a friendly, family-run small hotel in the centre of the island, in a traditional village nestling on the lower flanks of Mount Attavyros, the island’s highest mountain. Here we will find myriad orchids within a couple of minutes’ walk of our hotel, growing on the terraces of ancient olive groves. Most importantly, we will be well-fed all week by Mama’s wonderful Greek cookery. The breakfasts alone are a feast… and the evening meals, after a day packed with orchids, are a delight.
The hotel’s location means that we are ideally placed to explore the island, with nowhere much more than an hour’s drive away from our base. The roads are all of good quality, and very quiet – indeed, many orchids thrive on the roadside verges and banks, so we may have to make the occasional pit-stop to enjoy those too - these spontaneous roadside stops at promising locations can be extremely rewarding, like the occasion when we found a totally unexpected Ophrys basilissa amongst hordes of Ophrys reinholdii!
The island, whilst compact, supports a good range of habitats, ranging from olive groves to dry phrygana, and forested mountainsides to coastal river valleys. Access to the sites we visit is easy, and the pace of each day will be relaxed and easy-going. Make sure you bring plenty of memory cards for your camera, as the opportunities for orchid photography are endless…
We won’t neglect the other wildflowers we encounter, and look forward to sharing some of the island’s particular botanical highlights. We’ll encounter the foul-smelling magnificence of towering Dragon Arums Dranunculus vulgaris, and the sweetly-perfumed Rhodes Peony Paeonia clusii ssp. rhodia. We’ll admire the delicacy of buttery yellow Rhodes Fritillaries Fritillaria rhodia, mauve Small Rhodian Bellflowers Campanula rhodensis, icy-white Rhodes Cyclamen Cyclamen rhodium, and many more besides. We may, however, get distracted by Eastern Festoon Zerynthia cerisy and Eastern Dappled White Euchloe ausonia butterflies, Karpathos Frogs Rana cerigensis, or the display flights of Short-toed Eagles Circaetus gallicus – there’s so much to see here at this wonderful time of year, and we can’t wait to share it with you.