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Tour Details

Dates:11th of Apr - 18th of Apr 2024
Availability:SOLD OUTGuaranteed departure
Group Size:Minimum 4, maximum 12
Grading:Easy to moderate walks
PricesFull price: £1,495.00 / person Single room supplement: £175.00 / person Deposit: £150.00 / person
Price includes: Accommodation, all meals, ground transportation, services of your guides, and a holiday report
Not included: International travel, drinks and other personal items, holiday insurance

Tour Highlights

  • A magnificent array of orchid species, including island endemics and near-endemics
  • Spectacular scenery to explore, including the slopes of Mount Etna, boasting many other spring wildflowers
  • A donation will be made to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, supporting proactive research and conservation

Tour Description

At the southern extremity of Italy, Sicily is an enticing and rewarding destination for the orchid-hunter, with a variety of habitats packed into a relatively compact island.

One such is virtually unique in a European context - the immense brooding mass of Mount Etna is impossible to ignore, and it's on its lower slopes and older lava fields that we'll begin our orchid-hunting exploration of Sicily, searching for delicate Orchis brancifortii and the frankly improbable Ophrys grassoana - the latter grows in lava habitats where precious few plants of any kind, let alone orchids, can be found. Whoever said orchids were fussy and delicate clearly hadn't met grassoana!

We'll base ourselves in the orchid-rich south-eastern quarter of the island, spending days exploring different tried and tested sites in the area, mixing local trips with forays somewhat further afield. One such longer day out is unmissable as we head into the Bosco della Ficuzza where we will search for, amongst other gems, rare primrose yellow Dactylorhiza markusii, and the enigmatic and primitive Ophrys pallida - the latter believed to be one of the most ancient of all the Ophrys species and, judging by a larger population of similar Ophrys found in North Africa, likely to be a relict from extreme antiquity. The verdant forests of Bosco della Ficuzza will yield other flowering treasures not only in the form of orchids, but also abundant cyclamen and peonies.

The drier habitat found in the south-east of the island will make for especially fruitful hunting grounds for a host of orchids, not least some particularly extreme examples of the Ophrys genus. O. oxyrrhynchos is a stupendous example of their kind, with large, colourful and statuesque flowers. Said not to be a particularly variable species, we beg to differ, as we will visit a colony that includes variations with wide canary yellow margins to their flowers. Speaking of which, we'll also see abundant (and variable) Ophrys grandiflora which, as the name suggests, is the most magnificent of all iterations of the Mediterranean O. tenthredinifera group.

Several fusca-type Ophrys are said to be endemic to Sicily, and we'll do our very best to see as many as possible - not least O. laurensis on the mountain from which it was first described, Mt Lauro.

Naked Man Orchid Orchis italica will be frequently encountered on our travels, but we'll keep our eyes peeled for hybrids too - we'd hope to find their hybrid lovechild with Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora. In some areas Anacamptis longicornu will carpet the floor as numerous as bluebells back home in the UK, and Neotinea lactea will be a frequent delight too. Ophrys hybrids may also be encountered as the week goes on - this tour promises to be a feast for the eyes. (Speaking of feasts, this is Sicily, so we'd hope to be well-fed too!)

And if you've enjoyed exploring Rhodes in the past with Jon, why not try another Mediterranean island's orchids for size this coming spring?

Tour Leaders

Jon is a natural history writer, photographer and experienced wildlife tour leader based in the Shetland Isles, but with strong links in Europe and the Americas that see him travelling widely in search of memorable wildlife encounters.

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One of Italy’s foremost naturalists, Andrea lives on his native Sicily, but travels widely for work throughout Italy, Europe and beyond.

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Tour Location


Tour Itinerary

  • DAY 1

Arrival at Catania airport.

Transfer to hotel. Explore local countryside on foot.

  • DAY 2

Mount Etna.

We'll slowly circumnavigate Etna today, stopping at productive sites in the lava fields with some particular orchids in mind - the dainty, bubblegum pink Orchis brancifortii, a near endemic to Sicily, found only elsewhere in a few sites in southern Italy and Sardinia; and Ophrys grassoana, a Sicilian endemic found predominantly in the lava-dominated countryside around the charming small town of Linguaglossa. The latter is an early flowering species, so we visit Etna early on to ensure we don't miss it entirely.

  • DAY 3

Bosco della Ficuzza.

Our longest day, but worth every minute of the early start, as we travel to the northwest of Sicily to spend time orchid hunting in the verdant forests and verges of Bosco della Ficuzza. The scenery here is breathtaking as we explore the gentle lower slopes of an craggy massif. We will find abundant Ophrys pallida here (and nowhere else in Europe), but will also be looking for the pale primrose flowers of European rarity Dactylorhiza markusii. This is an early flowering species, so it's important we target this one early in the week. There will, of course, be many other species of orchid to see besides, not least huge numbers of gorgeous Neotinea lactea.

  • DAY 4

Monte Lauro and surrounding area.

The morning today will be devoted to exploring the expansive, boulder-scattered fields and light woodlands on the summit and upper flanks of Monte Lauro. Our principal target is the orchid that owes its name to Monte Lauro, the type locality for the species - Ophrys laurensis, a subtly distinctive fusca-type. We'll see many Anacamptis longicornu here in various colour iterations from white to deepest purple, and will look for scarcer delights too - candy pink and yellow Ophrys grandiflora ought to be fairly numerous, but we'll be looking for yellow Orchis too - Orchis provincialis and, much scarcer, Orchis pauciflora. In the afternoon a short drive will take us to a lower elevation where we can wander a hillside renowned amongst orchid-hunters for its richness and species diversity - Ophrys archimedia, O. numida, O. flammeola, O. explanata, O. calocaerina, O.gackiae, O. lupercalis, and O. panormitana have all been recorded here.

  • DAY 5

Monte Grosso and surrounding area.

A biologically rich area near to renowned Ferla, this will give us a taste of the treats we have in store on our final day. We should find a wide variety of orchids of several genera in the hillside, fields and scrub we spend the morning exploring. Nearby, we will stop at a roadside site for a special hybrid or two - Orchis x bivonae, the striking hybrid offspring of Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora and Naked Man Orchid O. italica.

  • DAY 6

Dirillo river valley and Pirlo area.

Agriculture is a little more intensive down towards the south coast of the island, and we'll pass through some unpromising countryside on our way to the main site for the day - but we won't be deterred, as the hillside in question, a series of ancient, abandoned terraces, is worth the effort reaching it. The hillside is covered in orchids, with enormous swathes of Naked Man Orchid visible from hundreds of yards away. Closer inspection reveals all manner of treasure - Ophrys oxyrrhynchos, a dramatic and sculptural southern Italian specialty, has a stronghold here, and amongst its numbers we should find some interesting, colourful variants. Other orchids abound too in the area, and time invested here is always well-rewarded.

  • DAY 7


We deliberately leave this site until the final day of the week, as this area is the epicentre of the Sicilian population of a particularly gorgeous Ophrys, O. lacaitae. It's a late-flowering species and, if we're lucky, we may find some early-flowering examples of this special orchid. That notwithstanding, the rolling countryside here is superb orchid habitat, and we'll spend the day slowly exploring meadows and verges in the area - all gentle, level walking, and there's no telling what the next flower we find might be. There's a lot of orchid treasure in this area, including Ophrys lunulata, O. biancae, O. calliantha, O. speculum, and O. explanata to name but a few.

  • DAY 8

Return to Catania airport

and tour concludes.

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