Tour Details

Dates:10th of Apr - 17th of Apr 2025
Group Size:Minimum 4, maximum 12
Grading:Easy to moderate walks
PricesFull price: £1,595.00 / 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. We'll anticipate seeing over 40 species, some in great profusion
  • Spectacular scenery to explore across the island, including the slopes of Mount Etna, boasting many other spring wildflowers
  • Tour led by an experienced dream team of Sicilian native and renowned biologist Andrea Corso, and professional ecologist Esther Pawley
  • Andrea's local knowledge is second-to-none, so guests will be given an unrivalled insight into local culture and history, greatly enriching the orchid hunting
  • Our accommodation is in two spectacular locations, with evening meals of extraordinary quality to look forward to daily
  • 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 eastern side 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 west into 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 will be placing some emphasis on the quality of the food we will be treated to throughout the week - our accomodation providers evening meals are of simply superb, five course quality!)

We think our orchid tours are the very best available, combining the best site knowledge with the best guides - maximising not only the range of orchid species to be encountered, but also enjoying the sheer spectacle and beauty of orchids and all other wildlife encountered during the course of the holiday. If you've enjoyed exploring Rhodes in the past, why not try another Mediterranean island's orchids for size this coming spring?

Tour Leaders

With a heart for the conservation of biodiversity and a wonder of the beauty and functioning of the natural world, Esther has been working as an ecologist in the UK for the past 25 years

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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. After lunch and a chance to freshen up, we'll explore the local countryside around our hotel - we're right in the heart of orchid country here, and would anticipate seeing, amongst other treats, elegant Ophrys grassoana (an early-flowering Sicilian endemic found predominantly in the lava-dominated countryside around Etna), and dainty, bubblegum pink Orchis brancifortii (a near endemic to Sicily, found only elsewhere in a few sites in southern Italy and Sardinia). The countryside we explore here also features many other wildflowers, including spectacular stands of Southern Dwarf Iris Iris pseudopumila in all its colour forms, and if we're lucky we may encounter an Italian Festoon Zerynthia cassandra butterfly or two as they come to roost in the late afternoon on the many flowering asphodels.

  • DAY 2

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, and a plethora of Ophrys - we found almost 10 species here alone in 2024!

  • DAY 3

Mount Etna, and transfer to hotel near European orchid hotspot of Ferla

We'll slowly circumnavigate Etna today, stopping at productive sites in the lava fields with some particular orchids in mind. Our first stop in the morning will encompass ancient terraces built from lava blocks upon which Sweet Chestnut trees cast dappled shade and, below them, we will find ourselves surrounded by thousands of Roman Orchid Dactylorhiza romana, in both primrose yellow and deep purple colour forms, and with occasional beautiful intermediate colour forms also present. Climbing higher up Etna to our picnic site, we stop to eat surrounded by swathes of yellow and purple Etna Violets Viola aetnensis, with a backdrop of the gently smoking summit of the volcano high above us. Etna is home to a wonderful variety of plants that have adapted to this unique European environment, and as we descend from our lofty eerie we'll stop to admire the graceful forms and large, dark 'eyes' of the Lady of the Woods, endemic Etna Birch Betula aetnensis.

In the afternoon we'll transfer to our base for the main part of the week, a stunningly beautiful private estate near to renowned European orchid hotspot, Ferla. Our hotel here needs to be seen to be believed, and guests can look forward to enjoying a cold drink after a day of orchid-hunting sat in the spectacular surroundings of a pale stone courtyard in the heart of a dramatic grand house that has featured, unsurprisingly, in numerous film and TV productions. If we're very lucky, tour leader Andrea will make the most of the accoustics of this wonderful space and treat us to his soulful, trained tenor voice singing opera and his favourite local Sicilian songs. This luxurious spa - and yes, it has a swimming pool guests are welcome to use! - will be our home for the remainder of the week.

We also place emphasis on our accommodation being in the heart of quality orchid-country so, before the first of the fine-dining five course dinners we will enjoy here, we will drive ten minutes down the road to explore the first of many orchid-rich sites we'll encounter in the coming days, replete with many Anacamptis, Serapias, Ophrys, and Neotinea to whet our appetites!

  • 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 will certainly see many other Ophrys here too, with a good variety of the fusca-types present for comparative purposes. 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 our homeward bound journey 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, O. biancae, and O. panormitana have all been recorded on the short, herb-rich turf here. Imagine walking on the English southern coastal downs in April, but replace Early Spider Orchids with a mindblowing variety of colourful southern European bee orchids!

Our final stop for the day will be a roadside site hoping 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 5

Monte Grosso and surrounding area.

We take full advantage of our tour leader Andrea's position as one of Italy's preeminent naturalists today, and thanks to him enjoy unrivalled access to the Pantani Wetlands on Sicily's southern coast.

The story of the reserve we visit is an inspiring one. Founded by a German philanthropist, the land the reserve encompasses was formerly owned by almost 100 individuals, and was largely degraded agricultural land, also being used for illegal waste disposal and horse-racing, fish poaching, and bird shooting. Recognising the intrinsic biodiversity value of the area, over time the Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt conservation foundation acquired the land and set about restoring it to a fine natural state – removing tons of asbestos and plastic, removing adventive alien plant species and planting native shrubs and trees, securing the perimters of the sites, and implementing sustainable grazing practices. Inevitably, orchids would thrive here given sympathetic land management, and so it has proved.

We expect to find our first Serapias (orientlalis) siciliensis here; vast swathes of Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera; many Ophrys biancae; and, if the season is advancing, perhaps the first Ophrys calliantha too. It will be impossible to ignore the birdlife of the reserve as we explore it during the morning and early afternoon - a wetland, fringed by extensively grazed meadows and with stands of native trees and shrubs, is always going to prove irresistible to breeding and passage birds alike. In 2024 our group found a Lesser Flamingo here, a sub-Saharan species that had arrived amidst an unprecedented fall of other African species in Sicily - this may prove in time to be the first formally accepted record of Lesser Flamingo for Italy!

We'll hopefully have both orchid and bird triumphs to celebrate by the time we leave the reserve. Where better to celebrate than over a cold granite or a cool drink in the palazzo of the pretty fishing village of Marzamemi? With Andrea our guide, we can expect another window into Sicily's rich cultural heritage here in this beautiful space.

  • DAY 6

Dirillo river valley and Pirlo area.

Agriculture is a little more intensive in the flatlands surrounding this area of the island, and we'll pass through some unpromising countryside on our way to the main site for the morning - 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.

In the afternoon, we will spend some time exploring an interlocking network of long-abandoned fields that skirt the edge of a small gorge that runs through the countryside and past our hotel. These fields, in our experience, abound with orchids of many species, with Serapias particularly well-represented. We will take particular care to keep our eyes peeled for the achingly rare hypochromic yellow colour variation of these tongue orchids - the site has a habit of occasionally sporting one of these gorgeous rarities.

  • DAY 7

Ferla & Alcantara Gorge

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 morning 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 (a Sicilian endemic), O. biancae, O. calliantha, O. speculum, and O. explanata to name but a few.

Before departing to Palazzolo Acreide for a special arancini lunch, it would be wrong of us not to visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Necropolis of Pantalica. After admiring the sight of thousands of tombs hewn into the living rock here, with Andrea as our guide to the lived and conquered history of his home island, we will pay a visit to the dramatic hilltop Mycenaean princely palace of Anaktoron, where in addition to the thought-provoking archaeology on view (and maybe some orchids...) we'll enjoy outstanding views across the Sicilian countryside, with omnipresent Etna on the far horizon.

Palazzolo Acreide is our lunchtime stop, where we'll be treated to a range of the most delicious arancini to be found anywhere in Italy, let alone Sicily and, once we've wiped the last crumbs from our lips, we'll pause a moment to the incredible Sicilian baroque architecture of this small, charming town. The carved faces that adorn the longest baroque balcony in Europe, if not the world, cover the full gamut of emotions. Andrea's explanation of their meaning is as colourful and entertaining as the stonemason's work!

For the remainder of the afternoon we will explore the fields that fringe Nature's finest architecture, the imposingly deep Alcantara Gorge looking for, of course, still more orchids with which to finish the week with a flourish. Today, as befits an orchid-hunting tour set upon the cultural and orchid paradise of Sicily, is a multi-textured affair that we think is a suitable grand finale for what has, in the past, been a brilliant week for our guests.

  • DAY 8

Return to Catania airport

and tour concludes.

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