Natural Greece is a licensed tour operator business that, ever since 2013, has been offering expert-led Eco & Wildlife Holidays all over Greece, delighting customers worldwide. Its team consists of leading tourism professionals and knowledgeable, passionate guides.
Track wild bears in a pristine mountainous corner of Greece: Northern Pindos. Back to nature with the friendly guides of wildlife charity CALLISTO to hear about bear research methods, walk in the wilderness and witness traces of wild bears.
The beautiful Pindos mountain range in the north west is considered the Amazon of Greece. It contains many peaks of over 2.000m, glacial lakes, pristine alpine meadows, and rare flora and fauna. At least 500 wild bears roam the wilderness of Greece.
The purity and the ecological value of the Northern-Pindos region is enormous. Northern-Pindos offers great habitat diversity. Only in the area of Zagori, 34 habitat types exist. In addition, forest vegetation covers 80% of the area. At lower altitudes vegetation with Mediterranean elements appears (evergreens- broad leaved), the zone of oaks follows, and at the greater altitudes coniferous trees are dominant, with most characteristic the black pine, while even higher trees of beech and white pine appear. In the Alpine Zone you find pasture and steppe-like landscape. Protected priority habitats here are: the Forests of Black Pine, the mixed Greek forests of beech- Black Pine and the broad leaved oak forests with Black Pine. The type of human activities traditionally developed in the Northern Pindos area provided additional food sources to bears and other mammals. Consequently, the dense forests of Mount Grammos are a prime habitat for the European brown bear (Ursus arctos).
Other wildlife of the region
But the area is also one of the most important habitats of other mammalian species, such as the Grey wolf (Canis lupus), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), wildboar (Sus scrofa), the European otter (Lutra lutra) and many more. Otters are permanently present and breeding in Aliakmonas River and its tributaries. Also, the area is of great importance for a diverse avifauna, including many rare and endangered species, 35 of which are listed in Annex I of Council directive 79/409/EEC. The majority of these species are breeding in the area. The sandstone cliffs of Aliakmonas gorge near Nestorio provide important nesting sites for many bird species, including Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The cliffs are equally important for different bat species, as there are many small caves in the rocks. The open grasslands and alpine meadows have an incredible diversity of flowering plants including numerous orchid species and hence are home of many insect species like butterflies and bumblebees.
The Pindos sub-population of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) is the third largest brown bear population in the EU, as well as the southernmost distribution of the species in Europe. The bear population in the holiday area (the Northern Pindos national park) is an estimated 140 individuals, representing some 35% of the total brown bear population in Greece.
Today, in Europe, the brown bear lives in small cut-off populations and is now considered an officially endangered species in western, central and southern Europe. The minimum population size of the Greek population was estimated at around 500 individuals, with an upcoming trend in some areas of Pindos. This is equivalent to 50% of the brown bear population in western and southern Europe.
The two main core populations, which do not communicate with one another, are:
During this trip you will learn about bear research methods and follow bear tracks. Bears are secretive animals that avoid human contact. They tend to roam silently and forage for their food in thick forests and remote corners. Even so, Northern Pindos provides chances of viewing these magnificent animals in their natural environment without baiting, as the local bear experts that accompany you in this holiday know the whereabouts of the bears and help approach these majestic animals in a Responsible way. Since animal welfare and your safety are our main concern, there is no bear baiting and therefore no 100% wild bear spotting guarantee. However, you will see bears for sure, during your visit to the bear sanctuary.
This is a sample itinerary that is subject to change, depending on weather conditions, seasonality, animal behavior, road conditions and the judgement of the local guides.
Arrive at Thessaloniki airport. From here you get a private transfer to the lovely Kastoria region, at the foothills of the Pindos mountain range. The transfer is via an excellent highway. The distance covers some 190 km (118 miles) and lasts for a duration just under 2 hours. Arrive at the guesthouse situated near the very scenic Kastoria Lake. Time to rest before you meet your nature guide and CALLISTO expert on Brown bears. Time permitting, there will be a first nature hike in the area near your hotel, which is part of bear habitat. Then you will have dinner and a presentation in your hotel. You get a fascinating information session about the European Brown Bear and the nature conservation efforts of CALLISTO which poses a great introduction for the days ahead.
Overnight in 3* accommodation in Kastoria, Vissinokipos
In the early morning we might go to a place where brown bears may be active, foraging -observation in an attempt to spot bears. After breakfast you head North, to the great outdoors! This is where wildlife charity CALLISTO conducts field research. Walk in the wilderness with your expert guide and learn about: the use of radio telemetry equipment and methods of radio tracking animals, finding signs for recording bear presence, measuring footprints to determine the size and age of a bear and remote camera traps. A visit to either a beekeeper or a livestock breeder to see how he co-exists with the bears in the area. See how CALLISTO helps these locals by providing them with preventive measures such as special mobile fences and providing a breed of guarding dogs that keep the bears at bay. On the way back you will pay a visit to the bear sanctuary at Nymfaio, of the nature organization Arcturos. It is a shelter where orphan wild bears and rescued bears are kept in a fenced area of some 50.000 m2. The guided tour here lasts around 1 hour.
At the Bear Sanctuary you’ll see bears, guaranteed, up-close and personal!
Opportunity to explore the traditional mountain village of Nymfaio. Drive back to Kastoria. Dinner in your guesthouse.
Overnight in 3* accommodation in Kastoria
Start your day early with another wild bears observation effort in bear habitat. After breakfast you head to the wilderness of the greater Kastoria area. Walk with your expert guide, in an area where wild bears are active. Look for bear tracks and other signs such as bear droppings, bear hairs and scratch marks on trees or poles! Back to rest in your guesthouse.
In the afternoon you discover Kastoria town, one of Greece’s prettiest villages. It’s highlights include many historical mansions of the 18th and 19th century, a folk museum, a costume museum and a Byzantine Museum.With its location at the lake shore, Kastoria – a Natura 2000 site, a wildlife Refuge and an Important Bird Area, is great for watching birds. Pygmy cormorants, Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Ferruginous Duck and Night Herons all live in this area of exceptional beauty. Finally, Kastoria is famous for its numerous Byzantine churches of the 11th,12th and 13th century! Dinner in Kastoria
Overnight in 3* Accommodation in Kastoria
After breakfast, you head for the Grammos Mountain, near the Albanian border. It is Greece’s 4th highest mountain (2.520m summit)! The transfer will take around an hour. After the drive we will set out on a hike on the mountain trails to Grammos Lodge. You’re invited to take in the wild beauty of this forested area, which is rich in pine and beech forests and vast sub-alpine meadows, and forms one of the most attractive trekking destinations in Europe. Admire impressive mountain ranges, forested slopes and the breath-taking natural landscape unfolding before your eyes. Hit amazing trails in a truly unspoiled paradise, where crystal clear rivers flow through the forested valleys. Drive back to your guesthouse in the afternoon. Later that day you discover more of Kastoria town and its Lake. Dinner in Kastoria town.
Overnight in 3* Accommodation in Kastoria
After breakfast get your transfer to Thessaloniki. Expect to be back at 1 PM. We advice to take a flight back no earlier than 2 PM.