Brown Bear Tracking in Northern Greece

On the Website "Responsible Travel", this title caught our eyes. Although we usually don't like organized trips, we booked with Natural Greece, a small Greek tour operator. This was a very good decision as we spent some unforgettable days in the Pindos mountains. After some days of walking on Chalkidiki, this was the second part of our holidays.

Our guides, Maria Petridou (left) and Maria Psaralaxi (right),  who are representatives of wildlife charity CALLISTO, our group and our guesthouse in Kastoria

 


We met our guides and Michael at the airport, picked up Henriette at her hotel at Thessaloniki and hit the road to Kastoria. Already during the trip the two Marias shared their enthousiasm for nature and large mammals in particular. Around 6 pm, we arrived at the guesthouse and left half an hour later, despite of the rain, for a first attempt to see bears at one of their favorite places in Kastoria - in vain. We had a very nice dinner at the guesthouse. Afterwards, our guides gave us a presentation about what Callisto is doing in the Pindos area to make bear human coexistence possible - really fascinating.

 

 

View from the balcony the next morning. It was very cloudy but for the moment it didn't rain. Our guides had prepared a varied programme for us.

No rain for the moment. So we began our day with a short stroll in a forest dominated by oak trees (Quercus frainetto?) and got the chance to discover the first signs of the presence of bears in the area. We saw scratches and Maria demonstrated how bears rub on a pole. The barbed wire around "rub trees" serves to get hair samples for DNA analysis.

Afterwards, we visited a goat farmer who's a good example for a functioning bear human coexistance. The winning formula: the right guarding dogs.

Next we met a German student from the university of Vienna who explained us how bear traps are working. Bears are trapped in order to equip them with GSM radio-collars.

Nearby, we could see a section of a road where bears a frequently crossing which is very dangerous. Yesterday, on our way to Kastoria, we saw that some roads are already equipped with security fences and others with wildlife warning signs and wildlife warning reflectors.

Now it was time to get something to eat. We stopped in a village and enjoyed a delicious mezze.


In the afternoon, we visited the bear sanctuary at Nymfaio of the nature organization Arcturos, where orphan and rescued bears find a home. We participated in an interesting guided tour, and we could see some bears.

After the visit, we started for a little walk to explore the traditional mountain village of Nymfaio and to have a coffee. But all of a sudden, a heavy rain shower poured down on us and we headed back to the car. Fortunately, our guides had recommanded to take clothes to change with us...

 

In the evening, our hosts Christos and Christina were waiting for us with another great dinner.

 

 

The next day, we started for a hike in a beautiful landscape. We didn't see any bears, but found scratches and scats. On our way we could admire the Monastery of Taxiarchon close to an impressive waterfall. Winfried and I were very happy as there were lots of orchids.

Some pictures from the hike:

On our way, we saw another example of how coexistance of bears and humans can be possible: an electric fence around bee hives.

The monastery

Scratches and scats

Orchids

On our way back, we made a stop at a nice bar. By the way, the weather was very nice today. So far, we had no rain at all.


We came back to the guesthouse in the afternoon and had some leisure time until we met again in the evening to visit the old part of Kastoria and eat in a typical restaurant. As the weather was fine, Winfried and I climbed a little bit uphill to enjoy the view on the lake. Here are some pictures:

Evening stroll in the old town center of Kastoria with its traditional architecture before we had dinner in a typical restaurant. While we were eating, it started raining. We discussed what to do the next day. The weather forecast was so bad that we had to find an alternative for the planned hike at Mount Grammos. We decided to go to Prespa National Park.

Our day in the Prespa National Park

 

We started early, and when we arrived, the weather was still quite good. So we decided to go an a boat trip to see pelicans (the lake is home of the largest breeding colony of the Dalmation pelican in the world), cormorans, herons and other water birds as well as hermitages build in the rock and frescoes on the cliffs. We started from the village of Psarades. Our captain was very nice. He had many stories to tell and made an extra stop that wasn't forseen in the programme. But he always had an eye on the sky and when it became too menacing, he said that it was time to go back.

 

 

After the boat trip, our guides wanted to show us the ruins of the basilica of Agios Achillios on the island of the same name in the small Prespa lake which is accessible through a floating bridge. It started raining but we went there anyway. Because of the weather, we didn't walk around the island, but we made a flying visit to the hamlet. We had the chance to spot a sqacco heron.

 

On the parking, women were selling different kinds of beans, the main crop in the area. Wherever you go, you can see these stacks of beanstalks.

We headed back to Psarades for a great lunch


In the afternoon, we went to Agios Germanos. It was raining when we arrived. We had coffee at the house of a friend of our guides. Soon it stopped raining and we went for a walk. We saw an old watermill and discovered the local architecture.

Unfortunately, this was already our last day. We really had a good time. Thank you Michael and Henriette for your nice company and Maria and Maria for your enthousiam. You really did everything to make this an unforgettable trip and I hope that we will meet again some day.

 

The next morning, we went back to Thessaloniki where we stayed for two days before going back to France.