From bears roaming the Drimos forest to newborn griffon vulture chicks, here's a full guide to the best of wildlife in the Rhodope Mountains, Greece and how to see it...
From bears roaming the Drimos forest to newborn griffon vulture chicks, Greece’s remote Rhodope Mountain range does wildlife encounters to its very core. This pristine piece of countryside is one of the most biodiverse places in the whole of Europe. Read on to discover five of the best wildlife-watching experiences, how to do them, and where to stay…
Birds are prolific across the Rhodope Mountains, and in the Dadia National Park in particular. It’s home to several species of eagle, falcon and sparrow hawk, not to mention the only colony of black vultures in the Balkans. Visit in winter and – with a good guide and a bit of luck – you can hope to spot these rare birds feeding in the mountain crags or around the park’s research centre. Simply put, this is a haven for birds of prey. Cascading down the southern slopes of Mount Chaidou, Drimos Forest is great for keen birders too, its lush environs housing several elusive species, such as the huge capercaillie, while herons and eagles frequent the Nestos Straits throughout spring and summer. For your best chance of spotting an abundance of birds, the early migration season typically peaks in May.
It may be hard to believe, but there are actually more than 400 brown bears in Greece, many of which roam freely in the Rhodope Mountains. The Drimos Forest is one of the best places to spot them in the wild, especially between the months of April and October when these furry beasts are at their most active. Exodus offers bear-spotting tours in and around the mountain range – searching for tracks, scats and any other signs of activity. We strongly recommend travelling with a guide, as this offers the best and safest chance of successfully seeing bears in their natural habitat.
Once you’ve had your fill of bears, it’s time to start looking for grey (or timber) wolves. Around 700 live in Greece, with a large population in the Drimos Forest. Indeed, there are ongoing conservation projects here – and throughout the Rhodope Mountains – to protect this controversial carnivore and its habitat. Wolves are, by nature, shy and elusive; sightings are rare, but can happen year-round. Whether you’re tracking muddy prints in the summer or the outline of snowy paws in the winter, enlist the help of a tour operator to increase your chances of spotting them.
Some of the most majestic creatures in Europe, herds of red and fallow deer can be seen throughout the Rhodope Mountains. Having been reintroduced to the region, the population is small but thriving in this wildlife hotspot, and with patience and the help of a guide, you’re in with a solid chance of spotting some alongside your search for bears and wolves. To experience the main event (mating season!), visit in autumn. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a flurry of clashing antlers and tossing heads as stags roar and compete for their mate.
Lying between Rhodope and nearby Xanthi, the beautiful Lake Vistonida sits amid vast wetlands, fusing the emerald of the forest with the azure glow of the sea. No surprise, then, that it’s also home to a marine resident or two. Here, and in the narrow strait between the lake and sea, 37 fish species can be found – from the common carp to eel, mullet and bream. European otters also make the lake their home while, on the shores and amid the shrubs, you might just spot a wild cat. Combine that with the 300+ species of bird that live in this unique ecosystem, and you’ve got a marine paradise.
Wildlife is undeniably a huge draw for Greece’s Rhodope Mountains and its surrounds, but the region is also ripe for adventure. Here's just four ideas to get you started...
With spinach green forests climbing the mountain slopes on either side of this vast ribbon of mud-coloured river, you won't regret a canoeing or kayaking adventure through the Nestos Straits.
The Drimos Forest, also known as the Forest of Chaidou is largely made up of beech trees and is home to many creatures including birds, deer, wild boar and some bigger, rarer mammals such as bears. So be sure to keep your eyes peeled while you walk.
Clip clop through the protected forest of Dadia on horseback, enjoying the plethora of birdlife on display along the way, including the elusive black vulture and the white-tailed eagle - the rarest bird in all of Greece.
The clue may be in the name, but one of our favourite things to do here is mountaineering. With numerous rolling mountains and hills, you’re spoilt for choice. For a day challenge, head for Mount Falakro, on the boundary of the Rhodope Mountains. Expect around eight hours of climbing to a maximum altitude of 2,232m.
Located in northern Greece, the Rhodope Mountains region is full of accommodation options, think luxury chalets, spa hotels and B&Bs. The cities of Komotini and Xanthi offer the best selection...
As the capital of the Rhodope unit, Komotini is a great place to base yourself when exploring the mountains. Primarily made up of city-style hotels, it serves up a mix of history and culture – sample boutique Greek wine at one of the surrounding vineyards, sip tea and see Ottoman-era houses, and learn about the ancient Thracians in the Archaelogical Museum. To really get a feel for the city, stroll around the 4th-century Byzantine-era fortress and wall, a ruin that embodies the once rich, decadent history of the city.
At the foot of the Rhodope Mountains, Xanthi is easy distance from Lake Vistonida and the meandering Nestos River. To soak up the best of the city, we recommend staying amid the cobbled streets of the Old Town, near Antika Square and Emporiou Square. From here you can get happily lost in the labyrinthine alleyways and streets, peppered with grand Greek Neoclassical architecture. On the modern side of the city, culture vultures shouldn’t miss the flea market – held every Saturday at Zoagoras Square – or the Folk Art and Natural History museums.
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