Wildlife Holiday News

Monkshood, Italian Dolomites

Our Best 16 Botanical Holidays

Dominic CouzensBy Dominic Couzens
5th July 2019

Dominic is a Naturetrek tour leader and one of Britain's
best known and most prolific natural history writers.

During the long, dark nights of the northern winter, few memories sparkle so brightly as those from the days with a backdrop of sunlit wildflowers. And what better way to make those memories than to take a botanical holiday?

Botanical holidays are generally gentler-paced than, for example, bird tours – after all, in theory, all you have to do is walk up to blooms, which don’t run away. A whole morning can be whiled away while walking just a few hundred metres. There is invariably interest in other natural history, too, since birds and mammals are often found in flowery places.

The selection below includes a wide range of botanical tours which we run, and there is something for everyone here! Some are highly botanical, niche tours, while others are for general natural history. Most are in Europe in summer, but a couple take you to more far-flung locations.

1. Wengen – Alpine Flowers of the Swiss Alps

The mountain scenery of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland is perhaps the finest in Europe, with the dramatic, jagged snow-capped peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau dominating the landscape. But in summer a different marvel carpets the land, as a magnificent and spectacularly colourful set of flowers blooms in the meadows, woods and mountains. This tour is based in Wengen, perched at 1163m in the heart of the mountains. We will explore by foot, cable-car and train, exploring montane plateaux, lush meadows and spruce forests. The glorious flora includes Gentians, Saxifrages, Bellflowers, Violas and many orchids, including the famous Lady’s Slipper.

Time of Year: June

Days:

Price: £1,995

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Image

Naturetrek group Botanising with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background (Kerrie Porteous)


2. Slovenia – Alpine Flowers of the Julian Alps

Slovenia is a well-kept secret; many people, even in Europe, cannot find it on a map. Nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean, and only half the size of Switzerland, it is an unspoilt gem with a remarkably rich flora. Dominated by the sharp peaks of the Julian Alps, many of the best flowers are at high altitude, including various Snowbells, Saxifrages and Gentians, peeping through the soil. The area is also excellent for Lilies, such as Martagon Lily the amazing orange Carnic Lily. Visiting the Triglav National Park, Lake Bohinj and Mostnica Gorge, we cover a variety of habitats on different soils, the key to a memorable week botanising.

Time of Year: June July

Days:

Price: £1,395

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Eightpetal mountain-avens, Dryas octopetala (Domen Stanic)


3. Bulgaria – Flowers of the Balkans

This is a botanical adventure into a part of Europe where few flower-enthusiasts go. It is, though, an extraordinarily rich area with a combination of widespread plants and Balkan endemics, some found nowhere outside Bulgaria. This is a three-centre holiday, exploring Vitosha Mountains National Park, the Pirin Mountains and Rhodope Mountains, each very different and offering a vibrant mix of colour and rarity. The area has endemic Snowbells, Campanulas, Primulas and Irises, to name a few, plus a wealth of special orchids. This wild part of Europe also has top-quality birds and mammals, and we won’t entirely overlook these!

Time of Year: June

Days:

Price: £1,295

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Red Avens, Geum coccineum, Pirin National Park


4. The Italian Dolomites

This could be the perfect botanical holiday. Based at a friendly, family run hotel, visiting rich and fascinating wildflower spots, moving at leisurely pace among soaring mountain scenery during the longest days of the year, it intermixes gentle exploration and exciting botany. The Dolomites are in the east of the Alps, and although they host many widespread montane species, there are quite a few rare endemics, too. The mountains are named after the Dolomitic limestone from which they are formed, a rock that forms jagged pinnacles and glints different colours in the changing light, a dramatic backdrop to our expeditions on foot.

Time of Year: June – July

Days:

Price: £1,595

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Image

Orange Lily, Lilium Bulbiferum (Paul Harmes)


5. Wild Flowers of Sicily

The Mediterranean island of Sicily, at the toe of Italy, is famed for its fertile soils, its warm climate and its mighty volcano, Mount Etna. The latter is a towering 3350m high and still rumbles, with periodic eruptions. This tour takes us both to Mount Etna itself (we venture close to the summit) and to the gorgeous Madonie Mountains, to the west, which are of Dolomitic limestone. We should find a number of exciting plants endemic to Etna itself, such as the Etna Violet and Etna Tansy, plus a range of Sicilian endemics, such as the original Sweet Pea and the Sicilian Fir, of which only 30 plants remain.

Time of Year: April – May

Days:

Price: £1,495

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Sawfly Orchid, Ophrys grandiflora (Paul Harmes)


6. Corsica – The Scented Isle

Corsica is the Alps-on-sea, a southward extension of the great European mountain chain in the middle of the Mediterranean. The island is amazingly green, unspoilt, precipitous and other-worldly, close to France and Italy but definitely not identifying with either. The mountain ranges across its spine are where the home-grown Corsican Pine grows, with its Corsican Nuthatch, the birder’s big prize. The maquis, marvellously extensive, is famously fragrant. This is a natural history tour, seeking out birds and lizards and insects as well as plants. There is, though, an excellent range of endemic plants (a Butterwort and a Hellebore, for example) and near-endemics shared with nearby Sardinia to keep the botanist happy.

Time of Year: April – May

Days:

Price: £1,595

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Image

Corsican Pine, Pinus nigra


7. Madeira – The Floating Garden

Arguably, Madeira is the most famous place for plants in Europe. It has certainly been compared to the Galápagos, sharing the same volcanic origin as those islands, serious isolation (it is 560km from the coast of Africa) and having a high degree of endemism – 113 of the 1163 plants on Madeira are unique As a bonus, the islands are also extremely mountainous, rising to 1830m, and scenic, meaning that whenever you look away from a flower, you are likely to be in a gorgeous location. The many botanical highlights include the fabulous laurel forests, plus the wonderful bold blue Pride of Madeira Echium candicans.

Time of Year: June

Days:

Price: £1,395

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Pride of Madeira, Echium candicans


8. The Wild Flowers of the Cape & Namaqualand

Every botanical enthusiast will tell you that there are only eight “floral kingdoms” in the world, and the Cape Region is by far the smallest and the only one confined to a single country. Here lies the highest known concentration of plant species in the world, with 9600 just in this comparatively tiny area of 30,330 square miles; over two-thirds are endemic. If that’s not enough for you, we also visit just as summer recedes in Britain but bursts out here, flowers carpeting everywhere from the coast to the hills of Namaqualand. This could easily be a botanist’s ultimate bucket list destination.

Time of Year: August – September

Days: 14 

Price: £4,895

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Image

Namaqua Daisies, Dimorphotheca sinuata


9. Wild Flowers of Western Australia

As far as the natural world is concerned, Australia can be relied upon to go its own way. So, while weird creatures such as kangaroos and koalas cropped up here, so did a range of singular plants such as Banksias, Grevilleas, Grass Trees and, of course, Eucalypts. While the whole continent is interesting, Western Australia is particularly special, one of the world’s great hotspots. After the winter rains, the landscape here is transformed by the carpets of wild flowers: one particular National Park, Fitzgerald River boasts 1300 species, 80 found nowhere else. You’ll be blown away by the kaleidoscope of colour in one of the world’s most spectacular floral displays.

Time of Year: September

Days: 17 

Price: £6,995

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Image

Gravel Bottlebrush, Beaufortia decussata


10. Alpine Flowers of the Tien Shan

How about this for an exotic location for a botanical tour? The Tien Shan mountain range is in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, a western extension of the Himalayas, and its high mountain slopes are at their best when we visit in mid-summer, cloaked by a profusion of Tulips (garden tulips originated from here), Alliums, Delphiniums, Louseworts and other alpine favourites. The scenery is vast, with grassy steppes, deep river gorges and lush juniper forests as well as sweeping meadows carpeted with flowers of all colours. This is a two-centre holiday, beginning in the Aksu Dzabagly Nature Reserve and continuing to Big Almaty Lake, where we stay in an old Soviet Astronomical Observatory.

Time of Year: September

Days: 13 

Price: £3,595

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Image

Tulips blooming in the Tien Shan


11. Bhutan’s Bumthang Valley

The mountain kingdom of Bhutan lies in the east of the Himalayas, and this adventurous tour takes us into its heart. Everything about Bhutan is unusual – the people, its government, architecture, what people wear, how they worship, and so on. It’s also a botanical treasure trove, especially if you like Rhododendrons - there are dozens of species, found everywhere, at different heights. There are also many species of trees, plus Gentians, lots of Primulas, Lilies and. This tour includes a six-day trek, with camping at night, so you are never far away from the flowers and wildlife.

Time of Year: May

Days: 18 

Price: £5,495

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Image

Hodgson's Rhododendron, Rhododendron hodgsonii (David Tattersfield)


12. Flowers of Italy’s Gargano Peninsula

Which area is Europe has the highest concentration of orchid species? The answer is Gargano Peninsula, a small piece of land jutting out from Italy’s eastern (Adriatic) coast. There are an incredible 69 species in all, of which 40 can be seen in a single week in April. To be honest, what other reason might you need to go there? Well, there’s also the pleasant climate, unspoilt countryside, two delightful hotels with marvellous views, Italian cuisine, a slow pace of life – oh, and about 2000 other species of plants with an area of merely 65km long and 45km wide.

Time of Year: April

Days: 8 

Price: £1,495

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Image

Burnt-tip Orchids, Orchis ustulata


13. The Burren

The limestone karst and mild climate of the Burren, in the centre-west of Ireland, give rise to a unique flora in which plants of Arctic-Alpine origin grow side by side with those from the Mediterranean. Thus the delectable Mountain Avens, from the north, almost brushes petals with the Burren Orchid, usually found in southern Europe. Other notables include the incomparable Spring Gentian, which often carpets the ground with vivid blue, together with Pyramidal Bugle, Bloody Cranesbill and Large-flowered Butterwort. Aside the specials, the sheer profusion of flowers in the limestone fissures is truly extraordinary – and all this alongside famous Irish hospitality.

Time of Year: May

Days: 5 

Price: £695

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Image

Spring Gentian, Gentiana verna


14. Norway – Alpine Flowers of The Gol Plateau

For a few brief weeks in high summer, the northern reaches of Europe burst into bloom as an elegant, distinctive flora carpets the moorlands, lakesides, woods and bogs. This tour gives a gentle introduction to the Scandinavian Arctic-Alpine specialities, typified by Willows, Saxifrages, Alchemillas, Butterworts, Wintergreens and Vacciniums, many rare or absent in Britain. Based at a single centre with excellent facilities, most excursions are on foot, but there is also time to ride the unique, Norway-in-a-Nutshell Flam Railway, from fjord to waterfall. The birds and butterflies of this area are also excellent.

Time of Year: June–July

Days: 8 

Price: £1,795

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Image

Twinflower, Linnaea borealis


15. Spring Flowers of Western Andalucia

In March the southern European spring is forging ahead, and in the mild climate of Andalucia the variety of flowers is already impressive. The daffodils, of many shapes and sizes, are irresistible, and as for the orchids, patches of highly ornate species pepper the ground, like hidden jewels. This corner of Europe, with its variable geology and proximity to Africa, is a hotbed of speciation, with a good number of endemics mixed with influences from north and south. This is a single centre holiday based in a converted farmhouse with its own vineyards and olive groves, a little piece of paradise from which to explore the limestone ridges, sandstone hillsides, gorges and maquis shrubland.

Time of Year: March

Days: 8 

Price: £1,495

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Image

Melancholy Toadflax, Linaria tristis (Paul Harmes)


16. Crete

Crete is the largest Greek island, 258km long and 56km wide, but it packs a great deal in, not least one of the richest floras in Europe, with 1600 species of plants found, of which an incredible 139 are endemic. It also packs in high mountains, huge gorges, colourful roadside verges and buzzing settlements. History calls from every corner, with Minoans, Romans, Turks and, more recently, Germans coming and going, making it a compelling place to visit. Apart from the flowers it is also an excellent bird site, especially when we visit in April. All in all, treats on this tour come from many directions.

Time of Year: April

Days: 8 

Price: £1,395

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Image

Cretan Rockrose, Cistus creticus


Get in touch

For further information, on our holidays, call 01962 733051 to speak to our friendly office experts, or email us using the contact form below. We’ll get right back to you!
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