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Crete is the largest of the Greekislands, being 258 kilometres longand 56 kilometres wide. To itssouth, across the Libyan Sea, lie theshores of North Africa; to the north, theislands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese.Crete itself is dominated by a central spineof limestone mountains which rise to amaximum elevation of 2,450 metres. Fromthese heights, clear mountain streamsempty into the Aegean Sea to the north,whilst south of the mountains the streamshave cut deep gorges on their way to theLibyan Sea. This geographical positionand variety of terrain have blessed Cretewith a wonderful diversity of flowers andplants; not only an exceptional collectionof characteristic Mediterranean flora but,additionally, around 140 endemic species,making it one of the most exciting placesto see wild flowers in Europe. Some ofthese species originate from Asia Minor,reminders of the period some five millionyears ago when the island was part ofwhat is now Turkey, whilst others have theirorigins in North Africa. In addition to theplants, Crete offers us numerous Minoanremains and some exciting birds, both ofwhich we will be able to enjoy during thisautumn break. Our holiday has been planned to coincide with the best of the island'sautumn display of flowers. Crete is, ofcourse, noted for its fine array of springflowers. It is less well known, however, thatfollowing the hot, dry summer, earlyautumn rains encourage many bulbs suchas crocuses, colchicums, narcissi andscillas to spring to life. In addition, theautumn fruits and colours, together withpleasant weather, make Crete a lovelyplace to visit at this time of the year.We will be based in the relatively unspoiltwestern side of Crete, in the town ofChania. Our comfortable hotel lies on thequiet edge of this old Venetian port whichboasts many fine restaurants for us toinvestigate. At this time of year mostholiday-makers will have gone home, sowe will be able to wander through theattractive town and see it at its best. Thereis a fine Venetian harbour and a maze ofnarrow streets where there were once nofewer than 97 Venetian palaces! Evenbefore the arrival of the Venetians this city,formerly known as Cydonia, had long beenan important centre, occupied first by theMinoans, then later by the Romans, andmany of the Byzantine fortifications havebeen incorporated into other buildings.There are Minoan remains carefullypreserved alongside minarets andchurches, and a wonderfully colourfulcovered market full of herbs, spices, dried fruits, olive oil and honey. Later inthe week, we will take time to explore the back streets of Chania and visit the market before making an excursion to the Akrotiri Peninsula and the Monastery of Agia Triada. For much of the week, however, we willenjoy gentle walks in the countryside insearch of the island's flora. One of our firstdestinations will be the Imbros Gorgewhich lies on the long-distance E4footpath which, amazingly, runs from theAlps to the Cretan coast. The gorge hassteep, dramatic walls covered ininteresting plants, many of which areendemic. It is the second largest gorge inCrete and was one of the routes used toevacuate Commonwealth troops duringthe Battle of Crete. We will look forNarcissus serotinus,Crocus boryi,Origanum dictamnusand many othersduring an 8-kilometre walk which isregarded as one of the finest in Crete.An excursion into the White Mountains willtake us to the upland plain of Omalos.Situated at the top of the Samaria Gorge itis surrounded by dramatic mountainscenery. This fascinating landscape is fullof exciting plants including the endemicColchicum creticum,Acer sempervirensand Crataegus azarolus. Another scenicwalk from the village of Megala Horafia willlead to the ancient town of Aptera, whichcontains both Hellenistic and Romanremains and was once a major centre oftrade. This is an area full of natural andancient history interest, where we can lookfor Cyclamen graecumand Colchicumpusillumamong the flora and also visit theTurkish fort which offers breathtaking viewsover Souda Bay. On our last day we will visit the ancientvillage of Polyrenia. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Crete and thevillage is a delightfully chaotic mix ofancient and modern buildings clusteredtogether. After lunch at the local tavernawe can look for Cyclamen,Scillaautumnalisand colourful sternbergiasbefore visiting the ancient olive presses,Roman cisterns, 'cave houses' and raki'stills' of Polyrenia, which ensure afascinating conclusion to our autumnholiday on Crete. Crete in Autumn An unusual 8-day botanical tour revealing the wonderful autumn flora of Crete.Tuesday 23rd October - Tuesday 30th October 2012 Cost: £1,195Tuesday 22nd October - Tuesday 29th October 2013 Cost: £1,195(This tour can be combined with our 'Autumn Plants of the Peloponnese' holiday outlined on Page 73)Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationCRETEHERAKLIONKNOSSÓSAKROTIRI PENINSULAAPTERADHIKTI MOUNTAINSCHANIAOMALOSPLATEAUSAMARIA GORGEPOLYRENIAIMBROS GORGEOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Chania.Day 2/7A daily programme ofbotanical and naturalhistory walks from ourbase in Chania.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA comfortable, family-run hotel inChania, all rooms with privatefacilities.FoodIncluded in the price, with theexception of dinners which we willenjoy each night in one of Chania'sexcellent local tavernas. Allow £120.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusPlants; plus a little history/ancienthistory and general natural history.LeaderDavid Tattersfield.Single room supplement£170.ExtensionsGladly arranged on Crete in hotelor self-catering accommodation,with or without car rental. Pleasecall 01962 733051 for advice.Web quick search: GRC0343Samaria GorgeSea SquillCyclamen graecum

The Republic of Croatia (Hrvatska), partof the former Yugoslavia, is acrescent-shaped country lying at thewesternmost end of the Balkans andbordering the clear blue waters of theAdriatic Sea. Whilst tourism here is on theincrease, Croatia is still largelyoverlooked by naturalists; this issurprising, given that it lies on one ofEurope's main bird migration flywaysand at the crossroads of four bio-geographical regions. Indeed, in relationto its size, this small mountainous countryhas one of the most varied ranges ofhabitats and diverse assemblages of birdsand plants of any in Europe. Add to this arich blend of cultures and history,archaeological ruins, superb scenery and apopulation of only 4.5 million people and itis easy to see why Croatia is destined tobecome as popular with the birdwatchersand botanists amongst us as some of itsbetter known neighbours. This original itinerary focuses on the superbnatural history of central Dalmatia, inparticular the karst landscapes that lie justinland from the coast, the beautifulmountains of the Paklenica National Parkand the freshwater wetland of Lake Vrana.Our holiday begins, however, with a flight to Zagreb, an attractive and historic citywhich warrants an extra day or two at theend should you have the time to extendyour tour. From Zagreb we drive to Skradin, our basefor three nights as we explore the KrkaNational Park. Krka offers an impressivelandscape of karstic limestone plateaux,maquis scrub, meadows and broadleavedforests through which the rushing RiverKrka flows. We will explore this beautifularea on foot, strolling past impressivewaterfalls and through towering limestonegorges in search of the abundant wildlifeto be found here. The craggy gorges arehome to Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush,Crag Martin, Alpine Swift and OrtolanBunting, whilst a glance skyward mightreveal a passing raptor - perhaps aGolden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Peregrineor, if fortunate, even a Bonelli's Eagle, arare bird in Croatia. In the spring the areais awash with flowers and the scrubbyhillsides and deciduous woodland can bealive with passerines, amongst them suchspecies as Subalpine Warbler, WoodchatShrike, Sombre Tit, Cirl Bunting andSpanish Sparrow. Rock Partridges call fromthe stony hillsides whilst Balkan GreenLizards and Dalmatian Wall Lizardsscamper over the rocks. We next move to Starigrad Paklenica, ourbase for the final four nights, from whichwe will explore the Paklenica National Park.En route we will visit Lake Vrana, thelargest natural freshwater lake in Croatia,long recognised as an internationallyimportant wetland for migrating andbreeding birds such as the globallyendangered Pygmy Cormorant. The lake isbordered by extensive marshes, reedbedsand meadows, and lies between thewooded Ravni Kotari Hills to the north-eastand the Adriatic Sea just to the west. The north-western portion of the lake isprotected within the 'Park Prirode VranskoJezero' and here we should see the PygmyCormorants, together with Purple Herons,Little Bitterns, Black-winged Stilts,Montagu's Harriers, Garganey, Great Reedand Moustached Warblers, Wrynecks, Bee-eaters, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Black-earedWheatears, plus a host of passage visitors.The flora here is quite different from thatencountered in previous days, being moremaritime and aquatic in nature.Paklenica National Park lies just inlandfrom Vrana, on the southern slopes of theVelebit Mountain range. Here we are ableto enjoy habitats and scenery that rangefrom alpine, to Black Pine forest down tovalleys of oak, lime and beech andlowland Mediterranean maquis scrub. Themountains are cut by dramatic clefts suchas the 400-metre sheer rock-face of AnicaKuk and the limestone gorges of MalaPaklenica and Velika Paklenica. With sucha diverse range of habitats, PaklenicaNational Park holds a great abundanceand variety of bird and plant-life. Birdsinclude Short-toed Eagle, Griffon Vulture,Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Wheatear,Orphean Warbler, and many more, whilstsuch species asOphrys bertillonii,Campanula fenestrellata,Aquilegiakitaibelii,Erythronium dens-canis,Fritillariaorientalis,Iris illyricusand Degeniavelebiticawill be amongst those sought byour botanists. Reptiles offer an exctingdiversion at all times - perhaps aHermann's Tortoise or Balkan Whip Snake! Our week in Dalmatia ends with a journeyback to Zagreb from where we must,sadly, catch our flight home. We are sure,however, to have encountered a wealth ofhabitats, wildlife, scenery, food and culturein this under-visited corner of Europe and,with both spring and autumn tours onoffer, we suspect that many of you will be keen to return!Krka WaterfallsPygmy CormorantCampanula fenestrellataSPLITSKRADINZAGREBKRKANATIONALPARKPAKLENICANATIONAL PARKLAKEVRANABOSNIASLOVENIAHUNGARYCROATIAADRIATIC SEA44Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Zagreb and transferSkradin.Day 2/3Skradin, Krka NationalPark.Day 4/7Starigrad Paklenica,Paklenica National Park.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation Comfortable 3-star hotels; all roomswith private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingA/B. Easy to moderate day walks. FocusBirds, botany and other wildlife.LeadersGerard Gorman (ornithologist) andAlan Outen (botanist).Single room supplement£140.Web quick search: HRV02CroatiaA pioneering 8-day tour to Dalmatia in search of the birds, flowers and other wildlife of this beautiful unspoilt region of Croatia.Friday 12th April - Friday 19th April Cost: £1,495