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Orchids and culture in Croatia and Mediterranean Herzegovina

From the ancient, world heritage site city of Dubrovnik on the azure Adriatic coastline, to the mystical, forest shrouded Croatian island of Mljet and the beautiful city of Mostar in Herzegovina with its Old Bridge, this is a journey of an under-explored region that combines vast numbers of orchids with the best of the local culture and gastronomy. Our tour leader, Dino Zelenika, will give you a warm welcome to the Balkans.
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Day 1 – 27 April

Fly to Dubrovnik airport, Croatia. You will be met at the airport and we will then transfer to Mljet Island (around a 2.5 hour drive, including ferry time), stopping for a welcome meal in an authentic Croatian restaurant on the way. After checking into our accommodation there is the option of taking a short stroll to see some of the nature. You are then free to relax and explore, and later in the evening we will enjoy a light supper.

Day 2 – 28 April

After breakfast, we will begin exploring Mljet and its orchids. We will spend a leisurely morning in the National Park on the island, admiring orchids including Orchis italica, Anacamptis morio, Serapias lingua, Orchis quadripunctata, Ophrys sphegodes, O. scolopax and perhaps O. tendethriftera.

After a packed lunch, we will take the short ferry ride to the 12th century St Mary’s monastery in the middle of the Great Lake of Mljet. This large and ancient Roman Catholic monastery has a fascinating history, complete with the original 12th century Romanesque church and medieval fortifications to fend off pirate attacks (pirates plagued the Adriatic until the late 19th century). Behind the church are both Illyrian and Roman ruins, as well as medieval chapels in good condition. Afterwards, you will enjoy some rest and free time before dinner.

Day 3 – 29 April

We will explore more of Mljet and its orchids. We should see the rare white form of Ophrys scolopax var. cornuta f. alba. The day will also see us go to Odysseus’s Cave, near Babino Polje in the west part of the island, where by legend the nymph Calypso lured the Greek hero Odysseus with her singing and trapped him for 7 years. Another packed lunch will be had in the field. We will see more of Mljet and its ancient villages, orchids as well as other wildflowers. There will also be some familiar garden favourites, such as Nigella damascena and Borago offcinalis.

View of Peljesac peninsula from Mljet island, Croatia

View of Peljesac peninsula from Mljet island, Croatia

Day 4 – 30 April

After breakfast we will depart on the 10am ferry from Mljet, and land back at Pelješac peninsula on the Croatian mainland at approximately 10.30am. We will then begin exploring Pelješac peninsula, a wildly beautiful area abundant in many orchids. Before lunchtime, we will head to the western part of the peninsula for some sightseeing and breathtaking views.

After a lunch, we will spend some time looking for Ophrys fuciflora and other wildflowers. This will be followed by a 2-hour journey to Mostar, across the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the way we will stop at Ston, in the east of Peljesac. This small, very pretty and well-preserved medieval town is home to the Walls of Ston, which are the second longest fortifications in the world after the Great Wall of China!

A meal will be enjoyed on the peninsula prior to our departure to Mostar.

After checking into our hotel in Mostar, you will be free to make your own dinner arrangements (there is a list of suggested restaurants). In addition, there is an optional walk to see the Old Bridge at sunset.

View across the Peljesac peninsula

Day 5 – 1 May

Before lunch we will visit the spectacular Kravice waterfalls, near Mostar. After a picnic lunch, we will head to Hutovo Blato via the pilgrimage site of Medjugorje (where we will look at wild plants). Hutovo Blato is known for its pristine natural lakes and is one of the most important bird nesting sites in southern Europe. However, it is also rich in plant life, including orchids! Species we can expect to see throughout the morning include Limodorum abortivum, Cephalanthera longifolia, Ophrys apifera var. alba, Ophrys scolopax, O. sphegodes, Orchis pauciflora and Anacamptis morio.

On the way back to Mostar we will stop at the site of the ancient Illyrian city of Daorson. Its well-preserved walls and foundations are some 2,500 years old, and among the ruins grow large quantities of Ophrys bertolonii. Spectacular views are to be had over the surrounding countryside. In Mostar we will enjoy an organised dinner.



Day 6 – 2 May

On the way to Nevesinje, we will see Herzog’s castle with spectacular views across the Mostar valley.

Once we arrive in Nevesinje we will park and enjoy an easy walk through ancient woodland to a hidden mountain lake directly beneath Mt Velez (1969 m). All around this lake and in the surrounding woodlands are hoards of the rare endemic Helleborus hercegovinus, other rare Helleborus species, and various woodland and alpine plants. The walk to the lake will take around 30-40 minutes and although not difficult, parts of it are a little steep and there is no tarmac.

After a picnic lunch in these idyllic surroundings, we will head back to our bus and drive to see a spectacular 16th century Ottoman bridge in another part of Nevesinje municipality. On the way there will be a chance to see many traditional orchards (mainly apple and plum) all grown as pruned half standards as opposed to the intense, commercial central leader systems now predominant in the West.

Back to Mostar you will be dropped back at your hotel for rest and free time. You are once again free to make your own dinner arrangements.

Day 7 – 3 May

After breakfast we will visit the fascinating Kajtaz House, one of the oldest houses in Mostar dating back to the early 17th century. Once home to a noble family of the same name (whose descendants still live in the house), it retains much of its original features. This visit should not take too much time, but is definitely worth it. Afterwards, we will enjoy sightseeing in Mostar’s old town, before making our way to the town of Trebinje, in eastern Herzegovina. We will have lunch in Mostar before departure.

On the way we will first stop at the stećak (Bosnia & Herzegovinian medieval tombstone) necropolis at Radimlja, which dates to the 14th and 15th centuries. The site, along with other stećak necropolises has been added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in June 2016. There will be another quick stop, which will be had at the village of Ravno in Popovo Polje (“Priests’ Field/Plain”), a vast karstic plain between Mostar and Trebinje. Upon arrival in Trebinje we will rest and later have a light dinner.

Day 8 – 4 May

The morning’s activities will take us on ancient country roads from Trebinje towards the Adriatic coast above the city of Dubrovnik. As well as enjoying fabulous views, we are in for a real treat as for many miles the countryside is literally carpeted with orchids!

We will see huge quantities of the variable Ophrys bertolonii, as well as equally large numbers of Orchis pauciflora, O. anthropophora and Anacamptis morio. There are also smaller numbers of Orchis simia, O. tridentata, Ophrys scolopax and O. sphegodes. There also are several interesting hybrids to be discovered here.

We will have another packed lunch in order to save time and enjoy more orchids and flowers! After lunch, we will eventually make it to Popovo Polje, a great karstic limestone plain between Trebinje and Mostar. Here we will visit the late medieval Orthodox monastery of Zavala-part of which is built into a cave; and the Vjetrenica (“Windy”) Cave.

Vjetrenica is so named because strong gusts of wind are always billowing from its entrance, and was first mentioned in the writings of the Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). In more recent years it has become famous for the many endemic species discovered residing within it, frequently being cited as one of the richest caves of subterranean biodiversity in the world.

Day 9 – 5 May

After breakfast we will spend a relaxed morning looking around the town of Trebinje. There are also orchids within Trebinje town boundaries – most notably very unusual red forms of Ophrys bertolonii.

Founded by the Romans as Travunia in antiquity, Trebinje is one of the oldest settlements in the region with a continuous history that stretches back over 2000 years. Modern Trebinje is a beautiful, sun kissed Mediterranean town that lies on the banks of the crystal clear Trebišnjica River. Its ancient streets and medieval fortress blend together with Ottoman mosques and shops, which in turn are complimented by grand Austro-Hungarian buildings and 20th century Communist monuments and buildings. There is a lot to see in a small space, with rich culture oozing out from every corner waiting to be discovered.

We will enjoy a lunch of some of the best local specialities. Then, we will head above the town to see some more interesting forms of Ophrys bertolonii and other delightful orchids. Afterwards, will then visit a family owned winery, who have their own vineyard of local grape varieties and specialise in making local wine.

Our last evening meal in Trebinje will see us go to one of the very best local restaurants.

Day 10 – 6 May

Once breakfast is over we will drive to Dubrovnik for an easy walking tour of this world famous city. You will see all the key sites in its old town and hear stories from its past. After a chance to walk around and absorb this ancient place independently, we will drive to Trsteno Arboretum. At the entrance of the arboretum there are two enormous oriental plane trees, Platanus orientalis, thought to be over 500 years old.

The arboretum itself was in existence by 1492, when an aqueduct built to irrigate the grounds is mentioned in writing. This makes Trsteno Arboretum older than many French and Italian gardens. Its former owners, the Gozze (Gucetic) noble family extended and enriched the gardens for centuries with plants from all around the world until it passed into government ownership in 1945. We will enjoy a gentle stroll around the gardens and admire the many different trees and plants found here.

A substantial lunchtime meal will be enjoyed in Trsteno in the private home of a local family. In the afternoon we will return to Trebinje, where you will rest and enjoy a light supper ahead of your departure the following morning.

Day 11 – 7 May

After breakfast it will be time to say goodbye to our hosts before we leave for Dubrovnik airport. If you are staying in the region for longer it is possible to drop you off at an alternative location.

What is included in the tour:

– Airport transfers
– High quality accommodation
– All Inclusive apart from a couple of dinners as specified
– Minibus transport with air-conditioning
– Guides, tours and admission fees to various attractions and historic sites
– Vegetarian meal options

Tour guide: Dino Zelenika

Dino was born in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1991. After the Balkan war he and emigrated with his mother and English stepfather to the United Kingdom in 1999. Plants have been a passion for him since childhood. He is passionate about orchids, which have held a fascination for him ever since he saw a white Phalaenopsis for sale in Mostar at the age of 6!

Dino has an undergraduate degree in history and a Masters (MA) degree from the University of Bristol. An accredited British Orchid Council judge since 2013, contributor to The Orchid Review and speaker at the 21st World Orchid Conference in Johannesburg. He maintains a collection of over 300 orchids, mainly species. He has have been researching wild orchids of Bosnia & Herzegovina for 15 years. He also speaks Mandarin Chinese.