Greece’s less crowded (and cheaper) version of the Camargue

As we turned off to Chalastra, the gateway to Axios Delta National Park, the silence was so sudden it was as if someone had flipped a switch. Far from the snarl of honking, honking traffic on the Thessaloniki highway, I was on a narrow, tree-lined road and the only sounds were the buzzing of crickets and the screams of stork nests high above my head.

Just a half-hour drive from Greece’s second city, the 240-square-kilometer park is one of Greece’s most important wetlands. This vast delta, fed by rivers flowing from as far away as Kosovo, is a birdwatcher’s paradise and is home to some 330 bird species – along with the world’s largest populations of Mediterranean turtles. Add dozens of wild horses and a flamboyant flamingo, plus salt flats and rice fields, and you’ll understand why it’s called Greece’s “secret Camargue.”

The region is also home to an abundance of flamingos

The region is also home to an abundance of flamingos – Getty

However, unlike its Gallic counterpart, the Axios Delta only attracts a few tourists a year, and the tavernas, serving fresh fish and mussels, are also a lot cheaper.

As I drove towards the Nea Agathoupoli birdwatching tower, I caught my first glimpse of the region’s horses. Unlike the famous white horses of the Camargue, these multi-colored animals are truly wild. “They were released in the 1960s, when farmers switched to tractors,” said Lia Papadragka, a guide who oversees the park, as we climbed to the top of the observation tower. “There are about 80 horses today, which means they are an endangered species,” she added, handing me a pair of binoculars.

From our lofty vantage point we saw glossy ibis, ferruginous duck, avocet, spoonbills and other fauna flitting, wading and fluttering in the murky swamps below. Then there was a white flash. ‘A white-tailed sea eagle! There are only a few pairs in Greece and one of them is nesting here,” Lia said, waving her binoculars excitedly.

Most visitors to Axios Delta settle in ThessalonikiMost visitors to Axios Delta settle in Thessaloniki

Most visitors to Axios Delta settle in Thessaloniki – Alamy

Leaving the tower we drove slowly over a bumpy road towards the sea. In mid-April the air hummed with the sweet scents of spring flowers; mustards bloom as brightly as lemons, giant fennel-like little trees and the pale pink braids of tamarisk blossoms dazzle against the muddy background.

Near Almyraulakas, in one of the kalyvi – wooden huts where the delta’s mussel farmers are located – we met Stelios, who took us across the shallow lagoon to visit his farm. Stopping at a wooden structure, where cormorants posed on the poles and dried their black wings, Stelios explained that the mussels grow on ropes dangling in the shallow water below. With one hand on the tiller and his eyes focused on the green-gray horizon, framed by the blue spot of Mount Olympus, he told us about his annus horribilis in 2021, when the summer heat was so intense that the water temperature rose to 31 degrees Celsius. “The mussels were literally cooked in the water,” he said.

The Alyki Kitrous LagoonThe Alyki Kitrous Lagoon

The Alyki Kitrous Lagoon – Alamy

Since there are not many hotels in the Axios Delta, Thessaloniki was my base. Returning to this beautiful, vibrant city every evening after days of observing the teeming wildlife of the delta was the perfect combination. It was declared a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2021, and I spent pleasant evenings munching on a spicy meatball soutzoukakaiasizzling cheese bougiourdi and other local delicacies in stylish tavernas such as Olympos Naoussa, Orizontes Roof Garden and Poster.

To get away from the birds I followed the coastal road from Chalastra to ancient Pydna. Not much remains of this once-mighty city, conquered by Alexander the Great’s father in the 4th century BC, and where Alexander’s mother was killed during a siege some thirty years later – but the remote site , surrounded by a sea of ​​olive trees, was beautiful. atmospheric.

Fishing huts line the Axios DeltaFishing huts line the Axios Delta

Fishing huts along the Axios Delta – Alamy

Returning to the coastal town of Methoni I had lunch at Nikos, a rustic seaside taverna loved by locals. Seated at a rickety wooden table, watching bright kaiki fishing boats bob on a lazy pea-green swell, I tucked into grilled red mullet with a Greek salad with capers and a carafe of crisp Asyrtiko white from the nearby Epanomi vineyards. The bill for this feast (which also included a free thimble of turpentine Tsipouro and a piece of portokalopita Orange pie)? Twenty-four euros – about the same as a single main course in a similar restaurant in the south of France.

On my last day I went to Alyki Kitrous Lagoon. This gigantic salt flat, which stretches across the northern flank of the delta, is home to a huge population of wading birds, including hundreds of flamingos that sniffed and sniffed loudly as they searched for microscopic algae. After a swim from the dune-lined beach of Alyki, I stopped to meet Alexandros Tillas and Maria Derdevani, an enterprising, locally born couple who bought the ruins of a train station – complete with vintage train carriages – to create Alyki Glamping, a unique boutique hotel . that should open this summer.

Orange pie is one of the region's specialtiesOrange pie is one of the region's specialties

Orange pie is one of the specialties of the region – Alamy

Victims of Greece’s infamous bureaucracy, it took the couple five years to painstakingly renovate the old station. “We are pioneers and that is always difficult,” said Alexandros. As we sat in the couple’s kitchen digging into a steaming pot of mussels, I brought up the Camargue comparison. “We are better – we have wolves and wild cats here too,” Alexandros said, laughing. “We actually have everything the Camargue has, just without the crazy crowds.”

How do you get there?

Fly from London Heathrow to Thessaloniki from £140 ( Cars can be hired from Hertz from £23 per day ( Book guided tours of the Axios Delta with Ecoroutes (, and gastronomic tours of Thessaloniki with Discover Greece (

Where to eat

In Thessaloniki, Poster (mains from £8;, Olympos Naoussa (mains from £12; and Orizontes Roof Garden (mains from £16; In Nikos, Methoni (mains from £6; +30 27230 31282).

Where to stay

Double rooms at the Antigon Urban Chic hotel ( cost from £87 per night including breakfast. Double beds at Alyki Camping Kitros ( cost from £37 per night including breakfast.

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