Lake Kerkini: An excursion to the kingdom of birds

It was the setting for the film by the great Theo Angelopoulos, “The meadow that weeps”. Nature lovers from Greece and every country in the world visit it for the protected wetland, for the roseate pelicans, the ospreys, the ospreys, the cormorants and the herons. Breathtaking villages, horses diving into the waters to cool off and nature at its best. If you haven’t figured out by now where we’re going, of course Lake Kerkini. That’s where we would suggest you travel immediately.
Some of all those who have made the trip for the wonderful environment of Kerkini make the analogy with the lakes usually found in Norway or Sweden. Always keeping in mind that this is always the case. This is because in Greece we do not easily find the unique combination of natural beauty, significant water area and rich fauna.

In the vast straights of the Serres prefecture you will often encounter landscapes that bring to mind far west: horses, vast yellow and green fields, bales of hay and farmers with tractors. The plain of Serres is the 3rd largest in the country. Among the vast farmland, you will have the opportunity to see or even visit many villages since the prefecture is the one with the most villages in the country. If you look north you will see the imposing mountain range of Beles, a natural border with the neighboring country Bulgaria, while the sea and the Strymonikos Gulf stretch to the south.

Exploring Lake Kerkini

Lake Kerkini is an artificial lake, 17 km long and 5 km wide, created by the dam of Struma in 1932, in the village of Lithotopos. As a result, it became a favourite place for birds, migratory and non-migratory, especially the wetland in the northern part of the lake. Lake Kerkini is 35 km from Serres and 80 km from Thessaloniki. Low vegetation, swampy waters and a suitable climate make the area an ideal place for birds. More than 300 species have been recorded, including the silver pelican and the langoon, both endangered species. If birdwatching is your hobby, May is the best time for bird-watching, when birds return from warmer climates.
Villages around the lake hold festivals, and the area is flooded with birdwatchers from all over the world. In addition to the birds, the lake also attracts many fish, most notably grayling and waders. Wolves, jackals, hares and wild boars are also part of the fauna of the area. Those who ultimately steal the show, in terms of fauna, are the famous water buffaloes. Tradition has it that they were introduced to the region of Kerkini in ancient times, when they were brought here by the Persians during the Persian Wars.
Lake Kerkini is protected by the Ramsar Convention and the European network “Natura 2000”. The best way to get to know the lake is to take a boat ride on the traditional “paves” as they are called. You can find the boats either at the harbour in the village of Kerkini or you can visit the “Eco-tourist”, who organizes all kinds of activities (bird watching, hiking, bicycle tours, etc.) and has a guesthouse.

5+1 things to do in Lake Kerkini

Plough the fields and meadows next to the lake on a horse. The rides start from the shores next to the village of Kerkini’s namesake.

Go boating on Lake Kerkini with Captain Vasilis. He knows the lake better than anyone and the 1 hour long ride will be an experience you will describe to your friends.

Get to the Greek-Bulgarian border, to the border station of Promachona and the village of Agistro to visit the healing waters coming from the mountain at a temperature of 41 degrees. Mystical atmosphere, steam and old stone hamams. Ideal for late night and cold season visits.

Climb up to Fort Istibey at an altitude of 1339 meters and 250 meters from the Greek-Bulgarian border. The fort was fought in 1941 against the Germans and its underground catacombs were the shelter of the soldiers. The route through the forest and the climb is also worthwhile.

Visit the village of Vyroneia and especially the bridge outside it that crosses over the river Struma. The bridge has a diameter that can fit just one vehicle, and the areas around it are ideal places to see buffalo, walk on the embankment along the river and if you’re in the mood for a picnic.

A visit to the Poroia Women’s Cooperative, in Ano Poroia, will reward you. Ten women of the village have been working in harmony for 11 years to promote the products of their land: picking greens, herbs and fruits, rolling leaves for pies, making pasta. Open from 9 am to 9 pm and for coffee.

We didn’t talk about accommodation and food though. In Ano Poroia you stay in the junior suite with loft, fireplace and hot tub at «Viglatora». For coffee and stylish cottage accommodation set amidst gardens with lawns and trees you go to the «Herodios» hotel. At «Elodia» you taste fried river fish, grub and goulash and buffalo meat dishes. You can eat fine trout from the fish farm right next door at the «Trout Tavern», in Ano Poroia. You can try smoked trout, grilled trout, pan-seared fillet and if you go during the winter months you can also taste it grilled in the wood-fired oven. If you’re still not a fish person, there are fresh local meats and buffalo braised in the wood-fired oven, simmered for hours.