National Parks of Greece : Ainos

Established: 1962
Size: 2316 hectares
Location: Southern Cephalonia (38°08'N 10°40'E)

Ainos (pronounced *Æ-noss) is perhaps the oldest nature preserve in the country, having been protected in one way or the other since 1830, long before the islands were incorporated into the Greek state. Though not rich in strange plants and animals, its value lies in its variety because the small area manages to include everything from a coastal ecology where the mountain meets the Ionian sea up to and including alpine terrain at 1628 m (5112 feet).

Much of the park is covered by the endemic Grecian fir Abies cephalonica, used in shipbuilding until the 19th century, and the main purpose of the park is protect this tree. The fir population is darker than other vegetation and characteristically darkens the flanks of Mount Ainos (which the park takes its name from). Apart from small endemic plants of minor significance, it is also the only really noteworthy component of the flora, the rest being Mediterranean scrub and common broadleaf trees like almonds and pears.

Some of its fauna are more interesting, particularly the population of wild horses, more and more uncommon in densely populated Europe. The large black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) also makes its home in the park and is the island's most popular bird. Other, less remarkable birds found in the park are the osprey, the short-toed eagle and the rock partridge.

Access from the mainland is by plane to Argostoli or via ferry to Sami, and then overland by local means of transportation--that means either hiking or taking whatever motor vehicle becomes available. Roads inside the park are mostly dirt roads with hairpin bends, not for the faint of heart, and are often impassable in winter. Ideally there would be no roads but frequent wildfires mandate some sort of access and some smart technical director of state TV in the 1970s, when protection wasn't quite as strict, decided that the mountain was ideally situated to plant a huge broadcast antenna on its summit, and a large portion of western Greece now depends on this eyesore for television.

Overall, Ainos is a park that's nice but is not very accessible and has little charm that you couldn't find elsewhere in the country and in less environmentally sensitive areas. I therefore suggest doing it a service by skipping it and finding some similarly beautiful scenery to enjoy, either on Cephalonia itself or on neighbouring Ithaca.

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