Walking and trekking
Known as both ‘the jewel of Europe’ and the ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean,’ tiny Montenegro – which finally achieved independence from Serbia in 2006 – is a steep little country in the Balkans which has a geography which makes it extremely promising as an outdoor destination. Indeed, the travel press has been singing it’s praises as a fallow destination for the past couple of years, applauding its rough charm and dripping beauty, if not its infrastructure, which many will view as the best of both worlds.
Mighty mountain ranges dominate the area which runs south-east parallel with the border of Serbia and Albania. These drop to a cave-riddled, karstic landscape in the middle before dropping to a thin but lengthy coastal strip on the Adriatic – the Boka Kotorska with world-class beaches.
Montenegro’s mountains were hammered during the last ice age, resulting in incredibly rugged terrain and dramatic canyons, one of which – the Tara River Canyon – which, at 1,300m, is the second deepest in the world after the Grand Canyon. It is 82km long and is absolutely spellbinding, and as it sits within Durmitor National Park, there are many walking trails which take you to the canyon’s most impressive viewpoints. Piva canyon is also ripe for exploration, and also lies within Durmitor, readily accessible from Zabljak.
Durmitor also has a mountain range running through it – the Durmitor Alps, part of the more encompassing Dinaric Alps range. These are very dramatic mountains, and include a number of fine ascents for lovers of scrambly ground, steep faces and snaggly Dolomite-alike terrain. There are some astonishing geological formations, particularly at the mountain of Stit, which displays huge scale fractured folding of rock to mind-bending effect. The dominating feature – apart from the Park’s many canyons – is the Jezerska Povrs plateau which sits at 1500 meters above sea level intersected. Over this, 48 mountains over 2000m leer down, the highest being Bobotov Kuk (2523 m), which is in fact the highest peak in Montenegro. You can climb the mountain all year via its classic route on well-marked walking trails (from Zabljak) but in winter snow, ice and a tourism infrastructure which is still finding its feet make it a cold, lonely and committing affair. Indeed, that may be your thing, in which case you’ll probably love it. Despite the multitude of fantastic mountains to climb in Durmitor, don’t be put off if you’re a low-level lover, as there are many parts of the park which make for magnificent walking of a less serious nature, and it’s well worth a visit. Other things to do here include the Ice Cave of Ledena Pecina (see Other Activities).
Kotor is a resort town which earned its status for being cited at the head of southern Europe's deepest fjord, Boka. Kotor is a walled medieval city with UNESCO World Heritage status, but the real wonder here is the fjord, which is considered by many as one of the world’s most beautiful bays. The town and the bay both nestle beneath Lovcen, the country’s holiest mountain, which has at its top a tomb which is a site of pilgrimage and a fine place to view the splendour of this area.
Biogradska Gora is a national park which lies between the tara and Lim, which is unique for its expanses of virgin forest and massive glacial lakes, which makes for sublime, leafy walking when you have had your fill of the mountains and sea. In addition to this, there is Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans and a major bird sanctuary.
Most of these areas have UNESCO status, which is remarkable for such a little place. With the number of tour operators increasing in the wake of Montenegro’s independence, try and get to this little gem before the rest of the crowds do: it’s not all that easy, but there are a couple of operators who will get you there (see links.)
Water activities are very popular here. As well as rafting down the Tara River – a sublime experience in such a steep canyon – you can kite surfing, wind surf, dive and canoe either on the sea or in one of the fjords which cut into the rugged coast.
Budva, built by the Venetians, is Montenegro's leading beach resort. Its old walled town, destroyed by two earthquakes in 1979, has since been reconstructed and now pulls in funky sun-lovers who engage in the vibrant nightlife and magnificent coastal scenery.
It’s a walk, but the Ice Cave of Ledena Pecina near Zabljak (without doubt the place to base yourself) takes trekkers from the Black Lake to the cave which sits beneath the peak of Obla Glava, which earns its name as it is packed with ice stalactites and stalagmites which remain peculiarly frozen all year which have led to some scientific headscratching. It’s a proper mountain cave and requires negotiating some dodgy terrain to reach it, but astonishing and unique once inside.
The local name for Montenegro, Crna Gora, means ‘large hole.’ FALSE. It comes from the medieval Slavic term for ‘excessively mountainous’.
Less people live in the country of Montenegro than live in Birmingham. TRUE. Considerably less. Montenegro has around 684,000 residents, whereas Birmingham just over a million, despite being around 13 times smaller in area.
Must see and do
- Visit the Ice Cave in Durmitor National Parkhttp://www.discover-montenegro.com/durmitor.htm
- Try the Montenegro dish of kacamak in Budva: flour, potato and melted cheese, washed down with Vranac, the local red wine.
- Peer into the Tara River Canyon – or better still, raft along it. Check out tour operators in Zabljak.
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