Montenegro, the land of the black mountains, was our home for two months. In September and October 2018 we had the opportunity to experience many perculiarities of this country and its people. Come with us to discover this pearl of the Adriatic. This time Steffen reports for you.
My friend Thomas and I are on a mission. It is the ascent of Bobotov Kuk. It is the highest mountain of Montenegro. With an altitude of 2522 meters, it rises above all the other 50 peaks with an altitude around 2000m in the Durmitor National Park.
Serpentine after serpentine we drive up higher with the rental car. Thomas tells me about his time in Germany. He took 10 days vacation to visit me and Vivi and to explore Montenegro. Vivi wont’t accompany us on this mission, because she is already back in the south of Montenegro. We park the car at a place at 1908 meters altitude. A ranger approaches us and we pay a few euros national park fee. We are ready to go hiking.
With the trail well marked we’re hiking uphill through a valley. To the left and to the right the mountains pile up. A little further up a small landslide has buried the way and we crawl on all fours over the gravel. Shortly before we reach the summit it gets dangerous. If we don’t pay attention, we will lie at the foot of the mountain in a few seconds. With our hands firmly on the rope, we climb Bobotov Kuk. The 2.5 hours of this exhausting ascent were worth it. A breathtaking view awaits us.
I am fascinated by the rugged cliffs that push into the blue sky. I discover three chamois jumping from rock to rock in daring manoeuvres, always only one step away from the abyss. With deep breaths I inhale the fresh mountain air. The peace that spreads within me does not seem to be of this world.
The mighty peak of Bobotov Kuk
Black mountains tower into the sky
One of the 18 blue glacial lakes in Durmitor National Park
Somebody lost his luggage up her…
Another “Must Do” in Durmitor National Park is the Black Lake (Crno Jezero), the largest of the 18 glacial lakes. From here you have a wonderful view of the mountain Meded with its majestic 2287 meters. After a walk around the lake we had a snack in the adjoining restaurant.
Also a small hike to the lake Zminje Jezero is recommendable. This small, green shimmering lake is surrounded by deep green spruces.
The Durmitor National Park is not only unique in its altitude, but also in its depth. It is home to the deepest gorge in Europe, the Tara Gorge. In some sections it is an incredible 1600 metres deep! On a rafting tour and in a bird’s eye view we explored this canyon.
Also the dippers (Cinclus cinclus) are enthusiastic about the crystal clear, delicious water. We discovered 8 of them on our 2.5 hours rafting tour. But it was more like a comfortable boat tour, because there was not much water and therefore only few rapids awaited us. Starting from May it is probably better to experience a real rafting feeling with pure adrenalin.
The Tara bridge, or rather its shadow
The Tara Gorge is not only the deepest, but also the longest gorge with its 78km. Also in terms of originality it is on the first place. Pure nature!
Besides Durmitor National Park there are four other national parks: Lovćen, Lake Skadar, Prokletije and Biogradska Gora. I could explore all of them except the last one. In all of them are beautiful mountains. I have the feeling that no matter where you are standing in Montenegro you can always see a mountain. Montenegro lives up to its name: the black mountain.
In the National Park Lovćen I was also on the road with Thomas. The round platform at the top of the second highest elevation at 1,655 meters, the Jezerski Vrh, is close to the mausoleum of the writer and prince bishop Petar II alias Njegoš. He was important for Montenegro, as he i.a. established the first Senate. Two large female statues guard the entrance to his mausoleum.
On the platform we had a magnificent view. But we were even more impressed by the museums in Montenegro’s former capital Cetinje.
We had this view of the National Park Skadar Lake after taking a one-lane serpentine road.
Vivi and I visited the Prokletije National Park on an exciting weekend. Watch a short video (in German but understandable) here.
Shortly before the summit Tromedja between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro.
More nature places
Further natural pearls for us were the mountains of Lukavica north of Nikšić, the second largest city in Montenegro, the bay of Kotor, a donkey farm near Podgorica and of course Ulcinj with its long beach, Ada-Bojana, Shas lake, Ulcinj Salina and Valdanos.
The mountains of Lukavica are still not on the agenda of many tourists. However, this area is very suitable for hiking.
And whereelse can you see such a rainbow?
Michael and Michael in action.
On a tour to the mountains of Lukavica Vivi and I joined a filming tour to create a small promo video about this area.
The bay of Kotor has its special charm. I had the feeling that the mountains sprout out of the water.
Also our trip to the famous donkey farm of our friend Darko was a highlight. Darko made his dream come true here and let the public participate in it on Sundays. He donates a share of the donkey milk to social projects. But he is not only committed here: he is the founder of the Montenegrin environmental and bird protection association CZIP and has for many years supported the protection of Ulcinj Salina. Find his facebook page here.
Ulcinj and surroundings
Our main residence was Ulcinj, a town surrounded by natural treasures:
The 13km Long Beach (Velika Plaza) is especially popular with tourists from Serbia, Russia and England. Sand and sun as much as you like. But also for nature tourists there is something to see here: the sand dunes, the big conifers and the Mediterranean seagulls. Only a stone’s throw away to Albania, the island of Ada-Bojana borders to the Long Beach. Here are not only naked sun worshippers (nudists beach), but also natural forests.
We preferred to spend our time in the stone bays closer to the centre of Ulcinj. A highlight is the hiking trail from there along the rocky coast to the long sandy beach. If you want, you can take the boat back to the old town.
Only a few hundred metres behind the Long Beach is Ulcinj Salina (Ulcinjska Solana), a real paradise for relaxing and for birds — and the main reason why we spent two months in Ulcinj. Vivi wrote a separate blog post here.
A little further away is the Shas Lake (Shasko Jezero). A small natural idyll that offers beautiful photo motifs with its church ruins.
Perfectly placed boats in Valdanos Bay
The bay of Valdanos
My favourite place in Ulcinj was Valdanos Bay. My plan was to go diving here and do my Divemaster, but the diving school, which I already organized in May, was closed due to technical problems. Instead I enjoyed snorkeling and freediving here.
Olive trees in Valdanos
But not only the bay and the azure blue water prooves Valdanos to be something special. There are also thousands of centuries-old olive trees. Some are even up to 2000 years old! Also not to be missed are the ancient stone fountains that can be found parallel to the tarred road.
Another exciting attraction is the communist, dilapidated resort directly at Valdanos Bay. The turbulent history of this bay has left its mark. The huge holiday paradise fell apart after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It was supposed to serve as a military base and then be revived as a luxury resort, but now it still lies idle.
Take a close look at our picture gallery below. You can rediscover the places in the image film from the 80s. It is very exciting to feel the history of this place. If you want to learn more about the backgrounds of Camp Valdanos, check out this article.
Cities of Interest
But not only the nature of Montenegro is worth seeing and has inspired me. No, also some cities have their stories to tell. Podgorica didn’t really convince us with its flair, which is why we will show you other cities more closely.
Cruise ships fill the UNESCO cultural heritage city of Kotor with tourists
Kotor is one of them. With its old churches, the well-preserved 5km long city wall and mount Sveti Ivan with the fortress overlooking the city, there is much to discover.
View from the old town of Bar (Stari Bar)
Another coastal town is Bar, just 30 minutes away from Ulcinj. If you have ever been to the Hohentwiel in Singen, you can imagine the old town of Bar, which has unfortunately not been inhabited since an earthquake in 1979. But the difference is the location. On one side the more than 1000 meter high peaks of the Rumija mountain range, on the other side the sea. Here I did a dive to a wreck. We also visited two second-hand shops with colorful clothes and an orthodox church with hand-painted frescoes.
View from above — The old town of Ulcinj
In the coastal town of Ulcinj there is a 2000 year old fortress. The old town can be explored along winding stone paths. As about 75% of the population is of Albanian origin, there are mosques and even an old Hamam here, in contrast to many other Montenegrin orthodox cities.
Apart from the old town, Ulcinj is similar to the other cities: many hotel and apartment complexes. Concrete and tar have also spread here. And many stray cats and dogs and garbage unfortunately, too.
Environment and life in Montenegro
So, here the next topic: Environment and life in Montenegro. Through our travel experiences in the Balkans we have already gotten used to the not very “German” conditions: garbage everywhere, power and water failures, honking and stinking cars.
This image fits to ours, but not to Montenegro’s image of itself. Montenegro declared itself an environmental state in 1991. But the actions of the government and the population do not fit in. And the EU is also not particularly impressed by the progress made in environmental protection and management. Montenegro wants to become an EU member state and still has a lot to do in the coming years.
Waste management is a major problem. Almost everywhere you look you can find garbage: water bottles, chocolate bar packaging, energy drink cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts, … You’ll find them especially on roadsides, undeveloped plots of land and rivers. The bad thing is that the earth will never get rid of the plastic again! Once in the environment it only gets smaller and smaller and comes back to us sometimes via the food chain. But before that it accumulates e.g. in huge trash vortices in the sea or is washed back ashore.
In September we therefore took part in the International Coastal Cleanup Day and cleaned 300m of coastline in Ulcinj with 15 other committed people. We collected A LOT of trash! The tragic thing: After only one week with a small storm the whole coast was full again with plastic bottles, broken garden chairs, flipflops etc.. That’s why we avoided plastic wherever possible. At the bakery, at the market, in the supermarket. We always had our cotton carrier bags with us.
Unfortunately the tap water was another problem, mostly not really drinkable, so we had to buy 6l water containers more often. This was also due to the fact that there was two times no tap water at all in Ulcinj for 1–2 days. So we also learned that there are weekly deliveries of water, which are transported in trucks. Crazy world.
There was also power failure from time to time. We actually did not care about that. What we don’t like, however, is the supply with non-renewable energies. In Montenegro, despite the strong wind, there are just 2 completed wind farms. The first one has 26 wind turbines and is located in Krnovo near Niksic.
The second one is the Mozura wind farm between Bar and Ulcinj, which has been in operation since the end of 2018. 32 wind turbines worth 40 million euros produce 46 MW of green energy. Unfortunately, solar energy is not yet so en vogue despite the fact that there is plenty of sun.
Hydropower, on the other hand, is more popular, but this is not very pleasing, since there are still great, natural rivers in Montenegro with endemic (only here occurring) fish species. The campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” by EuroNatur draws attention to the problems of hydropower plants. Over 2800 are planned for the entire Balkan region!
One thing we have been wondering about since the beginning is the life in the Balkans. The average wage in Montenegro is about 400 Euro. But the food is at least as expensive as in Germany, maybe even more expensive. Many things have to be imported, because there is hardly any processing industry in Montenegro. At Lidl you could even buy cheaper and more ecological food! Also the housing costs are horrendous in comparison to the salary! In the high season it is difficult to find an affordable apartment in the coastal towns. In the winter the heating costs are high due to the bad isolation of the buildings. That’s why many still live with their parents. Understandably. The dream for many young people: Emigrating. We have met countless people of our age who hope to live in a European country. Whether in Novi Sad, Skopje or Ulcinj. Those who stay live mostly from tourism. Especially in the coastal towns. And they are doing relatively well, not as well as in Yugoslavian times, but not bad either.
Speaking of Yugoslavia… Yugoslavia has been a better time for many of those we have met: more industry, more work, more freedom, more unity. The sad legacies from that time are noticeable everywhere: abandoned hotel complexes like in Valdanos or Ada-Bojana, the engineer who now runs a small supermarket or the uncle who works in Germany.
Back to the present and a Montenegrin speciality: honking the horn. Day in and day out I have suffered nervous breakdowns because of it. The Montenegrins have perfected their honking. A real language has emerged. The ingenious thing: everyone understands it! Here are a few expressions:
- Short, joyful honking of the horn (1−2 times): “Hello!” (mostly within the city and at a slow pace if you see friends in cafés or on the sidewalk)
- Longer obtrusive honking with short and long honks: “Out of the way!” Or “Drive on!” (happens very often)
- A short honk: “Careful, I’m coming!” (Especially used while overtaking cyclists close by)
- Short honk: “Thank you!” (To be used after 2. or 3. when everything has worked out and nothing has happened)
- A few times short and a few times long in the rhythm Hooonk, honk, honk, hooonk: “Bye!”
So now I finish with a Hooonk, honk, honk, hooonk and hope that you enjoyed our insights into the land of the black mountains.