Make the most of Montenegro

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Plunging canyons, virgin forests, a curvy coastline and jagged mountains sit side-by-side in this beautiful, compact country where bears and wolves still roam

For a comparatively small nation – about two-thirds the size of Wales – Montenegro packs a lot in. Dashing peaks, plunging gorges, twisting canyons, virgin forests, glassy glacial lakes, a craggy coast, beautiful beaches, historic towns, welcoming villages and ruined fortresses, and all in a Mediterranean climate. You can go from the sun-blessed coast to the lakes, canyons and accessible peaks of the northern mountains, or perhaps the untamed forest of Biogradska Gora further south, in less than four hours. (Although there are mountains near the coast, too.) Think of Montenegro as a mini European New Zealand, with bears and wolves, where women still hitchhike and doughnuts are a popular breakfast option.

Montenegro is named after the Black Mountain in rocky Lovćen National Park, near the Adriatic, a lofty and rocky park that bequeaths hikers huge views and houses an impressive mausoleum of national hero Njegoš. The coast offers gentle, wildflower splattered walking trails between beaches such as those on lazy Luštica Peninsula, while in World Heritage-listed Bay of Kotor, the historic town sits at the end of an emerald-coloured fjord like a fairytale kingdom.

However, World Heritage-listed Durmitor National Park, in the country’s rugged northeast, is the biggest draw for dawdlers. The atmospheric 39,000-hectare park boasts 18 brooding, mirror-like glacial lakes, including its poster girl, the Black Lake, protected by several imposing snow-capped peaks. A colour-coded network of well-maintained trails cover the park, which has bears and wolves (though they’re rarely seen), joyous waterfalls, tinkling streams and daisy-dotted alpine meadows. Meanwhile, armchair alpinists can get up close to snowy peaks that would normally require mountaineering experience and equipment. (Some mountain huts are available for overnight stays.)

The 1600-hectare Biogradska Gora National Park, further south, is one of Europe’s three remaining primeval forests. A 17km loop takes in a couple of sizeable peaks and a large glacial lake.

Away from the national parks, Orjen, Bjelasica and Prokletije mountains have well-maintained trail networks. The more experienced trekker might consider the 138km Coastal Marathon Traversal, from Herceg Novi to Lake Skadar on the border with Albania, via three mountain ranges.

Rafting the Tara River, in Durmitor National Park, has become Montenegro’s most popular adventure activity. At 1300m deep, Tara Canyon is only 200m shallower than America’s Grand version. There are rapids, but trips are more about experiencing the splendour of the dramatic cleft in the landscape, than about the vessel doing somersaults. May is potentially the spiciest time, though, when the last of the snow melt gets frisky. The two-day, 82km trip is the classic, with one-day options also available.

There can’t be many better settings for a kayaking trip than the dramatic fjord of the Bay of Kotor, with craggy peaks towering over the red roofs of handsome Kotor. The largest lake in southern Europe, Lake Skadar, shared with Albania, is the other main option for commercial kayaking trips.
More experienced rapid riders might be tempted by the Morača (includes Grade IV and V) and the less boisterous Lim River (though it still has some Grade V). Parts of the Tara River can be kayaked too.

In Montenegro’s cerulean blue waters lie thousands of years’ worth of shipwrecks, plus caves, shelves and sea turtles, with visibility usually between 10m and 25m (mid-May to September is best). Don a wetsuit at Herceg Novi, Dobrota, Pržno, Ulcinj and best of all, Budva.

With its many tall bits of pointy rock-cum-inviting launch pads, Montenegro is an ideal destination for paragliding. The most popular spot is Brajići, 760m above Bečići, which has expansive views across the water to Sveti Stefan and St Nicholas Island. The less experienced can go to Lapčići for tandem paraglides.

All those mountain passes mean Middle Aged Men In Lyrca (MAMIL) will find plenty of steep climbs to grind their way up. A network of marked routes is being established, including the mammoth 14-day 1276km Tour de Montenegro, circling the country with 30km of climb (ouch). The shortest route is five days and 262km. If you’ve only got one day free, enjoy Lovćen National Park on a loop track from Cetinje. If you prefer off-road, Lovćen is also crisscrossed with well-marked mountain-bike trails.

Skiing & Snowboarding
With all these mountains there’s plenty of cold play to be had on the slopes. The ski season lasts from December to March, with Kolašin being the most popular region. Durmitor National Park’s up-and-coming scene has three slopes catering for all abilities, all close to Žabljak. Cross-country skiing is best in Durmitor and Lovćen.

Article reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure, © 2017 Lonely Planet 

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