While Thailand or New Zealand frequently make headlines by virtue of their natural wonders, one small corner of the Balkans has slipped below the radar for years. Set against the deep blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, Podgorica, Montenegro, is home to some of the most stunning gorges, peaks, rivers and valleys in Europe, if not the world. Even better, thanks to its relative distance from the tourist track, its centuries-old culture and traditions have remained largely intact.
The city of Podgorica, the capital and largest city in Montenegro (known locally as Crna Gora), is at the heart of an area overflowing with geological wonders. It is, therefore, a great base from which to make half- and full-day excursions, as well as overnight tours, as most companies operate out of this important centre.
Perhaps the most famous Podgorica ecotourism attraction is the vast Skadar Lake National Park, encompassing a lake the surrounding landscape of which has remained unspoiled for millions of years, preserving stunning primeval forests.
This includes the stunning Pavlova Strana, a moat-like lake formed by the river Crnojevića where it etches a wide arc between two mountains. This location has been crowned “one of the most beautiful geographical wonders in the world,” where the river is like a ribbon of blue-black against what locals call the emerald pyramids. Make sure to take time to drink in the view, best when crowds of camera-toting tourists aren’t jostling for the perfect shot.
The feeling of isolation possible in Montenegro is almost unrivalled in Europe. You can take a boat cruise to the centre of Skadar and see no one else for miles, afloat alone with nature as it was meant to be. Skadar Lake is a also famous amongst anglers, so you might want to try your hand at fishing here; carp are as abundant as the trout and bleak. Fish by day or by night with harpoons, nets or lines. Take what you catch back to your hotel and fry it by the lakeside. For the full experience, stay at Vranjina, a famous fishermen’s community.
Of course, Skadar isn’t the only place where you can fish. Along the Adriatic Sea, you can find dentex, mullet, sea perch, sardelle, red porgy, lobsters, shrimps, cuttlefish, octopus and squids (among others). Inland, famous freshwater rivers like the Moraca, Bojana and Piva are all packed with fish.
Montenegro boasts five national parks and extended buffer zones around them. Adjacent to Durmitor National Park is the magnificent Nevidio Canyon, the most recent canyon to have been discovered in Europe. A canyoning experience in the Nevidio (meaning ‘Unseen’) is a test for even the most hardened adrenaline seekers. Visitors should be prepared to abseil down a rock face (only in the summer months) when the water is at its highest, climb steep cliffs, swim through rapids and traverse towering waterfalls. You don’t need any special training (beyond knowing how to swim) and instructors are well versed in all safety precautions.
If you prefer to test your ecotourism mettle in a more controlled setting, there’s always the Ivanova Korita Adventure Park. This proving ground has seven different ‘paths’ through Lovcen National Park, where, as animals look on, you can balance from tree-high cables, jump from platform to platform or swing from tree to tree. There’s plenty for the whole family, with courses ranging from one to 15 metres in height, depending upon participants’ ages. The park, which includes overnight lodging in bungalows, meets European safety standards so first-timers need not be afraid.
One key must-see site on any Montenegro visit is the Tara River, at the heart of Durmitor National Park. A raft down the Tara takes you through untouched beech forests on undulating rapids that range from breathtaking white water to languid calms prefect for photo ops. You also pass by waterfalls and campgrounds where most Tara River tours stop for lunch.
Another popular Podgorica ecotourism option is a jeep safari through the Durmitor Massif, a wide plain punctuated by mountains reaching as high as 2,500 metres, 18 glacial lakes and vistas that rival those in the Alps. Here you can visit traditional villages or eat lunch with locals by the famous Black Lake. In 1980, UNESCO listed this 390-square-kilometre Durmitor National Park as a World Heritage site. Durmitor is a great place to begin one’s trip to the Tara River, the deepest canyon in Europe.
Great in Any Season
The black mountains and crystal waters surrounding Podgorica are particularly entrancing in summer. At this time of year, Montenegro blossoms and most Podgorica tours and Podgorica hotels are eager to welcome tourists. You may with to combine a holiday in Podgorica with a trip to the famed beach town of Budva.
Although summer is the peak season, if you’re looking ecotourism experience in nature’s rawest state in a country nearly empty of tourists, Montenegro also offers winter sports. For skiers and ice climbers, Montenegro’s unspoilt conditions are beyond compare.