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Discover the truly spectacular mountains of Montenegro. Where to go, what to see and what to eat!
For a country mostly known for its sun-drenched beaches, azure seas and idyllic coastal old towns, it's the mountains of Montenegro that have traditionally been the country's calling card.
In fact, a whopping 90% of Montenegro is mountainous. And the mountains are what the country is named for. Monte - mountain. Negro - black. Or in Montenegrin - Crna Gora (pronounced 'tsrrrna gorra'), which also means 'Black Mountain'.
Montenegro's mountains will give you a completely different experience to the coast. While the Montenegro coast offers you lazy days of sun, sea and the feel of the Med, the mountains offer you dramatic, moody vistas.
They're rugged, wild and stunning.
In these wildernesses bears and wolves still rule the forests.
And it's not just the landscape. The Montenegrins who live here are hard-working, gnarled and grizzly-looking. But like all Montenegrins their hospitality is second to none and they'll feed and take care of you like you're their own family.
The food in the mountains of Montenegro is also different. Instead of plates of seafood buzara you'll find roast meat and kačamak, a hearty cornmeal porridge with potatoes and cheese.
And this contrast is why I recommend planning a visit to the mountains to Montenegro. To really experience Montenegro, you have to visit the black mountains. And they're the perfect destinations for all kinds of activities. You can go hiking, biking, canyoning, rafting, even zip-lining on one of the longest zip lines in Europe!
Luckily, because the country's so small, you can get a taste of the other side of Montenegro, even if you only have a day.
Let's explore all the ways you too can explore the mountains of Montenegro...
Visiting one of the national parks is the most popular way to visit the mountains of Montenegro.
There are five national parks in Montenegro and they're very accessible. You can either visit them on day trips from the coast or plan to spend a few nights in the north of Montenegro.
The most popular places to stay overnight are in Žabljak and Kolašin, which are close to Durmitor National Park and Biogradska Gora National Park respectively. The other national parks are Lovćen, Skadar Lake and Prokletije. There are towns near each so you can spend a night in or near any of the parks.
All the national parks are vastly different, I'll give a brief description of each below to help you decide which you'd like visit. For more information, and to plan your trip, you can read about each on their dedicated pages.
Lovćen National Park is the easiest park to visit from the Bay of Kotor. It's a popular destination for people staying in Kotor, and if you're visiting Kotor on a cruise you'll see many tours visit Lovćen because it's so close.
Highlights in Lovćen:
Skadar Lake National Park lies between Budva and Podgorica and makes up part of the border with Albania.
Highlights of Skadar Lake:
Durmitor National Park is where you'll find some of the most dramatic scenery in the mountains of Montenegro.
The national park has 48 peaks over 2,000 metres and 18 glacial lakes. It's the perfect place for some serious hiking, but it's equally good for a relaxed mountain getaway.
At around two and a half hours' drive from the coast you can visit in a day trip, but you can also stay in Žabljak for a night or two to have more time to explore.
Highlights of Durmitor National Park:
Biogradska Gora National Park is one of only three primeval forests left in Europe and it's a popular tourist destination summer and winter. If you want to stay here there best place to stay is Kolašin, a little mountain town around 20km from the national park, or you can go for the authentic experience and stay in a katun, a shepherd's hut in the mountains.
Highlights of Biogradska Gora:
Like Durmitor, Biogradska Gora National Park is best seen in an overnight trip but you can visit it in a day trip, especially if you're staying in Podgorica. The drive up from the coast is simply stunning. If you head up via Skadar Lake, you'll be treated to beautiful lake views and along the winding Moraca Canyon.
Prokletije National Park lies on the border with Albania and includes the Prokletije mountain range. Literally translated the range is called the Accursed Mountain, which gives you an idea of how inhospitable it is.
Bobotov Kuk in Durmitor National Park is often given the title of highest peak in Montenegro, but it's actually Zla Kolata at 2,534m (8,314ft) here in Prokletije that's the highest.
Because it lies in a dead end in the north east of Montenegro, Prokletije is usually only visited by keen mountaineers and intrepid tourists. This means you'll find less in the way of tourist attractions, but also fewer tourists.
The best place to stay in Prokletije is the small town of Plav. Here you'll find modest accommodation and a pretty lake that's a favourite swimming spot in summer.
Without a doubt the mountains of Montenegro are gaining a reputation as a top hiking destination in Europe. Here you'll find challenging peaks, sheer cliffs and rolling hills. You'll also find canyons like Mrtvica Canyon near Morača Monastery, Austro-Hungarian fortresses along the coast, ancient Greek graveyards, wild animals and welcoming locals along the trails.
As well as the well-marked trails throughout the country, Montenegro is part of the Via Dinarica mega trail that extends from Albania to Slovenia.
If you're interested in serious hiking in Montenegro, Rudolph Abraham's The Mountains of Montenegro, A Walker's and Trekker's Guide is a must-have guide to the best peaks and trails in Montenegro.
There are lots of easy, well-marked trails and easy hikes like:
Hiking with a guide is a great way to see the best of the mountains of Montenegro and get to know a bit about local history and culture. Here are some popular hikes you can do with a guide:
Rafting through the Tara Canyon is one of the most popular things to do in Montenegro and you'll find rafting tours from just about everywhere.
The water in the Tara is icy cold at around 7 - 10 degrees celcius and is so clean you can drink it. The rapids are most thrilling in spring and early summer as ice melt makes the river swell. Then they peter out towards the end of summer and autumn, although this depends on rainfall.
Rafting is great for a wide age group and the drive up to the canyon takes you through some stunning mountain scenery around Piva lake.
Canyoning is a more challenging activity that includes lots of abseiling, swimming, jumping, hiking and sliding through a canyon. There are canyons for (almost) all age groups and skill levels. It's a great activity for seasoned thrill seekers and families looking for a fun and exciting activity they can do together.
Montenegro's top ski centres are based in Kolašin and Žabljak. Kolašin is the most popular and modern destination with two resorts, Kolašin 1450 and Kolašin 1600. Žabljak's Savin Kuk is a modest resort with one lift. There are also two small ski centres, Vučje and Hajla, with tows.
In summer you can ride the lifts in both Kolašin and Žabljak to get stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The mountains of Montenegro have fantastic potential for snow sports, but haven't been developed yet and don't compete with other European ski centres. If you're looking for a ski holiday I love Kopaonik in Serbia and highly recommend it.
Aside from the national parks there are some top attractions to put on your list of places to see in the mountains of Montenegro. You can choose a few that fit into your plans or plan a circuit around Montenegro and hit them all.
Ostrog Monastery is considered the most holy place in all of ex Yugoslavia for those of the Orthodox religion. People come from all over the region, including Russia, to visit this famous monastery.
The monastery lies between Podgorica and Niksic and you can find tour buses going there every day from the coast. You can also drive yourself up there - a word of caution: the access road is quite steep and narrow so it's not for nervous drivers.
The monastery was built into a cliff- face in the 17th Century and the founder, now a saint, still lies in the monastery. You can visit St Vasilije's bones inside a small room inside. There's usually a queue at the entrance and a monk watches over the worshippers.
The Đurđevića Tara Bridge spans the Tara Canyon and is a great place to see the canyon if you're not keen on rafting down it.
When it was built it was the highest vehicular concrete arch bridge in the world and it towers over 170m above the riverbed below. The bridge was intentionally blown up by one of its engineers during World War II. With the bridge destroyed the Fascist Italian advance was effectively halted in its tracks by the impassable canyon.
You can walk along the bridge to see the canyon and the lush, green countryside or you can take the zip line from one side to the other!
Morača Monastery is a beautiful monastery on the edge of the Morača Canyon, near Kolašin. It was founded in 1252 by the Stefan Vukanović of the Serbian Nemanjić Dynasty. It was built over a spot where water cascades out of the cliff and creates a pretty waterfall into the canyon below.
The monastery has beautiful monastic buildings and gardens and you can visit the old church with its ancient frescoes. There are also picnic tables and grassy areas where you can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
Pavlova Strana is one of the most popular photos of Montenegro. But its exact location isn't widely known!
The viewpoint is part of Skadar Lake National Park, but rather than being near the park's hub, Virpazar, you'll find this viewpoint near the sleepy township of Rijeka Crnojevića. To find it you take the road out of town towards Podgorica. The horseshoe bend is part of Rijeka Crnojevića, the Crnojević River.
The cuisine in the mountains of Montenegro is distinctly different to what you'll find on the coast. Instead of seafood and fresh salads you'll find hearty, cooked meals and comfort food that's ideal after a day in the outdoors. Here are some top dishes to try:
There are lots of tour options to the mountains of Montenegro. You can join a day trip or a multi-day tour and there are group, private and self-drive options.
If you haven't booked your trip to Montenegro yet, here are some useful resources to help you get the holiday of your dreams:
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