Total Distance: 11.67km / Total Ascent: 566m / Total Descent: 464m
10.00am, and Podgorica was already beginning to bake under the blunt force of the sun. So it was with little regret that we left the city and the lowland plains behind, heading north into the Morača Canyon with the prospect of some respite from the heat to come. Having arrived close to midnight the previous night (due to the availability of flights and a routing via Belgrade) this was the first opportunity we had had to see much of our surroundings.
Dimitrije, our guide, had collected us a little earlier, and as we drove the principal orientation of the terrain changed from the horizontal of the plains to the vertical of the steep-walled gorge. Montenegro is a country renowned for deep gorges, with the Morača Canyon reaching around 1000m deep, and the Tara Canyon, at 82 kilometers long and 1300m deep, being the longest river canyon in Montenegro and the deepest in Europe.
The main road followed the route of the canyon. After about an hour, we stopped at the Morača Monastery, an Orthodox church originally built in 1252 by Stefan Nemanja, son of King Vukasin. It is one of the best-known monuments in Montenegro and contains a number of important frescoes.
|Bee keeping at the Monastery|
Here, the canyon opened up, widening into a huge bowl surrounded by an amphitheatre of jagged mountains. The road had no choice but to follow a tortuous path – through tunnels and via hairpin bends – until eventually we reached higher ground (around 1000m) near the city of Kolašin.
|Traditional restaurant Savardak near Kolašin|
Near Kolašin, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that served speciality dishes and had a traditional Sunday meal of Kačamak (a cheese, potato and polenta-like mixture), Meso na seljački način (beef in a sauce with onions, literally “in the peasant way”) and kisjelo mlijeko (sour milk, like buttermilk). It was all delicious – and very filling!
|Climbing through primeval forest|
The afternoon was spent at the Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro’s oldest NP situated on the western flanks of Bjelasice Mountain. Around 80% of the park is primeval forest, and there have been dozens of species of plants, animals and birds recorded. Some of the trees reach a height of 60m and are as old as 500 years.
First we took a walk up through the woods, heading for the Laništa katun at 1340m. A katun is a house or group of houses used by shepherds and their families in the summer months when they move their livestock up to the higher pastures. There, they will tend animals, pick and dry herbs for mountain tea, collect fruits, and make preserves, cheese and rakija (to tide them over the winter months or to sell to neighbours).
|View from Laništa|
Laništa occupies a beautiful spot on a grassy col, with views all round and into the valley below. We were invited into the home of one family, and treated to homemade cheese and rakija.
|Tall trees, small people|
Then we walked back down for a circuit of Biogradska Lake, a nature reserve that takes about one hour to walk round. Because there is road access to the lake, it gets quite busy. There is a visitor center, and interpretive boards are peppered at intervals along the trail outlining the natural history of the area. But despite the rather accessible nature of the lake, it certainly has something going for it.
Afterwards, we drove on to Gubavac, a small village near to the city of Bijelo Polje. Our base for the next three nights was a lovely Turkish-style villa, nice and quiet beside a gently flowing river. We met our host, Musa Ramović, who cooked a delicious meal of stuffed peppers and a potato, meat and cheese hotpot cooked in an unusual way.
|Cooking with ashes from the fire on the pot lid|
|Stew cooked more conventionally|
We spent the rest of the evening settling in. The rooms were simply but comfy, and, as we had arrived quite late the night before, it wasn’t long before lack of sleep, plenty of fresh air and a good meal had us heading for bed.