Monday, 12 August 2013

The Black Mountains Of The Balkans – Day 9

Monday 29th July 2013 – Grope Hut to Rožaje

Total Distance: 11.20km / Total Ascent: 53m / Total Descent: 803m

And so to our last morning on the trail.


We woke quite early, washed at the spring, enjoyed another sizeable breakfast and generally pottered round the place getting ready to leave. Another cracking morning had been forecast and duly materialized.

Cliffs of Hajla's North face

As we were getting ready, a group of three Serbians arrived. They must have started out early, and were set on an ascent of Hajla from this side. Finding the hut open presented an opportunity for rest and refreshment they probably hadn’t expected: although tackled via a route to the side, the sheer face of the 400m cliffs is a daunting prospect.

Chatting in the sunshine

We chatted for a while and took photographs, then bade each other farewell. They picked up their rucksacks and refocused on the summit while we made the final preparations for our descent.

Group outside the Grope Hut - Zuko in the centre and Serbians on the right

As the next group wasn’t due until the following weekend, Zuko had the task of closing the hut before leaving. Dimitrije helped him batten down the hatches and lock up, then we hit the trail for the last time.

Looking back at the summit

On the face of it, the descent from the hut down to the outskirts of Rožaje might have been seen as a bit of an anticlimax. But not so: the track led down through beautiful woodlands, dappled with sunshine, and there were tantalizing views back through the trees to the summit of Hajla Peak. Of course Hajla dominates the surrounding countryside, but there are plenty of other tops in the vicinity, many of which would make satisfying objectives in their own right. Perhaps we could come back one day to bag a few …

Beautiful woods

Our route was straightforward, progress was unhindered and our tempo was good, so we reeled in the kilometers with ease. Nevertheless, we were glad to have Zuko with us who walked these paths often and knew the way well. He kept popping hither and yon, collecting mushrooms, and by the time we had reached town he had a fair haul.

In all, it took about three hours to make the descent. At the bottom, we met up with Dimitrije’s Dad, amongst others, who had got involved in a complicated car shuffle (Musa was unavailable, having a Russian group to look after). We said our hellos and almost immediately our goodbyes, as the group reorganized itself for a variety of onward journeys.

We jumped into Dimitrije’s Skoda for the half-hour transfer to our lunchtime assignation at the Etno Selo at Vrelo, an upmarket hotel and restaurant set in quiet countryside between Rožaje and Berane. We had grilled trout (2 each!) with potatoes and salad, all washed down with cold beer. Delicious!

Water babies

But what really made the location was the swimming pool. It was hot – easily the hottest day of the trip and a predicted 37°C – and we had spent the last four days with only modest washing facilities. For three self-confessed water babies stewing in the midday heat, the prospect of a refreshing dip was irresistible. It might have been on the pricey side, but so what? Along with the meal, what better way to round off the trek?

Our trip was almost over. We stopped briefly in the village of Petnjica to look at the mosque – unusual in that it was built on three floors – then all that remained was the return transfer to Podgorica.

Fortunately, this gave us a couple of hours to chat and admire the wonderful countryside for one last time: round Bjelasica, past the Biogradska Gora National Park, through the Morača Canyon. Then we were back in Podgorica, saying our farewells to Dimitrije: a sad moment.


We had a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant, and reflected on a wonderful trip. We’d packed a lot into ten days: mountains and ridges, villages and farms, monasteries and mosques, woods and lakes, rivers and springs, and, above all, cheese. And we’d learnt a little along the way about two fascinating countries, their way of life and the fantastic and varied hiking opportunities on offer. 

Both destinations look to have an optimistic future, and one in which tourism – especially eco-tourism and cross-border trekking – can be a force for good, playing a major part in bringing stability, co-operation and prosperity to the region. I hope, one day, we’ll be able to explore more of this exciting area.


  1. Looks like a really fascinating destination and one I will have to move up my wish list!

  2. I've just spent a while catching up, Jules. You've been busy! The Balkan trip was of particular interest. I still have a fairly vivid memory of driving through Titograd when it was in Yugoslavia, and then skirting the Albanian border to get to Skopje. Some nice flowers to identify - I spotted a Three-veined Pink and various other commoner Alpines amongst those images.
    Anyway, well done on getting to some obscure places.

    1. Busy, yes, but not quite 2 months on the GR10 busy!

      Thanks for helping out on some of the flower names. We really should take a book, I suppose, and I imagine it's quite interesting to compare the similarities and differences to Alpine areas given the differences in altitude, temperature, etc.

      I must confess, we do quite like the idea of slightly off-the-beaten-track destinations. And the Balkans is a superb area for trekking, as I'm sure your trip will have shown. Hopefully, the recent air of cross-border co-operation and move towards attracting hikers will encourage more people to experience the possibilities. There are a couple of longer routes in the process of being established right now. TBH, I can't wait to try them - I'd go tomorrow, except my MD might not be so keen on the idea!

  3. Have caught up on your adventures, now that we're home from our own summer jaunts and (joy of joys) back at work. It looks like Montenegro and Kosovo are fantastic places to visit, particularly if you like cheese, mountains, wildflowers and sunshine - what amazing weather you had. Really enjoyed reading about your trip. Cheers.