Expand your hiking and cultural horizons with a trip to Montenegro—a surprisingly under-the-radar and untouched European country.
You likely already know about Switzerland’s soaring white-capped mountains and Greece’s pristine white sand beaches. And, you’ve probably seen and heard about Italy’s delicate architectural and cultural marvels. Let’s not forget to mention France’s iconic ski resorts.
But the small, neighbouring slice of land Montenegro inhabits should not go unmentioned, as it packs an array of goodness within its borders—which are only mere kilometres from these other European nations.
It may be one of Europe’s smallest countries, with a population of just over 600,000 inhabitants, but Montenegro is the seventh nation in the world boasting the largest number of UNESCO protected areas per square metre. Nestled between the imposing mountains of its five National Parks and 117 beaches alongside the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro’s enchanting villages, rich history, and wild and rugged landscape offers everything you want packed into one trip. Not only is it a hotbed of culture but it is also every outdoor enthusiast’s heaven.
In fact, when it comes to this mountainous playground, its name says it all. Montenegro translated from Venetian Italian means Black Mountain. Its craggy, sloping, high mountains make any level of hiker’s heart thump harder—in every sense of the term. And even though Prokletije, Komovi, and Rumija are some of the best parks in the country, it’s difficult to look past the majesty of the country’s largest national park: Durmitor National Park.
This remarkable National Park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less—sits in the north of the country and will whet your appetite to visit more of Montenegro’s nature. Carved by massive glaciers, it is home to Europe’s deepest gorges, which form the Tara River Canyon, and it’s easy to see how it gained its UNESCO title. White water rafters, kayakers, and canoers flock to the river’s roaring waters while hikers and mountain bikers take to the park’s mighty peaks in summer, and skiers and snowboarders in winter.
As soon as you step foot into Durmitor, dense pine forests, grassy meadowlands, clear lakes, formidable mountains, and rushing rivers greet you. From its highlight, the glacial Black Lake, to the summit of one of its best panoramic view points atop Prutaš mountain, a sense of the park’s rolling expanse and wild beauty inks itself beneath your skin.
In fact, of the 48 mountains that stand over 2,000 metres tall, it’s the park’s ninth highest mountain, Prutaš, that takes the ticket for some of the best views of the entire massif. Standing at an intimidating 2,393 metres above sea level, the 360-degree views from the summit are the best reward a hiker could ask for. The more you ascend, the more outstanding the view becomes. Endless vistas of craggy mountains and peaks, limestone rock cliffs, grassy plains, deep valleys, and the glacial Big Škrčko and Small Škrčko Lakes unfurl around you as you reach the summit—but not before you have huffed up the final, heroic 90-degree uphill push.
See also: Into the Wilderness—Cycling Iceland’s Ring Road
However, it is the iconic Black Lake in the park that will stay imprinted in your mind long after your trip to Montenegro. This turquoise lake gets its name from the shadow created by the looming 2,287-metre high Meded mountain, which forms its phenomenal backdrop. The crystal-clear lake and dramatic mountains materialise out of the surrounding Black Pine forest to form a natural painting. As soon as you step off the road, the crunch of pebbles on the lake’s shoreline and the soft thud of your feet hitting the earth track are all you will feel and hear. You’re surrounded by pure, unadulterated nature—something you encounter impressively often in this small land.
Luckily, Montenegro is also home to flavourful dishes, including the country’s famous Cevapci, skinless meat sausages cooked from minced grilled beef or pork, and Burek, a light phyllo pastry filled with cheese or meat, so you can easily reward yourself with tasty treats after your outdoor adventures.
And if you are looking to keep your legs moving but wish to add an infusion of culture, you are never far away from a historical landmark in Montenegro’s compact borders. Just a few hours away by car from Durmitor National Park sits the country’s arguably most stunning coastal town: Kotor. Steeped in tradition and history, Kotor Old Town’s meandering cobble-stoned streets, hill-top fortress, medieval cathedrals, and iconic bay views will enchant you into another century.
And just a stone’s throw away from Kotor sits one of Montenegro’s most iconic locations: Sveti Stefan. This small islet in the Adriatic Sea’s turquoise waters is adorned with 15th-century stone cottages with copper roofs and it is now home to the luxurious Aman Sveti Stefan Resort.
No matter which corner of Montenegro you choose to explore, you won’t be disappointed, and you will leave with a sense of wonder of how much natural and cultural beauty can be condensed into such a quaint country.