They’re known as the Accursed Mountains – not for any sinister reason, but for the forbidding appearance of the Prokletije Mountains. If their altitude – soaring beyond 2500m – doesn’t take your breath away, their needle-like peaks probably will.
Straddling the border between Montenegro and Albania, the little-known Prokletije Mountains were declared a national park in 2009. Slowly, they’ve been appearing on the radar of hikers lured by the unknown. The mountains form part of a 192km hiking circuit – the Peaks of the Balkans – that snakes across the border into Albania and Kosovo as well as Montenegro.
Before you tackle the peaks, get to know Prokletije’s calmer, lower-altitude world. The Grbaja Valley, a glacial valley that stretches for 10km, teems with rushing streams, rivers, waterfalls and impossibly clear glacial lakes and ponds. You’ll find half of Montenegro’s flora among the lush greenery of the national park, where they thrive in the unsullied mountain air. It’s not just flowers and trees: the forests are home to an array of wildlife with brown bears, wolves, wild boar and lynx, among other elusive creatures.
If you want to get trekking, there are several places to start. Ease into things relatively gently with a hike through the Ropojana Valley. Follow old shepherds’ tracks that eventually take you all the way to Jezerce Lake after about four hours of soaking up some sublime alpine views.
The Grbaja Valley is the ideal launch pad for a serious hike towards the Karanfili peak at 2490m. Karanfili translates as carnation, but there’s nothing flowery about this jagged peak that wouldn’t look out of place in the Dolomites.
Hiking for pleasure is still in its infancy in Montenegro. Signposting and waymarking are improving every year, and previous hikers are always careful to prop up the cairns that mark the trails. But to get the most out of the knockout beauty of the Prokletije National Park, join one of the organised hikes or hire a local guide.
The trails can be very exposed, and it’s not always a good idea to strike out on your own. But on an organised hike, you’ll be put up in homestays, where you can discover first hand the joys of Montenegrin hospitality. Like the peaks of the Prokletije Mountains, it’s not to be missed.