Montenegro’s national parks are among the finest on the planet, dramatic mountainous landscapes accentuated by stunning glacial lakes, incredible biodiversity and the occasional mountain-top mausoleum. Here is everything you need to know about the little Balkan republic’s five national jewels.
Where else to start? Durmitor National Park is one of the greatest landscape collections on God’s green earth, a jaw-dropping mass of shimmering lakes, dramatic mountain tops, verdant vegetation and the deepest canyon in Europe. Everything that is magnificent about nature in Montenegro can be found in Durmitor National Park.
There are plenty of adventures to be found here. It is a major ski resort during winter before adrenaline-pumping sports take over in the warmer months. The Tara River is a magnificent spot to undertake some whitewater rafting, although the waterway is arguably at its best when seen from above. Whether or not you fancy viewing it from a precarious zip line is entirely up to you.
It might not seem like the obvious place for a gorgeous piece of civil engineering, but the Đurđevića Tara Bridge might just be Montenegro’s prettiest. Add in the twinkling magic of the 18 glacial lakes (the finest of which is the Black Lake – a must-see if ever there was one), and you have one of Europe’s great tourist attractions.
The Balkans is full of spellbinding lakes, but none are bigger than Montenegro’s Lake Skadar. Shaped like the world’s largest dolphin, Lake Skadar is a miraculous piece of absolute tranquillity, one that is enjoyed by thousands of birds annually. Yes, birds – after all, this is one of Europe’s top bird habitats. The Crnojević River dominates the northern tip of the park, and the eponymous village might just be one of the prettiest in Montenegro. It is the lake that dominates, however. It is no surprise that the old royals of Montenegro used to come here for some respite.
Try to put yourself in the mammoth shoes of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, undoubtedly the greatest ruler in Montenegro’s history. Where would you want to be laid to rest? A cemetery in the capital? By the sea? How about in a monumental mausoleum on top of the mountain that gave the country its name? Njegoš wisely plumped for the latter, and his resting place is one of the most magnificent attractions in the region.
There is more to Lovćen National Park than a dead poet-prince, of course. The town in which the aforementioned prince was born is on the edge of the park, home to some of the finest smoked ham on the planet and an intangible sense of cultural history. Hiking trails cross the mountain along with other activities, but it is the natural beauty of the place that draws the most vibrant acclaim.
Only three virgin forests remain in Europe, one of which can be found in Montenegro’s marvellous Biogradska Gora National Park. It gets better – at the centre of that forest lies a shimmering lake, the stuff of over-excited dreams. Biograska Gora is also full of hiking trails that range from a pleasant stroll to “oh lord, why are we doing this to ourselves,” but the beauty waiting at the end makes it worth every step. Biogradska Gora is the smallest of Montenegro’s national parks, but it packs quite the punch, with more biodiversity than you can shake a stick at (if shaking a stick at biodiversity is your sort of thing).
The Prokletije mountain range might be known as the ‘Accursed Mountains’, but don’t let that put you off. The range features three national parks (two of which are found in neighbouring Albania), with a tri-state fourth planned for the future. Prokletije is a typically dramatic natural wonder that brings glacial lakes, jagged peaks and fresh springs to the table, enjoyed by more than half of Montenegro’s flora. ‘Majestic’ doesn’t quite cover it.