Forty km north of Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, Mrtvica Canyon is one wowzer of a hidden gem. Few tourists make it to this stunningly beautiful trail, but it’s one of the best in the country. The trail winds through lush forest and past waterfalls along the Mrtvica River. When the hiking gets hot there’s a swimming hole under an old stone bridge, where trout duck and hide between rocks. The Gate of Wishes is a fairy-like rock arch that cements the other worldliness of the canyon as it leads down to the whirlpools of the river. The trail then leads through a spectacular rock tunnel that’s like a tiny crack in the 700m of sheer cliff face.
In Durmitor National Park, the Black Lake is one of Montenegro’s most beautiful walking trails. It’s an easy 5km trail, but with the number of photo and picnic stops, it’s all too easy to turn this into a whole day event. The road leading to the lake opens out to a magnificent vista of the emerald green lake with dense forest and snow-capped mountains providing the backdrop. Ducks gather along the shore and cows graze in the long grass.
The trail around the lake leads across burbling streams and signs describe the birds that can be heard singing in the treetops. Strategically placed benches provide plenty of places to sit and soak in the beauty. Without a doubt, the Black Lake has earned its reputation as one of the best nature walks in Montenegro.
Black Lake, Durmitor National Park, Montenegro, +382 20 601 015
Way off the beaten track, Mount Bjelasica is a haven for hikers who love nature and solitude. The gently curving hills make for relatively easy hiking and the fields of wildflowers are beautiful places to camp or lay a picnic blanket. The greenery is speckled with a few shepherds’ huts and the odd patch of snow, even in summer.
There are 17 peaks to hike here, but the three most popular are Crna Glava, Zekova Glava and Troglava, whose trails pass Pesica Lake. Bjelasica is a mountain retreat with very basic amenities, but million dollar views.
Biograd Lake lies in the heart of Biogradska Gora National Park, one of only three remaining large virgin forests in Europe. Many of the trees here are 500 years old and although the park is the smallest of Montenegro’s five national parks, it’s incredibly diverse. Deer, wolves, bears, chamois, eagles and hawks all roam here. There are seven lakes and many hiking paths in the park, but the Biograd Lake trail is the most stunning. The 3km path around the lake meanders through the forest and is punctuated by look outs with picnic tables under the canopy.
Lake Biograd, Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro, +382 20 601 015
Sveti Andrija Fortress
The Bay of Kotor is riddled with the ruins of Austro-Hungarian buildings perched atop the craggy mountains. But the most beautiful walk is the trail to Sveti Andrija Fortress above Perast.
The 4km trail to the fortress was originally made for horses and offers glorious views of the Bay of Kotor. It winds through a beech forest, where the path is carpeted by leaves and the only sounds are birds chirping and insects buzzing. At the top it opens up to an incredible vista where the fortress overlooks the bay. The view from the Sveti Andrija encompasses the Bay of Kotor, Mount Vrmac and the Verige Strait. The fortress ruins are also fascinating and have the original stone inscriptions in German.
The Via Dinarica is more than a mere nature walk, it’s a 1,900km mega trail that crosses 7 countries and has put the Balkans firmly on the map as one of the world’s top hiking destinations.
The trail covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. In Montenegro the trail passes through Prokletije, Biogradska Gora and Durmitor national parks. Those who hike the trail are treated to challenging peaks, rolling hills, lakes, rivers, glacier lakes and alpine pastures. They’re also likely to encounter horses, goats and even bears. These wild highlands are dotted with shepherds’ huts and the locals, unused to seeing strangers here, can look even more dangerous than the bears. But once the ice is broken it’s hard to find more hospitable people. They’re only too happy to offer hot coffee, hot rakija (the Balkans’ beloved brandy) and to share their rustic meals of home grown and organic produce.