Biogradska National Park, Montenegro

O.K., so the whole idea came from the fact that there are only a few surviving primeaval forests in Europe, and one of them is in Montenegro (another is in Poland and the third is in Bosnia-Herzegovina – which was also on our list, but…but I am getting ahead of myself), and we have to see all of them.

Looking at the map of Europe, it was kind of obvious for me that we should just go straight down, through Serbia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Michelin and all the other route-planning gurus kept recommending the Croatian freeway, all the way down to the coast. And in the end this is what we took. It is straight, flat, with lots of restrooms and caffees (and playgrounds – is this a new thing now? every gas-station and rest area has to have a playground?) – very convenient and comfortable. And expensive.

Even on the freeway it took us almost 12 hours to get close to Dubrovnik. (Ok, I admit, we stopped to jump into the sea as soon as we got a glimpse of it). And to take pictures, of course.

along the Croatian coast

along the Croatian coast

The first night we stopped at a camping 30 kilometers from Dubrovnik, and continued our way toward Montenegro the next morning. Along the way we passed Dubrovnik (nice, but seems very crowded and hectic),

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

the Kotori-bay (also nice, except the empty plastic bottles floating on the water). Ah, and not to forget: to enter Montenegro, foreigners are asked to pay a certain amount (15 or 30 euro or even more, depending on the car size – try not to enter with a truck!) as an eco-tax (citizens of Montenegro pay it when they register their vehicles). The money is supposedely used for reforestation projects, prevention and reduction of pollution etc. Montenegro is very proud of the fact that it is the first “eco-country” in Europe – although I think the title is kind of self-created and considering the amount of trash at the side of the roads or the black exhaust fumes that come out some of the local cars’ tailpipes,  it is also questionable.

the trash is systematically placed alongside the road everywhere

the trash is systematically placed alongside the road everywhere

The drive up from Podgorica towards the Biogradska National Park takes us into some deep canyons (actually, Tara canyon – with its 1300 meter depth at some places – is the deepes canyon in Europe – who knew?) At the bottom of the canyons there is always a crystal clear river running…as I read in the guidebook, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina has the cleanest rivers in Europe – most of the water is suitable for human consumption, without any further treatment. Isn’t that how it should be?

driving toward the north

driving toward the north

The whole contry is under construction, new buildings are popping up everywhere. What strange is, that they seem to be very different. One house could be something like we would see in Austria or in the Swiss Alps, the other still resembles the communist era buildings, the third is more Mediterranean…like the whole country is still looking for its identity. Traditional lifestyle combined with modernity – next to the new buildings are haystacks, cows, firewood and sometimes a Hummer.

The lack of signs was sometimes disheartening. We consulted two maps, but some villages were not marked on either of them, so we just drove further, hoping that we were on the right road. (We were.)

The National Park itself is not too big, 54 km² and from that only 16 km² is virgin forest. From the entrance (where you pay 2 euro per person)the campsite is still 2 or 3 kilometers on a windy road. The camp is right next to the Biogradsko Lake, which is the largest glacial lake in the park (there are several others at higher altitudes.) It is funny to watch the tourists, as they pile out of the buses and crowd the floating stage.

"the swarm"

"the swarm"

They go out to the end, strike a pose – like they are practicing to be on the America’s Next Top Model – go to the restaurant and pile back into the bus. The park is crossed off on their list.

The lake is a glacial lake, which means it is numbingly cold, and normally I would only dip my big toe in there – and even that would be accompanied with some whining and moaning – but the campsite does not have a shower for some reason, just a washbasin and cold running water from the tap – go ahead, knock yourself out – so on the second day I take a deep breath – and at least 15 minutes of mental preparation – and jump in. It is shockingly cold at first, but after a few minutes I get used to it and the word refreshing floates into my mind.

The first few days are about exploring, trying to get information…This is not easy. Only one of the rangers speak a few words of English, the others resort to wide gestures and loud voices. And to pantomimes – one of them shows his five fingers first, then puts both of his arms next to his ears and sways them a little bit. Takes us a few minutes to decode it: at five o’clock in the morning there is a big deer coming down to the lake every morning.

Biogradsko lake in the morning

Biogradsko lake in the morning

the lake at sunset

the lake at sunset

What surprises us is the fact that there is a road slicing through the park and quite a few cars take it every day – SUV-s with tourist groups, old trucks with local farmers, etc.

But we are mainly here for the forest. I had this idea that the ancient forest part will be something that I instantly recognize – huge, tall, old trees as far as the eye can see – but we actually has to look for it. Granted, there are some big, tall beech trees around, but the difference between a younger forest and this one is not as great as I expected.
a huge beech tree

a huge beech tree

The vegetation around the river is quite unique – big, broad leaves covering the ground.
IMG_1414.2Most of the visitors just walk around the lake – which is an easy, one or two hour walk. The locals seem to ignore some of the basic rules of the National Park – we see some women with huge bunch of rare flowers and most of the big trees serve as a memorial to declarations of love, or just as a billboard, letting people know that Vladimir was here in 1998. one of the many "billboards"What is also strange that when we say hello, they tend to avert their eyes and not to say anything back…
It takes us a few days to stumble upon some really wild and quiet places, where I can totally imagine some bears or wolves roaming around (not that we see any…just some deers running away). The old, fallen trees are covered with all kinds of fungi and mushroom, which, in a forestry forest (most of the forests in Europe) are almost entirely missing, since the fallen trees are immediately removed. No wonder that because of this practice some very important species cannot find a home in a forest that is used for industrial purposes.
in the forest

in the forest

what it means to yield
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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Montenegro said,

    Stunning photos and nice post. I’d like to go there.


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