Having emerged from the long mountain tunnel that separates Lake Skadar National Park from Montenegro’s coastline, the landscape was decidedly different. Gone were glimpses of the expansive Adriatic. In its place was Lake Skadar, Southern Europe’s largest lake.
For months, we’d been staying in Kotor and along Montenegro’s coast. In both places, our apartments were cradled by imposing mountain ranges. Sometimes, these rugged boundaries had made us feel claustrophobic — like they were hemming us in. However, now that we had penetrated this intimidating mountain range, we were rewarded with entirely new scenes. The Skadar landscape was characterized by less grey stone, and more emerald hues.
Lake Skadar is shared by both Montenegro and Albania. Montenegro’s portion has been a national park since the 1980s. It’s an important nature reserve with an incredible amount of biodiversity. More than 250 bird species live there, and there’s also a sizable fish and snail population. Unfortunately, the area is currently threatened, due to the construction of a tourist resort.
We’d only spend one day at Lake Skadar, but it was just the sort of relaxing day we were seeking. Using the village of Virpazar as our base, we spied flirtatious birds and frogs, skittish green lizards, and a poisonous viper snake (poskok). A choir of male frogs overpowered our lunchtime conversation. Fortunately the viper gave us a wide berth during our picnic.
For a few hours we went on a boat cruise with a Montenegrin family. As we glided on the water, we chatted with our guides, Jelena and Andrija, as well as a pair of videographers from Paris.
As we scanned the waterscape for birds, Jelena handed out shots of rakija, a type of brandy that’s ubiquitous in the Balkans. Having spent a fair amount of time in this rakija-filled region, I’ve concluded that this firewater is too potent for me. For a first-timer to Montenegro, though, it’s a must-try!
We arrived on the island of Vranjina. After climbing a hill to a monastery named after St. Nicholas, we conversed with a talkative beekeeper and the island’s resident monk. The views from the monastery were extraordinary, as was the aroma of wild thyme dancing on the breeze. With such pristine surroundings, we were certain that the monastery’s honey must be equally delightful, however, we couldn’t add any more cargo to the already bursting bags awaiting us back at our apartment.
Back on the mainland, Shawn and I perused the stands of Virpazar’s tiny, but pleasant, Friday market. We procured some cheese (sir) for our picnic. The slightly-tangy cheese was a great accompaniment to the bread, peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and nuts we had packed.
Jelena told us that a great place to get coffee was Silistria, a restaurant housed in a boat near Virpazar’s town square. Sipping coffee on Silistria’s open deck for an hour, we watched as a bird gracefully dove in and out of the water, herself inspired to catch a bite to eat. Afterwards, we made a short uphill walk to the Besac Fortress, a white stone fort built by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. Peaceful white daisies filled the grounds, a stark contrast to the battles that were fought there in centuries past.
Our Lake Skadar day trip was bookended by tunnel travel to and from the coast. During the train trip back to our seaside apartment, I nearly fell asleep in that seemingly-endless tunnel. l was no doubt lulled by the rocking of the train, and relaxed by the calming scenes we’d soaked up earlier.
- Dalmatian Pelican Under Threat (Deutsche Welle)
- Lake Skadar: Why Southern Europe’s Largest Lake Is Worth a Visit (CNN Travel)
- Montenegro’s Pristine Lake Skadar Threatened by New Resort (The Guardian)
Shawn’s Video & 360° Photos:
The St. Nicholas Monastery, on the island of Vranjina
The Besac Fortress, which overlooks Virpazar and Lake Skadar
Where in the World?
- The village of Virpazar is one of the main launching points for exploring Lake Skadar. It is about 30 km (19 miles) from Podgorica, and 25 km (16 miles) from the city of Bar. We made a day trip to Virpazar.
- Montenegro’s train service links both Bar and Podgorica with Virpazar. We actually traveled from the city of Sutomore. Here is Montenegro’s train schedule, which includes costs. Our train fare was €1.20 per person, each way.
- Before arriving at Lake Skadar, we made arrangements with the family-owned Boat Milica to go on a two-hour boat cruise. There was only one other couple on our tour, and we split the fee (€17 per couple, per hour.)
- Tickets to enter Lake Skadar National Park are €4 per adult.
- The Besac Fortress entrance is €1 per person.
- Sunlight reflecting on the lake can be intense — even during springtime. You’ll be happy that you brought sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat!
- One day was not enough time to fully explore this special national park. With the Pavlova Strana horseshoe-bend lookout, island monasteries, family wineries, and more villages left to explore, I hope we’ll soon be back to Lake Skadar.
- See my Montenegro guide for more ideas and travel tips.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video and 360° photos.