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 and all my posts from the Balkans for more ideas and travel tips.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video and 360° photos.
16 thoughts on “Montenegro’s Lake Skadar National Park: A Day Trip and Boat Ride”
Great to see you are both enjoying your time in Montenegro. Wonderful pictures and videos.
Darlene, good to hear from you! Yes, Montenegro during the off-season was lovely, despite there being a lot of rainy days in the mountains. Still, we were able to squeeze in a good number of hiking days. Lake Skadar is definitely worth a return.
Tricia, great to see your newest adventures. It looks like such a wonderful place you both are in. I loved all images and explanations, as usual you are terrific in all of it.
Cornelia, Servus :) We did have a wonderful time in Montenegro earlier this year. Since we were there during the off-season (Feb – May), the towns were quieter and this made our day-trips quite pleasant. Outdoor experiences such as this one (plus hiking) were our favorites.
Servus, Tricia. It must be so wonderful to enjoy the off season with hiking and other wonderful activities, Montenegro seems to be a most beautiful place. Thank you for responding dear Tricia.
For being a small country, Montenegro does have diverse offerings. Now that we’ve explored the coastal part of the country, as well as a bit of its inland, I’d love to explore its rugged north. The national parks sound wonderful.
Have a wonderful Wednesday!
I always enjoy a boat tour. It’s such a nice way to see a place from a different perspective.
Carol, when we return to Lake Skadar someday, I’d like to rent a car and stop into some of the villages and see some of the look-out points. I’ve heard that many of the roads are narrow and curvy, though, so it sounds like boat exploration is easier on the nerves. :) Speaking of boat journeys, are the any favorites you would recommend?
We’ve just been in Canada for five weeks and of course the highlight was the boat ride up to Niagara Falls – spectacular! One of my favourites from previous holidays would have to be the cruise on Lake Windemere in the Lake District of England. It was absolutely beautiful.
I haven’t been to Niagara Falls since I was a child, but Shawn hails from Canada. Here’s hoping that you had a wonderful month plus there, Carol!
We had five amazing weeks, Tricia.
Dearest Tricia, Thank you for an amazing adventure. Anther delightful armchair travel time with you and your husband. Cheers
Virginia, glad to have you along! :) I hope that you’ve been having a wonderful autumn. We’ve left Montenegro, and we’re back in Germany now. The weather has been splendid — perfect for getting out in nature as we did here at Lake Skadar.
Beautiful, Tricia. I love your unique adventures. I’ve saved your post. Hoping one day I can pay a visit.
Peggy, as you know, Shawn and I love exploring the Balkans. Lake Skadar isn’t so far from Dubrovnik — about 3 hours by car, so easily doable if you’re visiting the region. We only saw a bit of the park, so a return visit is in order for us!