The nation’s tourism boffins are constantly crowing about Montenegro’s ‘wild beauty’, and quite rightly too. However, you’re not going to see much of it if you spend all of your time lazing about on crowded beaches. Luckily, there are plenty of active pursuits to get you back to nature – and then back to the beach for a cooling dip.
As the scrum of tour outfits hawking trips from the Budva promenade attests, this is big business here. The main reason is that rafting offers the very best views of the Tara Canyon, a spectacular and remote cleft which cuts through Durmitor National Park in Montenegro’s mountainous north.
Don’t come expecting an adrenaline-fuelled white-water experience. For the most part the journey is fairly sedate, although it does rev up in April and May when the melting snow speeds up the flow. Most of the rapids (such that they are) are in the final 18km before the Bosnian border. This is where the day trips from the coast head to, partly because it’s outside the national park and avoids hefty access charges. However, if you want to see the deepest section of the canyon (at its peak it reaches 1300m), you’ll need to take one of the longer expeditions departing from near the Tara Bridge. The classic two-day trip traverses an 82km stretch of the river.
Like most successful activities in Montenegro, rafting has attracted some cowboy operators and despite the somewhat gentle nature of the river, there have been deaths. At the very least, make sure you’re provided with a helmet and a lifejacket which fit and won’t come loose, and make sure you wear them and fasten them securely.
Hiking and biking
Nothing beats two feet or two wheels for transporting you far from the modern world. Montenegro has a multitude of well-marked walking and cycling routes, with options for all aptitudes. Memorable easy routes include circuits of the lakes in Biogradska Gora and Durmitor national parks. The former passes through old-growth forest, while the latter offers mountain vistas – and it’s nigh-on impossible to get lost on either.
For something a little more challenging, try the Vrmac Ridge, which starts at a fort above Kotor and provides brilliant views over both the inner and outer bay. For other routes to suit your abilities, enquire at the national park visitor centres or local tourist offices.
It’s worth noting that the karstic nature of Montenegro’s mountains makes them quite unforgiving. You’ll need sturdy shoes and plenty of water, and you should be prepared for sudden storms and changes in temperature.
Both the Bay of Kotor and Lake Skadar are brilliant locations for a paddle, and it’s not difficult to hire a kayak at either. Organised tours will guide you to interesting locations such as the Blue Grotto near the mouth of the bay, where light refracting through the clear water produces an unearthly glow.
Downhill skiers hit the slopes at Durmitor and Kolašin from roughly late December to early April. Kolašin has the better facilities but Durmitor has the more reliable snow. One of the big attractions of skiing here rather than, say, Switzerland, is the cost – a day pass should only set you back around €20. Cross-country skiing is also an option, with Lovćen and Durmitor national parks both popular destinations.
Those in the know wax lyrical about the beautiful 2.7km-long Nevidio Canyon near Durmitor National Park. The name translates as ‘invisible’ – this is a reference to the enclosed nature of the gorge, which at some points is only 2m wide. Expeditions are at their safest in July and August, but only in the company of experienced guides.
The 12km-long sandy expanse of Velika Plaža (Big Beach) near the Albanian border is the prime location for kitesurfing. In summer, beachside operators set up on the sands offering equipment hire and lessons.
It ain’t no New Zealand – or even Croatia for that matter – but Montenegro is now offering a small range of smell-the-fear type activities for daredevil travellers. Probably the most confronting is the 865m-long, 152m-high zipline across the Tara River, near the bridge – reputedly the biggest in Europe.
There are high-ropes courses set up at Ivanova Korita in Lovćen National Park and by the Black Lake in Durmitor National Park. But for an unforgettable thrill accompanied by absolutely incredible views, you can’t go past tandem paragliding from the mountains down to Bečići Beach. The most reputable operator is the Montenegro Adventure Centre, run by a very experienced British-qualified instructor.
Make it happen
For assistance with arranging an action-intensive holiday, it is well worth contacting one of the local travel agencies that specialise in such things. Options include Black Mountain, Undiscovered Montenegro, Montenegro Adventures, Montenegro Adventure Centre, Explorer Tourist Agency, Anitra Travel Agency, Summit Travel Agency and Active Travels Montenegro.