BOKA KOTORSKA: THE CHARM OF MORINJ

m1m2 If you want to spend a quiet weekend on the Montenegrin Coast, I would like to recommend Morinj, a small and picturesque seaside hamlet right in the middle of the Bay of Kotor, halfway between the towns of Kotor and Herceg Novi (5 km from Risan). It is well-known for its lush green mountains, pebble beach, clean (and cold!) sea water and old watermills (photo 1). A network of interconnected springs and creeks in the “hinterland” of the coast makes this resort very special. Moreover, Morinj has one of the best seafood restaurants in Montenegro, “Ćatovića mlini”, and also one of the nicest camping sites, called „Naluka“. There are no big hotels (except for  the “Stone Bridge” Hotel in Gornji Morinj), but you can certainly find attractive private rooms or apartments in the village.

m3Arriving at the camping ground, it became clear that the tourist season has not been very successful so far. Only one third of the camping lots were occupied, although we remember that “Naluka” has always been overcrowded in July-August. It’s true, there were some camper vans from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The usual camping fans! Good tourism promotion of Montenegro, especially for individual tourists, has been neglected in Western Europe for several years and now we see the consequences!

We parked our camper van on the bank of the creek that connects the hinterland with the sea. It was a perfect place to have a rest and read a book in the shadow of fruit trees and willows (photo 2). Dinghies and motor boats passed by on their way to the bay and swallows were flying just above the water surface. What a beautiful spot!

m4Next morning we went for a walk to the upper part of the village, Gornji Morinj. During the winter, when there is hardly any sun in this part of Boka, the place is abandoned – but in the summer the village center comes to life again. Here you can still see original architectural entities: churches, old stone houses, round threshing floors (“guvno”) and even a kind of defense wall – all this is connected by a steep cobbled stone road that leads further into the high mountains. A nice walk!

We enjoyed a pancake in „Tramontana“, a nice restaurant with a terrace on the sea shore. It was rather quiet on the beach. Due to underwater springs, the water was much colder – but also cleaner – than in other parts of Boka. Great to cool off after a walking tour!

m5For the next day we had planned another highlight: lunch at Ćatovića mlini. This is not only an excellent restaurant, but also a wonderful place. When you enter (it is situated a few hundred meters away from the main road) you find yourself in a green oasis with exotic trees (even bamboo and bananas) and a wonderful garden. The building itself is an old mill (photo 3). It was tranquil and we found a place on the covered terrace over the river/stream. Watching the ducks and goose in the river and listening to the water running from the mill was a very relaxing experience. After a great seafood lunch (photo 4) we explored the surroundings, crossing over footbridges and climbing some stairs into the forest (photo 5 and 6).

Of course, nothing is perfect. That (Saturday) night we were disturbed by very loud music from the Tramontana terrace which kept us awake from 11 PM to 1 AM – and we were certainly not the only ones! The owner of the camping site told us that he has complained to the ministry and the municipality many times – without any result. Never mind, Morinj definitely remains a place to visit!

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HIKING IN THE MOUNTAINS OF KUČKA KRAJINA (ŽIJOVO)

 kp1 kp2Kučke Planine or Žijovo, the mountains of Kučka Krajina that are situated north-east from Podgorica, are becoming more and more attractive for hikers, mountaineers, botanists and other nature lovers, in particular those who want to visit pure and undiscovered areas. Most of the area is a magnificent mixture of wild karst and glacier soil, decorated by green pastures and farm land. It is not just because of the natural beauties that I like this area so much; I adore the silence of the vast high plateaus, the sound of the barking sheep dogs, the beauty of the wild horses roaming over the grassland and the abundance of flowers.

kp3On a very hot day last week we revisited Bukumirsko Lake (see my blog: Bukumirsko Jezero, the Heart of the Kučka Krajina Mountains): the starting point for many hiking tours to the surrounding summits that is situated at an altitude of 1448 m above sea level. Did you know that the Lake is surrounded by more than 15 peaks higher than 2000 meters? The magnificent panorama is dominated by Pasjak (2050 m), Štitan (2172 m), Velji Vrh and Surdup (2.184 m) – a wonderfully jumbled mass of rocky peaks (photo 1). Bukumirsko Lake can be reached from Podgorica within one hour and a half (45 km). It is true, the road is narrow and rather dangerous, but it is worth the effort!

kp4This time we could reach the Lake by car, although the last kilometers had to be mastered on a farm road that is in rather bad shape. The sun was hot, but the fresh mountain breeze made it an ideal day for a hiking tour in the mountains. Horses, cows and sheep were roaming over the plateaus (photo 2), while the old stone houses and cottages were mostly abandoned and dilapidated (photo 3). The pastures were covered with multi-colored mountain flowers and several local people were collecting herbs. We discovered dozens of different species, many of them protected in Western Europe (photo 4).

kp 5Although some trails to the surrounding summits are marked, it is a pity that there are no yellow signposts as you can find them in the National Parks of Montenegro. We used the Rother Mountain Guide written by Marcus Stoeckl (German) and “The Mountains of Montenegro” by Rudolf Abraham (English), and so we followed the farm track that took us to Katun Jezero and further off to the left passing a spring. We headed through open pastures, with the help of some trail markings. Towards the head of the valley, the trail ascended into a beech forest. Following the path up through the trees, we emerged via a kind of stone steps through a gap between the rocks into grassland. This plateau was of a breath-taking beauty (photo 5) and so were the deep dolines that appeared subsequently among rocky giant peaks. The silence was complete. Only wild and pure nature around us. The high grass and flora made it hard to follow the markings and finally, after two hours walking and reaching an altitude of 1780 meters we decided to walk back to Bukumirsko Jezero (photo 6), as we did not know how long it would take us to get around the mountain peaks.

kp6But nevertheless, the tour was exciting. Of course, we are aware that real mountaineers can easily climb the peaks of Surdup, Štitan or Torač. But for amateurs without a guide, like we are, this appears to be more complicated, which – of course – does not mean that “amateurs” cannot enjoy hiking and exploring this wonderful area.

It goes without saying that I would really like to see a mountain guide for Kučka Krajina – as they are already available for Durmitor, Biogradska Gora, Lovćen and Skadarsko Jezero. I am sure that such a guide would be a significant added value to the tourist offer of Montenegro! Many travelers want to escape from the crowds, noise, loud music, dense traffic and litter you can find on many places – but fortunately, not in Kučka Krajina (photo 7)!

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SKOPJE, PLAN 2014: A HISTORICAL REMAKE OR A KITSCHY THEME PARK?

sk 1 sk 1sk 2 Three years ago I visited Skopje. At that time, many people were talking about „Plan 2014“, initiated by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. It was the government’s intention to redevelop the existing city center to include around 20 neo-classical and baroque buildings on the banks of the Vardar River, as well as over 40 monuments and many statues depicting the historical and cultural past of Macedonia. The plan also called for the construction of two new bridges in the same „antique“ style. Budget? Around 80 million Euros – to begin with.

sk 3During our last camper trip through Macedonia last week we revisited Skopje and I must say: I was shocked by what I saw. We were accompanied by our friend Nikola, who guided us around the city center and told us a lot about the latest developments. We entered the central square through the new Triumphal Arch “Porta Macedonia”, 21 meters high, with 32 reliefs carved on the outside  (photo 2). I just wonder: can you imagine any other city in the world building a triumphal arch in the 21st century?

sk 4Macedonia Square is dominated by a giant statue of Alexander the Great, 24 meters tall, surrounded by a group of warriors and a magnificent fountain. The cost? Eleven million Euros! Alexander sits on his horse, raising a sword up in the sky. But what a pity: the official name of the monument had to be transformed into “Warrier on a Horse”, as the Greek government protested against the name of the statue on the very day after its inauguration. A large part of the square is still a construction site (photo 3) and numerous facades are obstructed by cranes.

Approaching the dark-brown Vardar River we were flabbergasted … A series of bombastic buildings on the bank of the river, together with two kitschy bridges appeared in front of our eyes. The beautiful old Stone Bridge from the 15th century, the symbol for Skopje, could hardly be seen. It was flanked by two fountains in the river that spurted jets of dirty water in the air. Three willows were planted in boxes somewhere in the middle of the river and we could also see a big wooden ship (two other ones were under construction) that is meant to be an exclusive restaurant (photo 4). Honestly, it looked like a movie set for Captain Cook!

sk 5But most surprising were the Art Bridge and the Eye Bridge, new pedestrian bridges jammed with sculptures – personalities from Macedonia’s historical and cultural past (photo 1). One bridge leads to the new Archeological Museum, a neo-classical building fronted with Ionic columns (photo 5), the other one to the Financial Police Building (photo 8) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (photo 6). It was absolutely surrealistic so see such a townscape in Skopje, a city of around 700,000 inhabitants, capital of a 2 million population. I did not know what to think… Is this a joke?

We passed the river hoping to feel the real atmosphere of Skopje in the Old Bazaar. But … at the entrance of the old town some other “works of art” were waiting for us. The monument “Mothers of Macedonia” (photo 7) showed us sculptures of the mother of Alexander the Great with the child on her lap or in her arms, and behind it was another huge monument (photo 7 on the right): Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, shaking his fist at the sky, while bronze horses jump out of a nearby fountain.

sk 6Little change had taken place in the narrow cobbled stone streets of the Bazaar. The stores still sell everything: from hand-made carpets to gold, souvenirs and baklava. But nice restaurants have been opened along the winding streets and markets, and the Kale fortress offers a beautiful view of the city.

Finally, we visited the Museum of Mother Theresa and the old railway station that was destroyed by a disastrous earthquake in July 1963. The station clock still shows the time of the earthquake that took away 1100 lives and destroyed 80% of the city center: 5.19 AM. It was Tito’s wish to transform the railway station into a museum – but this never happened and the building is totally dilapidated.

sk 7In one of the trendy pubs of Skopje, Nikola told us that Macedonian people are divided about the project. It is well-known that the cost of the Plan has already exceeded the amount of 500 million Euros so far. And the construction works are still going on with an incredible speed! Many people see this project as a waste of resources in a country with high unemployment (30%) and poverty (30%). Some critics also see it as a distraction from these problems. But there are also Macedonians who are happy to give Skopje a more monumental and visually pleasing image.

It is my personal opinion that Plan 2014 will have serious detrimental consequences for society and democracy in Macedonia and that the next generations will have many problems to pay off the loans taken by the government for the completion of this “remake”.

However, I was informed that this absolutely grotesque plan seems to be helping Macedonia to attract foreign tourists – according to the Ministry of Tourism. Thanks to this spectacular movie set, there has allegedly been a 25% increase in foreign tourists in the first seven months of this year. It is the first season that mass groups of foreign tourists are seen downtown and in the Old Bazaar. But even if this would be true, it does not justify the fact that there are many other priorities in Macedonia: good hospitals, infrastructure, road repair, new jobs and new investments …

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BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: BLAGAJ, THE DERVISH HOUSE ON THE BUNA RIVER

b1 b2On our last trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina we visited Blagaj, a small kasaba (village-town) 12 km south of Mostar that has now become popular as one of the main tourist attractions of Herzegovina, first of all due to its position at the spring of the Buna River and its historical tekke (Dervish monastery).

Approaching the town, we had a beautiful view of the old Blagaj Fortress (Stjepan grad) located on a steep cliff (photo 1). It was once the seat of the Herzegovinian nobleman Stjepan Vukčić and the birthplace of the Bosnian queen Katarina Kosača. Accessible only by a path used mostly by sure-footed sheep, the spot is rarely visited. Moreover, the day was very hot and so we decided to continue to the center.

b3After having parked our car, we went for a walk along the Buna river towards the tekke. Although it was rather early, many tourist buses from Dubrovnik and Mostar had already arrived and the terraces along the Buna river were full of foreign tourists. Typical Bosnian souvenirs were offered by numerous stalls: prayer rugs, Islamic flags, niqabs …. (photo 5).

But numerous tourists, busy restaurants and souvenir vendors could not spoil our impression of the fascinating Dervish monastery at the end of the “main street” (photo 6). This 16th century house/monastery was built for the Dervish cults and is still one of the most mystical places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Together with its surrounding landscape and the steep rocks above, it creates a unique and unrepeatable scenery (photo 2).

b4Very near to the tekke, under a 200 meter high rock, is the “Green Cave”: the largest karst spring in Europe, which gives rise to the Buna river (photo 4).

Only here, in the silence of the Dervish house’s garden, cooled by the freshness of the river, we felt the real atmosphere of Blagaj (photo 3). The atmosphere was solemn. Cold drinks, tea and Turkish coffee were served on the beautiful terrace overlooking the source of the river. No beer, no alcoholics. This was probably the reason why most guests were “domestic”, which certainly contributed to the authenticity of the environment.

b5On our way back we wanted to visit the historical Velagić complex, dating back to the year 1766. This unique residential complex consisted of several buildings, gardens and mills on the bank of the river. All the courtyards were interconnected and paved with river pebbles. This complex is the most complete example of a family house complex with outbuildings in Herzegovina. Unfortunately, it was closed for visitors due to reconstruction works.

We continued our trip though Bosnia and Herzegovina and we certainly understood why Blagaj was nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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AMAZING FOČA (B&H): FROM SAND PYRAMIDS TO SUTJESKA NATIONAL PARK

f1 f3On our last camper trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina we spent a night in Camp Drina near Foča. Branko, the friendly owner of this beautiful camping site on the bank of the Drina river, prepared an excellent meal (grilled trout) and gave us a lot of information about the surroundings. His friend Sića, a certified mountain guide, joined us later and told us many stories and legends about the region. It was interesting to hear that medieval tombstones („stećci“) can be found all over the mountains, often on inaccessible high plateaus that can be reached by experienced hikers and mountaineers only.

Although the town of Foča itself is not so interesting – it was heavily damaged during the Bosnian War when all mosques were destroyed –, the surroundings offer many possibilities. Rafting on the Tara and Drina river is getting more and more popular, but hiking and biking in Sutjeska National Park is also attracting many foreign visitors.

f2Nature is magnificent in this part of Herzegovina. We had never heard of the Sand Pyramids, or Pješćane piramide as locals call them, but Branko advised us to make a short detour and to visit this natural phenomenon. And so we did! It took us less than an hour by car.

The narrow asphalt road from Foča to Miljevina took us uphill, showing us a typical mountain scenery, interrupted by small Muslim cemeteries. We did not see any local inhabitants or tourists. After around 9 kilometers, the Sand Pyramids suddenly appeared in front of us.  What a surprise to see such a stunning masterpiece of nature! The combination of summer heat, winter frost, rain and wind has created a rarely seen geo-morphological phenomenon after a long period of selective erosion.The Pyramids seemed more like a picture from the Wild West than a part of the green mountains around Foča and the Upper Drina Region! And of course … they were very photogenic!

f4Next day we continued our trip through the Sutjeska National Park. Sutjeska is a paradise for nature lovers. It is dominated by 2,000-meter peaks – Zelengora, Maglić and Volujak – in every direction. The National Park is 34 kilometers from the center of Foča and is well-connected by the main road to Trebinje. It contains a protected natural reserve, the Peručića primeval forest, an attractive waterfall called Skakavac (75 m high), high mountains and eight mountain lakes of glacier origin.

We did not have the possibility to make a hiking tour, but I was eager to visit the Memorial Complex of the Sutjeska Battle. I visited this place, located in Tjentište, with my parents when I was a child. I also remember that this was a popular destination of school excursions when my children went to school. Why?

f5Well, one of the bloodiest battles in World War II, known as the Sutjeska Battle (1943) or „Case Black“, was fought in the wider region of Tjentište. To commemorate this battle, a Memorial Complex was built with a huge monument, made by the sculptor Miodrag Živković. Opened in the early 1970s, the park and the monument along with the ossuary (3301 Partisan fighters died here) and the museum constituted one of the most attractive and elaborately designed destinations for groups and individuals travelling within Yugoslavia.

Nowadays, everything has been abandoned. The Sutjeska Hotel near the monument is empty and dilapidated. The museum is closed and the stairs leading uphill to the monument (more than 250 steps) are overgrown with grass. I still remember the bright white color of the monument – now it is gray and attacked by moisture. History has changed… The principles of unity and brotherhood do not exist anymore. Other monuments have appeared in former Yugoslavia, reminding us of the last Balkan Wars. What a pity!

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MEDUN: A MEDIEVAL FORTRESS AND A MEMORIAL MUSEUM

m1m2During one of our day trips in the surroundings of Podgorica we visited an interesting historical village in the hills of Kučka Krajina: Medun, located at a distance of 13 km from the capital city. The Illyrian tribe of the Labeates that lived around Skadar Lake built a castle here between the 4th and 3th century B.C. on an elongated rocky hill and called it Meteon. But the Romans conquered the place in 167 B.C. and captured the last Illyrian king, Gentius. Several centuries later, the castle was transformed into a medieval fortress and Medun continued to develop as a town.

m3Approaching the village, we saw the contours of the mountainside fortress on a cleft between two other mountains. Nature is wonderful in this area: old stone houses are scattered over the mountain plateau, wild flowers cover the meadows and numerous vineyards show the diligence of its inhabitants.

Passing through the center of the village, we turned right, following the signpost, and after a short drive we parked our car at the foot of the hill, near the museum. A steep and narrow path led to the top of the hill. The view of the surrounding highlands and the valley of Podgorica was magnificent. Under the remains of the medieval fortress we found a small church, dedicated to Archdeacon Stephen, with a monument for Duke Marko Miljanov (1833-1901), who is buried here. He was a very important person in Montenegrin history, leader of the Kuči clan, and a legendary fighter against the Turks. He was also a famous writer who described the life and struggle of his clan in Montenegro.

m4In 1971, the house in which he was born was transformed into a Memorial Museum. The authentic exterior was preserved while the interior was adapted for the exhibition. The museum contains three segments: a historical, ethnographic and literary collection. Apart from the personal belongings of Marko Miljanov: costumes, weapons, documents, etc., we thought the ethnographic part with household items, costumes, ornaments and items from ordinary people’s lives most interesting. Although illiterate at the age of 50, Marko Miljanov, after learning to write, left some of the most precious literary works about the time he witnessed. His most important work was Examples of Valor and Humanity. He died in Herceg Novi in 1901.

North from the fortress is a necropolis, originating from the Iron Age. Unfortunately, this archeological site has not been explored yet. Although Medun represents a site that hides significant historical values, from Prehistory to the Middle Age, it has not been studied sufficiently. What a pity! It could be another nice tourist attraction, as many tourists are interested in combining the beautiful nature of Montenegro with its cultural and historical treasures!

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KUČKA KORITA: THE PATROL PATH TO GRLO SOKOLOVO

gs1gs2 A trip through the Kučka Krajina mountains is always a special experience. This region, close to Podgorica but also close to the Albanian border, is rather unknown among tourists, although it offers many hidden surprises.

This time we decided to make a walk along the former patrol path of the border guards in Kučka Korita, a mountain village that is situated at a distance of 32 km from the capital city of Podgorica. We passed through the Maslina suburb and followed the asphalt road to Kučka Korita until the signpost of Zatrijebač / Fundina (at around 8 km from Podgorica), where we turned right. A narrow asphalt road was winding uphill through different hamlets and villages, populated by Albanian Catholics, the Malissores. Gardens and fields, but also the road itself, were bordered by dry stone walls. Big graveyards with huge marble tombstones could be seen in each village. In the village of Deljaj (700 m above sea level) the road touched the edge of the Cijevna canyon, near a large white cross that can also be seen from the bottom of the canyon. The view was magnificent!

gs3After many curves, the road finally reached the rocky plateau of Kučka Korita. Once, this place was a „katun“ (shepherd’s summer cottage settlement) for the Kuči  clan, but now it has become a kind of weekend resort. The pastures were full of flowers (photo 2) and some people were cultivating their land, enjoying the sunny weather.

We parked our car in the center, between the stone church (photo 3) and the abandoned military barracks. Beside the dilapidated barracks, a path leads – through pastures, interrupted by weird karst formations (photo 6) – towards the edge of the Cijevna Canyon. The high, snow-covered tops of the Prokletije mountains on the Albanian side could already be seen from the village. There are no signposts at all, many different trails lead in various directions, and it was thus difficult to find our way. We had to ask several times how we could reach the panorama point of Grlo Sokolovo or Falcon’s Throat (the coordinates of the path entrance in front of the barracks are N 42°29’23“ and E 19°32’00“).

gs4But after 30-40 minutes of hiking (photo 4), our efforts finally paid off. We reached a magnificent place, one of the most beautiful viewpoints I ever saw in Montenegro (and I have seen a lot of them): Grlo Sokolovo or, in translation, Falcon’s Throat. At an altitude of 1386 m, we saw the remainders of what was once a border post used by the border patrol of Tito’s Yugoslavia (photo 1). Unfortunately, it was completely ruined. Here we had a breathtaking view of the Cijevna Canyon and the mighty Prokletije mountains.

gs5Deep down we could even see the village of Tamara in Albania (photo 5). Caves were scattered all over the huge rocky „wall“, pine trees were growing directly out of the steep rocks. This is where Montenegro showed, once more, the enormous power of its nature. I was deeply impressed…

After this phantastic experience, we turned back to Podgorica, following the (better) road downhill to Podgorica, through Ubli and Medun. Can you imagine that this place is situated at a ONE HOUR’s distance from Podgorica only??

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OLD MONTENEGRO: A ROUND TRIP THROUGH LJEŠANSKA NAHIJA

lj6lj7If you are interested in discovering Old Montenegro – the territory of the Principality of Montenegro as recognized by the Berlin Congress in 1878 – I would like to recommend you to make a round trip through one of its four typical areas or “nahije”, Lješanska nahija. We made the tour on a sunny day in May, a period when this region shows an abundance of flora and fauna.

Leaving Podgorica in the direction of Cetinje, we turned right near Farmaci, following the signpost to Draževina. The narrow asphalt road was edged by figs, pomegranates and other subtropical trees. A big turtle was trying to find its way through the bush and a sheltopusik (also called European legless lizard or in Latin Pseudopus apodus) was quietly trying to cross the road (photo 2). This lizard (no, it is not a snake) can reach a length of 135 cm, it looks like a giant earthworm and is not dangerous. But don’t touch it, it can bite!

lj2We soon reached the village of Krusi, where we admired the obelisk, dedicated to the famous battle (1796) that Sveti Petar Cetinjski fought against the Turks. There is also a big threshing floor (guvno) and a beautiful old church (photo 3) with a small graveyard on the top of a hill, from where we had a magnificent view of the surroundings.

The road continued to Draževina and Buronji, nice villages with beautiful old stone houses, characterized by large stone arches and cellars. Lješanska nahija is also part of the ethno-gastronomic routes and tourists have the opportunity to visit typical guesthouses in this area where they can taste wine and eat traditional Montenegrin food. For further information see www.ethnogastro-balkan.net.

llj3Our next stop was in Progonovići (keep right, follow the signpost), a picturesque village on the slope of the karst mountains (photo 5). We parked at Radun’s Tower (Kula Radunova) which was mentioned by Petar II Petrović Njegoš, prince-bishop of Montenegro, in his famous work “Mountain Wreath” (1846). The tower has been restored and offers a great view of the surroundings. Another interesting site is „Jamica“, a natural and very deep well, the water of which can be reached by corkscrew stairs.

lj4Typical for this area are the traditional stone houses covered with stone plates (photo 1). Some of them are – although dilapidated – still used and their interior has not changed for many decades (photo 4). Exactly that is the reason that around ten Montenegrin movies were made in Progonovići, with participation of many inhabitants of the village. The movie of the famous director Živko Nikolić, “Ljepota poroka” (“The Beauty of Vice” – 1986) that was shot here, was distributed in 80 countries.

lj5Turning back and following the road to Štitari (keep left and then right and once more right) we were pleasantly surprised to see a hoopoe (Upupa epops) with its beautiful colors and “crown” of feathers (photo 6). Along the road, an old farmer was already cleaning up his property, using his traditional sickle (photo 7).

At the junction with the signpost to Mikulići, we kept left and after 10 km we were back on the main road from Podgorica to Cetinje, by which we completed our round trip. The whole tour is around 70 km long and can easily be done on a beautiful afternoon.

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ŽUPA NIKŠIĆKA: ROAMING AROUND THE LUKAVICA PLATEAU

l1l2It is always a challenge for me to visit the hidden secrets of Montenegro, places that are still unknown to foreign tourists and even to many Montenegrins. One of such places is the Lukavica plateau, famous for its 380 water springs. With the impressive mountain tops of Veliki Žurim (2036 m above sea level) and Mali Žurim (1984 m above sea level), it is one of the most beautiful parts of Župa Nikšićka (photo 2).

By car, you can reach the area in around half an hour from Nikšić (30 km). The road leads along the “Zagrad” mine, through Luka Bojovića and then it turns into macadam at Bare Bojovića near Mali Žurim, from where it continues to Lake Kapetanovo (Kapetanovo Jezero). This last part, another 8.5 km, is not suitable for passenger cars.

l3But there is another possibility for 4×4 adventurers and mountain bikers: follow the signs to Vučje from Nikšić and turn right after around 20 km (behind a small monument), where a macadam road/biking trail passes over the plateau and further to the lake. The route can be found in the book “Mountain Biking in Montenegro” written by Rade Minić.

Due to snow remainders, it is hard to get to Lake Kapetanovo in springtime and so we left this target for another occasion. But May is certainly the most beautiful month to admire the flower fields on the Lukavica plateau that is crossed by numerous springs and water streams and surrounded by the magnificent mountain range that is called Moračke planine.

l4We made a nice hiking tour, roaming around the flowering pastures. The view of Mali Žurim (photo 4) and Veliki Žurim with their glacial deposits dating from the Pleistocene was impressive. Several transparent water streams could be crossed by means of improvised “bridges” made of big natural stones (photo 5). The traditional huts of the shepherds (photo 1) were still waiting for their inhabitants, who stay there – with their cattle – during the hot summer months.

l5But – apart from the picturesque surrounding mountains – it was a special experience to see millions of flowers all over the place. Large fields were covered with blue grape hyacinths, wild daffodils could be spotted everywhere (photo 3).  Other areas were completely purple by the densely flowering violets (photo 6). We also discovered blue gentiana, wild orchids and many other plant species. An unknown nature paradise in the central part of Montenegro!

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THE OLD TOWN MARKET IN KOTOR

k1k2Spring is in the air and the Saturday market in Kotor has become a paradise for slow food fans. The market stalls outside the town walls are made of stone and the Venetian lion – a magnificent stone relief on the city wall – is watching over the vendors, who have not only come from the coast, but also from other areas like Skadar Lake, the Krivošije mountains and Njeguši on Mount Lovćen.

It was the first time this year I visited the Old Town Market. The weather was sunny and the booths overflowed with fruit and vegetables, flowers, all kinds of fish, cheese and smoked ham… I bought a bottle of olive oil, made by a private oil factory in Stari Bar. Delicious!

k3But on this market you can also find very special products. What about smoked carp and smoked bleak from Skadar Lake? Or the famous Njeguši cheese and ham? There is also home-made cheese studded with olives or walnuts, made on the basis of a centuries-old recipe. Dried funghi porcini, dried cranberries and figs are stored in big bags. Olives – green or black, but also brown – are prepared in different ways. Just try and make a choice!

Old men and women, who had arrived early in the morning from the high mountains around the Bay of Kotor, offer cheese and vegetables, but also fresh eggs and free-range chickens. On their way down they had picked wild asparagus and black bryony or “kljuke” (Tamus communis), but also stinging nettles which are traditionally used as wild vegetables.

k4I asked a kind old lady with white hair under a black scarf and a black dress how to prepare them. She recommended “kljuke” (see picture 5) boiled with potatoes. The young shoots should be broken in pieces of 4-5 cm each and boiled just 5 minutes. Then they should be added to boiled potatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil. Mashed potatoes with a very delicate taste indeed! But “kljuke” and wild asparagus can also be used as salad with boiled eggs.

Nettles are used for a very healty soup, the preparation of which takes you only 15 minutes + 20 minutes cooking time. Here is the recipe: Melt a tablspoon of butter, add a chopped onion and some salt. Cook until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add 50 gr. potatoes and 1 liter chicken or vegetable broth and bring to boil. Cook 15 minutes on a moderate fire, add 250 gr. nettles and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes. Add pepper. Puree soup with an immersion blender and stir in some sour cream, if liked. Good for 4 persons.

kukeAnd finally, I would like to tell you an interesting story about the Kotor market. In the beginning of the 20th century – whenn Kotor was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the serpentine donkey trail that leads from Mount Lovćen to Kotor was used a lot, mostly by Montenegrin women from the mountains going to the “bazaar” in Kotor to sell their farm products there. The trail was steep and they had very heavy burdens on their back. They entered the town carrying wine, ham, cheese and agricultural productes. This was bartered against salt, olive oil, clothes and other luxurious goods. And in the afternoon they returned home, uphill, to their villages at an altitude of 1000 meters or more…

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