SKADAR LAKE – PARADISE LOST?

Skadar Lake1Skadar lake2 Kom monasteryMontenegro has a lot of amazing places, showing untouched and wild natural beauties, authentic traditions and cultural treasures… No, I am not talking about the Montenegrin Coast. It is understandable that most coastal towns have become crowded tourist destinations, responsible for a large part of Montenegro’s economic development. I want to point at those areas in the country that are not affected yet by sky-scrapers, souvenir shops, nightclubs and luxury resorts. Such an area is Skadar Lake (photo 1), one of Montenegro’s five national parks with small-scale tourism possibilities: bird-watching, fishing, boat rides with traditional fishing boats, hiking and biking, kayaking and swimming, gastronomic specialties and numerous medieval monasteries (photo 2). All this makes Skadar Lake a frequent target of our day trips from Podgorica, all year round.

Skadar lake3 winterWhy am I fascinated by Skadar Lake? First of all, because of its diversity. Where else can you find a destination with so many different interesting attractions?

During the winter period, we often explore the surroundings by car, enjoying the silence of the quiet fisherman’s villages (photo 3). In spring – for us the most beautiful season to discover the beauties of Skadar Lake – , we make wonderful boat rides with our friends from Skadar Lake Boat Milica, visiting isolated monasteries and spotting pelicans (photo 4). Summer is great for swimming and kayaking (photo 5) and the warm colors of autumn invite us to make long hiking tours around the Lake (photo 6). You will find many postings in my blog montenegro-for.me testifying my love for Skadar Lake and its surroundings.

Skadar lake4 pelicanIn my opinion, Skadar Lake is a perfect destination for nature and culture lovers, people who are in search for something special, far away from the crowds, close to nature and also far away from commercial tourist resorts.

Maybe that is the reason why I was quite embarrassed when I read these days that a building permit was granted for the construction of Porto Skadar Lake, according to “Pobjeda” newspaper “the most beautiful eco-resort in Europe” (what does “eco-resort” mean in this case?), “nestled in the heart of the wilderness”, i.e. on Prevlaka near Rijeka Crnojevića. The resort will have 52 hotel units, a spa center area of 1,700 square meters, two restaurants, a commercial center, marina and 32 private villas. The investor knew very well that the permit would be granted, as the villas were already for sale a few months ago.

Skadar lake5 kayakingAllegedly, the resort would be finished in May 2017. Value of the investment: € 90 million (as was published a few months ago) or € 75 million (as was published these days) …?? Can somebody just explain me how such an investment can ever be profitable? Who will be those “rich” guests and villa owners? What will be the consequences for the national park and bird reserve, when not only sailing boats but also yachts and motor boats (see picture of the marina taken from the public website of Porto Skadar Lake – photo 7) start to cross the lake in all directions?

Skadar lake6 panoramaYes, I know, building another luxury tourist resort with a foreign investor should be another form of “progress”, with job creation (allegedly 200 new jobs), tax payment, promotion of Montenegro, etc. But will the profit also stay in Montenegro?? And why is the resort built in the middle of a national park that was founded to preserve the remainder of Skadar Lake’s wilderness? Why in a bird reserve where the number of rare Dalmatian pelicans is now finally growing?

Skadar lake6 Porto Skadar lakeWould not it be a better idea to restore and revitalize some old abandoned fishermen’s villages on the lake shore old traditional style, like for instance Raduš (photo 8)? Of is that just a utopia?

I hope I am wrong. Maybe we will all be happy to celebrate the opening of Porto Skadar Lake in 2017 and see the positive effects on Montenegrin tourism and economy. What do you think about it?

Skadar lake8 Radus

8 Comment

  1. I had a fantastic boat trip from Vranjina when I was in Montenegro last autumn. I saw a variety of birds – including Dalmatian pelicans. Anything which threatens Lake Skadar’s national park’s status can surely only be detrimental to the vast array of wildlife that exists there – some of it endemic.
    From your excellent article, I’m now having visions of it resembling lake Garda in Italy in ten years time 🙁
    This makes me incredibly sad – I hope I’m totally wrong.

  2. Harry Braam says: Reply

    I definitely agree with you. The inland of Montenegro is really beautiful; unspoiled and not overcrowded with tourists.
    We had a wonderful time in the area of Bijelo Polje and surroundings. As there are Gusinje, Ali Pasjina Izvori, Bistrica and Ðalovica Klisura.

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    I’m afraid, Marianne, that this project raises as much concern as it does curiosity. Despite the fancy environmental wrapping, project leader Lionel Sonigo and friends are looking to attract investment and ultimately make money without seeming to have any real concern for the precious ecological treasure of Skadar Lake. According to Vijesti, the resort will cost a staggering €90 euros to destroy a section of coastline in one of Europe’s last remaining wilderness areas. Where is the money coming from, exactly? Mr Sonigo hasn’t actually got the 90 million himself, so I’d be interested to hear who is actually prepared to deliver the rest of his budget because from an investment point of view I simply can’t see how they’d ever get it back.

    The “Eco-resort” claims it will have 30 villas and several apartments, so assuming as I am for the moment that you’re not going to recoup an awful lot in mooring costs (more of which later), you’re going to have to get your return via real estate sales. Do the maths and this works out at some very, very expensive condos. Given the glut of cheaper properties on the coast itself (with ever more bargains now many Russians are selling up), who is going to move inland for three times the price?

    Other questions: The intended location of Porto Skadar Lake on the Prevlaka peninsula is on the northern side of the lake. There is a very immovable bridge across the lake at Vranjina which – unless someone has invented yachts with removable masts – would block their exit to the sea. This is before one takes into account that this exit is in Albania, necessitating crossing a water border that has been closed for the best part of 30 years. Given that winds on the lake are often not strong enough for sailing anyway, who is going to moor a sailboat of any kind there, and with speed boats and jet skis currently banned from the park, who is going to moor their motorboat there either, inland, away from the coast and a 60km passage from the sea? Would they not prefer the marinas at Porto Montenegro in Tivat or Porto Novi in Kumbor, marinas that actually do (or will in the case of Porto Novi) exist?

    Why does the website (and by extension Mr Sonigo and company) claim that the park will fall under UNESCO protection in 2 years? This would be wonderful news if it were actually true, but sadly it’s not. The previous NP director actually discouraged the government from applying for UNESCO status because of disruption it would cause to the planned Bar-Buljara highway (a project which the Montenegrin government is pushing through with the aid of Chinese investment). Sadly the chances of UNESCO involvement with a motorway on the cards is next to nil.

    The website also claims that the planned resort is 40 minutes from the centre of Podgorica. It is actually closer to 1.5 hours via main road to Virpazar, a lengthy loop over the hills and then down an as yet unbuilt road to reach the planned resort. This is as tall a claim as the one that the shopping St Tropez (are they serious?) of Budva is 30 minutes away. Again, it is closer to 1.5 hours. From the Prevlaka peninsula, it takes half an hour to get back to the main road to Petrovac and then at least another 45 minutes over or through the mountains to the coast on the other side. Trying to drive via Rijeka Crnojevića and Cetinje to Budva will take every bit as long.

    There are some other curious details emerging from the project. Work was apparently due to start in September 2014, then May 2015 (despite not yet having planning consent until recently) and we are now approaching August 2015. How on earth do they believe that 2017 is an even vaguely realistic completion date? The access road required would take the best part of a year unless they are planning on moving all the building materials into position by barge. And given that building is banned on the shoreline of Skadar Lake – a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance – how exactly was permission granted in the first place?

    My main fear is that they will start building in an attempt to show potential investors they mean business, swiftly run out of money and investment due to the project’s lack of commercial viability, and leave the lake with an unfinished eyesore. This is what happened with the ill-fated Lake Skadar Golf and Country Club in Orahovsko Polje. This would be even more of a catastrophe than if the project were ever completed.

    Some important people need to answer some important questions here…

    1. Thanks for your post, Anonymous. I’d be delighted if you would comment again if and when there are further developments in all this. I think from a nature lovers point of view – many people don’t. But as you say, it would make far more commercial sense to develop an area on the coast or the boka kotorska.
      Maybe they’re planning a pelicanarium 🙁

  4. Effi says: Reply

    I’m afraid this project is just another example how low esteemed the beauty of nature and -for heavens sake a National Park- is in the Government of your country. The colour of money changes everything. It is spoiling already the unique coast and the Bay of Kotor (an Unesco World Heritage!). The sad thing is, there seems to be no stopping and it is irreversible, so enjoy this Paradise while you can and before another unique area will be ruined by “development”. It really brings tears to my eyes.

  5. Frans & Marie-José says: Reply

    Please Mariana, send your blog to Greenpeace and other organisations, who are preserving beautiful spots in nature. Frans & Marie-José

    1. Hallo Limbo’s, hartelijk dank voor de reactie!Intussen hebben heel veel mensen op mijn blogpost gereageerd, hopelijk kan er nog wat aan gedaan worden. Goede reis verder naar huis en groetjes uit een warm en zonnig Slano!

  6. Hi Marianne, thanks for your great post, we are of course totally in line with you on that situation. Let’s hope the recent naming of a new NP director (Azra Vukovic) will bring an end to this absolutely shocking project. Skadar Lake is a jewel and needs to be kept intact!

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