It was a pleasure to accept the invitation of our friend Jelena from Skadar Lake Boat Milica to join her at a boat trip to the islands of Beška and Starčevo. This was one of the few boat tours we had not made so far and we were very curious to see the western and southern shores of the Lake from the water (photo 1).
This relaxing boat ride lasts around 6 hours and takes you through a magnificent and still relatively unknown part of Skadar Lake. It is a fascinating experience with spectacular panoramas of the surrounding mountains, solitary islands, authentic villages and picturesque monasteries. And let’s not forget the abundant flora and diverse fauna!
Starting early in the morning from Virpazar, we spotted a lot of different birds. Great crested grebes were swimming around, carrying their “babies” on their back. Little grebes were moving quickly through the reed (photo 2), while grey herons stood immovably on the rocks in search of a pray. Further away, a squacco heron was wading through the shallow water, looking for frogs and insects. Yellow irises and white water-lilies decorated the wetlands with the abundant colors of spring, the most beautiful season in and around Skadar Lake.
Soon we approached the abandoned island of Grmožur. This island is known as the “Montenegrin Alcatraz”, as King Nikola of Montenegro used it as a prison for his political opponents. Nowadays, it is left to the ravages of time and its only inhabitants are seagulls, cormorants, lizards and snakes.
Moving further along the steep and mountainous shoreline, we passed by several old fishing villages and abandoned houses. Soon we reached the bay of Raduš (photo 3), in which the so-called “Eye of Raduš” is located (see: http://montenegro-for.me/2015/03/skadar-lake-between-godinje-and-radus/). Although the average depth of the Lake is around 6 meters, this “eye” is the deepest spot of the Lake. Divers have come to the conclusion that the Lake is at least 60 meters deep here, and maybe even deeper, as the “eye” has the form of a funnel, which makes diving very scary… Due to the constant temperature of underground water springs, this is an ideal place for the spawning of bleak (Alburnus alburnus), a small fish that is smoked and served as a specialty of this area.
Suddenly we saw something crawling on the water surface: it appeared to be a giant Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus – photo 4). We succeeded in approaching it and were surprised with its length of at least 2 meters, which was said to be exceptional. These snakes are non-venomous, but honestly speaking, I would not be happy to meet such a monster when swimming in the Lake!
Admiring the panorama of the Prokletije mountains on the Albanian side of the Lake, we spotted the first islands that are characteristic for this part of the shoreline: the Starčevo islands consisting of Starčevo Rock, Veliko Starčevo and Malo Starčevo.
Our skipper Petar “parked” the boat at the foot of rocky stairs that led to the monastery gate (photo 5). There is only one monk, Father Gligorije, living on this island and to our disappointment, he was not “at home”, so that we could not visit the oldest church on the Lake, founded in 1377 by Father Makarije and devoted to the Mother of Jesus Christ. What a pity! But the smell of medicinal herbs, the fig and pomegranate trees with their bright red flowers, gave us an overall impression of the beauty of this island.
Fortunately, it was much easier to visit the island of Beška, opposite to the village of Murići. The beautiful environment of the monastery that is run by 13 nuns shows their great efforts; they do not only cultivate vegetables and fruit, but also medicinal herbs, like marigold, sage and lavender.
One of the nuns showed us the two old churches (photo 6). The bigger one, the Church of St. George, was built at the end of the 14th century by Đurađ II Balšić, Lord of Zeta. Totally dilapidated, it was renovated in 2002. I was not impressed by the new frescoes, but understood that the old ones had been totally destroyed and washed away. The smaller Church of the Holy Mother was built in 1440 as a legacy of his widow, Jelena Balšić, who died in this monastery.
After climbing to a beautiful viewpoint with a big cross, on the top of the island, we were invited to rest a bit and drink a glass of sage juice. It you ever have the opportunity, taste it! It is said to be a good medicine for thyroid diseases.
Our next stop was in the village of Murići (photo 7) with its sandy beach, the only one in this area. As it has become popular as a tourist destination with a restaurant, bungalows and a campsite, this village is rather crowded in the summer and some visitors even like to swim to Beška, although the distance is much farther than you would think (see: http://montenegro-for.me/2015/03/exploring-the-western-shore-of-skadar-lake/.
It was time to go back, but as all visitors of Skadar Lake are eager to spot pelicans, Jelena decided to expand the tour towards Manastirska Kapija and the Morača delta, where these birds can often be seen. And indeed, we spotted a big one (photo 8) and also saw several others floating among the water-lilies. Of course, that was the icing on the cake for all of us.
Along the Morača river – with its fabulous willow woods – and passing underneath the Vranjina monastery (see: http://montenegro-for.me/2015/04/skadar-lake-vranjina-monastery-and-pelican-spotting/, we finally arrived back in Virpazar, full of impressions.
Although this trip is rather long, it offers such a variety of experiences that you simply get the feeling that those six hours have passed in a moment or that time has stopped altogether. Thank you, Jelena and Petar, for this fantastic day!