Mid-August is high season on the Montenegrin Coast, where many Montenegrins and foreign tourists are spending their summer holidays. But… traffic is a disaster, the beaches are overcrowded, the nights are noisy and the prices are high. So. what to do when the temperatures in Podgorica are above 37°C? I know, the sea is always attractive, but what about the mountains?
In an attempt to avoid the hot asfalt of the city, we made a day trip to Žijovo, the mountains of Kučka Krajina. Close to the city (50 km only, i.e. a drive of one hour and a half), not far from the tourist crowds – but almost untouched, pristine and quiet.
On Panoramic Road No. 4 hardly any cars. Moreover, after we turned left at the junction to Bukumirsko Jezero, we didn’t see a single soul. The road was deserted and the landscape was taking bizarre forms. The temperature was dropping rapidly.
Kučka Krajina is one of the few regions in Montenegro where wild horses can freely roam over the vast grassy plateaus. We met a group of them on the road, waiting at a rain cistern to get some drinking water. The foals were staying close to their mother, some stallions got nervous when we approached them.
The road got narrower: deep valleys were below us, their slopes “decorated” by the remains of forests destroyed by wildfires. And then – turning to the left – the last stretch, a farm road leading to the lake.
We stopped at an improvised bar along the trail – a few locals were drinking beer, cooled in the ice cold water of a mountain spring. Zvonko, the owner, started a chat and told us about his idea to build some wooden cottages for tourists here. A nice project for the future? Bread, sheep cheese and ham – obviously breakfast for some present shepherds – were shared with us, according to the old Montenegrin hospitality tradition.
Once more, I was struck by the stunning panorama of Bukumirsko Jezero with the over 2000 m high mountain peaks of Pasjak, Surdup, Štitan, Pasjak and Velji Vrh dominating over it. In my opinion, this makes truly one of the most impressive mountain sceneries of Montenegro. With their indented reliefs, sharp tops, glacial ridges and chasms, the mountains stretch in all directions. No wonder, the wide glacier that once covered the plateau of Kučka Krajina was up to 200 meters thick.
The trail of the Montenegrin Hiking Transversal CT-1 was well-marked and after 10 minutes a steep path branched off to the left, marked “Izvor” (spring). It was our goal to reach Katun Torač and the Torač spring at an altitude of 1681 m. A short hike, but – for us – quite risky on a narrow mule path above a deep abyss.
Fortunately, the trail to Katun Torač was well-marked. We passed moraine areas, forests, grass land… Deep down the undulated plateau that looked like patchwork crisscrossed by low dry stone walls. We heard the echoes from children herding cattle in the valley and their dogs barking.
Nature had already taken back the “katun”. The small cluster of shepherd’s mountain huts was abandoned and dilapidated, but there were still some signs of life: along the path a dead sheep and some remains of wool. What had happened here? A viper, a wolf?
The fact that we are amateurs and we didn’t have a guide, prevented us from hiking to the summit of Mount Torač (1876 m), as the steep grassy path to the summit appeared to be unmarked.
After a rest near the spring, it was not easy to find our way back to the plateau. But fortunately, we met a young shepherd willing to help. He even accompanied us downhill and showed us the trail in the valley.
And, by the way, he warned us: “Do you know how many snakes can be found here? Dangerous ones! Poisonous ones! A bitten sheep can move two steps only before dropping dead. This is an area where you should always wear long trousers and mountain boots, and possibly hiking sticks!”
Back down after a steep descent, we quietly walked back through the grassland and climbed via a kind of stone steps through a gap between the rocks that looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.
Entering another vast plateau, all of a sudden we heard dogs barking from different sides of the mountains, followed by the terrifying howling of wolves, far away. Nature in its purest form. And then again: total silence. A beautiful (protected) Apollo butterfly posed for a photo. Some local children greeted us….
Getting back to Podgorica, I could hardly believe that, at a 90 minutes drive from Podgorica, in mid-August, you can find such a quiet, beautiful and cool place to spend a day.