A few days ago I read a very interesting article in „Vijesti Online“: the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism has made up a Draft National Strategy of Integrated Coastal Management, which clearly points at the danger of irrational urban planning on the Montenegrin  Coast. I could not believe my eyes when I read that the area of planned building land would be sufficient for the construction of apartments for another 600,000 to 800,000 inhabitants and tourist capacities for at least 270,000 new beds (photo 1).

ZavalaCan you imagine that the number of overnights in the best period of Montenegrin tourism (1985-1988) was higher than today? That more than 50,000 people were employed in tourism and catering at that time? And that tourists from Western Europe realized even three times more overnights in 1986 than in 2013?

Yes, I can imagine that, as I lived and worked in Budva in the seventies of the last century. I remember very well how the Montenegrin Coast looked like in that period: authentic, clean, with charming old towns and villages, magnificent natural beauties and transparent clean sea water.

Budva2What has happened in the meantime? First of all, it seems to be impossible to stop illegal building. The authorities don’t even know how many buildings have illegally been erected along the coast, but also many legally built structures have a negative impact on the landscape and cause pollution of the sea water.

During the last few years, I have discovered many new „projects“ and, in my opinion, none of them has contributed to the attractiveness and authenticity of the Montenegrin Coast. Let’s take Zavala or Dukley Gardens (photo 2). The beautiful green peninsula between Slovenska Plaža and Bečići has now become one big construction site. Such a pity!

Some new apartment buildings simply look ridiculous. I even discovered an eight-storey building along the highway through Budva, which is less than 3 meters wide!!! (photo 3). What a difference with the Slovenska Plaža hotel settlement that was built on the spot where the former hotels were totally destroyed by the 1979 earthquake (photo 4). It has a true Mediterranean look! Or is this hotel settlement, which is now in a rather neglected state, also planned to be demolished like the Adriatic Fair, so that a new skyscraper can be built here?

Budva3But there is still one beach left … Jaz is not completely spoilt yet, although various (illegal?) buildings have already taken a position directly behind the beach (photo 5). I remember that a large tourist settlement was already planned here around fourty years ago, as I did translation work for the developer at that time. But nothing happened, as the private land owners were not willing to sell their land. And I don’t know anything about the future of this area – except for the famous music festivals that are organized here.

JazBut the biggest disappointment for me is Petrovac. I thought that there was an agreement about the prohibition of constructing high-rise buildings in this charming village. And when I saw what is happening now, I was completely shocked (photo 6). The beautiful skyline disappeared and the view is blocked by several huge buildings. Will all those future guests and tourists in Petrovac have enough space available on the beach? I really doubt it!

I am glad that a public debate will be held on the above mentioned strategic document. If accepted, many urgent measures will be taken to protect our wonderful coast. Deadline? 2020! But don’t you think that it is already too late?






Moraca2When you are in Podgorica, it is a good idea to spend a day in exploring the Morača Canyon and its monasteries, in particular off-season, when there is less traffic. Just follow the road to Kolašin and Belgrade and it doesn’t take long before the scenery becomes breathtaking.

The highway – one of the most dangerous roads in Montenegro – follows the Morača River into a nearly perpendicular canyon, also called Platije, with barren rocks up to 1000 meters high.

The Morača Monastery is situated at a distance of 46 km from Podgorica, on the right side of the road. We had already visited this place several times, but only recently I learned that the icons in this Monastery belong to the most famous medieval icons of the world. They are mentioned in many foreign books about medieval art and that was a good reason to see them once more.

Moraca3The architecture of the monastery complex is quite simple (photo 1). It consists of the church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, the small church of St. Nicholas and the sleeping quarters. Everything is surrounded with a high stone wall. The monastery was built in 1252 by Stefan Nemanja. It was made of special yellow stone that can only be found in an area very far from this place.

When we entered the beautiful garden courtyard, we had the feeling as if we stepped back into the 13th century. There were no visitors, so that we could freely admire the beautiful frescoes and icons.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs without the written permission of the Serbian-Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije. This is a practice we already know from our visits to Macedonia and Serbia, but for instance in Russia and Ukraine, you can buy a photo permit, often at a price that is much higher than the entrance ticket. Wouldn’t that be a good possibility for the church to obtain some additional money for the restoration of the faded external frescoes of this monastery complex?

Moraca4The 13th century fresco “Raven feeds the Prophet Elijah” is the oldest and the most famous fresco of the Morača monastery. Most preserved frescoes date back to the 16th century, but the 17th century frescoes around the main entrance were painted in 1616 by Georgije Mitrofanović, one of the greatest masters of all times. The church’s treasures also include the icon of The Virgin Enthroned with Child, Prophets and Hymnographers (1617), part of the iconostasis, to the left of the sanctuary door (photo 2). This is really a masterpiece with exceptional colors. But also several other icons in the church belong to the most valuable pieces of icon painting of the Balkans.

Moraca5aThe faded frescoes around the entrance of the smaller church of St. Nicholas, built three years later, were also painted by Mitrofanović. Fortunately, the beautiful frescoes inside still show their vivid colors (photo 3).

Driving back through the canyon, we could see the railway from Bar to Belgrade, passing high above us (photo 4). We also saw several suspension bridges crossing the green river although they were in a bad shape (photo 5). I wonder if they could be repaired after the winter?

But we also wanted to visit another monastery called Duga, in the village of Bioče (photo 6). Although there is a road sign, it was not easy to find. We had to turn left beside the Potoci Restaurant (29 km from the Morača Monastery or 17 km from Podgorica), passing an old steel bridge and driving several kilometers until the end of the narrow asphalt road.

Moraca5And there it was, the Duga monastery that is even older than the Morača Monastery. The first monastery at this place was also built in the era of the Nemanjić dynasty and was dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. In its present form, it was built in 1752 and reconstructed in the nineties of the last century.

We were welcomed by a young nun who spoke perfect English. She showed us the church and the magnificent old frescoes, and she told us a lot about her life and her choice to enter the monastery. The thirteen nuns run the vineyards of the property, grow fruit, olives and vegetables and make souvenirs and natural products for visitors. And I can assure you: she seemed to be really happy!

We left the green crystal clear waters of the Morača river (photo 7) and soon entered the city. What a pleasure it is to live in Podgorica, such a central point for making day trips in the surroundings!





Christmas Eve1

Christmas Eve2After having spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands, we were eager to celebrate another Christmas in “our” city, Podgorica. The Orthodox Church still uses the old “Julian” Calendar, which means that Christmas Eve – in Montenegro called Badnji Dan – is on January 6th and Christmas Day (Božić) on January 7th.

In former times, on the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak, called the “Badnjak” (Christmas Eve log or Yule log). This is still the tradition in the rural part of the country, but most inhabitants of towns and cities replace the Badnjak by buying a cluster of oak twigs with their brown leaves still attached, as the burning of traditional logs is usually unfeasible in modern homes. Such little badnjaks can be bought at marketplaces or around churches.

Christmas Eve3Badnji Dan 2015 was a cold and sunny day. It was crowded in Podgorica, many people were procuring the last supplies for Christmas. Although most inhabitants of Podgorica had already bought their badnjaks – we saw them attached on cars, in doorways and pubs – there were still selling points around the Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.

We were informed that the Serbian Orthodox Church would organize a public celebration on Christmas Eve. And indeed, around 5.30 PM, people started to gather on the large plateau in front of the Cathedral, carrying big and small oak logs. The atmosphere was solemn. An open fire was built and gradually more and more people were approaching the fire, throwing their badnjaks into the flames. Somebody waved a Serbian flag and the full moon contributed to the mystic atmosphere. It was a very special experience indeed! (photo 1-4)

Christmas Eve4On our way home we saw a family with badnjaks heading in the opposite direction. A father and two young sons were carrying large clusters of oak twigs. Following them, we soon arrived at the Petrovic’s Castle where the Montenegrin Orthodox Church had prepared another Christmas fire. Much smaller indeed (according to 2009 figures, around 29% of the Orthodox population in Montenegro supports the Montenegrin Orthodox Church), but located in the beautiful Kruševac park.

But here we encountered a bizarre situation. On one side – in front of the castle – we could hear the Christmas liturgy, while on the other side – in front of the castle’s chapel, around 100 meter away – a small fire was burning and loud Serbian folk music with the sharp sounds of doodlesacks and woodwinds was interfering the Montenegrin service. Special police forces took position between the two groups, but the present people, many of them with children, remained stoic. The log-burning ceremony started and more and more inhabitants of Podgorica and surroundings approached the fire with their badnjaks (photo 5). After a while, the Serbian music from the chapel could not be heard anymore, as typical nationalist songs about Montenegro (I remember them from the time when the country got its independence) were even louder. We left the Petrović’s Castle, somehow embarrassed and uneasy. Well, isn’t it true that Christmas should be the symbol of peace? Isn’t it true that the Montenegrin Constitution guarantees freedom of religion? So, why was it necessary to interfere and disturb this innocent Christmas Eve celebration?

Christmas Eve5



Ulcinj salinas1

Ulcinj salinas2Recently I saw a video about the Ulcinj Salinas and I was so enthusiastic that I decided to go and visit this nature reserve that is still rather unknown in Montenegro and beyond as soon as possible. With 250 registered bird species, the Solana is a paradise for birdwatchers: spoonbills, Dalmatian pelicans, flamingos and various birds of prey are regular visitors here. More than a quarter of the bird species in Montenegro are nesting in this Important Bird Area (IBA) on the Adriatic Flyway.

Ulcinj salinas3And so we visited the ‘Ulcinjska Solana’ on a sunny winter day, with the help of Michael Bader from Utjeha/Bar, who intends to organizе guided excursions to this beautiful place (for more detailed information: info@utjeha.me). And although we did not see flamingos – as we expected – we were completely astonished at the natural beauty of this huge area and the numerous birds we could spot.

As the Salina with its 1500 hectares is private property, our visit had to be announced in advance. After a phone call with the manager we could enter the gate, leaving our passports with the guard. We were told that it is prohibited to make photographs of the dilapidated administrative and industrial buildings that once belonged to the salt works, which are now economically unviable and out of use. Indeed, the buildings do not look attractive, but certainly represent an opportunity for future investments, of course, in a controlled way.

Ulcinj salinas5With our small car we could drive along the canal, although some parts of the trail were flooded. Entering the first (educative) trail on our right side, we continued on the grass path that was rather muddy and slippery at some places (photo 3). We passed by the salt basins, the rusty railway and old wagons. Corroded machinery for salt production was just left here and there (photo 2). But of course, we also saw many, many birds.

Cormorants were drying their wings on naked trees in the shallow water (photo 1) and seagulls were resting in large groups in the salt flats (photo 6). A lonely gray heron was flying just above the water surface (photo 5). We saw a buzzard hanging in the sky and even a kingfisher sitting in the reeds.

Ulcinj salinas6The day was sunny, but very windy and after a drive of around 4 kilometers, we arrived at the watch tower (photo 4). Alas! No paddling flamingos, no pelicans. Just the sound of seagulls and the experience of complete silence in a huge open space. What a natural wealth, what a beauty!

I knew that the owner of the company had tried for years to drain the basins and to convert them into a tourist complex with hotels and golf courses. Fortunately, with the support of Birdlife International and other conservation organizations, CZIP (Center for Protection and Research of Birds in Montenegro) has recently succeeded in persuading the government to protect the area from development, at least for the next ten years.

Ulcinj salinas4Nowadays, many activities are underway for the promotion of eco-tourism and birdwatching in the salt pans. The museum will be renovated, birdwatching towers will be built (one of them is already in use), a gift shop will be opened and for the first time in Montenegro, local guides will lead natural walks along ecological and educative trails: signposts and informative boards have already been placed.

Our trip was just an introductory exploration of an area that promises so much for the future! Walking, jogging, biking, birdwatching – the salt pans offer many possibilities! This is the kind of tourism Montenegro should promote. This is the future of Montenegro as tourist destination!

And finally, if you want to see the flamingos, just watch this fantastic video:


women of montenegro1women in montenegro2I have read quite a lot of books about Montenegro and its history; many of them were written by travel writers visiting Montenegro at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. For me it was fascinating to learn more about life and traditions of the Montenegrin people, but what interested me most was the position of women in those times; apart from all the admiring words the authors wrote about the Montenegrins and their character, the behavior of men towards women was often the subject of heavy criticism and astonishment that got an important place in their travel books. I’ll give you a few examples:

In 1880, a correspondent of The New York Times wrote: “The Montenegrin woman takes an equal share of labor with the man at field-work, and she does all the carrying. In travel here one engages a horse to ride and a woman for the baggage. Tremendous weights they carry, slung by straps that cross the upper chest and as they go they knit or spin.”

women in montenegro3One hundred years ago, the Dutch travel writer Henri van der Mandere described the position of women in Montenegro in the following way: “A woman in Montenegro is nothing, she has no rights, she is only suitable to work and carry heavy loads for the man. As a girl, she has to obey her father. As a woman, she has to obey her husband. She is slave and pack animal at the same time; she is not allowed to walk side by side with her husband. In the presence of guests, she will never sit at the table to eat together with the men and if so, nobody will pay attention to her. Montenegrin women are beautiful when they are young; you can see that they belong to a proud race. But this beauty disappears over the years due to child-bearing and a hard life.”

women in montenegro4 Zorka Milich, an American anthropologist of Montenegrin origin, wrote the book: “A Stranger’s Supper” (1995), which contains interviews with centenarian women in Montenegro. The interviews confirm many statements of Van der Mandere and other travel writers from those times, but the approach is much less superficial. The book shows, among others, that a woman’s happiness was mostly determined by repeated throws of the genetic dice: if blessed with many sons, she was widely respected and appreciated by her husband’s family and clan. If she had only daughters, her value was much diminished and her life seen as little more fulfilled than that of the pitiful woman with no children at all. But nevertheless, she was always protected and cared for – by her husband, father and brothers.

women in montenegro5The position of Montenegrin women rapidly changed after World War II. Women in Montenegro became more independent. They got the possibility to study, to get a job and participate in social and political life. However, today’s Montenegro is still a mixture of the traditional and the new. In the generation of middle-aged people is still likely that the woman takes care of the cooking and cleaning up, as well as the education of children – apart from her job. And when you add the fact that they often have to care for their aging parents-in-law (or parents), as there are no old-age homes in Montenegro, you can imagine that their life is not easy at all. It is thus logical that in Montenegro there is still enormous respect today for a “good woman”, one who is virtuous and hardworking, who is a dedicated daughter-in-law and with some luck bears at least one or two sons.

Fortunately, the youngest generations of women, let’s say up to thirty years of age, have reached full gender equality, at least in the urban environment. Young women enjoy their freedom, they are independent and ambitious in their work or study, they like to go out and dress well… But there is one thing that will never change: the extraordinary role that family plays in a woman’s life. And as a matter of fact: Montenegro is nothing but a large family.

women in montenegro6



blok 5 In my opinion, Blok Pet (Blok 5) is one of the most fascinating districts of Podgorica. I like to walk around there and ask myself how could this neighborhood be restored and rehabilitated, painted and decorated, how could it be cleaned up and become a nice place for living again, as it was thirty years ago?

blok 5I still remember when the construction of this district started in the late 1970s – early 1980s. As a typical example of the town-planning policy in that period, it was constructed on the basis of the town-planning project of Vukota Tupa Vukotić and the architectural solution of Mileta Bojović, both famous architects and town planners. It consisted of eight residential buildings (photo 1) and five residential skyscrapers up to 16 floors high – the symbol of this neighborhood – and it disposed of wide streets and avenues, sufficient parking space, pedestrian zones, lots of playgrounds, one elementary school and two kindergartens, a policlinic, supermarkets, sports grounds and lots of greenery.

blok 5Just compare it to the present town-planning solutions in Podgorica! In the city center and also “Preko Morače”, new buildings have been erected in between old residential blocks, in the middle of green courtyards. Public parks and playgrounds have disappeared, trees were cut and parking lots reduced… just to make space for more and more apartments on a limited space. Is this right and appropriate, does this contribute to the protection of the human environment?

I don’t know the population numbers of Blok 5, but it is sure that the conditions of living in this neighborhood have seriously deteriorated over the last decades. Nobody seems to be responsible for the maintenance of residential buildings and green surfaces. The buildings have become derelict and colorless, the walls are covered with graffiti and the parks have become a meeting point for junks and yobs. What a pity!

blok 5 graffitiBut let’s hear the opinion of Paul Wennekes from the Netherlands, who has been living and working in Podgorica for the last four years: ‘People warned me that Podgorica would be a boring city that does not have anything to offer. A city without spirit, filled with concrete dwelling blocks. Of course, I liked the wide boulevards with huge trees and spacious sidewalks. And Njegoševa street with its cafes and terraces, and the green banks of the Morača river… But that was all, I thought… Until the moment I entered Blok Pet. That moment I discovered another world. A world of architecture that really touched me. Oh yes, I know that you will say that it is grey and dreary. That is true. But look at the playfulness of the buildings, the almost Gaudi-like quarter-circles that serve as balconies (photo 2). I was fascinated by the large protruding parts, here and there, from the side walls of the skyscrapers (photo 3). They reminded me of my first box of bricks I got for my fifth birthday. A playful way of building that fills your eyes with admiration – when you succeed in looking through the grey concrete mass – for the men who had the courage to design this district.

blok 5Blok Pet is a miracle in itself. Including the graffiti on the walls, they just belong to it (photo 4). The wide avenues (photo 5), the big trees and the buildings with green lawns which are – at several places – well-maintained, which means that some people really want to pay attention to their environment. The shops in the ground floors that guarantee social contacts among the people. Blok Pet is beautiful! But can it be better? Yes, Capital City of Podgorica, do something with these fascinating buildings! Make them colorful. Paint them! Blok Pet deserves it, as it is one of the most interesting districts of Podgorica!”

Blok 5&BerlinIn other cities, Berlin for instance (photo 6), such and similar districts are rehabilitated and renovated. They are painted in various colors and covered with huge decorative murals. Another example is given by the Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn who create community art by painting entire neighborhoods, involving those who live there – from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the streets of North Philadelphia.

I am convinced that the rehabilitation of Blok Pet is a must for Podgorica. Blok Pet should be proclaimed and protected as a new cultural heritage of Montenegro. It would give a strong impetus to the image of Podgorica!

blok 5




Restaurant Rapsodia Shengjin Alfred Marku RapsodiaThere is a place in Albania I visit very frequently. And that is Hotel Restaurant Rapsodia in Shengjin, municipality of Lezhë (2 km from the highway Shkodra-Tirana when you pass Lezhë). Why would we travel more than 100 km from Podgorica for just a dinner? Why would we take all our friends and relatives to this place? Why would we recommend it to everybody we know?

There is a good reason: Restaurant Rapsodia is one of the best restaurants I know. And there is more: chef and owner Alfred Marku and his wife Mira (photo 2) run the family business in an exceptional manner. The restaurant is cozy in a classical way, with a hand-carved wooden ceiling and lace curtains. The food is delicious, the service is pleasant and everything is homemade and fresh (in my opinion, this is a typical slow food restaurant!).

Restaurant RapsodiaRecently, we had dinner at Restaurant Rapsodia with our relatives and friends from the Netherlands. Of course, we ordered the unique menu “Kilometri Zero” that consists of multiple small courses (you can eat as many plates as you wish; I was told that the record is 37!!). You can choose seafood, meat, mixed or vegetarian – it is all delicious and you never get the same. Moreover, you will be surprised by a wealth of diverse flavors that you have never experienced before. And each time the waiter will explain every dish.

It was amazing to eat home-made cheese with acacia sauce, shrimps with a sweet sauce of pine needles and veal with blackberry sauce. The mussels were exceptional, the home-made ice-cream delicious. And so was the excellent domestic wine.

Restaurant RapsodiaChef Alfred is one of the most creative and popular “chefs” in Albania. Many important personalities have visited his restaurant, as you can see on the photos covering the walls. Alfred left Albania in 1995, and started to work in Italy as a dish washer. Already in 2003, he cooked in a Michelin signed restaurant and a year later he managed a restaurant in the valley of Bondo, where he could free his passion and imagination, working with new flavors and mixing his Italian experience with the memory of Albania’s cooking traditions. As a matter of fact, he mixes the past and the present and calls it Commixture. His philosophy is: “Always believe in what you’re doing and do it the best as you can”.

Restaurant RapsodiaOur dinner took almost three hours (so don’t go there, when you are in a hurry; you can always hire a room in the hotel when it is getting too late!). We had to quit after 11 courses … It was great and our company could not stop talking about all the different flavors they had tasted. I am sure that this was an unforgettable experience for them (and for us). And the price for this delicious dinner? You would be pleasantly surprised, I am sure!

So Freddy, we will be back soon!

Restaurant Rapsodia



Kelmend valley The area around the Cijevna river (in Albanian: Cem river) has always attracted me, so the information that a Joint action plan for its ecological defense and the sustainable environmental development of the cross-border area was started this year made me quite curious. A draft feasibility study on eco-tourism development in the surrounding villages of this river has already been prepared. As you can often find us in the Kučka krajina or in the Cijevna canyon, we know how the situation looks like in Montenegro. But what has happened in Albania in the meantime?

Panorama point KelmendThis weekend we decided to pass the Montenegrin-Albanian border and follow the 65 km long SH20 road from Hani i Hotit to Vermosh, which is now under reconstruction. The newly built asphalt road has reached the village of Tamarë in the Kelmend region. Until recently, this road was mentioned by the website www.dangerousroads.org as one of the most dangerous roads in Eastern Europe. It was a dirt road without any protection rails, very steep and very winding. Two years ago we succeeded in driving the complete route with our camper (see blog post: Discover Kelmend Valley in Albania), but this time we could only reach Tamarë with our small car.

road to TamareThe first sign of change we saw was the huge white cross on the slopes of the mountain, a clear sign that this area is predominantly inhabited by Catholic Malissores. It was very quiet on the new asphalt road. Driving uphill, we left the Skadar Lake plain behind us and at the top we arrived at a magnificent panorama point, where we had a great view of the Cijevna canyon and the surrounding mountains (photo 1). We were surprised to find a new glass panorama terrace near the parking lot (photo 2) and standing on it we had the feeling as if we were on the top of the world.

Then we slowly continued downhill along breath-taking serpentines to the valley of the Cijevna/Cem river and finally we arrived in the village of Tamarë, where the asphalt road stopped. The reconstruction will continue next year and in 2016 the asphalt road should reach the village of Vermosh and the Albanian-Montenegrin border near Gusinje. In this way, it will be possible to make a round trip from Podgorica through Kelmend valley and the Prokletije mountains and back through Montenegro (Plav-Kolašin-Podgorica). A great nature tour!

TamareTamarë (photo 4) is the administrative center of the Kelmend region. The name of the village comes from Tamara, the name of the wife of the Shkodra Vizier who ordered the construction of the Vukli bridge on the Cem river in the second half of the 18th century. The bridge was given her name and the village was called the same. Tamarë has around 500 inhabitants. There is a secondary school, a hotel, policlinic, shops, bar-restaurants, etc. Everything is connected with the green river (photo 5). Wild pomegranates can be seen everywhere.

springs CijevnaWe passed the bridge and made a walking tour along the river, where we discovered many springs coming from the mountains. Concrete canals and hoses lead the current water to the houses and agricultural properties. The irrigation systems are used for agriculture, but also for fish farming. The Kelmend region is famous for its so-called “trout with red points” (trofta me pika te kuqe), which has its entire body covered by small red points and can have a size of up to 50 cm. This trout has become a tourist attraction for visitors of the Kelmend valley, particularly if it is prepared as tave peshku (fish casserole), where the trout is baked in the oven together with onions, peppers and potatoes. The wild fish is sweeter than the farm-raised versions, but I am sure that the products of the big fish farm we visited are excellent as well. What do you think of the giant trout the owner of the place showed us (photo 6)?

trout TamareUnfortunately, Tamarë is already losing its authenticity. Big modern houses are under construction. Are the inhabitants expecting tourism development? Do they want to create accommodation facilities or are they building for their own families? I really hope that Albania has the power and the will to prevent uncontrolled development of this magnificent environment, particularly after finishing the asphalt road to Vermosh.

Tamare irrigation system


d1 d3Have you ever seen or tasted cornelian cherries? In Montenegro they are called “drenjine”. Many foreigners probably do not know these wild berries that usually ripen in September, as they are consumed in Eastern Europe and Iran only. In Western Europe the tree is also grown as an ornamental plant for its late winter flowers, which appear well before the leaves (photo 1). For me it is a real pleasure to see the tiny yellow flowers of the wild Cornus trees in Montenegro, as they are the first sign that the winter is over, even when the mountains are still covered with snow (photo 2).

Cornelian cherries (also called cornels) are not really cherries. They look like deep red olives (photo 3). In ancient Greek literature, they were primarily considered food for pigs, but the Armenians, Greeks, Romans and Persians must have liked them in spite of this, because the cherries are often mentioned as edible fruits in their manuscripts.

d2The Cornus tree was also used for other purposes. Its berries have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, and its wood was used from the 7th century BC onward by Greek craftsmen to construct spears and bows. Red dye for clothes was produced from its bark and tannin from its leaves.

But also today, cornelian cherries are used in several ways. In Armenia, the fruit is used for distilling vodka and in Albania it serves for making raki. In Turkey and Iran it is eaten with salt as a snack in summer, and traditionally drunk in a cold drink called kizicik serbeti. As the berries are very high in vitamin C, they are also used to fight colds and flues.

Cornels are highly appreciated in the villages of central Montenegro. That is why I was very glad to get a bucket full of “drenjine” from our friend Mladen. Of course, I did not know how to prepare them, but his instructions for making delicious syrup were simple enough. And the result was excellent!

d4That is why I want to share this experience with you and give you his recipe:

Ingredients: 5 kg Cornelian cherries, 4 kg sugar, 4 Limuntus

Wash and drain the berries (photo 4); Add enough water to cover the berries; Boil for about 40 minutes; Strain through a small-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth, mashing the cooked berries; Discard the solids and wait until the juice has cooled to room temperature; Add the sugar and stir to dissolve it; Boil the syrup 30-40 minutes at medium heat; Pour into sterile jars or plastic bottles (you can store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to one week). For use: just add water or sparkling mineral water to the syrup to suit your taste.

Maybe it’s difficult to get the berries, but sometimes you can find them on the market, in September. Give it a try: it is a really refreshing and, above all, healthy drink! (photo 5)



kk1kk2 I don’t know why I am so fond of Kučka Krajina. Is it the extraordinary karst landscape, the picturesque road, the immense space of the rocky pastures or the magnificent view of the Cijevna canyon? Or is it just the feeling that you are far away from the crowds in Podgorica, alone with nature and life in its purest form?

We wanted to show this beautiful region to our friends from the Netherlands and so we climbed along the winding road (see my blog post: Grlo Sokolovo) to the vast plateau of Kučka Korita. Once a „katun“ with summer pastures, today this is more of a weekend resort. It is almost impossible to see the difference between the low stone walls, made by men, and the karst rocks scattered all over the plateau (photo 1).

kk3Most cottages were abandoned, only some of them were surrounded by flocks of sheep with a lonely shepherd. We followed the former patrol path of the border guard, which appeared to be well-marked now. That was a pleasant surprise! After half an hour of hiking, following the trail across meadows and through the woods (photo 2), we arrived at Grlo Sokolovo (Falcon’s Throat), one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Montenegro. Through a bluish haze, we saw the mighty Cijevna canyon and the endless mountain peaks of the Albanian Alps (photo 3).

kk4The path led us through dense forests and over a steep hill – all the marks were freshly painted in red and white – and finally we got back to the plateau where we sat down for a rest. After a while, an old shepherd came to see us. He explained us that he and his wife had just come back from the high mountains near Rikavačko jezero, where they had spent the summer with their sheep, manufacturing “Kučki sir”, the famous cheese from the Kuči region. He invited us for a cup of coffee with his family, in his cottage nearby.

kk5We followed him, admired his flock of sheep (photo 4) – the first lamb was already born – and entered the home of the Malissore family Nikprelević (photo 5). It was nice and cosy, a fire was lighted in the fire place and the family members – two sons and a daughter with their families – were really glad to see us. The table was immediately covered with all sorts of beverages. “Priganice” were served, followed by different kinds of delicious home-made cheese, bread and tomatoes. Gradually, more and more people entered the house: neighbors, relatives and other guests, who came to see the “foreign tourists”, as a visit of foreigners to their village is an absolute rarity! It appeared to be impossible to leave … as grandmother wanted to make a specialty for us: “vareni sir” or a kind of cooked cheese – rather heavy for our Western stomachs, but incredibly tasty (photo 6).

kk6It was obvious that these people are very proud of their land, their tribe and family, but also of their achievements. It reminded me of the books of Edith Durham, who described this region in her book “High Albania” in 1909, writing about the warm welcome she was accorded by Malissores and Montenegrins. The same hospitality and openness, the same old customs and traditions … The oldest son, Deda, a successful businessman, told me a lot about their way of living, the beauties of the Kučke Planine mountains and his wish to show all this to nature lovers and to develop tourism. I promised him to promote Kučka Korita and to give his address to all people who want to explore this region – by jeep or hiking.

Impressed by this lesson in hospitality, we finally succeeded in leaving this cordial family and continuing our hiking tour over the rocky pastures – back to our starting point near the old military barracks.