When you land in the airport of Podgorica and you’re heading to the Montenegrin coast, you probably don’t realize you’re about to pass through the biggest National Park in Montenegro, a.k.a. the biggest lake on the whole Balkan peninsula. Bigger isn’t always better, but in this case, big also means covered in the prettiest waterlilies and home to more than 270 different species of birds. Oh yeah, the whole shebang is surrounded by mountains, as far as the eye can reach. – all the way into Albania in this case – Nothing beats the feeling of taking a leap and jumping into the cool waters of the lake on a lazy hot summer day, hereby escaping the hordes of sun lovers on the already packed beaches of the Adriatic coast.
Skadar means peace, quiet and one with nature. Or soaking in sweat, if that’s your thing. – I mean sports, people! Hiking, cycling, kayaking, when it has ‘nature’ and ‘physical exercise’ in its name, you can do it at the lake – Wether you start your trip from buzzy Virpazar or sleepy Rijeka Crnojevića, there’s one certainty: it will inevitably be accompanied by a stunning mountain background. Since I was spending quite a while in the country, I had the luck to admire the view multiple times. One of my favorite places nearby the lake is – as I already explained here – the small town of Rijeka Crnojevića. Once a popular city on the ancient trading route through Montenegro – check out the famous old bridge –, now gateway to one of the prettiest parts of the lake. Best way to see the lake – if you don’t like physical exercise – is, of course, by boat. The moment you’ll arrive in the ‘city centre’ – no way of missing it, it’s the bunch of buildings along the shore, next to the old bridge –, you just have to pick the barge you want and off you go.
My friend T. and me had a gently old man as our captain, pointing out the possible routes on a giant map of the lake. We opted to take a tour through winding roads between the waterlilies, all the way to the large, open surface of the lake. – This one costed us 50 euros, for the whole tour. They count per boat, so the bigger the group, the less you pay. Better bring a large group of friends if you want a cheap boat trip! – What to expect? Crystal clear waters with plenty of fish, maybe even frogs and snakes; in spring both sides of the shore covered in an abundance of white lilies; mountain after mountain after mountain and, to beat the scorching summer heat, a fresh dive into the middle of the lake. – if you don’t forget your swimming suits…like we did. – Another option is to take a boat trip starting from Virpazar, the busiest hub of the Skadar lake.
The moment you arrive in Virpazar, be prepared for the parking madness. Guys from all corners of town hurry to your car in order to show you the best place to park it. – yes, there isn’t enough parking space for everybody – Don’t worry, you don’t need to pay them for their ‘help’. Just pay a little visit to their restaurant/do a hiking trip with them/sell your soul/… that will do. – It’s not a problem actually, I just found it very annoying afterwards. To avoid this parking madness, park your car at the opposite side of the main road, like all the coach buses. Or take the train. – A little bit more civilized and definitely bigger than Rijeka Crnojevića leaves you with plenty of things to do in Virpazar. You’ll easily find a guide or tour to show you the best hiking trails in the area, tons of peoples with boats, kayaks and mountainbikes to show you the most stunning parts of Skadar lake and surroundings and you can even visit a small fort on the hill. Boats will be bigger here and there will definitely be more people.
One popular sight on the many tours starting in Virpazar is the ‘Alcatraz of Montenegro’, a tiny island in front of the coastline which hosted a prison, clearly a long long time ago. Exactly the spot where I saw my first and only pelican – one of the most famous species living at the Skadar lake and at the same time the most endangered one –, looking for tasty fishes to cook for diner. In summer months, little pebbly beaches appear on the shores of Skadar, meaning the level of the water dropped enough to provide another pleasant way to enjoy the beauty of the lake: in the sun with a cold beer in your hands.
Wether you start your discovery of the Skadar lake in buzzy Virpazar or old Rijeka Crnojevića, don’t hesitate to explore the lake in all ways possible. By boat. By kayak. By car, with stunning views on the surrounding mountains. Swimming. Tanning on a small pebbly beach, taking a dive once in a while to cool down in the heat of summer. By eating delicious carp or eel, caught fresh from the lake. By spotting the oh-so-hard-to-find pelicans. By enjoying nature in every single way possible.