Montenegro has 5 national parks. When we found out about an exciting but fledgling venture of Montenegrin tourism, to hike in Biogradska Gora - one of the oldest protected areas in the world and one of the last 3 virgin forests in Europe - we couldn't resist.
And so we embarked on a 6 day hike, from katun to katun, where we would enjoy the famed hospitality, the freshest of foods and most importantly, long days of hiking in one of Europe’s last unspoilt wildernesses. The katuns we stayed in ranged from very basic on the first day, to very comfortable on the last.
Katuns are a significant part of the cultural heritage of rural Balkans, Montenegro in particular. They are the seasonal mountain settlements where farmers spend the summer with their livestock. The winter often brings 2-3 metres of snow, so they leave the mountains in mid-October and head for the valleys, taking their animals with them.
The evenings and mornings were cold - in a week's time the families we stayed with would leave the mountains before the snow arrived and not return until May. The afternoons were warm though and the mountains and forests we hiked through were just wonderful. The Autumnal colours of the landscape seemed to change by the day, if not the hour. Sometimes it felt as if we were walking through enchanted forests - the kind described in fairy tales.
We spotted some wildlife too – salamanders, eagles and buzzards. A cheeky fox nipped across our trail one early morning. Even a little snake – as yet unidentified. No bears, sadly, and no wolves…although we did see some tracks.
Montenegro is changing - hydro-electric damns are causing damage to delicate ecosystems across the country but bringing electricity to areas that previously had none. As ever, the question of the ethics of progress is not an easy one. Who knows how much of these ancient forests will be here still in 10 years. For now at least, the scenery is worthy of picture postcards, and the warmness of our hosts' hospitality made this a truly wonderful experience.