For a country of barely 650,000 souls, Montenegro certainly punches above its seemingly modest weight. From a successful football(soccer) team playing in the best traditions of the old Yugoslav national side – a side that contained European heavyweights such as Sinisa Mihajlovic, Savo Milosevic and Predrag Mijatovic – to being fortuitously endowed with a coastline that makes the international jet-set and celebrities swoon along with a vibrant Pristina as its capital, Crna Gora should be content with such traits that fate has fortuitously bestowed upon it. Since leaving the Yugoslav Federation and then, via a plebiscite an uneasy alliance with Serbia, it hasn’t looked back to its Tito and Slobodan influenced past, albeit with a respectful nod to the best practice of Yugoslavian football of yesteryear.
Montenegro is not an easy country to access. This is not because of travel-restrictions placed upon foreign visitors but inevitably with a country of its size, direct flights are at a premium. From a personal point of view, I would need to use Adria Airways from Manchester to Ljubljana and then their connection to Podgorica; all well and good assuming you can actually get a seat on the Manchester to Ljubljana leg of your journey(see previous blog post). The fact though that Cicerone deems Montenegro worthy of its own guidebook for walkers and trekkers shows that this country is not just all about the beautiful game and the latest A-listers who visit Budva and Petrovac.
Penned by the respected author and photographer Rudolf Abraham, The Mountains of Montenegro is by no means a slimline volume, proving that the alpine-experience offered by the country and Cicerone’s usual attention to detail are both considerable. Containing both multi and single day treks this guide has something for everybody, whatever their standard. It will perhaps surprise many alpinists, as it did myself, that altitudes of over 2500 metres can be achieved although many mountaineering doyens will be familiar with Bjelasica and Durmitor, if in name only.
Visitors should be aware of two distinct differences that significantly sets apart walking in the Austrian and Slovenian alps to doing the same at similar altitudes in Montenegro. Firstly, being considerably further south the country experiences a Mediterranean-type climate which needs to be factored in by walkers who don’t like hot or even warm weather. The conundrum though that this creates is to walk in Montenegro in cooler months, for example April and May; late-lying snow though can persist until June which inevitably begs the question – how much warmer than the more traditional alpine countries can it be if there is still snow present in May/June, in such significant amounts to incommode the plans of walkers? Whilst trips to Montenegro probably have to be planned and booked many months in advance, I would advise that should it be possible for you to do so, to check the local conditions and mid-term weather forecast several weeks before you plan to go, thus ensuring that your foray into the mountains isn’t a wasted one.
A major handicap to walking at altitude in Montenegro is the virtual absence of mountain-huts and refuges. This, along with the prospect of warm weather on the trails places a greater onus upon the walker to ensure adequate provisions are taken into the mountains, as well as thoroughly researching and organising any multi-day stopovers. In every way imaginable, not just in its fledgling alpine-tourism industry, Montenegro is just ‘starting out’ but so far the signs are very encouraging. To expect the type of huts found in Austria or the Julian Alps would be unfair and unrealistic; whilst such refuges and developments will surely follow, the integrity and long-term sustainability of its mountainous terrain must be respected, with any developments being sympathetic and aesthetically pleasing. The next steps that Montenegro take to improve its tourist-infrastructure will be keenly viewed by myself and all who regard it as a potential Lakes and Mountains heavyweight in and for years to come.