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Durmitor National Park in Montenegro

Text: Janez Mihovec Photos: Janez Mihovec, iStock

Rediscovering a tourist destination

Sixty years ago things were looking very promising. People were enchanted by Durmitor, because it had everything that the best and most beautiful destinations have: wonderful mountains, lakes, the cultural landscape of the Montenegrin countryside – and also the deepest canyon in Europe, on the river Tara. Tourist infrastructure in Žabljak, the only settlement on the edge of the national park, was developing further with every passing year. Hotels were going up, a ski slope was built, and a genuine charter flight from Belgrade landed at the local airport several times a week. Everything suggested that Durmitor was on its way to becoming the centre of Montenegrin tourism, attracting visitors from the whole of Yugoslavia, Europe and the rest of the world

But suddenly it all went wrong. The violent conflict that broke out at the end of the 1980s soon degenerated into a civil war of everyone against everyone. The resulting confusion lasted twenty years and engulfed all the regions surrounding Montenegro, with devastating consequences for tourism. In recent years, however, the tourism sector has begun to show signs of recovery. With good reason: Durmitor is still what it always was – infinitely beautiful and fascinating. 

The national park consists of two distinct parts. The first is the central section of the mountains that make up the Dinaric range, whose highest point is Bobotov Kuk (2,523 metres). The second is the canyon of the river Tara, which is the complete opposite of the mountains. It is the deepest canyon in Europe, reaching a depth of 1,300 metres at its lowest point.

1300mDeep

An 87-kilometre asphalt road runs around the entire national park, offering views of the stunning landscape. But it is in Žabljak that things are really starting to happen. Here, tourism is on the march. The skeletons of the former socialist hotels are being replaced by a completely different approach. A number of campsites have recently opened for visitors who come here with their own transport, while for those looking for more comfortable accommodation there are lots of new hotels of the family type. Durmitor is an ideal destination for experienced hikers. Less demanding tourists can visit the many glacial lakes. There are eighteen of them, scattered across the national park. The most beautiful of them, without a doubt, is the Black Lake (Crno jezero) just outside Žabljak. This superlative body of water is surrounded by dense forest and bare mountain peaks that rise high above it.

More demanding visitors can climb the mountains above the lakes. Paths are well marked and several mountain huts are located within the national park. Durmitor has everything that all great national parks have.

If you do find yourself in Durmitor, a visit to the canyon of the Tara is an absolute must. The canyon is about 20 kilometres from Žabljak. From the highest surrounding peaks, the giant fissure in the otherwise level plateau is visible from a great distance. Most activities on the Tara take place by the Đurđević Bridge. This very attractive bridge was originally built over the canyon in 1938, spanning it with several arches at a height of almost 200 metres. A few years later, during the Second World War, it was badly damaged, but today it shines again in all its former splendour.

Rafting is a very popular activity on the Tara, with several variants available for visitors to try. The longest rafting trips can last up to three days and continue from Montenegro on into neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. If this is too much, one-day and half-day trips are also available. Floating down the river on a raft is a breathtaking experience. Unlike the famous canyon in Colorado, this one is not bare but covered on all sides by lush vegetation, with the result that access to the river is only possible at certain points. The river is endlessly green and there are lots of rapids. Several interesting karst springs, full of rushing water, flow into the Tara from either side. This means that a wander along the river encompasses both calm stretches and sections of white water, making it an interesting experience for everyone.

Durmitor will take your breath away. It is merely waiting for you to decide to spend a holiday in this gorgeous Balkan landscape.

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