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Lake Skadar Montenegro: Exploring the Balkans’ Largest Lake
Not necessarily the most well-known place in Europe, Montenegro’s Lake Skadar is a rather spectacular destination. Surrounded by karst mountains and rocky shores, this is the largest lake in the Balkans. Large wetland areas provide an important habitat for birds while historic towns and local food attract tourists.
Lake Skadar Geography
Lake Skadar straddles the Montengro-Albania border, located a quick drive from both Podgorica and Budva on the Adriatic Sea coast. Imaginative people might recognize in its shape the shape of a dolphin—the tail and about two-thirds of the dolphin’s body lie in Montenegro while the head and nose lie in Albania. The Montenegrin part of Lake Skadar is protected as a national park, known logically as Lake Skadar National Park. The Albanian part is a managed nature reserve.
The Morača River feeds the lake while the Bojana River drains it into the Adriatic Sea. Additionally, there are also several underwater, karstic springs that feed the lake. The lake’s water levels fluctuate rather greatly in the course of the year, its surface area varying between 140 square miles (370 square kilometers) and 200 square miles (530 square kilometers).
The significant fluctuation in Lake Skadar’s surface area creates large wetlands in certain parts of its shoreline. These places are critical destinations for migratory birds and nesting grounds for various wetland and water birds.
This is, in fact, one of Europe’s most important and largest nature reserves for birds. It is a nesting place for the endangered Dalmatian pelican, as well as no fewer than 250 other species of birds, including seagulls and storks, egrets and herons, and eagles and falcons. The lake’s water is home to almost 50 fish species and numerous species of mollusks.
Land animals are abundant as well. The dry mountains are perfect biotopes for wild tortoises, vibrantly colored lizards and some snakes. Land mammals include wild boar and the occasional wolf. Needless to say, this is a dream destination for birders and other nature lovers.
Home to several threatened animals species, Lake Skadar is entirely protected, as a national park in Montenegro and a nature reserve in Albania. It is part of the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance and has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Highlights Around Lake Skadar
Birdwatching on Lake Skadar
As an internationally important birdlife refuge, Lake Skadar is a fantastic destination for ornithologists. It is home to the rare Dalmatian pelican and one of the world’s largest colonies of pygmy cormorants.
Although it’s one of Europe’s most important areas for wintering birds, the lake is great for birdwatching all year round. In spring, you can witness the birds’ mating rituals while in fall, you can see the migration of countless species of birds.
Outdoor Activities on Lake Skadar
The two major outdoor activities on and around Lake Skadar are kayaking and hiking. Kayaking is arguably the greatest thing you can do there, exploring the Balkans’ largest lake in perfect peace and soothing silence. Far removed from the tourists on shore, you’ll be able to see wildlife from up close as well as admire the lakeside villages from a uniquely different perspective.
Surrounded by barren karst mountains, the lake is also a great base for hiking excursions. The views from a mountain top are absolutely magnificent. Several hiking trails meander through the mountains, hills and valleys, their destinations as varied as waterfalls and swimming holes, historic villages and honey farms.
Charming Lakeside Towns on Lake Skadar
In addition to outdoor adventures and abundant wildlife, the towns and villages on the shores of Lake Skadar are what attract people to this place. There are many historic, authentic and sleepy villages around the lake. Unspoiled by mass tourism and only reachable by boat or narrow, winding backroads, these villages offer a look into the traditional lifestyle in Montenegro.
The main town at Lake Skadar, the gateway to the national park, is Virpazar. This little town is where many of the local tour companies, hiking guides and other tourist services are based. It’s also the town with the best—if not only—public transportation connections.
Set on the centuries-old crossroads of the West and the East and a rural area, Lake Skadar also has plenty to offer to the gastronomical traveler. Many herbs such as mint, rosemary and sage grow in the surrounding mountains’ valleys, providing a lovely scent, while grapevines cover the sun-drenched hills. Gardens are dotted with walnuts, pepper, mandarin, fig, cherry and pomegranate trees, which, incidentally, also line many of the hiking trails around the lake.
Locally made products include honey, goat cheese, home-cured smoked ham and rakija, the local liquor. The lake’s abundance of fish is reflected on the menus of local restaurants.
This is a superb destination for every food traveler. Essentially all dishes are prepared with organic ingredients, freshly caught fish and local products.
Directions to Lake Skadar
From Podgorica, you can get to Lake Skadar via the E80 highway or the M2.3 highway, which connects the city with Budva on the Adriatic coast. The E80 leads straight to Virpazar on the lake’s shore, the main gateway to the national park. One of the side roads of the M2.3, on the other hand, leads to the village of Rijeka Crnojevića and the Pavlova Strana viewpoint, and eventually, after winding its way through the mountains, also to Virpazar. From Podgorica, the E80 is the most direct route, the M2.3 the most scenic.
From Budva, you can also reach Lake Skadar on both the E80 and M2.3 highways. Here too, the E80, with a shortcut on the M2, is the shortest route to Virpazar while the M2.3 offers more interesting mountain scenery.
Additionally, there is also a train connection between Virpazar and Podgorica and the town of Bar on the Adriatic coast.
Lake Skadar awaits you.
Photo Credits: Pixbay