Undiscovered Montenegro's kayaking tours on Lake Skadar are so awesome they get nothing but 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor. Set in an epic landscape of giant blue lake fringed with grey-green mountains and carpets of waterlilies, the pristine scenery and wildlife seduce every time. But is it always so professional behind the scenes? UM owner and kayak guide Ben reveals all, having spent the last 12 years paddling every nook and cranny of this attractive lake and a decade guiding guests. So, is it as easy as it looks, guiding kayaking tours? Imagine a swan gliding serenely over the surface of the water. Now imagine how furiously its feet are motoring! Every tour requires a 07:00 start to ensure all boats, paddling and safety gear are in place, ready to go, as well as cool-boxes full of delicious packed lunches - and that's before we even begin rounding up our guests for the day. Some trips also require a Land Rover to be left at the finishing spot in advance and when the trip is over, all of these steps have to be repeated in reverse order - and these days all equipment given a thorough Covid-clean - before our part of the tour is officially done. Easy? I'll see you outside... Any embarrassing moments? Before I was the polished and experienced guide that I am now, I once capsized myself in fright when a dice snake leaped into my boat with a wriggling fish in its jaws – I lost my binoculars, the first of many pairs of sunglasses and quite a lot of dignity that day. I did learn, however, that dice snakes are non-venomous. I've lost the odd unsecured buoyancy aid off the roof of the Landrover, once forgot entirely to pick up a Danish family for a
Undiscovered Montenegro’s kayaking tours on Lake Skadar are so awesome they get nothing but 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor. Set in an epic landscape of giant blue lake fringed with grey-green mountains and carpets of waterlilies, the pristine scenery and wildlife seduce every time. But is it always so professional behind the scenes? UM owner and
To some people, orchids are simply flowers, nice to see but ultimately not that interesting. You people, stop reading now! This post is aimed at the real nature-lovers; the ones who'll love Montenegro for the incredible array and number of wild orchids you can spot if you're in the right place at the right time. Take Lake Skadar National Park, where I live and co-host our lake adventures. Come April, the first of the marsh orchids arrive. Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) and the yellow Elder-flowered Orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina) can be found sprouting at road edges, by rocks and filling the grassy meadows. Hot on their heels comes the Bee Orchid (Ophrys scolopax), named for obvious reasons. This one delights with its incredible replica of a bee, right down to its scent, to get itself pollinated. Bee orchids are easy to spot on our hikes along the lake's hillside trails, once you realise they're not, actually, bees! Popping pink Pyramid Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and the maroon-hued Tongue Orchid (Serapias vomeracea) are common to see from May through June, while Monkey Orchids (Orchis simia) are a real rarity - I've seen a handful in all my years of Springtime hiking here. These are the celebrity orchids of Montenegro - reclusive and with outrageous, monkey-like petal hairstyles. By June, orchard season starts to fade in Montenegro's hotter south, but it's still possible to see some stunners at Lake Skadar. Just yesterday, I found a cluster of Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum) at the road's edge, metres from our guesthouse Villa Miela. Long tongues poking out, they were quite the distraction on my morning run; impossible to pass without stopping to admire and take some photos! One of the greatest things about Montenegro for orchid lovers is this country's ability to halt time. Just as orchid
To some people, orchids are simply flowers, nice to see but ultimately not that interesting. You people, stop reading now! This post is aimed at the real nature-lovers; the ones who’ll love Montenegro for the incredible array and number of wild orchids you can spot if you’re in the right place at the right time.
The natural world is a wondrous thing. We're lucky to have one of the world's largest flying birds, the Dalmatian Pelican, with its 3m wide wingspan, as a resident species at our base, Lake Skadar. These giants of the sky take centre stage whenever we catch a glimpse, whether it's on the school run or out on tour. In the Springtime, pelicans can often be spotted fishing and feeding by the lake's main settlement, Virpazar. We had an incredible chance meeting with a group of 22 just the other day as Ben and I edged our kayak through the rushes by Virpazar port. There they were, quietly bobbing on the water, surrounded by more than a hundred of their fishing buddies, the Pygmy Cormorant. Watching them reminded us what an amazing place we adopted as our home 13 years ago. Back then, though, spotting Dalmatian Pelican anywhere outside their remote breeding area just didn't happen. Numbers were seriously depleted, with the species classified as endangered on IUCN's red list. Fast forward to May 2021 and Lake Skadar's pelican population may be close to 300 or more (this year's census is still on-going!).* It's a brilliant result for conservation work now in its fifth year, helping them breed more successfully using artificial rafts and with video monitoring to ward against human threats. We've been glad to be a part of this project over the years, helping out with donations and as volunteers and friends of the "team" (a diverse group of local and international partners united by one goal - ensuring Lake Skadar's pelicans can thrive). It's because of this close relationship and our commitment as responsible tourism practitioners that we've been able to pioneer a very special eco-tour indeed - kayaking to Lake Skadar's pelican breeding colony - in careful
The natural world is a wondrous thing. We’re lucky to have one of the world’s largest flying birds, the Dalmatian Pelican, with its 3m wide wingspan, as a resident species at our base, Lake Skadar. These giants of the sky take centre stage whenever we catch a glimpse, whether it’s on the school run or
After my snowboarding post, there is a danger that this blog might slowly morph into a bucket-list of silly sports a middle aged man really ought not to be trying for the first time. Tune in next week to see Ben sky-dive! (FWIW, not happening. Ever) Regardless, I need to talk about an awesome new addition to our outdoor activities here in Montenegro - packrafting. What is packrafting? I've been an advocate of inflatable kayaks for the whole decade we've been running Undiscovered Montenegro. Super stable, super light and massively portable, they allow us to paddle to and from places that many others would consider impractical and inaccessible. I mean, check out our Lake Skadar kayaking trips! What they aren't so good for is white water - and that's where packrafts come in. Packrafts take the inflatable kayak idea to its natural zenith - what is the least amount of boat you require to navigate anything, including up to Class 4 rapids? The answer, according to our awesome kayaking guide, Gigo, are these amazing little vessels from US firm Kokopelli. Short, stubby and built for one person only, they are self-bailing (ie, they have holes in the floor to instantly drain the water out), inflate/deflate in less than a minute and weigh about 3 kilos, one fifth the heft of my tandem inflatables. Their makers claim that you can roll them up and stuff them in your rucksack, then when you get to the water, you can then let them carry you and your rucksack until you decide to hike again. More expensive variants even allow you to carry gear inside the pontoons via a tricksy waterproof zipper. Gigo, though, was more interested in using them purely as a hyper-practical water craft that he could carry to a remote launch point,
After my snowboarding post, there is a danger that this blog might slowly morph into a bucket-list of silly sports a middle aged man really ought not to be trying for the first time. Tune in next week to see Ben sky-dive! (FWIW, not happening. Ever) Regardless, I need to talk about an awesome new
Montenegro packs in more action per square kilometre than almost any other place I've ever known. It's one of the reasons we decided to settle here! During the warmer months, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, canyoning, para-gliding, wild-swimming, kite-surfing, zip-lining and trekking are all on offer in some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, with stunning coastline, lakes and mountains as your playground. But what about when it gets colder? I had never really been into winter sports before. Growing up in the U.K. in the age before budget airlines, skiing was an expensive and far-flung undertaking, something only the rich kids did in far away places I couldn't pronounce. And that was before knee injuries playing rugby put skiing itself on the banned list before I'd even turned 20. The opportunity to hit the slopes learning to snowboard or ski simply never came a-knocking until I moved to Montenegro. Now, as you may have seen from my last blog post, most often my winters are taken up with some absurd building project or other - but when a couple of years ago Son No:1 announced he would like to have snowboarding lessons at Kolašin's nearby 1450 Ski Centre (2 hours drive from our door) - and after knowledgeable friends assured me that boarding was much less tough on the knees than skiing - I signed up to accompany him. Just to translate. You know, just to give him moral support. And that, inevitably, is how I wound up a snowboarding addict. Is it too late to learn to snowboard in your 40s? I know what you're thinking. Isn't 45 a bit old to take up something so obviously designed with youngsters in mind? Boarding is the rock'n'roll to skiing's classical guitar. It's the punkier, slightly scruffier ne'er-do-well younger sibling,
Montenegro packs in more action per square kilometre than almost any other place I’ve ever known. It’s one of the reasons we decided to settle here! During the warmer months, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, canyoning, para-gliding, wild-swimming, kite-surfing, zip-lining and trekking are all on offer in some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe, with
If you're reading this, you know what we usually get up to when we have a tourist season - but you might not be aware that Emma and I tend to be just as busy during the winters. It's not all skiing and cricket (yes, really!), finding new waterfalls, routes and locals to include in our eco-holidays in Montenegro; nor is it all marketing updates or putting our feet up. No, we like to get our hands properly dirty with what we call our "winter projects" at Villa Miela, the base for the multi-activity holidays we host ourselves at Lake Skadar National Park! Transforming this once-ruined stone farmhouse into stylish, eco-friendly accommodation back in 2008 inspired us to make constant improvements our guests will love - and we'll admit it, us too seeing as this is the amazing place we get to live. The Hot Tub Our first ever winter "project", back in the days when we were still starting out. I picked it up from the factory in Kettenacker, Germany (a first, apparently), and towed it back down to Montenegro with a £100 trailer bought off eBay and half a dozen ratchet straps. When we finally arrived back at the villa, only one strap remained. My first kilometre on French soil (where both trailer tyres burst) and our Croatia/Montenegro border crossing experience ("Is it for making wine?") have since become two of my favourite go-to anecdotes...and the tub was a real hit! A HOME FOR YOUR HOSTS After four summers of living in various dilapidated flats in and around Virpazar with our young children, we finally got together the funds and builders to construct a home for ourselves next door to Villa Miela. Respecting the architectural integrity of the centuries-old building was massively important to us, so our idea
If you’re reading this, you know what we usually get up to when we have a tourist season – but you might not be aware that Emma and I tend to be just as busy during the winters. It’s not all skiing and cricket (yes, really!), finding new waterfalls, routes and locals to include in
Few outside Montenegro know that there's a popular way to drink your coffee here called “dojč" (deutsch) – it's frothy, like a cappucino but without the cocoa and we just ordered a cup to celebrate the fact that our website is now available to read...in German! German tourists are among the most popular and numerous in Montenegro in normal years – pretty much every Montenegrin you speak to cites German guests as their favourites. They also have a long tradition of enjoying hiking, the outdoors and new adventures – so our activity holidays should be a match made in heaven! The German guests who have stumbled across us already have been delighted with what they have found - authentic, active, expertly guided trips which go deep into Montenegro's wildly beautiful national parks; a small friendly group for epic days hiking, kayaking, wild-swimming and meeting locals; a sustainable holiday supporting nature and local people. Undiscovered Montenegro even comes recommended by Geo Saison, Bild Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine! All this has inspired us to reach out to more German-speakers. Of course, it's much easier to search for and read about your perfect holiday in your own language, so we hired a very cheap translator – me! Not a lot of people know that I actually speak reasonable German (lived there as a child, and took a University degree in the language before going on to co-found Undiscovered Montenegro 12 years ago). We are are also expanding our team of guides to include fluent German speakers in preparation for our first 100% German-language tour. Click here to read our German pages – and if you spot any mistakes (and there will be plenty!), let me know. I'm a little rusty, and need plenty of practice! And I know you're dying to ask –
Few outside Montenegro know that there’s a popular way to drink your coffee here called “dojč” (deutsch) – it’s frothy, like a cappucino but without the cocoa and we just ordered a cup to celebrate the fact that our website is now available to read…in German! German tourists are among the most popular and numerous
At last there's light at the end of a particularly long and badly lit tunnel! Viable vaccines and faster tests are bringing optimism back to travel and life in general. Enquiries have already picked up for 2021 and we've taken our first reservations in months. Yes it's early days, but the now exotic, intoxicating idea of taking a holiday to Montenegro or indeed anywhere is back on the table. Important first steps enabling this have happened. Our main market, the UK, has at last caught up with the rest of Europe – a test and release scheme will start this month allowing trips abroad with just five days' quarantine on return, while sleeves will be rolling up soon for first jabs. By Easter, there's real talk of a post-pandemic world emerging. Time to dust the cobwebs off our bookings database and look ahead to the amazing adventures we'll be running next year. Despite the obstacles, some very determined and lovely people did actually make it to us for their 2020 holidays. The truncated season taught us many things. First and foremost, that we've been practising social distancing for years with our nature-based holidays away from the crowds. Adding face masks (not needed on hikes or in kayaks of course!), increased hygiene and other Covid-19 travel protocol from our industry body, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, made minimal difference to the actual holiday experience and saw us become Covid-safe travel pioneers in Montenegro. And it also confirmed something we knew already - spending time being active in nature really helps us all feel much better. We've started calling it nature therapy - and we've had time to research even more spectacular secret spots to indulge next year. Our kayak, wild camp & bushcraft weeks at Lake Skadar became a surprise hit
At last there’s light at the end of a particularly long and badly lit tunnel! Viable vaccines and faster tests are bringing optimism back to travel and life in general. Enquiries have already picked up for 2021 and we’ve taken our first reservations in months. Yes it’s early days, but the now exotic, intoxicating idea
Despite the success of our yoga and sound healing retreat the other weekend, it's not all vegan raw food experiences at Villa Miela! Sometimes, you have to swing in the opposite direction and embrace the best dish to come out of the Balkans – peka - or sač as we call it in Montenegro. Ever since we bought our second home on Vis island and spent time with the legend that is Oliver Roki, we've loved a good peka. It's an ancient cuisine that sees you placing your ingredients into a deep dish with a cast iron lid, and then slow-cooking the contents with hot embers above and below the pot for 3 to 4 hours. The ultimate slow food! Montenegrin cooking also has a version of this dish, but here it's called pod sač, which I've sampled many times. Pod sač uses meat, potatoes, plentiful oil and vegeta (a catch-all, ubiquitous Balkan herb blend) and when done well is melt-in-your-mouth delicious – but Montenegrins prefer their food stripped back and simple. Peka on the other hand, takes this basic concept and adds generous levels of Mediterranean flavours. The Croatian version includes plentiful vegetables, natural herbs and wine - it's food as a luxury, something to fuss over and get exactly right, where every detail has to be just so as a matter of personal pride. That's the kind of cooking I identify with! Online tutorials and recipes can only get you so far and with Oliver sadly too far away to give me a Croatian cooking lesson, we enlisted instead our lovely friends Damir and Vanda, who as proud Croatians living in Montenegro were only too happy to pass on their tips for making the perfect peka. Slow Food Recipe for 'Peka' or 'Pod Sač' If you'd like to
Despite the success of our yoga and sound healing retreat the other weekend, it’s not all vegan raw food experiences at Villa Miela! Sometimes, you have to swing in the opposite direction and embrace the best dish to come out of the Balkans – peka – or sač as we call it in Montenegro. Ever
There is a special place I like to take people who are in Montenegro's mountains for the first time . One girl told me it reminds her of the end of the world. Are you familiar with a feeling when you wake up from a deep dream, and find yourself back in "reality"? For a few moments your back doesn't hurt, you cannot remember that your to-do list exists, and part of you is still there, in the warmth of a dream. That dream-like sense follows me every time I climb my favourite hiking trail on the Prokletije (in English, translated as the 'Accursed Mountains'). On the border between three countries, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, lies a huge mountain with a scary name. She is open to those who follow her rules and those who are seeking freedom and silence. Many people approach her amazing valleys and enjoy views of big rocky summits, but her real beauty lies when you get a little higher - above morning fog and low clouds, face to face with rugged ridges and amphitheaters shaped by the forces of nature. Today Vlado is with me. This will be his first ever real hike. After my stories, he has high expectations. We had to start early, as we expect rain in the second part of the day. The only noise you can hear is that from light wind on the top of the trees, and a few shy birds letting other forest beings know that we are here. It is not uncommon to see a bear in these forests, but I don't want to scare Vlado, so I tell him that they are on the other side. As my friend slept just a few hours last night, he keeps asking me - how much
There is a special place I like to take people who are in Montenegro’s mountains for the first time . One girl told me it reminds her of the end of the world. Are you familiar with a feeling when you wake up from a deep dream, and find yourself back in “reality”? For a
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