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
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
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
With so many people working from home these days, we decided to create some special backgrounds for Zoom which you can download and use to maybe even fool your colleagues into thinking you're on holiday with us! After all, Montenegro's tight lockdown has ended and borders are rumoured to be opening in time for summer. Here's hoping! In the meantime, take a virtual holiday with these stunning backgrounds from our adventures at Lake Skadar and the mountains. You won't find an over-popular, top 10 must-visit sight for tourists among these locations, just pure untouched beauty! To download the backgrounds, just right click or hold on the pictures depending on whether you're using a PC, Mac or smartphone. You can find Zoom's instructions on how to set a virtual background here. Virtual backgrounds from our Lake Skadar holidays These stunning views were all snapped by me (our company co-founder Emma Heywood) and are waiting to wow you on the multi-active, all-kayaking and specialist adventures we host at Lake Skadar National Park. Did you know it's Southern Europe's largest wetland? With scenery like this, it must be the most beautiful one too! Virtual backgrounds from our Montenegro Mountains adventures Lose yourself in these jaw-dropping views from Montenegro's alpine mountains and lakes, photographed by our guides Vuk, Bojana and Radonja. They're the brother/sister/cousin team in charge of our all-walking, cross-border hiking and super-multi-active adventures and some of the best people you could ever hope to meet in Montenegro! Virtual backgrounds from Villa Miela Our favourite place to be when we're not out on our adventures hiking and kayaking! Our activity base, Villa Miela, is the perfect place to kick back and relax on our Lake Skadar multi-activity holidays and specialist weeks for yoga, painting and bird-watching... We hope you'll enjoy using these virtual
With so many people working from home these days, we decided to create some special backgrounds for Zoom which you can download and use to maybe even fool your colleagues into thinking you’re on holiday with us! After all, Montenegro’s tight lockdown has ended and borders are rumoured to be opening in time for summer.
As a yoga lover who struggles to find time for practice outside the retreats we host here at Lake Skadar (young kids, busy business!), I suddenly found myself with all the time in the world when I was put into two weeks' solitary quarantine in Podgorica last month! As the Coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe, Montenegro suddenly closed its borders while I was visiting the UK. Knowing yoga would help me maintain a strong mind and body through a mandatory 14 day confinement for returnees, I dashed out to buy a yoga mat before boarding a repatriation flight. Never was five quid better spent! Each day that followed, I rolled out my mat and set about a long restorative Hatha practice – at least an hour – guided by the brilliant Down Dog yoga app and always ending in a healing Savasana. As I progressed, I found myself mastering poses I had failed at before – Crow pose (Bakasana) & Hand to Big Toe Pose (Tadasana) - or hadn't managed since childhood (the wheel in my 40s!). It's true what they say about daily practice being the key to success. I also finally grasped the power of my breath. In just two weeks I felt stronger, fitter and more flexible than I had in ages. On the yoga holidays we run, workshops take place outside, early morning, on Villa Miela's tree-fringed yoga deck. It's when the birds sing their loudest and before the sun shines hot. Inside my four walls of quarantine, I saved my practice for late afternoons; something to look forward to and taking advantage of being able to watch the late winter sun lowering over the mountains beyond the city from my window. I like to do the same thing back at Villa Miela, but with no
As a yoga lover who struggles to find time for practice outside the retreats we host here at Lake Skadar (young kids, busy business!), I suddenly found myself with all the time in the world when I was put into two weeks’ solitary quarantine in Podgorica last month! As the Coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe,
My girlfriend and I arrived to volunteer at Undiscovered Montenegro for the 2020 season and obviously things have played out a little different than expected what with there being no actual guests for now! As a keen birder the bountiful birds certainly help compensate (Lake Skadar National Park has recorded over 270 species!) and they are completely oblivious to the current crisis. The villa and gardens here are nestled amongst a myriad of foliage and the cacophony of birdsong is never louder than now with the long, warm days and flowers coming into bloom. The nightingales have returned from Africa and seldom can you stand on the terrace without being serenaded with their fruity melodies. The scratchy song of Eastern subalpine warblers is ever-present as they flit around busily readying for the task of raising young. In the south-east of the UK, where I am from, the sighting of a Hawfinch would be an exciting occurrence but here it is quite common to see the black-and-white flash of their wings as they move through the treetops. By looking up you are rewarded with the aerial antics of house martins and red-rumped swallows and before long an alpine swift comes into view - dwarfing it’s smaller cousins with it’s half-metre wingspan. And this is all just from the villa and gardens! Lake Skadar itself offers a plethora of other rare and wonderful birds to discover. We managed to get out on the kayaks before total lockdown and the experience of floating gently through the reeds on a calm, sunny day while reed warblers sing from within and all around you pygmy cormorants, little and great crested grebes surface and disappear again is hard to put into words. If that wasn’t enough then the pièce de résistance is a group of Dalmatian
My girlfriend and I arrived to volunteer at Undiscovered Montenegro for the 2020 season and obviously things have played out a little different than expected what with there being no actual guests for now! As a keen birder the bountiful birds certainly help compensate (Lake Skadar National Park has recorded over 270 species!) and they
April is usually an extremely busy time for us at UM. We'd normally be knee-deep in enquiries and bookings, as well as working over-time to get our activity base, Villa Miela, and our equipment ready for our first week of guests. Lake Skadar and the surrounding valleys are looking gorgeous....but this year we won't be sharing the Easter break or our gorgeous grounds with anyone other than ourselves. No, this year we have curfews, partial lockdowns limiting us to the municipality we live in, traffic on the lake has been suspended and Emma still has a week of self-isolation to go following her 14 days in quarantine which means she isn't allowed to leave our property. I can go and walk our dog Coco for an hour a day and pop down to the local supermarket, but that's about it. For the foreseeable future we are more or less limited to the borders of our land. Just as well, then, that we're marooned in a quite stunning spot! We have cherry, plum and quince blossom on our trees, a swimming pool that might soon be warm enough to use (edit, our kids jumped in yesterday!) and with the spring season cancelled and summer looking like it may go the same way, to keep our spirits up we're using this pause to get stuck into some proper sustainable “projects". Almost every off-season since we started living at Lake Skadar a decade ago, we've had some sort of ambitious project going on at Villa Miela as we've attempted to improve the set up for our hosted activity holidays - (I might recount some of them in future blog posts). Why should 2020 be any different, especially as we now appear to have rather more time on our hands than we had anticipated?
April is usually an extremely busy time for us at UM. We’d normally be knee-deep in enquiries and bookings, as well as working over-time to get our activity base, Villa Miela, and our equipment ready for our first week of guests. Lake Skadar and the surrounding valleys are looking gorgeous….but this year we won’t be
In the middle of giant Lake Skadar National Park sits the tiny fishing "town" of Virpazar, one of Montenegro's historic trading centres dating from medieval times and, for the last 10 years, our home and activity base. The clue is in its name - 'Vir', which means confluence of rivers and 'Pazar', the Turkish word for 'market'. It's a beguiling, sleepy kind of place and the start point for many of our hiking and kayaking trips. These spectacular images will make you wonder why you'd never heard of it until now! All photographs are by the snap-happy me (Emma Heywood - co-founder of Undiscovered Montenegro). 1) Virpazar as seen from the 14th Century Besac Fortress 2) Summer view looking out from the old bridge 3) The historic monument to freedom celebrating 13th July 1878 and 1941 4) A magical autumn view of Virpazar cloaked in fog 5) We chose our activity base for its amazing location set by mountains and lake 6) Next to the lakeside are some great places to eat, like Konoba Badanj on the right 7) Reasons to love Virpazar #1 - it's surrounded by the incredible Lake Skadar National Park with all its nature! 8) When Lake Skadar's waters rise high, the reflected beauty around here is out of this world 9) There are some amazing hiking trails near Virpazar, you just need to know where 10) Virpazar is right on the shores of Lake Skadar, the largest pool of freshwater in southern Europe 11) This view of Virpazar has our activity base Villa Miela sitting pretty above it 12) This tiny fishing town oozes with characterful charm 13) Virpazar has a centuries' old port - the main gateway to vast Lake Skadar and the place to grab a boat tour 14) Our favourite view of
In the middle of giant Lake Skadar National Park sits the tiny fishing “town” of Virpazar, one of Montenegro’s historic trading centres dating from medieval times and, for the last 10 years, our home and activity base. The clue is in its name – ‘Vir’, which means confluence of rivers and ‘Pazar’, the Turkish word
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