Outrageous Escapism: The Black Lake, Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Snow-capped mountains and rugged beauty lure adventurers to this national park in Montenegro’s northern territory. The fabled Black Lake, surrounded by dense pine forests and glacial gorges, is mystical in summer when cross-country skiing gives way to kayaking, rafting and wild swimming.


Durmitor National Park, Montenegro


Montenegro gets only a fraction of the visitors of neighbouring Croatia. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described it as "Little Montenegro" in The Great Gatsby, expressing amazement that a country so small could award a war medal. But the proudly patriotic, mountainous kingdom is also known as the "Pearl of the Balkans" with a wild beauty that attracts romantics with an adventurous spirit.

Durmitor is the largest of Montenegro's five national parks and holds Unesco status. Limestone peaks and thick pine forests are home to bears and wolves, while there's also the 1300m Tara River Canyon, the deepest in Europe. With hundreds of miles of lakes, gorges and forests to explore, Montenegro's northern territory has trails to suit all manner of hikers, mountaineers and cross-country skiers.

The highlight of Durmitor, however, is the Black Lake or Crno Jezero, a glacial body of water which takes its deep-blue shade from the surrounding pine forests. The trees cast a perfect reflection on the mirror-calm water, at times making it almost black. These high-altitude lakes, of which Crno Jezero is the largest and most famous, are also known as the eyes of the mountain. On bright days, the Black Lake glistens an unnaturally bright turquoise colour, while in the height of summer it dries up a little to become two separate lakes.

Sports enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that companies such as Blackxtri organise triathlons around the Black Lake, including a 3.8k swim kicking off at 4.30am. With a bike ride through the deepest canyon in Europe and a run through mountain and forest trails, it almost sounds worth it for the scenery.

Where to stay

The town of Žabljak in the foothills of Mount Durmitor is a good place to stop for the night, and is a central hub for travellers. Hotel Home Vile Calimero has charming wooden lodges with hydro-massage shower cabins and log fires. From here, it's only 3km to the shores of the Black Lake.

What to pack

Bring binoculars: bears and wolves tend to stay clear of busy areas, but you're likely to spot deer, weasels, otters and owls. This light and absorbent eco towel from Dock & Bay will come in handy if you fancy a dip after your trek too.

Travel tip-off

Hire a small rowing boat on the Black Lake for around £7 an hour and make a day of it. If you don't bring your own picnic, there are stalls along the route selling local produce and medicinal teas.

How to get there

Podgorica Airport is 120km from Žabljak, and has flights from Jet2, easyJet and Ryanair. However, the best option is to fly direct to Dubrovnik, Croatia and hire a car then drive across the border.

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