Numerous lakes dot the area, the largest being Biogradsko jezero. An asphalt road leads up to the lake, and with such easy access it often gets very busy. There is a visitor centre and a path round the lake with benches and wooden walkways which takes about 1 hour to walk. Interpretive boards are peppered at intervals along the trail outlining the natural history of the area, and despite the busy and rather touristy nature of the lake, it retains a sense of the primeval about it.
But wander away from the lake, and it soon becomes much quieter. We took a walk up through the woods, heading for the Laništa katun at 1340m. A katun is a house or group of houses used by shepherds and their families in the summer months when they move their livestock up to the higher pastures for grazing. Here, they will tend their animals, pick and dry herbs for mountain tea, collect fruits, and make preserves, cheese and rakija to tide them over the winter months.
Laništa occupies a beautiful spot on a grassy col, with views all round and into the valley below. We were invited into the home of one family, shown round and treated to homemade cheese and rakija – a very special moment.
Between them, Bjelasica and Biogradska Gora show two very different sides of the massif, but both maintain a subtlety that allows them to reveal their charms gradually, in contrast to the jaw-dropping scenery of elsewhere.
It might be easy to ignore Bjelasica in favour of the higher-profile Biogradska Gora, and to overlook both in the face of the big-hitting star attractions. But if you have time, these gentle giants and ancient forests are well worth exploring, showing a different, more reflective side to the landscape.
Located to the east of Mojkovac and Kolašin, Bjelasica is a range of peaks with a different aspect to those of Durmitor or the Prokletije.
Actually, the term “mountain” might be slightly misleading in reference to Bjelasica: more correctly it is the name given to a range of peaks topping out at just over the 2100m mark, and which includes the Biogradska Gora NP on its western flank. In total, the area comprises some 630km² and measures roughly 30km across at the widest point, with much of the high ground consisting of gently rounded summits and grassy ridges.
Our walk there began high up on the mountain at the Cmiljace Mountain Hut (1760m). Saying that makes getting to the start sound easy. In fact, it took a 4WD, an hour and some not-inconsiderable driving skills to negotiate the tortuous, twisting, washed-out track, and it has to rate as one of the more interesting and dramatic transfers to a trailhead that we have ever made.
Having achieved the 1970m summit of Turiak, we skirted a low secondary summit and descended to a katun where we stopped for a break to chat with the owners and share mountain tea and homemade cheese.
Later, we descended through the woods to reach Šiško Lake, a beautiful glacial lake nestled below a backdrop of peaks where even in late July patches of snow still lingered on the north facing slopes.
The route out of the mountain was every bit as memorable as the way in. We descended a stony track through a beautiful valley where scenes of daily farming life were playing out in seemingly idyllic circumstances. Picking wild strawberries, we watched men and women working in the fields and saw trucks pass piled high with loads of hay, topped by laughing children.
On the western edge of Bjelasica is the Biogradska Gora NP, the oldest National Park in Montenegro and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Some of Europe’s most untouched forest can be found here: more than 80 species of tree have been recorded, some of which are more than 500 years old and reaching up to 60m in height, as well as in excess of 20 plant families. There is much wildlife, too, including bear, wolf, chamois, fallow deer and eagle.