In Montenegro, key predators include the brown bear, grey wolf and Eurasian lynx, and although populations of each are small they continue to survive. Given their low numbers, encounters are unlikely, but do sometimes happen.
There are also very small numbers of the rare and critically endangered Balkan lynx which continues to cling precariously to existence. Although they are slightly more widespread in Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, they can be found in Montenegro in extremely small numbers – maybe fewer than 10 individuals. If you are interested in following their plight and the efforts to keep them from extinction, you can keep up to date via the Balkan Lynx Facebook page HERE.
In addition to the star attractions, there is roe deer, pine marten, chamois and wild boar, as well as griffon vulture, golden eagle and eagle owl amongst many other species. There are also several species of snake, some of which are poisonous – the nose-horned viper being highly so – so care should be taken when out and about.
Helped by considerable protection, traditional farming methods and diversity of ecosystem, there is a huge and diverse flora in Montenegro, with hundreds of species of plants to be found, many of which are unique to the Balkans.
Coastal areas have a Mediterranean flora, whilst inland there are grasslands, areas of scrubby maquis, ash, beech and pine forest, sub-alpine pasture and high mountain environments, each with a huge diversity of plant and tree species.
The best time to see plants flowering is during the summer months of June and July, for example this Edelweiss, found on the higher slopes of Hajla Peak.
As befits a country with such a diversity of landscape and climate, there is a large and varied flora and fauna to be found.
Because much of the country is farmed organically by traditional methods, the number of plant and insect species has remained high, and not been decimated through a heavy reliance on pesticides and man-made fertilisers. This, in turn, helps support good populations of birds and mammals. Coupled with this is Parliament’s proclamation of Montenegro as an Ecological State, the maintenance of 5 National Parks and a number of other protected areas.
With such a diversity of climate and ecosystem – for example high mountain, forested hillsides, coast, lake and marshland – Montenegro has an exciting and varied birdlife. Skadar Lake and the Ulcinj Saltpans attract large numbers of waders, heron, bittern, pelican and other waterfowl, plus owls and eagles.
The virgin deciduous-conifer forest of Biogradska Gora is great for woodland birds, and home to many species. Likewise, the higher wooded slopes and rocky peaks of Durmitor NP attract numerous birds, and more than 150 different species have been spotted there.
Drink-wise, Montenegro produces some reasonable wines: reds in particular (which are referred to as Crna or black wines) such as Vranac. As a hiker, you will no doubt be offered mountain tea, or čaj, a herbal tea that is refreshing and perhaps best with a pinch of sugar or a little honey stirred in, and which, locals claim, can have a positive effect on a multitude of ailments from fighting colds and flu to aiding digestion and relieving congestion.
But the national drink is rakija, a generally colourless brandy with a high alcohol content (at least 40% ABV, frequently much higher), typically made from plums, apricots or grapes. It is regularly served alongside strong Turkish-style coffee at breakfast-time, often in quite large volumes, which is one of the more eye-watering ways of starting the day.
It is also often served as a sign of hospitality when you visit someone’s home. In fact, most rakija you encounter will be home-made – unlike the UK, there are no laws prohibiting the distillation of spirits at home without a licence – and as it is a matter of pride amongst families to produce a good rakija, the quality served in homestays and katuns is usually of a pretty high standard.
One of the key foodstuffs is cheese. Almost every katun and farm will produce their own, so taste and consistency therefore vary greatly, and it is usually young and unpasteurised. It goes well with locally-smoked prosciutto-style ham, and milder forms go well with fruit, such as forest berries, to create a cheesecake-like effect.
Cheese features in the recipe for Kačamak – a combination of potato, maize flour, soft and hard cheese that began as simple peasant food but is now practically the national dish of Montenegro. It’s nice, but very filling.
Food & Drink
As with many Balkan countries, the tradition of hospitality means food and drink play an important societal and cultural role Montenegro. Though the cuisine varies across the country (for example cheeses and meats predominate in the mountain areas, whilst fish and salads are more common in coastal regions) almost everything is organic and/or locally produced and harvested, so it tastes great.
Pride in this abundance of natural organic food has given rise to a Slow Food movement, where local growers and small scale producers celebrate fresh, healthy ingredients that are high in flavour but low in food miles, and where wild berries, mushrooms and herbs are also widely used. For more information, see the Slow Food Montenegro Facebook page HERE and use the translation facility.