The lanscape of Montenegro is extraordinarily varied primarly for the reason that from sea level to the top of the coastal mountains there is no more than a few kilometers by air and from the sea to the main chain of the High Dinaric Alps, with peaks up to 2,500 m, no more than 50km. The same conrast is to be observed in the climate, with conditions changing from the region to the other forming specific associations of flora and fauna.
The coastline of Montenegro is 293 km long. It has two distinct parts: in the north is Boka Kotorska ( The Gulf of Kotor, a series of four basins connected by straits and ringed with hills. At its north and east edge these hills climb almost horizontally from the sea to the peaks of Mt Orijen (1895m) and Lovćen (1749m ). Warm air that comes from the sea rises along the cliffs cooling rapidly and generating rain in such quantities that is keeps the whole of the Gulf pleasantly green even in the warmest of summers and makes the highlands of the Krivošije clan the region with most precipitation in the whole most precipitation in the whole of Europe. The rest of the coastline is open towards the sea, with a small numbers of covers a just a few tiny islands. The feature it shares with Boka is the mountainous hinterland, which here also limits the extent of the Mediterranean climate to the narrow coastal belt. Prevalent in this region is Mediterranean vegetation of thick evergreen bushes ( maquis) with many aromatic plants. Oak woods, tall cypress trees, maritime pine and olive groves are also found is abundance. The summers are long and hot and the winters mild and rainy.
Between the coast of the mountain giants the rise to the east of Podgorica and Nikšić lays the region affected to an extent by the Mediterranean climate. In its north the extremely rugged terrain of “fierce-karst” (ljuti krš) prevails- an 800 m high plateau dotted with holes and scarred with small rocky vales. The inhospitable looking scenery is dominated by sparse shrubbery while the hillsides rising from this tableland are almost bare. The scattered houses of relatively numerous villages cling to the little arable land available. There are just two fields with some more land suitable for agriculture and these are dominated by the towns of Grahovo and Cetinje. Though the region sees a lot of rain during the colder part of the year there are no rivers or streams here as all the water quickly disappears through the porous limestone rocks. To protect themselves from the draught the inhabitants gather rain water in protected basins or man-made sinks. Somewhat different from this harsh region is the field of Nikšić, the largest karst field in Montenegro ( 660 square kilometers). It abounds in hydrological phenomena getting its water from the 330 springs and losing it through 886 sinks, with more 30 more estavelles and one intermittent spring. The river Zeta also emerges here only to sink at the edge of the field and reappear again some kilometers to the south. The valley of Zeta is the narrow thread of green arable kand stretching between the cliffs of the adjoining mountains from the NW to the SE. The river ends in the plain of Zeta ( Zetska ravnica) in which lies Podgorica, the country’s capital and largest city. Watered by the zeta, Cijevna and Morača rivers this flat piece of land makes up most of the 13% of territory suitable for agriculture in Montenegro. To the south, the plain ends with Lake Skadarsko ( also called Lake Scutari), the largest lake in the Balkans. As the lake considerably varies in size due to the uneven flow in water it abounds in wetland areas rich in birds, amphibians plants and fish.
Most of Montenegro is mountainous and the area to the east of the Zeta River there are only a few flat places, nearly all of them high plateaus between the main mountain ridges. The highest strip of the Dinaric Alps with mountain such as Durmitor (2523m), Stožac ( 2226m), Bjelasica (2139m), Komovi ( 2487m) or Prokletije (2693m) cuts through the middle of the land. The Durmitor massif is especially beautiful for its diverse relief, contrasting between the wide Jezera plateau and the craggy tops towering above its numerous glacial lakes. Most of the mountains are well forested while some even retain primeval woods ( Biogradska gora on Bjleasica and Perućica on Mt Maglić) but there are also those like Sinjajevina where deforestation for firewood and pastureland have turned them into grassland, with stones and rocks. Between these mountains flow the rivers Tara, Piva and Morača which have cut astoundingly deep canyons, impassable obstacles formed over eons. In the eastern part there are a few wider river basins, occupied by the towns Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje and Berane.
The karst landscape also features many caves which are to be found all over the country including such rarities as the Djalovica Cave ( Djalovića pećina) in the hills east of Bijelo Polje which has more than 15 km of tunnels or Cetinjska Cave which lies in the middle of the city. Sadly, none of the caves in Montenegro are open for tourist visits.
The mountains of Montenegro enjoy a cold and wet climate, especially those in the far east of the country. Snow is usual already in October and can continue to fall until May. In higher altitudes the patches of show that remain all through the summer are a valuable source of the water for shepherds. The predominant occupation is the mountains is livestock farming mostly sheep and goat but nowadays also cattle, while there also good conditions for growing potato, cabbage and corn.
Rivers and Canyons
The range of High Dinaric Alps forms a watershed between the two drainage systems of Montenegro that cut the land in half. To the west and south flow rivers ending in the Adriatic Sea, while those flowing to the north and east carry their waters to the Danube end eventually to the Black Sea. The coastal area is characterized with short streams which rapidly descend to the sea. One expedition is the river Bojana at the very south of the country: this 44 km long river which takes the waters from Lake Skadarsko to the sea us even navigable for smaller ships. The two most important rivers of the Adriatic system are the Morača and its tributary Zeta. Formed from numerous springs in central Montenegro the Morača pushes SW cutting the astounding Platije canyon with sides up to 1000m high an dthen enters the zeta lain, passing through Podgorica and flowing into Lake Skadarsko. Tara is the longest river in the country (150 km) and its second art forms a canyon regarded as the second deepest in the world ( 1300m deep). Equally impressive are canyons of Komarnica and Piva, one following the other. The river Lim is the east of the country has a more tame appearance but also several smaller gorges which interchange with its wider parts that are occupied by villages.
Montenegro fabulous richness in plant species stems from diversity of geographic and climatic conditions. Depending on the distance from the sea and on the latitude (both having a prominent effects of the precipitation and temperature in different seasons)., Montenegro displays a surprising variety of vegetation types often occurring in close proximity. Here one can find around 3000 species (roughly twice as many as Great Britain), some 22 being endemic only in Montenegro. Some places are real botanical gardens in the wild, as for example the Biogradska Gorda National Park where a trained eye can spot 86 different trees. The diversity of microclimatic conditions is equally important: on the north sides of the highest mountains grow plants characteristic to the Artic, on the peat bogs around the lakes those found in Siberain taiga, while on the steep sides of the inaccessible canyons of Tara or Piva there are species which survive here from the time of the last Ice Age.
The coastland sees flowers blossoming already from January, starting with the mimosa in whose honor the festival in Herceg Novi takes place. By the beginning of May nature is in full bloom. Given that the coastal areas have been under human influence for several millennia it is not possible to deduce with certainty which species where introduced and which are native to the region. Most likely the natives were various kinds of evergreen and semi-deciduous oak and coniferous forests of several species of juniper, pine and possibly cypress, as well as maquis in more exposed areas. Today, figs and olives introduced by man dominate the area.
As one moves further the sea to the sub-Mediterranean zone more exposed to the continental influences the evergreen forests are replaced by deciduous forests of oak ( mostly down oak), manna ash and Oriental hornbeam. Further inland areas a low and mid- altitudes are dominated by temperate continental deciduous forests, mostly of beach. Cold and wet high mountains are covered by thick coniferous forest of spruce, fir and pine. Several rare trees specious make Montenegro their home; among which are whitebark and Macedonian pines, Macedonian oak and Turkish hazel.
Due to the high demographic pressure even in the most remote areas of the country, the wildlife of Montenegro has been seriously imperiled by hunting and exploitation. In times of peace warriors could easily transform to skilful hunters, and carnivores had to complete with humans for pray territory. Most threatened were the larger mammals and fish many small species adapted to lining closer to people. Fish and birds, on the other hand, enjoyed the unpolluted environment and the variety of living habitats.
Skadarsko Lake is a major fishing ground, both commercial and recreational. The major target of anglers is the famous exceptionally elongated and vividly colored wild form of common carp, called krap by the locals. Due to the very tasty meat the wild carp has become very rare in the most of Europe, but population here survive in spite of the impact of heavy fishing, both legal and illegal. Eels and mullets frequently wonder into Bojana and Skadarsko Lake from the sea. Brow and occasionally rainbow trout are common in cold mountain rivers, many small mountains lakes and reservoirs. Grayling can be found in most medium large mountain rivers, while huchen is common only in the River Tara.
The waters of the Adriatic are rich in Mediterranean fish species the most common being dentex, mullet, mackerel, hornback ray, sea bream the most important kind for the fishing industry. Shrimps, lobsters and octopuses are also to be found here. Among the most interesting kinds are to flying fish ( such as gurnard) , the large conger and moray eels and see horses. Dolphins are relatively frequently seen in the waters of the Adriatic during the summer. Very rarely a blue shark approaches the coast spreading unjustified terror amongst swimmers before it becomes a trophy of local fishermen no attacks on people have been recorded.
The marshland of Skadarsko Lake, the area around Ada Bojana and Šasko Lake are attractive stopping points for numerous bird species during their north-south migrations as well as for wintering of many others. These conditions have made them into areas with the largest variety of birds in Europe attracting waders, cormorants, pelicans, herons, ibises, bitterns, ducks and warblers. The mountains and woods of the interior don’t lag too far behind this variety and here one can spot eagles, owls, wood-peckers, buntings, thrushes, larks, nightingales, tits, partridges etc.
The wild boar lives in deciduous wood all around Montenegro and is the most common target for hunters. The once numerous chamois has been reduced by hunting to rare sighting in the high mountains such as Durmitor, Komovi or Prokletije. Mouflons have been reintroduced in the areas around Lake Skadarsko while the renewed population of red deer in the national parks of Durmitor and Bjelasica is growing steadily. From the carnivores the most numerous are foxes and wolves, whose presence close to human dwellings has left a clear mark in local folktales as well as plenty of the names deriving from vuk (wolf). The coastal mountains are inhabited by jackals. Wild cats are rarely seen while the population of brown bear is under protection and is limited to the north and east of the north and east of the country. Pine and beech martens have become rare but weasels and badgers have survived and are commonly seen close to village and towns. The pollution of major rivers has made otter one of the species under threat of extinction.
Beware of the nose horned viper (locally called poskok), recognized for the zigzag lines on its short body, one of the most poisonous snakes of Europe which inhabits the rocky areas of south and coastal Montenegro. The other poisonous snake here is the European adder ( šarka) found in the continental mountains. Grass snakes are very common in Skadarsko Lake but should not be feared as they are not poisonous.
Montenegro Hostel Team