Lake Skadarsko (Skadrasko jezero, often referred to as Lake Scutari) is the largest lake in the whole Balkans, some 40 km long and 14 km wide. It lies on the Zeta plain in the south of Montenegro, very close to the sea from which is divided by a strip of land roughly 15 km wide and dominated by Mt Rumija. From afar the Lake is an imposing sight with high hills and rocky islands rising from its tranquil surface. The lake forms a natural border with Albania: two thirds of its surface including the whole of its north and west coast are in Montenegro, while the other third which includes the east and the south coast are in Albania. Shkoder (Skadar in Serbian, Scutari in Italian), which is in Albania, is the only substantial city on its shores and gives the lake name. The lake receives its water from river Morača and underwater springs, but also has constant outflow through river Bojana to the Adriatic Sea. These conditions make its size very variable- from 530 square km during the snow-melting period in springtime, to just 370 square km in late summer and early autumn. In the dry season many of its islands join with the mainland, vast areas are turned into shallow marches and parts of it become separate lakes.
The whole lake is a crypto-depression- a natural phenomenon in which the lake’s surface stands above sea level while its depths are below it. The lake is generally only 5-8 m deep but has some 30 underwater springs (called locally oka “eyes”) which reach the depths of 60 meters! The lake’s coast in its Montenegrin part is ragged with many small coves, peninsula and around 50 isles, locally called gorica (“small hill”).
On its shores stony inlets interchange with small bays covered in thick reed, while its surface is covered in water lilies or such natural rarities as kasaronja, the floating water nut, which does in fact contain an eatable part, a rare delicacy you can try in some restaurants. On its shores one can find many small flowers, wild pomegranate trees, laurels etc. The waters of Skadarsko Lake are rich in fish, both the freshwater kind of which most common is carp and bleak, and the sea fish such as eels and striped mullets that swim upstream along the river Bojana. The abundance nesting conditions attract as many as 264 indigenous and migrating bird species. Amongst them the most numerable are cormorants , the grey herons are becoming a rare sight while the most interesting are large Dalmatian Pelicans who nest here. Numerable flocks of ducks and geese spend their winters on the lake. Together with the rest of the Zeta plain and Podgorica, Skadarsko Lake has mercilessly warm summers when the lake’s water warms to 28⁰C; in contrast during winter its shallower waters freeze. Due to all these remarkable features Lake Skadarsko is protected as National Park.
Lake Skadarsko is equally interesting for its historical heritage from various epochs. Around its spread small towns such as Rijeka Crnojevića or Virpazar and many small fishing villages such as Vranjina, Karuč or Dodoši which have retained their traditional looks with small stone houses tucked in together. In them one can enjoy the seclusion and the slow pace of fisherman’s life. Karuč and Dodoši are the best reached from Podgorica-Rijeka Crnojevića .The route through the Krajina region on the Lake’s west coast leads through a number of scenic villages and past the medieval monasteries standing on their gorice.
The main route through this region is Podgorica-Virpazar which can be traversed by both car or train. Both the highway and the railroad pass across the lake trough a dike which separates the lake into two parts , the smaller part being to the north of the dike. The dike first reaches the island of Vranjina, in fact the largest of all Montenegrin islands including those on the seaside. Close to the road lies a large finishing village of the same name with a preserved look of the old days, nested around a small bay and now almost completely closed off by the dike. The seat of the National Park authorities is located here with its small visitor’s center where you can learn more about park. Next to Vranjina is the small isle of Lesendro dominated by a fort of the same name. As the control over the island also meant the control of the trade to and from Montenegro, during the early 19th century the fort witnessed long standing disputes between the Turks and the Montenegrins, on all occasions being resolved through fighting. As it is impossible park near it is best to leave your car near the restaurant on the west tip of Vranjina and walk along the highway to the fort. The sides of dike are lined with fisherman enjoying in the abundance of the lake’s fish. To join them you will need a permit from the National Park authorities 5 euro per day.
The best way to enjoy Skadarsko Lake is one of the boats which can be seen cruising on it. Most of them start from Virpazar, some from Plavnica, complex on the north shore while less often boats sail out from the local villages.
Montenegro Hostel Team