Lake Skadar, about 25 km south of the capital Podgorica is the Balkan's largest lake and one of Europe's largest bird reserves. It has an almost magical presence with ancient villages and monastaries dotted around the shore while the lake's shallow blue waters reflect the myriad colours of vegetation shimmering through the heat haze in summer.
Around 44 kms at its longest point, 14 kms wide and with an average depth of 6m the lake is fed by water from the Moraca river as well as numerous springs in the karst floor. Two-thirds of the lake are in Montenegro with the remaining third in Albania. The Montenegrin part of the lake and the surrounding area was declared a National Park in 1983. The northern and eastern shores, where the lake is shallower than elsewhere are characterised by large swathes of marshland which during springtime burst forth with vegetation of white and yellow lillies, reed groves and dense clusters of willow.
Here, too, are the lakes two main settlements Vranjina, home to an impressive visitor centre and Virpazar, a small fishing village with some good accommodation and restaurants. In contrast, the western shore is more remote. Studded with rocky islets and sharply indented bays, its also home to the lake's main cultural monuments in the shape of several island-bound monasteries.
Travelling south from Podgorica the first lake settlement of any size is Vranjina. A small fishing village it is also home to the main visitor centre (open May-September daily from 8am-6pm and Oct-April Mon-Fri 8am-4pm), it stands at the head of the causeway bisecting the northwestern corner of the lake. In addition to a lively 15 minute multimedia presentation (in English) on Lake Skadar there are exhibits relating to all four of the country's national parks. Useful maps and leaflets can also be picked up here and staff can book accommodation on the lake's western shore (see below).
Below the visitor centre and overlooking the lake is the Jezero restaurant which serves lake and sea fish prepared according to your choice, with its conservatory style interior and summer terrace. Its a great place to eat particularly during the summer season. Just to the side of the visitor centre there is also a large wine shop, (daily 10am-6pm) offering the regions finest wines such as Vranac and Krštac. Across the car park, next to the visitor centre, there is always plenty of activity with locals and tour companies offering boat trips on the lake. There are may different options for example you can take a motor boat with guide for say an hour and a half, a larger communal boat, a rowing boat or a canoe (see activities).
The lakes main settlement. Virpazar posses the best range of places to eat and sleep and has its own train station - about 800 metres east of the village. Hotels include the Pelikan , which also has a popular and characterful restaurant serving fish from the lake such as eel and carp as well as menu which includes a Germanic influence. Restaurants in the the town often have their own boats for hire. Wander around the village and have a good lunch before embarking on the narrow road that leads to the Western shore. If interested, there are some beautiful guesthouses, that has been reconstructed and are amazing choice for your stay in this national park. One of those is Villa Miela.
The Western Shore
Travel south through Virpazar and you will enter Skadar's more remote and rocky western shore which constiutes the most absorbing section of the lake. To do this you will need your own transport and the road is narow, winding and often steep. Taking the left fork in the road out of Virpazar and climb steadily along the parks boundary for 4 km you will come across Godinje a small settlement with a unique chain system of cojoined houses with passages and tunnels between them - allegedly built to escape detection from the Ottomans. Further along and climbing higher still before descending to the lakeside town of Murici which has a lovely pebbly lakeside beach. Here you will also find a second visitor centre (May-Sept daily 9am-5pm). There is also some accommodation in the form of of several wooden bungalows a small camping area and a large restaurant offering simple grill and fish dishes.
Lying just off the shore are three monasteries, the late 14th Century, Beška Monastery sitting opposite the beach at Murici. Starcevo Monastery founded in 1377 and to the south Moracnik Monastery built during the 15th century which functioned as a defensive unit against the Turks. To visit the Monasteries enquire at the visitor centre to organise visits by boat. (Boats costs 10-15 Euros and accommodate up to three people).
From Murici the road turns inland through countryside of stone walls and large grey boulders and towards the Albanian border before turning sharply and descending into Ulcinj.
Bird Watching and Other Activities
Few places can match Lake Skadar for the sheer variety of Birdlife. Attracted to the lake by plentiful food stocks and a favourable Mediteranean climate over 280 types of bird have been recorded here - among them some rare and unusual species. Birds such as the great white egret, comorant, glossy ibis, grey heron, eagles and bustards are present in large numbers too. There are in total 5 ornithological reserves around the lake - one of which Panceva Oka , halfway along the Eastern shore is the main nesting site for Dalmatian pelicans, one of the lake's star attractions and one of the most rarely seen birds in Europe.
The lake also provides plenty of opportunities for fishing, the season running from June to mid-March. Permits (5 Euros per day) can be obtained from the main visitor centre in Vranjina. Between May an September, when light winds drift over the lake, its also possible to try your hand at windsurfing, the best port of call being the Pelican Windsurfing club based in Vranjina which can supply all equipment needed for 7 Euros per hour.
Things to do
Touring the area on a lake boat cruise
Rent a boat yourself
Sampling local wine at the Vinyard in Crmnica Vranac