Step carefully as you walk on the wild side

An active holiday amid fabulous scenery will draw even more of us to emerging Montenegro this year. Andy McSmith reports

Hugh Chapman, our guide to Montenegro from Vista Trails, says he likes unexpected problems because they give him the chance to impress holidaymakers by showing how adept he is at handling them.

And so, we presented him with a humdinger.

In Durmitor National Park, in north Montenegro, which is famous for the beauty of its mountains, there is a walk marked on tourist maps which leads through thick forest way up into the clouds, skirts the peaks of two mountains, and swings around and down back to where it began at the Black Lake, close to where communist partisans had their base in the Second World War. The official advice is that you do not need mountaineering experience, but you need to be careful.

Our two sons, aged 20 and 12, set off at a cracking pace and did the whole walk fast enough to be home in time for supper. The problems arose in the rearguard, where we older folk and our two daughters slowed ourselves by taking a wrong turn, then took a long time making the steep ascent through woodland. By the time we reached what should have been the highest part of the walk, there was a risk that if we weren't quick, we would still be in the mountains when darkness fell.

So we hurried on, without taking enough care to study the map or the contours of the land ahead. We were on a marked path, unaware that it was the wrong one. It was for experienced mountaineers only, and was steering towards the peak of Mali Medjed (Little Bear) which, we learnt later, is notorious as the most dangerous mountain peak in the region.

As the path became so steep that we were rock climbing rather than walking, one of my daughters was struggling. If she slipped, she would tumble several hundred feet on to sharp stones. Fortunately, her mother, Sue, was there to talk her up to safety. But no sooner was she out of danger than there was a loud exclamation from higher up – more anger than fear. Sue had lost her footing. She began tumbling at a dangerous speed. I grabbed her to slow her down, but that meant we were both sliding down treacherous rock. I managed to find a foothold before we had suffered anything worse than badly grazed and bruised arms and legs.

A few minutes later, we were reunited up above the sheer slope, where we could sit and take stock. I felt like a bonehead. I did not want to have to tell anyone that we had got ourselves into a mess. But it could plainly be dangerous to go up, dangerous to go down, and we had lost our last chance of getting back to the Black Lake in daylight. There was nothing to do but ring Hugh and admit that we had been idiots.

He was down on Montenegro's south coast when he got our distress call, but it was not long before mountain rescue was on the way, and Hugh was in his car, insisting on coming up in person to make sure we were all right. He was at our holiday home with the boys before we got there.

Montenegro's mountains must be treated with respect. If you accept that, then it is one the most fabulous unspoilt locations on the continent, especially if you like to combine a bit of lazing on the beach with a bit of exploring and sightseeing. Driving on Montenegro's roads is an adventure. Most are narrow, and quite often there is a sheer drop on one side, which is always interesting when you meet a vehicle coming the opposite way.

One day, we were driving up a mountain road which became so steep that our overladen, nine-seat Opel Vivaro refused to continue, even in first gear and after all the passengers had alighted. So, I had no choice but to roll it back down, mindful that a wrong turn of the steering wheel could plunge car and driver into the valley below. Another hazard that we encountered, which you won't come across on a British highway, was having to stop because there was a wild tortoise eating a fig that had dropped from a roadside tree. However, the fabulous scenery more than compensates for such hassles.

Not content with being rescued from a mountain, our daughters decided to defy death by bungee jumping off the bridge over the Tara Canyon, the deepest river canyon in Europe. The only other people we saw making this jump, which involved falling 142m (466ft) and being boinged back up nearly 400ft, were young men. I, of course, would have joined them, but there is an upper age limit.

As one of the girls was hanging upside down at the conclusion of her jump, she waved to the folks who were white-water rafting on the Tara river below. We had all done that the day before. It sounds energetic, but it is mostly very restful. With the walls of the Tara canyon towering over you, you feel as if you have drifted into the world of Tolkien.

One evening, Hugh took us on a boat trip along the coast. The boat was Le Coche d'Eau, which was once a pleasure cruiser on the Seine but was brought from Paris to Montenegro at great expense by a former ship's pilot named Rajko Cavor. And we met Ilija Moric, another of Hugh's many contacts, who runs an organic olive grove in a village called Tici, on the Lustica peninsula, Montenegro's most southerly, which his family has farmed for centuries. In the cellar beneath their home there is an old wooden press for crushing olives, preserved in working order. The family prevailed on us to try drinking pure olive oil: it has a curious taste of mown grass, and causes a slight burning sensation in the throat.

We did another walk across a mountain down in the south, where the paths are less hazardous. We started at a point near Tivat, a coastal town on the south side of a peninsula, and, under a baking sun, we ascended to a path 2,195ft above sea level where we walked along a wide ledge with views of the Adriatic on both sides. We then took an old military path that zigzagged down the north side to Kotor, a town tucked into a bay with an old city wall that seems to thread almost vertically up the mountainside. At night, it is lit like a gigantic necklace. This time we didn't need to ask Hugh for his help. But don't hesitate – he likes handling problems.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Vista Trails (0292 125 2027; vista offers a seven-night holiday in Montenegro, with accommodation and transfers, from £595 per person. Flights cost extra.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine