The second part of an amazing 4×4 tour through the Balkan state of Montenegro that is home to brown bears, the second deepest canyon in the world and scary homemade ‘brandy’, finds our Editor at Large driving tight forest tracks, desolate, high, mountain rocky roads and visiting the spectacular Adriatic Coast
Words and photography: Hils Everitt
On the first two days of our tour of Montenegro with adventure company Medraft we looked down upon the stunning Sushica Canyon and wound our way through the deeply-rutted, muddy trails of the Crno Jsil forest; then climbed to the snowy peaks of the Dinaric mountains to the north of the country, revelling in its rugged beauty.
On day three of our tour we woke up in the superb Hotel Lipka in the ski resort of Kolasin and were told by our guide, the seven-feet-tall Gilad, that the day would start with a short hike around another beautiful lake. Medraft tours not only offer you the chance to jump into a 4×4 and explore new countries and landscapes; the Israel-based operation is also keen to promote nature and conservation and so takes every opportunity to encourage its clients out of its fleet of 4x4s and enjoy their new surroundings on foot, as well as meet local people. “We have three main areas that our tours are focused on,” explained Medraft CEO Omer Flum. “First is nature, then comes culture and finally adventure, which as well as 4×4 driving, includes cycling, riding, walking and rafting. We like to give our clients the full experience, with guides providing all the local knowledge and entertaining stories!”
We were more than happy with that, so off we went for a short drive in our ex-United Nations Toyota 4Runners north from Kolasin for a refreshing stroll around the Biogradska Lake within the beautiful Biogradska Gora National Park. This being a Saturday, we expected to find the park teeming with families out for some well-earned R’n’R but, to our surprise, it was extremely quiet. It seems the Montenegrins don’t venture out that much into their beautiful surroundings: shame.
Biogradska Gora National Park nestles within the Bjelasica Mountains and includes 1600 hectares of virgin forest. It’s one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests and really is a beautiful setting. After circumnavigating the mirror-like lake, we wandered on through the dense foliage of beech, fir, juniper, white ash and maple trees, savouring the evocative whiff of wild garlic in our nostrils as the forest floor was a swathe of its sweet-smelling flowers. All along the way our highly knowledgeable local guide Miroslav (Miro) Nikezic offered numerous facts and figures about the tour. Miro owns Discovery-Tours travel agency, which provides the Toyota 4Runners and all the guides for the Medraft tours in Montenegro. What he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing; not only that, we doubt whether anyone could impart all that knowledge to his guests in quite such an idiosyncratic and enthusiastic manner – a born entertainer!
After soaking up the atmosphere around the lake and revelling in the splendid views of the snow-capped mountains that surrounded us, it was time for the forest drive, in which we would scale the heights of the National Park. Once again, as with previous days on the trip, it was such a pleasure just to jump in, engage four high and amble off on the forest trails, with none of the ‘keep out’ signs nor threats of prosecution that litter the byways of the UK these days. No-one batted an eyelid as we left the car park, by now beginning to fill up, and started to climb the woodland trails.
At first it was a tight, twisting route that occasionally required some careful manoeuvring to get the 4Runners around the hairpins. As this was mid May, we were the first vehicles to tackle these routes for the season and, as far as Miro and Gilad knew, the way was clear for us to climb to the top of the forest and emerge into the sunshine to marvel in the views of the Bjelasica Mountains.
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Medraft offers a range of self-drive tours led by local guides to Georgia (Toyota Land Cruiser); Morocco (Mitsubishi Pajero); Bulgaria (Kia Sorento and SsangYong Kyron); Spain (Nissan Patrol and Pathfinder); Greece (Suzuki Grand Vitara); India (Mahindra); Iceland (Mitsubishi Pajero); Romania (Suzuki Grand Vitara); Turkey (Grand Vitara); Guatamala (various); and, of course, Montenegro (Toyota 4Runners). The company has access to 150 vehicles around the world and local guides. Visit www.medraft.com for more details.
Read more about this 4×4 adventure in the September 2011 issue of 4×4 Magazine. Buy it here