Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The mountainous country where Montenegro abuts onto Albania is one of Europe's true wilderness areas. Guest contributor Rudolf Abraham describes the Prokletije region. The name means "accursed". Read on!

article summary —

Montenegro’s status as Europe’s newest country has been challenged by neighbouring Kosovo. That does nothing to diminish Montenegro’s appeal. It is a country that boasts a wonderful coastline, some superb townships, the most engaging of which is Kotor with its lovely fjord, and an endless variety of mountain landscapes. To Tennyson, the Montenegrins were a race of mighty mountaineers, and anyone encountering the crowds of Montenegrins who cluster on the top of Mount Lovcen on sunny summer days will see first-hand the affection of Montenegrins for their mountains. There may be something of the Montenegrin soul bound up in Mount Lovcen, but the country has mountains that are wilder and more beautiful. Guest author Rudolf Abraham takes us to Prokletije, a superbly rugged region where Montenegro borders onto Albania.

Few are the visitors who probe Montenegro's mountainous border with northern Albania. It is a fascinating and remote area, a spectacular landscape of isolated valleys and fang-like peaks, with a long and compelling history. Lying at the headwaters of the River Tara and the River Lim, and marching with the narrow finger of territory which forms the northern tip of Albania, this area constitutes one of the wildest remaining corners of Europe.

The best-known area of these mountains is Prokletije (Bjeshkët e Nemuna in Albanian). Meaning ‘the accursed mountains', Prokletije was, according to local folklore, created by the devil himself, unleashed from hell for a single day of mischief. Scoured by glaciers during the last ice age, the landscape shows all the hallmarks of a region shaped by ice: glaciated cirques and broad, U-shaped valleys. Glaciation in the Prokletije region actually occurred at a much lower altitude than elsewhere in the Balkans, or even in the Alps. Experts say that a glacier in the Plav-Gusinje area, the largest in the region, was about thirty-five kilometres long and some two hundred metres thick. Above the ice-worn valleys the skyline bristles with jagged limestone crags, the northern slopes of which carry snow well into the summer. The physical character of the terrain is reflected in such exotically named peaks as Ocnjak ('fang') and Karanfili ('carnations').

Sitting at the edge of these mountains is the small town of Gusinje. In some ways Gusinje appears to have the conservative, rather remote feel of a village far removed from western Europe. Yet at promenade time during the late afternoon and early evening, its streets are awash with miniskirts and designer jeans. Gusinje boasts a stone-walled mosque with the distinctive wooden minaret so characteristic of the area. There is a similar, slightly smaller mosque in the village of Vusanje, a little further up the valley.

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Rudolf Abraham is an award-winning travel writer and photographer specialising in Croatia and Eastern Europe. He is the author of several books including Walking in Croatia, The Mountains of Montenegro, Torres del Paine and St Oswald's Way, all published by Cicerone, National Geographic Traveller Croatia, and is co-author of Istria - The Bradt Travel Guide. He has also updated the Bradt guides to Croatia and Transylvania, and his work has been published widely in magazines and online.

In 2012 his article on the 16th-century pirates of the Croatian Adriatic, the Uskoks, published in hidden europe 34, secured an award for best travel feature from the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, of which Rudolf is a member. He is also a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Current projects include Croatian Miscellany, an ongoing and deeply personal portrait of this southeast European country, as well as new guidebooks to Croatia's islands, Arctic Norway, the Faroes and the mountains of eastern Turkey.

He lives in London. Find out more about Rudolf's work on www.rudolfabraham.co.uk or visit his blog at rudolfabraham.wordpress.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 20.