The project of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, “Peaks of the Balkans” – a common route offered to mountaineers and lasting 10 to 13 days, received the first prize at the global summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council in Abu Dhabi. With this project, 192 kilometers of hiking trails in three states have been marked – says Redžepagić
Region of Plavsko and Gusinja recorded a record number of tourists this year. Mountain tourism, which is increasingly popular in the world, is expanding in Prokletije this year. The hiking season is just ending and it starts in the spring with the melting of the snow.
A large number of mountain peaks, marked and bicycle paths are a good basis for the development of rural, i.e. Katun tourism, in their immediate vicinity. The construction of new accommodation capacities, or rehabilitation of existing ones (renovation of old stone houses and towers), with the offer of local food, along with new tourist products and offers, would significantly complement and improve the tourist offer of the National Park of Prokletije and Montenegro.
Boban Redžepagić claims that the cultural offer in the Prokletije National Park area is now threatened because there is more and more wild construction in the park’s territory and in the immediate surroundings.
– The construction of huge modern buildings whose existence threatens the protection or use of cultural property is gaining momentum. The enjoyment of wild nature, spiritual rest, tasting the traditional life of Katun is increasingly threatened – he appeals.
Zla Kolata is the highest peak in Montenegro – 2,534 meters. The whole change in the hospitality industry of Gusinja came about when researchers from a Polish institute determined that Prokletije is the highest peak in Montenegro, not Durmitor. That’s when they start hiking tours. New ethnic villages and guest houses are opening. Locals are trying to start businesses and stay in their area.
According to Boban Redžepagić, an expert associate for relations with visitors in NP Prokletije, this year’s tourist season exceeded expectations in an interview for Caffe Montenegro. NP Prokletije hosted more than 20,000 tourists!
Nature is increasingly in demand
– There is an increasing number of those who turn to mountain tourism, because people want nature, not concrete. Tourists are looking for a rural way of life, and katuns are a very attractive and valuable tourist product – points out Redžepagić.
In order to improve the offer in the coming years, Redžepagić is of the opinion that the institution he represents together with local tourism organizations must devote attention and help to the development of rural-Katun households because the demand is increasing.
Redžepagić reminds that Prokletije National Park was declared in 2009.
– From that year to 2015, the number of visitors was mostly around 3,000 tourists. In recent years, we have been constantly recording an increase in the number of tourists due to increased marketing – says Redžepagić.
The visitors are from the following countries: Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, Poland, Austria, France, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary, Ukraine, India, New Zealand, England, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo.
Of them, as Redžepagić points out, the most visits were made by people from foreign countries (mainly Germany), while the least were from domestic ones. However, he notes that domestic tourists are significantly more than in previous years, which is due to better promotion at the level of Montenegro, which is due to the new border crossing through Albania, which significantly shortened the Podgorica-Gusinja road.
– The visitors are mainly mountaineers and mountain hikers – those who want to go where the human hand has not touched, to the areas of untouched nature and to the cursed peaks – says Redžepagić.
He emphasizes that we are obliged to present and reveal Prokletije to the world.
– When it comes to the wealth of biodiversity, the fact that nearly 2,000 different plant species live in Prokletije National Park is impressive, which is half of the total flora in Montenegro and almost a fifth of the total Balkan flora! Also, a large number of endemics have been recorded in Prokletije, which make up a significant part of the endemic flora of the Balkan Peninsula – notes Redžepagić.
He adds that this mountain massif stands out as the most important center of herpetofauna diversity.
– When it comes to birdlife, more than 180 species of birds have been registered in this area, which Prokletije describes as a mountain massif with the richest birdlife in Montenegro and beyond. Attention is also drawn to the fact that the presence of endangered and protected species of mammals has been recorded in this area. Then, numerous lakes adorn the magical spaces of the mountains. The most famous is the group of six glacial lakes located in the Buna and Jezercës valleys, north of the Maja Jezerce peak – says Redžepagić.
He also mentions Hrid Lake – a nature reserve – that is, an area with exceptional natural values that deserves special floristic and ambient-aesthetic attention.
Rich algae flora
– Hrid Lake is a water ecosystem with the richest algoflora within the Prokletije National Park. 245 species have been registered in the algal flora of this lake. Of these, 78 species were recorded for the first time in Montenegro at this locality! It also hides some special endemic species such as the newt, a tailed amphibian that hides in the water. The Alpine Triton – an amphibian that can live up to 2,500 meters above sea level – points out Redžepagić.
Damn, there are three countries in the border zone, so good cooperation with Albania and Kosovo is needed for the development of tourism. Redžepagić confirms that we have it and that they even have a project of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, “Peaks of the Balkans” – one common route that they offer to mountaineers.
– That project was awarded the first prize at the global summit of the World Council for Tourism and Travel in Abu Dhabi. The project allows tourists to experience the most beautiful hiking routes of Prokletije that connect all three states. The “Peaks of the Balkans” project marked 192 kilometers of hiking trails in all three countries. The trails pass by glacial lakes, authentic katuns, through the national park. Signalization was installed, a guide and map of the trails were prepared, but also an agreed procedure for crossing the border for tourists, outside the official crossings – explains Redžepagić.
Redžepagić singles out Heart Lake – on the Kosovo side of Prokletije, located between 2,200 and 2,500 meters above sea level on the northern slopes of Maja e Gusanit near Đeravica.
– The lake is heart-shaped, which makes it particularly interesting for tourists. In its vicinity, there are many smaller lakes, which are also formed in the spring by the melting of snow and ice. During the summer months, it is possible to swim in Lake Srcolik – points out Redžepagić.
It takes 10 to 13 days, he says, t” cover the entire trail, depending on the readiness of the mountaineer. The trail is circular, so you can start your hike in any of the three countries it passes through, Plav, Gusinje – Montenegro, Theth – Albania, or Peć – Kosovo.
– A third of the total length of the track passes through Montenegro. It can also be said that it is the most beautiful part of the Vrhovi Balkana trail. We have connected Prokletije in all three countries and are now bringing them closer to mountaineers around the world. And mountaineering is on the rise among them as well, especially for Kosovo – claims Redžepagić.
Tours in three countries
He is a mountain guide himself and has led numerous tours so far. He claims that the work of a guide is demanding and difficult.
– It is important to know that no hiking activity can be realized if the hiking guide does not design and organize it. Very often in difficult, undefined and problematic situations, in an insufficiently known environment, as well as in bad weather conditions, sometimes harsh, the guide must make the right decision, and that at the moment when it is most important. In the end, he should do everything so that the mountaineering action goes as safely as possible and that all, or at least most of the participants, are ultimately satisfied. Thank God, so far most of the mountaineers who went on tours with me are satisfied and full of positive impressions – says Redžepagić.
And he had them everywhere. He especially points out the great interest of Serbians in Đeravica (Kosovo). In recent years, he mostly leads groups from Serbia through Kosovo’s Prokletije.
– The hiking tours I organize are mostly one-day, they consist of a climb to one of the peaks of Prokletije. As part of the tour, on the way to the top, glacial lakes, katuns, etc. are usually visited – says Redžepagić, adding that the tours are mostly organized in the summer and until late in the fall.
– Due to the large amount of snow on Prokletije, the conditions for hiking in winter are quite difficult and are only a challenge for the few and most prepared – said Redžepagić.
In order for someone to be a mountain guide, he emphasizes that one must have good knowledge of mountain trails, roads, and possess theoretical knowledge of the entire area.
– Of course, and constantly get additional education. It is necessary to have a broader education. History and geography are the most important, but not the only, segments of this work. Tourists are interested in lifestyle, laws, political situation, living conditions, etc. The guide should know how to assess what is interesting to tourists and what is not. Not every group is the same, and therefore neither are their interests. Based on the questions they ask you while walking from one point to another, you should assess what they are interested in – said Redžepagić at the end, for local media.