Žabljak, Montenegro

Photo: konikaori via freeimages.com
Photo: konikaori via freeimages.com

Southeast Europe has been one of your favorite summer destinations for a while. You love the lakes of Slovenia, the coast of Croatia, and, of course, the islands of Greece. But you’ve never considered the region for a winter escape. It’s time to change that.

Durmitor National Park, in northwestern Montenegro, is a winter wonderland right now. Durmitor is a massif that includes 48 peaks that are higher than 2,000 meters. Eighteen glacial lakes, nicknamed the Eyes of the Mountain, are scattered across the high plateaus. While deep river canyons, including the second-largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) surround Durmitor. The national park was mapped out in 1952. By 1980, this stunning area had also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You arrive in Žabljak, the highest town in the Balkans, to find A-framed houses, small ski resorts, and lots of snow. History has not been kind to this small mountain town. It was mostly destroyed during the Balkan Wars and was later burned to the ground during World War II. But perhaps its luck is changing. In the last few years, the area’s infrastructure has greatly improved and the ski centers have expanded. Žabljak is now known as the center of winter sports in Montenegro.

You’ll return to Žabljak, but you can’t wait any longer to hit the slopes. Savin Kuk, a few minutes outside of town, may only have two chairlifts, but it’s not an easy mountain to ski. The slopes are long and steep. Dense black pine forests, whose branches are weighed down by heavy snow, cover the bottom of the mountains. Jagged black rocks, which look imposing and icy, cap the top. The first lift brings you midway up the mountain. The wide, bowl-shaped valley below you is breathtakingly beautiful. The second lift stops just short of the summit. Here the panoramic view extends to include Black Lake—one of the now-frozen glacial lakes—and the triangle-shaped peak above you. Fresh, ungroomed powder is below you. Ready to ski?

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