Montenegro Pure & Raw: Vusanje

If you don’t intend to walk the Peaks of the Balkans you might wonder where Vusanje is and what you should do there. In fact, it’s a bit of the same story as with the entire country, Montenegro. When I told my friends and family I was going to Montenegro nearly everyone looked at me puzzled, wondering what the heck I was going to do there.

This is more or less the look I get when I tell people I go to Montenegro

The same happened when I told the lady working in the hostel in Kotor that I was heading towards Vusanje. Even though she’s a local she couldn’t understand why I’d voluntarily go to such a tiny village tucked away in the mountains of Montenegro.

View over Vusanje

Little did the lady know that this was exactly what I was looking for: a place far away from the crowds; a place where I could finally turn inward and just have some time with myself and with nature. Vusanje turned out to be the most perfect place to be.

Undisturbed tranquility and nature is what you’ll find in Vusanje

Vusanje is one of the gateways to the Prokletije National Park, one of Montenegro’s five national parks. It is also on the Peaks of the Balkans trail which is a well-known 10-day trek through the mountains of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. But apart from the sporadic trekkers I met during my five day stay, I didn’t meet a single tourist who was not doing the trek. In fact, while hiking I rarely met any person. I seemed to meet more cows on the way than humans. I do have to admit I was a bit early in the season (beginning of June) which might explain why the cows outnumbered the humans.

Either way, for me and my purposes (searching for solitude and tranquility) this was just the right place to be. But does Vusanje have something to offer to people who are not necessarily running away from society? You bet.

An abundance of hiking trails

Before coming to Vusanje I did little research concerning the hiking trails. As long as I was surrounded my mountains, trees and plants, I was happy. When I arrived I checked maps.me for a trail but got a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of trails. A bit confused of which direction to go I ended up asking the hosts in my guesthouse which trail was best. I ended up doing three rather well known hikes. I would have had to spend another week in order to explore those other small trails (which I’ll probably do one day ;))

The Ropojana Valley

On my first day I went out to the Ropojana valley together with my companion Zedan. You might wonder: Who is Zedan? Zedan is the horse I rented from my hosts at Dedushi Guesthouse. For €25 a day I was allowed to take the horse all by myself to explore the beautiful surroundings. Even though I know horse riding, I was a bit nervous to just take off with an unknown horse, but believe me this horse is just perfect for this activity! It’s extremely sensible to the reins and will react straight away. Even a gentle pull will make it stop. Eventually, I didn’t even hold the reins anymore if I didn’t want to give any instruction.

Riding into the valley

Furthermore, it’s so calm and easy going, I wondered whether this horse is even able to run. I ended up changing my lenses on the back of the horse, there was no way this horse would ever take off with me. The only time I felt it was nervous was when we met dogs and cows on the way.

Exploring the Ropojana Valley by horse is perfect as it is mainly flat. We followed the trail nearly all the way to the Albanian border (which, by the way, is also the Peaks of the Balkans trail towards Theth). The scenery was simply stunning! Left and right you can gaze at the awe inspiring mountains while you’re passing green meadows, blue streams and occasional forest. Just before the Albanian border there is a big lake. The lake is beautiful with its green water and the majestic mountains in the background.

On the way, I almost didn’t meet anyone which made the entire experience all the more special. It was just me, Zedan, the mountains and the singing of the birds. The only people I met were some locals (with their dogs) and two police officers who checked my passport (and offered me a cookie afterwards. Wish my Dutch police officers would do this once in a while!) When I got back home, my host told me those officers are checking Peak of the Balkans hikers who want to cross the border illegally. So, if you’re planning to do the trail, make sure you’ve got your papers all set and done as these hiking trails are no official borders.

Pit stop

P.s. On the way there is a “blue eye” called Oko Skakavice which I unfortunately missed. I did stop to have a look but only saw a waterfall and thought that the blue eye had been flooded by water due to the heavy rainfall in those days. This wasn’t the case and I was just supposed to walk a bit further…Please, don’t make the same mistake!

The trail towards Çerem

On my second day I randomly went up the hill behind my guesthouse and started following a trail with either a red/white dot or red and white stripes. By that time I didn’t know but it turned out to be part of the Peaks of the Balkans trail between Valbona and Çerem (both in Albania). It’s a very pleasant path which first leads through beautiful meadows. It may sound stupid but this meadows are seriously intriguing. I love watching those meadows with their rich variety of different kinds of greens, with dots of yellow, white, purple and blue flowers.

I’d be a happy horse on this kind of meadow!
While walking in the mountains we’re sometimes too distracted by those spectacular views that we forget to see what kind of beauty there is to see on the lower level.

After passing by the meadows, you’ll have to take a left turn at a certain point. The trail is small and might not be very clear, but just look out for the rock on the picture below.

Turn left here

From here you’ll slowly but steadily start to ascend up the mountain on a trail which leads between the forest. At a certain point the path leads through the forest. Obviously, there are no views from here and you’ll be forced to soak up those different shades of green, highlighted with the colours of the flowers.

Art made by nature

Once you get out of the forest you will find yourself on a huge meadow which leads to an even bigger meadow. From here you’ll start to have a view over the valley behind you and the mountains in front of you. The higher you climb, the more magnificent the view gets.

But what I even liked more was the surprise that was waiting for me at the end of this trail. All of a sudden I found myself in the midst of a landscape full of rocks! The rocks added so much more drama to the setting which really came as a nice surprise.

And of course, still flowers everywhere!

I followed the path until I passed over the rocks and found a rather abandoned sign post. I decided it was time to turn back as I could see clouds coming up over the valley. This turned out to be perfect timing, as it started pouring rain just five minutes after I arrived back to the guest house 🙂

The Grebaje Valley 

After the hike towards Çerem, my knees were hurting and I needed to find a rather flat hike. So, I decided to walk all the way from Vusanje to the Grebaje Valley which leads almost all the way on even, asphalted roads. 

Obviously, the hike is not as scenic as the previous ones, though the last part through the valley is truly beautiful. I got so swept away by the beauty that I eventually did want to try hiking up to a viewpoint, despite the pain in my knee. Unfortunately, the trail was inaccessible as it was flooded by the rain. Well, I took it as a sign from above to take a step back and just enjoy the lower parts of the valley. And for sure, I am going to be back one day to explore the myriad of hiking trails in the area. It’s always good to have a reason to come back to Montenegro 😉

The flooded hiking trail…

If you’re having difficulty walking just like me, it’s already worth going to Škala by car and from there head into the valley. For longer hikes, I’d do exactly the same as it saves you time. For as far as I know the most well known hike in the valley is the hike towards the Talijanka and Volušnica peak, but there are many more. I guess it’s safe to say you can easily spend up to a week without getting bored of the hikes.

Ali Pasha springs 

On my way back to Vusanje I stopped by the Ali Pasha springs which are about one kilometer from Gusinje on the way to Vusanje. The springs are not breathtaking, but worth a quick stop if you’re already on your way. 

Montenegrin Lifestyle & Hospitality 

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the incredible Montenegrin hospitality and the joy I felt to enjoy their traditional lifestyle. All over the country you will meet friendly, hospitable people who have managed to hold on to some lifestyle traditions which got lost in most of the western European households. Especially, while staying in guesthouses, you’ll be delighted with the variety of homemade or homegrown produces. 

If you appreciate the hospitality and you enjoy watching people doing the things even your grandmother gave up on, Vusanje is the place to be. Here you can really enjoy witnessing how people still live in sync with nature, not plagued by the stresses of a city or the toxicity of modern lifestyle. 

At home, for example, I barely eat any dairy and animal products anymore. I avoid it not only because of the way it’s produced, but also because my body reacts negatively to it. But every time my kind hosts in Dedushi guest house offered me their homemade cheese and yoghurt, along with the eggs of the free roaming chicken in their garden, I savoured every little bit of it! And not even once did my body feel upset after one of those heavy breakfasts which would fill me up until dinner time. 

Not only did I see the chickens walking in the backyard, but I even got directions from the father where to find the cows to whom I owed the delicious cheese and yoghurt. Together with their five other horses (one of them in grazing in the backyard as well), those cows are happily grazing on their mountain meadow which is filled with fresh and colourful plants and herbs.I could literally taste the happiness of the cows through their products 😉

One of my hosts cows, happily grazing with his friends

The laid-back setting in Vusanje and the fact that it’s not overrun by tourists, gave me the opportunity to really experience the Montenegrin hospitality. In the guest house my hosts were always checking on my well-being, asking whether everything was ok, offering me drinks and food. On the streets (if I ever got to meet someone), people who speak the slightest bit of English are genuinely interested in where you’re from and what brings you to this seemingly deserted corner of their country. 

If people see a way to help you, they will most definitely do so. While I was hiking to the Grebaje Valley I actually got quite some offers for a ride, without sticking my thumb up even once. The first ride I got was from a couple who had just gone to Vusanje to pick up some fresh milk. They were on their way back home and once we arrived there they (of course!) offered me to come in for a drink. Well, actually it was not really an offer, it was more a command. They insisted and I gratefully accepted their offer.  

With barely any English from their side and no Serbian from my side, we communicated our way along while they offered me some delicious homemade blueberry juice (which got refilled to the rim every time I took two sips), coffee and homegrown walnuts. I seriously enjoyed this kind of hospitality and was surprised how well messages can get across without formal language. 

The wonderful couple who offered me so much more than just a ride.

The seemingly small interactions I had with people actually had a dramatic effect on my mood. As I had mentioned in the beginning, my main goal in Montenegro was being alone. I was fed up with people and was upset seeing how our world is evolving these days. People seem to be drifting further away from nature and from each other, creating a toxic atmosphere which not only damages us physically but also emotionally and spiritually. 

These small encounters gave me some hope again and made me realize that there are still places which are not yet “contaminated” by the modern lifestyle and where traditional values still count. Don’t get me wrong, there are some modern aspects I highly value (equal rights, freedom of speech etc.), but wouldn’t it be great to get back some of those traditional values? I guess our world would definitely benefit if all of us would connect a little bit more to nature, to the products we eat and put on our skin and most of all: to each other. 

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