Lake Skadar is the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans. On average, it is 44km long, 10km wide and 8 metres deep, and its border is shared by Albania and Montenegro. Its size is a result of a curious event that took place in 1848 when the river Drina in Albania changed its course, depositing a large quantity of gravel and sand into the entrance of Bojana river. This caused the lake to raise up to 3 meters in height.
Yearly spring floods caused by the Morača river and a series of underwater springs cause change in its surface area from 370 sq km to 530 sq km. These floods bring nutrients and create an environment of abundance for many species of plants and animals.
Its located where the subtropical mediterranean zone meets the continental climate. Temperatures range from -10°C minimum to a maximum of 40.6° C, with the average temperature about 15° C. It gets 125 days of sun annually, and humidity ranges 64% to 80%. Temperatures get above 30°C about 50 days per year. Equally, there are about 50 days annually with thunderstorms.
This subtropical climate and long flowering period extending from March to October has created a biodiversity hot spot like no other. A large surface of the the lake is covered with floating vegetation (Nuphar luteum, Nymphea alba, Trapa natans, Nymphoides pelata, Potamogeton natans) and submerged vegetation nestled in the shallow and sandy floor: Naias marina, Potamogeton perfoliatus, Myriophillum spicatum, Chara sp. Nitell sp., Utrikularia vulgaris and others. The lake is home to numerous invertebrates, amphibian and fish species. The most famous fish is Carp (Cyprinus carpio), a symbol of fertility and devoted to goddess of Aphrodite.
The different habitats found at Lake Skadar attract an incredible range of wildlife and provide one of the five most important birding sites in Europe. Around 73 bird species nest on the lake, 18 bird species will use wetlands on their migratory route and 45 bird species use the lake during the winter.
The most famous of Skadar Lake residents is rare curly Dalmatian Pelican colonies (Pelecanus crispus); the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus) (the biggest world colony of approximately 2000 bird pairs); the Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus); The Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo); the Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca); the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla); as well as several hundreds of Grey Heron (Ardea ralloides). There are five ornithological reserves at Skadar Lake: Manastirska tapija, Grmozur, Omerova gorica, Crni zar, Pancevo oko. Since 1995 it has been a designated Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention as a habitat for water birds. In 2015 it became an EMERALD candidate site looking forward to becoming part of Natura 2000 in the near future.
The surrounding hinterland is home to many plants and animals. The flooded north plains are richly covered in soft wood flood plain forests of white willow (Salisetum albae). Southern kras hill tops are covered with oak forests (Quercus robursladuna a, Querceto castanetum montenegrinum and Quercetum cerris), chestnut (Castanea sativa). The lake is also famous for its medicinal plants and wild orchids. Water chestnut, known locally as “Kasoronj” (Trapa Longicurpa) is only found on the lake.
Wild tortoises, otters (Lutra Lutra), lizards, amphibians, snakes, lynx , foxes, wolves and even wild boar all make their home in and around the lake. In total around 5o mammals are found in the lakes vicinity. Many of the species are endemic.
Needles to say most of the species and habitats are still poorly explored and undocumented.
Lake Skadar has a long, proud history. Inhabited by early Ilirs, Greeks and Romans, once part of Byzantium, the ancient Slav province of Zeta, it was invaded by the Turks in the 13th century and occupied for five centuries with many battles witnessed by now crumbling fortresses such as Besac in Virpazar and Lesendro in Vranjina.
During the fighting days against the Ottomans, Montenegro's rulers established their ruling seat and bastion in the north-west wetlands, at Žabljak Crnojevići, until they were forced to move their capital to Cetinje in 1482.
By the 19th and early 20th century, with an Independent Montenegro, the lake returned to royal glory with King Nikola setting up his summer court at the attractive lake town of Rijeka Crnojevića.
In WW2, Lake Skadar made history again as Virpazar provided the scene of the first Partisan uprising in Montenegro.
Many Monasteries could be found on the outlying small islands of Moracnik and Starcevo, then Vranjina and oldest and largest monastery mostly a ruin Precista Krajinska close to Ostros.
Several settlements with typical stone architecture connected by small windy roads can be found around the lake: Dodosi, Zabljak, Karuc, Godinje . Poseljani village is well known for its 14 stone water mills.
From the times of early human settlement, fish has been a staple diet of local population. Carp, bleak and trout are often conserved by pickling or smoking.
Sitting in an ideal climate between the mountains and the sea, conditions around the lake are wonderful for organic produce. Local gastronomy is influenced by western and eastern cuisines. Locally grown seasonal vegetable and fruit, aromatic herbs (rosemary, sage and mint), honey, goat cheese, smoked ham - prsut are only just a few. Crmnica Valley is well known for its long tradition of wine, growing the famous varieties vranac and krstas. And of course, let’s not forget to mention the powers of the mighty local spirit Rakija!