European Union External Action

Unveiling the hidden landscapes of Montenegro: The EU's work to preserve cultural heritage helps boost tourism in the Western Balkans

20/12/2017 - 06:00
News stories

Climbing up Mount Orjen above Risan in Montenegro, you come across the ruins of what was once the biggest bakery in the Balkans and the second largest in Europe. The European Union has helped this and other cultural and natural sights in Montenegro reach the maps of tourists worldwide, sharing this rich cultural heritage and boosting local growth and jobs.

Montenegro, Mount Orjen, Risan, Balkans, European Union, Crkvice

Most of the locals know that Crkvice is famous as the place with the largest annual rainfall in Europe. It is much less well known that this region is nonetheless surprisingly dry due to having the one of the deepest layers of limestone in the world. This leads to unique conditions that are characteristic of very rare habitats.

Here vegetation provides food and shelter for birds and other animals, but also hides stone ruins, remnants of once-magnificent human constructions. Some 100 years ago, Crkvice provided food for the whole of the Bay of Kotor and further afield. The stone ruins are the remnants of an old bakery that used to be the largest bakery in the Balkans and produced over 24 tons of bread a day. At that time, there were 150 buildings here, whose remains today speak of grandeur and transience. The moss-covered stone ruins once made up a complex belonging to the Austro-Hungarian army, with a hotel, tennis court, bowling alley, football field with stands for 1,000 spectators, cinema, church, bakery, hospital, stables, and even a funicular.

Thanks to the project “The Southern Dinarides’ Eco and Cultural Tourism Actions” and the financial assistance of the European Union, it is no longer hard for visitors to discover the hidden landscapes and wildlife of this region.

“The trails have been cleared, tourist information boards have been put up, and now a foreigner who goes on this tour has all the information they need here. And not only do they have it on the site, but it is also available in hiking clubs and all the places where tourist services are offered. For example, if tourists stop for a coffee somewhere, they will find a map of the mountain with all the information that can inspire them to go there”, says Jovana Janjušević from the Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP), which implemented the project together with the Faculty of Economics in Sarajevo, the Municipality of Plužine and the NGO Eco Boka.

 

The magic of the Piva Nature Park is perhaps even less well-known. In 35 locations, Piva hides a whopping 787 medieval standing tombstones, “stećci”. One of these locations, due to the magical charge generated in the collision between Piva and Durmitor, is called the Montenegrin Stonehenge. Some of them were recently entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Stećci are scattered throughout the meadows and mountains of Piva, which makes the search for them a real adventure.

Thanks to the CZIP’s project, it is difficult for travellers to get lost, because a map of the area has been produced, and the local inns and ethno-villages are armed with helpful instructions. “In addition, in Pluzine, an interactive display has been installed through which anyone can access the offer of Piva, 24/7”, says Janjušević.

Another unique feature of this region is that here birdwatchers can come across all ten European species of woodpeckers, also known as “bird astronauts”. Why astronauts? Because this unique bird, while searching for insects hiding under the bark, hits the tree with its beak with a force that is 1,200 times stronger than the force of gravity, 250 times more force than astronauts experience during lift-off!

 

The little-known skills and abilities of local women have also been successfully included in the tourist offer. Their handicrafts have been given an internet platform for promotion, and can also be purchased in tourist centres. This is a step towards a new concept of the economy in which culture and nature themselves become sources of income for local populations. It is estimated that cultural tourism accounts for 40% of all European tourism; 4 out of 10 tourists choose their destination based on its cultural offering, and Europe makes a key cultural tourism destination thanks to an incomparable cultural heritage ranging from museums to gastronomy.