All posts by Kevin Holsapple

The author of Prime Passages is Kevin Holsapple. Currently living in northern New Mexico, Kevin has traveled extensively over the years and aspires to do alot more of that in the coming years. Now semi-retired, Kevin's working life included management of a destination tourism activity, community development work, advising and training small businesses, operating recreational tours, and even operating a beer hall.

The Cretan Way

Mountain, Coast, and Gorge Hiking

The Cretan Way is the premier long-distance hiking route on the island of Crete.  Although our walks were limited to segments of the route in the White Mountains in the western part of Crete, it is possible to cross the entire island (west to east or vice versa).  The Cretan Way is a part of the  European long-distance path E4 which covers more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) between Tarifa in Spain and Cyprus.  The E4 passes through eleven countries in all.  The segment in Crete, the Cretan Way is 320 kilometers (about 200 miles) in length and there are a number of variants that can be taken along the route.

[This post is the last in a series of three articles about a visit to Crete, hiking on the Cretan Way, and exploring the beer culture there.]

We encountered three kinds of hikes during our days on the trail – those that generally followed along the coast; hikes in steep gorges that cut into the mountains from the coast; and hikes up on high mountain routes.  Our nights would be spent in guesthouses in villages along the route.  We would stay for a couple of nights in each and would spend time either on the beach or doing day hikes.  Our luggage would be moved by our hosts freeing us to hike with just day packs carrying water and a snack.  Importantly (for beer hikers like me) there were enough snack bars, cafes, and villages along the way that I never lacked for a cold beer to reward myself along the way.

My highlights on the Cretan Way
My highlights on the Cretan Way

Coastal Hiking

Pathways along the coast connect a series of pretty seaside villages along with some beaches and archeological sites between.  When next to the sea you might be walking on a beach or rocky shore.  At other times the path will move up the side of the hills and mountains adjacent to the sea and be carved into the terrain.  Occasionally the terrain makes the shoreline impassible and the route will climb up over mountain features that jut out into the sea.  Given the distances and terrain involved, we advise not underestimating the difficulty of these hikes.

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Highlands Hikes

We rode a bus up into the mountains for two nights on the Omalos Plateau.  From our accommodation, we hiked into the highlands of the White Mountains.  Gigilos is an imposing mountain also known as “Zeus’ Throne”.  The refuge at Kallergi is a 40 bunk mountain hut that is owned and operated by the Greek Mountaineering Club of Chania.  The attendant told us that volunteers from the club play the major role in running the place.  Sometimes they will have Lafkas White Mountains Ale on the menu but they were out on they day we went there so I settled for an ESA Pilsener with my bowl of tasty squash soup.

Hiking Gorges

Crete features hikes in a number of spectacular gorges that plunge from high up in the mountains down to the sea.  The Samaria gorge is the longest in Europe covering more than 11 miles (18 km) and dropping more than 5000 feet – it is the most famous hiking route on Crete so it is very busy.  The Agia Irini gorge is also spectacular but we ran into few others on the route.  Both gorges had nicely-placed cafes at the bottom with much appreciated cold beer.  Both gorges can be traveled to by public bus.

Samaria
Agia Irini

Stopovers along the Cretan Way

Hanging out on the beaches at our overnight stops was a terrifically calm and relaxing time.  We spent time in the villages of Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro, and Chora Sfakia.  Each of these places has its unique charms and all feature whitewashed structures set against the deep blue sea.  Every accommodation turned out to be at comfortable places with welcoming, friendly hosts.  Although the villages are small, there are plenty of services and dining options in each to nicely support a couple of days stay.

Foot Therapy

Since the trip, I’ve been told that this kind of spa service is either politically incorrect or hygienically incorrect or both, so I apologize for not knowing this ahead of time.  It felt pretty damn good though at the time, and luckily nothing was catching.

 

An index of all stories relating to Crete is available here.

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Beer for Cretans

always the right time at this Heraklion beer bar

Beer for Cretans is definitely not the same thing as beer for cretins.  But most people don’t spend much time thinking about beer with respect to either of those groups — probably more for cretins than Cretans.  At any rate, when I was looking for some new and different hiking locations I discovered that Crete has a nascent local beer scene to be explored before, during, and after interesting looking hikes.

[This post is the second in a series of three articles about a visit to Crete, hiking on the Cretan Way, and exploring the beer culture there.]

Beer culture in Greece is a fairly modern development.  Even though beer imported from Germany and elsewhere was consumed in Greece before then, the first Greek breweries didn’t appear until late in the 19th century.  Beer is a popular drink though, particularly in the summertime.  Just fill in the blank and complete this series of things that go together quite nicely:  warm, sunny climate; beaches; and  ____________ .   Annual per capita beer consumption in Greece is about 36 liters and has been increasing – that compares with about 75 liters in the USA and 104 liters in Germany.  Nevertheless, I saw people drinking beer everywhere and I found that I could get beer whenever I wanted.  Local and craft beers were harder to find – more on that later.

Historically, popular brands have derived from German-style lagers.  The big breweries and brands in Greece are Heinekin-owned Athenian Brewery (Athens  Alpha, Amstel, Mamos), and Carlsberg-owned Olympic Brewery (Fix, Mythos), Greek-owned  EZA Hellenic Brewery of Atalanti (EZA Pils, EZA Lager, Pils Hellas), and Greek-owned Macedonian Thrace Brewery (Vergina Lager, Red, Black, Weiss, and unfiltered lager).  I understand that these four companies account for more than 95% of the Greek beer market.  Imports and craft are the rest – I’ve seen estimates of the craft share being about 1% and there currently being about 45 craft breweries in the country.  This number has increased fairly rapidly since 2011 when there were only seven registered microbreweries.

Charma lager
Charma lager

It could have been the setting, or maybe that my beer drinking often came after a hike in the sun, but I don’t remember having a beer I didn’t enjoy in Crete.  As for the non-local Greek brands, I’d recommend you find draft versions of the Alpha and Mythos if you can (versus bottled).  I didn’t try the Greek version of Amstel and I never encountered any of the Verginas on Crete.  I drank Mamos, ESA, and Fix several times when there wasn’t a local option and I’d rate them as pleasant surprises.  For the most part, though, I was trying local and craft beers whenever I could find them.

While on Crete, I visited five of the six local breweries that my research identified, and I’ll also discuss a couple of craft beer venues that were interesting stops along the way.  Finding the local beers along the hiking route or even when thirsty in a city was a pretty hit-or-miss proposition.  I was told by more than one of the brewers that tastes will need to grow beyond the expectation of a very inexpensive light lager for this to change, but that change is happening.

Cretan Beer Highlights
Cretan Breweries & Beer Highlights

Lyra Brewery

Lyra Brewery is located near the center of a small, seaside town named Kissamos.  It took a little finding as it is purely a brewery – no tasting room or retail presence here.  We were greeted by founder and brewer, Charis “Harry” Maragoudakis who showed us around the small brewery he opened in 2012 and shared their flagship Golden Ale over conversation on their shady patio.  Harry spoke good English although at first, I didn’t recognize it – he has an Australian accent to his English from growing up “down under”.  The Golden Ale is the sole beer brewed currently and it was clear that Harry has a laser focus on quality and consistency of any beer he will brew and that has been concentrated on his single offering.  He told me that he is thinking about a red ale for the future, but for now, it’s a concentration on the Golden Ale.  I really enjoyed this beer — the best match for my tastes of all the local beers I tried.  I didn’t find it very often as we traveled around the island, but I did find it a few times and took advantage.

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Cretan Brewery

The Cretan Brewery is most often called by its beer brand “Charma” (pronounced “Harma”) which looks like “Χάρμα” in Greek.  It was a little confusing getting all that straight at first.  Founder Ioannis Lionakis started the brewery in 2007 with a vision of providing a high-quality, local option for Cretan beer drinkers.  The brewery is located in a beautiful rural setting about 15 miles from the center of Chania amongst olive and orange groves.

The Charma facility is a pleasant small campus with modern brewery building adjacent to a large patio and beer stand serving the range of five Charma beers on tap:  a Dunkle, a Pale Ale, a seasonal Weiss, a seasonal Cretan Ale (orangey), and the flagship Blonde Lager.  I particularly liked the lager and the dunkle for my tastes – smooth, clean, balanced, and refreshing beers.  The brewery was built with an emphasis on sustainability in terms of water conservation, energy usage, and waste management.

In our brief experience, Charma was the most readily available local beer as we traveled around the island.  They distribute kegged beer (unfiltered and unpasteurized) and their purveyors are equipped with Charma kegerators that were very visible and easily identified when entering a taverna or cafe.

Lafkas Brewery

The Lafkas Brewery is located in a commercial building along a busy road that has the look and feel of a former automotive shop.  Big doors face the White Mountains, the namesake for their flagship beer.  We were welcomed into the small facility by Michalis Lafkis and his partner/wife Aurelie Petillion who share the brewing duties.  Aurelie is Belgian by birth and Michalis is a native Cretan.  Michalis is a navy guy who loves good beer and has formal education in winemaking and beverage technology.  He met Aurelie, a beerophile herself, on a beer pilgrimage to Belgium, one thing led to another, and they eventually decided to start a brewery to make a Belgian-Greek beer.  They have been making their White Mountains Triple Hop Pale Ale since 2007 and have since added Black Sheep Breakfast Stout to their range.  There is not a retail tasting room at the brewery but they have a big outdoor space with a fun mural that is turned into a beer garden for community events.

Rethymnian Brewery

We tried but were unable to get an invite to visit this brewery.  We were told that it has been sold to a foreign concern and was in transition.  Their “Cretan Kings Mountain Beer”, a light lager was available at several places we stopped and it served as a fine thirst quencher.  There was/is reportedly a brand of beers called “Brinks” associated with this brewery but I never saw them anywhere.  I wish I had more to report about this brewery.

Notos Brewery

Notos is a brewery and taproom located in a commercial part of Heraklion not far from the center.  Head brewer Kostas Verigos gave us a quick look at his microbrewery kit where a range of four beers is brewed – Gold Lager, Weiss, “Pirate” Blonde Ale, and Stout.  Their taproom is a comfortable place with good visual interest and a cozy neighborhood feel.  I came across Notos beers several times in my travels around the island.

Solo Brewery

The hospitality we encountered at Solo Brewery near Heraklion was unmatched as GM Nikolas Loukakis spent time showing us the brewery and personally preparing a big spread of Cretan food – sausages, smoked meat, cheese, vegetables, and rusk as we tasted and talked.  Solo was founded by Norwegian ex-pat Kjetil Jikiun and their brewery was opened in 2018.  Kjetil is a former international airline pilot turned beer fanatic who co-founded the Norwegian brewery Nøgne Ø which he eventually sold before starting  Solo.

The brewery is in an industrial neighborhood, but there is a funky little patio out front where people can enjoy a beer.  Nikolas explained that their approach is deliberately “anthroprocentric” – aimed at connecting people and beer and that is evidenced by various of slogans they have associated with:  “good beer is a human right”, “craft beer with a soul”, “life is too short to drink the same beer again and again”, and “craft beer = human contact”.  They see the brewery as a gathering spot for people.

Solo was certainly the most like an American craft brewery of those we visited.  Their range of beers is broad and at times experimental – it includes a Saison, Americana Pale Ale, IPA, Imperial IPA, Askianos Porter, and Imperial Stout.  These were the hoppiest Cretan beers I tasted but they don’t let it get out of hand – that isn’t the market here.  An interesting collaboration brew that Nikolas shared is called “Taste of the Cretian Sun”, a “fusion gruit” style that incorporates unripe Cretan grapes, pomegranate, rosemary, orange peels, and ginger.  Experimental but it went nicely with all the food.

Rudi’s Bierhaus

“So you like beer?” were the first words from Rudi’s mouth after we entered Rudi’s Beerhouse, his small beer bar on a backstreet near the harbor in Chania.  Rudi is definitely a beer guy and he has a big collection of craft beers from all over the world available.  I tried to engage him a bit about the local beer scene, but that didn’t seem like a strong interest of his.  He does carry a number of local beers as well as craft beers from elsewhere in Greece though.  He said that he thought that a barrier to the growth of local breweries is the limited brewing expertise to be found on the island.

Bricks Beer House

Bricks Beerhouse is an interesting craft beer joint on the harborfront in Rethymnon.  The interior is a small spot but there is an expansive patio shaded by umbrellas out front.  The proprietor,  Kostos Aloupis is a friendly and welcoming person and we talked Cretan beer over a sample of some of his current offerings.  He told me that the craft beer bar business is more a passion than a living – it is enabled by his other business interests catering to travelers and tourists.  In a former professional life in the financial sector, he traveled a good bit and developed a passion for good beer by exploring the beers of the places he went to.  Bricks has Solo beers on tap along with a bigger variety of bottles of local beers and Greek craft beers.  As we were about to leave, Kostos pulled out a bottle of Raki and poured shots.  After all, good raki is a human right, too.

An index of all stories relating to Crete is available here.

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Exploring Crete

Crete location in Europe
Crete location in Europe

Exploring Crete provided multiple adventures — both on hiking trails and during visits to the small set of breweries that operate there.   Crete is the largest Greek island with the most residents of any of them.  It’s a little bigger than the U.S. state of Delaware and its 650 miles of coastline is about the same as the length of Highway 1 on the California coast.  The waters to the north are called the Aegean Sea and to the south is the Mediterranean.

[This post is the first in a series of three articles about a visit to Crete, hiking on the Cretan Way, and exploring the beer culture there.]

Crete has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age more than 130,000 years ago and was the center of Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoans, from 2700 to 1420 BC.  The half-man, half-bull Minotaur is a mythical creature associated with that culture that is one of the iconic images seen throughout travels in Crete.  A whole bunch of different cultures followed the Minoans including the ancient Greek, Romans, Byzantines, Andalusian Arabs, Venetians, and the Ottomans.   Crete achieved independence from the Ottomans in the late 1800’s and has been a part of Greece since 1913.  It is very much a Greek place while at the same time it has its own unique local culture formed from all these different influences.

The Cretan landscape is varied — I envisioned finding deep blue seas along coastal beaches and craggy, rocky mountains inland and I wasn’t disappointed.  I was surprised by the scale of the mountains though and that they combined verdant forests with dry, rocky lands.  The high mountain range crossing from west to east is the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) they climb more than 8000 feet (2450 m) from the sea and become snow-capped in winter.  The climate near the sea is Mediterranean in character and can get pretty hot in the summers.

Crete has a rich mythology mostly connected with the ancient Greek Gods but also connected with the Minoan civilization.   Zeus figures prominently as the papa of King Minos.  Icarus,  Daedalus, the Minotaur, Theseus, and Ariadne are other legendary figures connected to the Cretan story.

Cretans are also known for family and clan vendettas which persist on the island to date.  We heard a number of hair-raising stories but were never quite sure whether our legs were being pulled.

Nonetheless, we found the people we interacted with to be universally friendly and welcoming.  While you can’t rely on finding an English speaker everywhere in Crete, many people do speak English and other languages in addition to Greek.  Getting around Crete (between towns and cities) by public bus is reasonably easy with a bit of planning.  Bus routes and timetables can be found on the KTEL website.  We hired a car and driver for rural excursions to breweries and to a wine tasting room.  We found Crete to be a calm and casual place where life seemed to proceed at a very comfortable pace.

Cretan Food & Drink

The big three culinary adventures on Crete are said to be olive oil, cheese, and wine.  Given my nature, I added beer into the mix although that is definitely an outlier in terms of conventional wisdom.  I’ll write about my visits to Cretan breweries in a separate article in this series, but there is a lot to say about other food and drink on the island.

Crete has about 60 olive trees per inhabitant and I was told that a family of four will easily use a liter a day if not more. For comparison, the average olive oil consumption by a German or an American is about a half liter per person annually. In Crete, it’s 25 liters per person, per year.  The extensive sheep and goat herds on the island are the source for excellent cheeses.  I particularly liked Graviera, a hard cheese from goat or sheep milk that could be flavored in a variety of ways and Mizithra, a fresh cheese made of ewe’s milk.

Most Cretan wine is homemade and rarely bottled, and every restaurant we visited had a house wine served in a small pitcher for an incredibly inexpensive price.  This kind of wine is drawn from barrels and never sees a bottle.   Cheap wine in Crete doesn’t mean “bad”!  However, many fine wines are also produced and bottled in Crete and viniculture is an interesting exploration — more on that in a minute.

Other food and drink notes:  Another frequently encountered food is Paximadi (also called rusk), a hard dry bread (it is baked, cut in slices and baked again) used like crackers in a variety of dishes and in snacks.  Herbs play a big role in Cretan cuisine – especially thyme, sage, oregano, and marjoram.  Roast meats, often lamb, pork, or goat and fish prepared in a variety of ways provide the protein.  A Cretan Salad is a treat and we have taken to making our own variation of this dish since our return home.   I read somewhere that Cretans eat the largest quantities of fruit and vegetables in the Western world.  And don’t forget the Raki! (more on that in a minute)

Gyros was our standby street food when we were looking for a quick, can’t miss meal.  Gyros consists of small pieces of meat (pork, lamb or chicken), stacked tightly and roasted on a vertical rotisserie.  As street food, it is served wrapped in pita bread and is topped with Tzatziki, a sauce made from strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, herbs, and (surprise surprise) olive oil.

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Wines, Vines, Olives, and Cheese

As in many regions of Greece, vineyards and olive groves cover many hillsides.  We were fortunate to visit the Mesarmi tasting room in the village of Houdetsi for an orientation to Cretan wine, olive, and cheese culture.  Our host and teacher was the owner of Mesarmi, Stella Vassilaki.  Stella is an oenologist and winemaker who studied and worked in Greece, France, Scotland, Germany, and Oregon before returning to her home village and family vineyards.  She created Mesarmi as a place dedicated to the tasting of the 3 main agricultural products of Crete, wine, olive oil & cheese.

We tasted five wines accompanied by cheeses, bread, and olive oil before driving to a vineyard to check out the vines, The wines covered a range from white to red and dryer to sweet and I found them all to be quite enjoyable.

Evidence of viticulture on the island reaches back to the Minoan civilization circa 5000 BC – ancient wine presses have been found in sites across Crete, and paintings in Minoan palaces denote grape-growing and winemaking.  Crete’s most important wine period was arguably during the Middle Ages, when, under Venetian rule, Malvasia sweet wines were produced and shipped all over Europe.  This trade died out under Ottoman rule beginning in the 15th Century and wine-growing was largely forgotten for several centuries.

Modern winemaking here dates to the 1970’s and there are now several appellations unique to Crete.  Cretan white wines are made from Vilana and Athiri grapes while red wines are made from Liatiko grapes, sometimes blended with Mandilaria.  While most Cretan wine is made from native grape varieties there is plenty of innovation taking place with grapes from other places and blending to create unique styles of Cretan wines.  Stella is one of the innovators and is a passionate evangelist for the Cretan wine tradition.

Raki

Decanter of Raki with a tasty dessert
Decanter of Raki with a tasty dessert

Raki is a traditional Cretan fruit brandy typically distilled from the skins and seeds and stems and whatever else is left over after pressing grapes for wine.  You can consider it Cretan moonshine I guess.  It is a clear, clean tasting (usually) spirit drunk from shot glasses, with nothing added. There is typically no herbs or anything else added so it is different from other Greek liqueurs like ouzo.

Raki is usually home produced or produced by a limited number of licensees in a community and is distributed in bulk.  I was told that when you see formally bottled raki that it “isn’t the good stuff” but I never needed to find out.  I usually wouldn’t partake in this kind of drink, but it came for free at the end of every meal I ate whether I asked for it or not, so ….  For the same reason, I have little idea of what it costs other than seeing tanks of it in shops that you could fill plastic water bottles from — you wouldn’t want to get it confused with your water though.

After every meal, you are typically offered a decanter with several shots of raki along with fruit and/or a small dessert on the house. No need to order more dessert although I admit to visiting more than a few enticing gelato stalls later in the evenings.

Countryside

Heraklion

Heraklion is the largest city on the island with a population of about 175,000.  It is built around an old Venetian harbor with a fortress and there is a pleasant walk out onto the breakwater.   For history buffs, there is a plethora of sites and attractions.  There is also a pleasant pedestrian zone in the old town area.

Chania

Chania is the second city of Crete with just over 100,000 residents.  We flew in and out of Chania although many people choose the airport at Heraklion. Like Heraklion, there is an old town area on the old Venetian harbor as well as a surrounding modern city.   which is the larger one.  For whatever reason, I found Chania to be the more attractive and accessible of the urban areas we visited on Crete.

Rethymno

Rethymno is a smaller city on the coast between Heraklion and Chania that also features an old town center situated around its Venetian-era harbor.  It is very reminiscent of the other two cities but on a smaller scale.

 

I want to thank Chryssa Mavrokosta, a partner in Petassos, a local sustainable tourism agency for her excellent help with working with me on an itinerary and lining up services from the agency’s partners across the island.  Our hiking itinerary was a modified version of a self-guided hiking itinerary offered by Petassos and Chryssa took on establishing contacts with local breweries and lining up her brother Yiannis to drive us for excursions to the breweries and into the countryside.  I highly recommend the services of this agency to any visitor to Crete.

An index of all stories relating to Crete is available here.

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Komovi and Ljevaja Canyon

Location of hikes
Location of Hikes

The hikes at Komovi and Ljevaja Canyon offer two very different environments.  Komovi hiking is in the open with expansive views in all directions including to the impressive, craggy peaks above.  The Ljevaja Canyon hike starts at the forested Biogradsko Jezero in the Biogradska Gora National Park, climbs through the woods to Katun Goleš, and then drops back down along the mountain stream that forms Ljevaja Canyon toward the resort town of Kolasin.

[This post is the final installment of a six-part story about hiking and beer culture travels in Montenegro.  Click here to view an index of the entire series of articles. ]

All of these hikes in Montenegro could be challenging in my book — I was humbled more than once by yet another long, steep, uphill jaunt.   At the same time, they all offered different environments, viewscapes, and charms.  These are all located in very remote places, so they are, with few exceptions, the kind of beer hikes where the beer waits chilling for you at the end of the hike at basecamp.   In these rural areas, Nicsicko seems to be the dominant beer brand.

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Komovi Hike

click on image for interactive route map

Several interesting hike routes originate at the Ethno Camp  Štavna, a small, rustic resort consisting of a handful of simple cabins and a restaurant serving simple, traditional fare.  My hike led across a steep slope below the Komovi peak up to a promontory offering a spectacular view.

Part of the route is on the Mountain Wreath Trail, named for a famous Montenegrin epic poem written in 1846 by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš.  Petar was both a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro and a poet and his Mountain Wreath deals with the struggle for freedom, justice, and dignity through dramatic depictions of Montenegrin life including feasts, gatherings, customs, beliefs, and the struggle to survive.  I heard it referred to and cited many times during my travels in Montenegro.

Wild blueberries were in prime form in all the meadows and there were groups of people everywhere collecting them up.  I probably could have had a delish glass of fresh blueberry juice back at Stavna, but I opted for a cold beer with lunch.

Biogradska Jezero, Katun Goleš, and Ljevaja Canyon Hike

click on image for interactive route map

This hike begins at Lake Biograd (Biogradska Jezero), a heavily touristed area at a pretty lake in the forest.  Once you leave the lake behind you also pretty well leave the people behind on a steep ascent up a forested mountainside.  The terrain opens up at the top of the ridge where the route soon descends to Goleš Katun, a seasonal shepherd’s settlement.  It is possible to spend the night in Goleš, have lunch and a beer,  or just to take a break and enjoy some time with the hospitable hosts of the Farm Household Bulatović.  We brought our lunch so it was natural to purchase and enjoy a beer to go with it.  The friendly and gracious host served us some homemade cake to top things off.

From Goleš, there is another short climb before descending through some wide-open meadows down to the Ljevaja River, a small mountain stream that cascades its way down a beautiful forested canyon.  You almost get a rain-foresty feeling at times, particularly when you hit one of several patches of elephant ear size plants in the bed of the stream.  The route ends up at a small village named Mušovića Rijeka on the road back to Kolasin.

Read more stories about hiking, beers, and travel in Montenegro

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Accursed Mountains and the Lake of Happiness

Location of hikes
Location of hikes

Accursed Mountains and the Lake of Happiness hikes are two more beautiful excursions into remote areas of northeastern Montenegro.   Both hikes are in the highlands of Prokletije National Park, the southernmost and highest part of the Dinaric Alps,  Like all of the hikes in the series, the starting point each day was a base in a rural location high up in the mountains.

[This post is part five of a six part story about hiking and beer culture travels in Montenegro.  Click here to view an index of the articles published to date.  Subscribe or follow on Facebook to receive additional installments]

All of these hikes in Montenegro could be challenging in my book — I was humbled more than once by yet another long, steep, uphill jaunt.   At the same time, they all offered different environments, viewscapes, and charms.  These are all located in very remote places, so they are, with few exceptions, the kind of beer hikes where the beer waits chilling for you at the end of the hike at basecamp.   In these rural areas, Nicsicko seems to be the dominant beer brand.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Prokletije (Accursed Mountains) Hike

Prokletije Hike Route – click on image for an interactive map

Prokletije National Park encompasses a mountainous area of northeast Montenegro.  Prokletije can be translated as “Accursed Mountains” and are a sub-range of the Dinarica Alps that straddles the borders of Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo.  The “accursed” label doesn’t refer to any curse or hex as far as I can tell — it is probably more about the terrain being so wild and difficult to travel through.   These mountains are gorgeous and spectacularly scenic.

Although there are many hikes in the Prokletije, this one involves a 2300 foot (700m) ascent to a summit called Volusnica which tops out at 6165 feet (1879m).  The hike begins in the Grebaje Valley (Dolina Grebjaje) at Karanfil Katun, a small settlement with an impressive view to the Karanfil Peaks.  The trail ascends immediately and passes through thick beech forest before reaching a huge bowl of alpine pasture surrounded by Volusnica, Talijanka (2056m), and Popadija (2057m) peaks on a curving ridgeline above.    The path cuts through the bowl and climbs steeply to the summit of Volusnica.  From there you have spectacular views of the Karanfili peaks and into Albania.  I continued around the trail on the ridgeline for a while before dropping back into the bowl and forest below for the hike back to the settlement and a well-deserved beer.