Discovering Europe’s Last Wild Rivers
Rivers in the Balkans are largely free-flowing, unlike other bodies of water on the continent. They are home to endemic species of fish, provide habitats for birds, and a playground for watersport daredevils.
More than 35,000km of pristine waters slice through gorges, under limestone cliffs and through caves.
Begin in Montenegro’s Durmitor National Park, a rugged and dramatic adventure playground jam-packed with glittering glacial lakes, towering peaks and gravity-defying canyons. Take to the water on the Tara River, which snakes through the northern mountains of the park via a 1300m-deep canyon – in contrast, the Grand Canyon is around 1800m.
Durmitours offers river rafting packages on Tara, which leave from Zabljak, a picturesque small town in the center of the Durmitor mountain region, which has a couple of options for accommodation. The tour takes rafters through 18km of white rapids, stopping for a dip and some sunbathing when weather permits, and providing a traditional Montenegrin breakfast.
If you want a break from rafting along the river, the Blake Lake is a stunning glacial lake that is surrounded by dark green pine forests, and lies just 3km from Zabljak. There’s a picturesque 3.5km trail that runs around the lake and takes around an hour and a half to walk. There are boats for hire at the jetty, or you can always just plunge in for a swim. Pop-up stalls at the entrance sell cups of wild berries, local honey and nuts for you to stock up on healthy snacks before your hike.
In neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the Neretva River, the largest river in the country and one of the world’s coldest. In summertime, temperatures hit just 53F. Flowing from its source in the Dinaric Alps, the 225km-long makes its way down to the Adriatic Sea, and offers Class III whitewater rafting along the way. Start your trip in the quaint town of Konjic, around halfway between Mostar and Sarajevo, and sail down 25km of emerald green beauty, past secluded beaches, huge canyons and gushing waterfalls. The river is so clean you can even drink straight from it. Book a spot on one of Raft Kor’s trips, which includes a grilled lunch on a tiny pebble beach.
To round off your Balkans water adventure, your last stop should be Albania. Explore the Karaburun peninsula by speedboat, keeping your eyes peeled for turtles, seals and dolphoins, followed by a trip to the mysterious water cave at Haxhi Aliu. Traditionally used by traders and smugglers, its now a national monument. Snorkel in a nearby remote bay, picnic on an untouched beach before returning to the ancient fortified city of Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s perched on the Osum River and known for its whitewashed Ottoman houses and Byzantine churches.
After a night in a local guesthouse and a dinner of locally-caught river trout, head to the Osumi Canyon, one of Europe’s most stunning natural attractions. Swim in natural pools, raft down the river Osum and explore canyons surrounded by lush forests, ensuring you check out local favorites such as Crocodile Head, Love Waterfall and Devils Gate. Albania Rafting Group offers package tours so you can squeeze everything into one trip.
It’s a full-on trip, packed with hair-raising white water rafting perfect for adrenaline junkies, and with the odd breather moment on secluded pebble beaches. But it’s an unforgettable chance to explore Europe’s untouched, pristine, emerald rivers before the rest of the world discover them.