In the Miyazaki film, Nausicaä, the princess Nausicaä falls through a sandy ground and finds herself tumbling through a thick tree canopy, to end up at the bottom of a silent, primordial forest. When I entered the forest of Biogradska Gora National Park, I felt just like her, discovering a hidden world for the first time.
The oldest reserve in Montenegro, Biogradska Mountain National Park, or Biogradska Gora, has been protected since 1878, thanks to Prince Nikola, who appreciated its beauty and uniqueness. The forest here is one of the few virgin forests left in Europe. It is truly precious, with some trees being several thousand years old. Stepping into the forest is truly stepping back into time.
Unlike the forests we had seen in Durmitor, which had been coniferous, the canopy of Beogradska is filled with the thick leaves of deciduous trees, blocking out much of the sky. When we entered the forest, we felt as if we had entered a hidden world, closed off by the lush vegetation that grew within. The park is crisscrossed by many well maintained paths, occasionally rising to form wooden platforms that go over swamp land. One could almost imagine some fictional civilization (I’m thinking of the Ewoks from Star Wars), having created these walkways that went over regions covered in mangrove trees and lily pads.
When we visited, it wasn’t the wet season. A lot of water had drained, leaving many ponds dry, with their muddy bottoms exposed. In these ponds grew huge water lilies that were eerily left standing. It was odd seeing them uncovered. I was also amazed at how large they grew, with an average of about one meter in diameter. When these ponds are filled during the wet season, lots of fish, especially trout, can be seen swimming through the stems of the lillies. In a way, this forest had two vegetal canopies, one below the sky and one just above the water.
Adding to the magic of it all were the huge variety of mushrooms growing on tree trunks everywhere. Many were like little wooden fairy steps leading up the trunk of each tree. There were also plenty of sponge mushrooms drenched in the light rain that had been falling all day, with water droplets glittering in the dappled sunlight.
The high rainfall in this area is the creator of this truly unique environment. Temperate rainforests are rare, and Biogradska Gora is one of three remaining rainforests in all of Europe. Because of this, it has the greatest diversity of flora and fauna per unit area among all the other national parks in Montenegro and is a sanctuary for scientific research.
The real treasure of the park of course is Biogradsko lake. Like all the inland lakes we had seen so far in Montenegro, it is a glacial lake, with waters so clear you can see to the bottom. From afar, its crystalline surface reflects the beautiful blue green of the surrounding centennial forests. Its water is incredibly cold and remains cool all throughout summer, never getting over 20 degrees, even on the hottest weeks of the year. The lake itself isn’t that large, and you can walk around it in under and hour if you’re in a hurry, but that would be a waste.
Biogradska Gora is a true gem, a rare and precious ecological system that has thankfully been protected early enough, so that visitors might remember what the forests of Europe once were.