About a 30 min drive south of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, lies a small village named Virpazar that is sandwiched between the mountains to the south and Skadar Lake to the north. Every year during the middle of December, this small lakeside village grows for a weekend. People gather from across the region, filling the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways all for one reason… to celebrate the region’s best wineries and local fishery by taking part in the Vina i Ukljeve (Wine and Bleak) Festival. Given the weather was a perfectly, chilly day for December and the sky was a true blue as it can only be in Southern Europe, a friend and I decided this was a great day to join in on a truly Balkan wine festival.
Given that this was the 18th year of the festival, 40 different wineries brought their locally produced delicious wines to be tasted by both judges and the crowd. Adding to the awesome factor of this festival, all of the wine samples were free. However, all of the wines were available for purchase if a particular variety matched your palate.
The other main item at the event was a small fried fish called ukljeve. Visitors could purchase this delicacy in two varieties salted or fresh. Different salads and bread were offered alongside of the fish to complete the meal.
The fish is enjoyed by eating it whole…including the head and bones. Alongside of the wine and fish, vendors were selling all varieties of local items including honey, tea, mushrooms, fruits, and crafts.
While having your taste buds filled to the brim, visitors also enjoyed live music, both traditional and contemporary. The Gusla, a one string traditional instrument, seemed to fill all corners of Virpazar in a very natural way. Some people even brought their own music. We found a small group of people off to the side aided by an accordion, good cheer, and wine singing old patriotic songs. Everyone was full of smiles and enthusiasm.
In the midst of the day, if visitors needed a break from the festivities, a few steps away from the central stage the views of Skadar Lake were breathtaking.
A little bit farther down the path, Virpazar hosts an old castle that is perched on a hill. We walked up to the castle and climbed the walls to view the festival and surrounding area from above.
It was definitely worth the view.
Also, several restaurants in town host delicious foods if you are looking for something different.
If you happen to find yourself in Montenegro during mid-December, remember to stop by Virpazar for Vina i Ukljeve. This festival is sure to not disappoint. We definitely had a great time. Special thanks to Kristin for helping out with the day and helping me to experience the culture and language.