“Call me Strawberry” the woman in the cafe said. She piled my plate high with sausages and beans and smiled sweetly
We were having an early breakfast at the cafe in front of the railway station in Bar before catching the morning train to Belgrade. I took a sip of thick black coffee and asked Strawberry: “Will you make a packed lunch for us to take on the train?” She nodded and smiled again.
The train in question is the Tara, the celebrated morning train from Bar in Montenegro to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Many consider it the ultimate Balkan train journey. The Man In Seat 61 says: “It is one of Europe’s most spectacular train rides, and one of my favourites.”
The 296 mile single line with 254 tunnels and 435 bridges took 26 years to build and was finally opened in 1976 by Yugoslavia’s President Tito himself. The train is electrified and 301 km of the railway goes through Serbia, and 175 km through Montenegro. A 9 km section actually passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina. The longest tunnels are “Sozina” at 6.17 km and “Zlatibor“, at 6.139 km. From 40m above sea level at the town of Podgorica in Montenegro, the train ascends 1032 m at a gradient of 25% to the ski resort of Kolašin in the mountains. The scenery is said to be spectacular.
The train pulled out of Bar Railway station right on time at 9 in the morning. Strawberry was at the station with her little daughter to wave us goodbye. We had a compartment for ourselves. I had bought tickets the previous evening, paying €24 per person for the 12 hour journey. The price included a reservation fee of €3.
The best mountain scenery is within Montenegro at the southern end of the line, between Bijelo Polje & Bar, best seen from the left of the train. Northbound from Bar, the day train Tara is best for scenery all year round.
Leaving Bar, the train first runs along the Adriatic and then, crosses the stunning Lake Skadar with the ruined Lesendro Fortress built in 1843 as a defense against Ottoman attacks and protect fishing in Lake Skadar and traverses the Podgorica wine region.
Crossing Stunning Lake Skadar
At 44 km x 14 km, Lake Skadar is the largest lake in Southern Europe with two-thirds in Montenegro and about one-third in Albania. The Montenegrin section of the lake is surrounded by a 400 sq. km national park since 1983 and the Albanian section is a nature reserve and a Ramsar site. Skadar is one of Europe’s top bird habitats – it is home to over 280 bird species and a breeding ground of the Dalmatian Pelican and Pygmy Cormorant.
Through Podgorica Wine Region
Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro. Forty-five mts or so from Bar, the train reaches the Podgorica wine region, best known for its intense, deeply coloured red wine made from the Vranac grape. First the train rushes past small private vineyard holdings followed by the 2300 hs of vines and the giant stainless steel tanks of Plantaze winery, the biggest wine producer of Montenegro. In addition to Vranac, other red grapes such as Syrah, Sangiovese and Kratosija together with various international white grapes including Chardonnay and the Balkan speciality Smederevka are cultivated here.
In To The Mountains
The train edges out of Podgorica and begins the ascend up the mountains to Kolašin, the 960 m high main mountain resort of Montenegro, 71 km north of the capital. The mountain scenery with river valleys is breathtaking.
Over Mala Rijeka Viaduct
20 km north of Podgorica the train crosses the biggest and the best known bridge of the Bar-Belgrade line – Mala Rijeka Viaduct, 498 m long and 198 m above ground level. When construction was completed in 1973, it was the highest railway bridge in the world, surpassing the record previously held by the Fades viaduct in France. It held the record until 2001 when the Beipan River Shuibai Railway Bridge, a concrete arch bridge, was completed in Guizhou, China.
The train begins its decent from the mountains of Montenegro towards the flat lands of Serbia. It makes a brief stops at Bijelo Polje, the last railway station in Montenegro and Prije Polje at the confluence of the Lim and Mileševka rivers, the first railway station in Serbia on the line to Belgrade. Polje literally means flat land or field.
Lunch On Wheels
Drinks and snacks are served on the train but not meals. We ate the packed lunch from Strawberry – an excellent potato & meat stew, washed down with a red from Croatia and a Vranac from Plantaze winery.
The train thundered across the Serbian plain towards Belgrade. The scenery now was less interesting. We sipped local beer from the train’s bar. Brief stops were made at Uzice, Pozega and Valjevo with its magnificent riverside cathedral.
The train from Montenegro no longer goes to the historic main station in the centre of Belgrade but stops at the Topcider station 4.4 km south of the city centre. The original station building at Topcider was destroyed in WW2 leaving just the king’s royal waiting room which is now the passenger hall.
We got off the train at Topcider station, crossed the road to the tram station and took the No. 3 tram to the city centre. A taxi took us to our rented apartment in the centre of Belgrade for a couple of days stay.
It was already dark.
- The Belgrade To Bar Railway – The Man In Seat 61