Living the good life at Villa Miela
A stone villa with terrace on a grassy hillside, pictured in the Springtime, surrounded by trees and blossom with bright blue sky above, which is used as a holiday accommodation at Lake Skadar, Montenegro.

April is usually an extremely busy time for us at UM. We’d normally be knee-deep in enquiries and bookings, as well as working over-time to get our activity base, Villa Miela, and our equipment ready for our first week of guests. Lake Skadar and the surrounding valleys are looking gorgeous….but this year we won’t be sharing the Easter break or our gorgeous grounds with anyone other than ourselves.

No, this year we have curfews, partial lockdowns limiting us to the municipality we live in, traffic on the lake has been suspended and Emma still has a week of self-isolation to go following her 14 days in quarantine which means she isn’t allowed to leave our property. I can go and walk our dog Coco for an hour a day and pop down to the local supermarket, but that’s about it. For the foreseeable future we are more or less limited to the borders of our land.

Just as well, then, that we’re marooned in a quite stunning spot! We have cherry, plum and quince blossom on our trees, a swimming pool that might soon be warm enough to use (edit, our kids jumped in yesterday!) and with the spring season cancelled and summer looking like it may go the same way, to keep our spirits up we’re using this pause to get stuck into some proper sustainable “projects”.

Almost every off-season since we started living at Lake Skadar a decade ago, we’ve had some sort of ambitious project going on at Villa Miela as we’ve attempted to improve the set up for our hosted activity holidays – (I might recount some of them in future blog posts). Why should 2020 be any different, especially as we now appear to have rather more time on our hands than we had anticipated?

Winter saw the return of the awesome Matias, who after building our gorgeous yoga deck last winter also helped knock up a new kayak shed just before Covid-19 reshaped the year’s narrative.

Before, when prepping for the hundreds of kayaking tours we run at Lake Skadar each season, we had to carry each boat up and down an awkward set of steps. Now, we can store our kayaks securely right by the road. When we eventually start kayaking again, it’ll save us all heaps of time. Mati is currently “stuck” on the gorgeous island of Vis, Croatia, where he happily reports he is the only carpenter left on an island that has stopped all passenger traffic to and from the mainland…

Lockdown has narrowed our ambitions a bit, so we’ve abandoned some of our grander designs in favour of reusing, repairing and recycling – and embracing the sustainable, low impact ethic that brought us to this amazing area in the first place. For that, we also have to thank Sam and Beth, our current volunteers, who came to us expecting a few months of learning how to be kayaking and hiking guides and instead have found themselves heading up a seemingly endless succession of zero-budget garden makeover episodes!

Sam and Beth have inspired in us an abundance of minimal-spend creativity. We’ve created a Mediterranean-style courtyard (making liberal use of bits of old hot-tub). We’ve added three raised beds for veggie-growing (using bits of old hot-tub). We’ve even upcycled benches and birdboxes made out of – you guessed it – bits of the old hot tub, and we’ve just completed a reclaimed-and-recycled-materials-only chicken coop – this time bodged together out of Matias’ yoga deck timber leftovers, a louvred door Emma found at the local tip 3 years ago – and some bits of old hot tub.

Villa Miela's chicken coop made entirely of re-used materials

We are not entirely sure what we’re going to do when we run out of bits of old hot tub!

So yes, we’re going full Good Life. Montenegro’s supermarkets are still well-stocked and open for business even under lockdown, but it never hurts to plan ahead. We’re planting all sorts of fruit and veg, and as our fleet of 4x4s lie idle we are at least reconnecting with nature in a way that we might not have managed if we were still madly cleaning fridges and re-siliconing bathrooms. When our guests eventually do return, they’re in for a seriously tasty organic breakfast. Featuring lots of eggs…

Exactly 7 years ago today, we installed our hot tub. Who was to know then that it would fail so catastrophically in the “Lucifer” heatwave summer of 2017 – or that in death it would help so many other projects to live?


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