Just came back from what was one of the most beautiful trips I have ever taken in a country that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. And that is Montenegro. Since high-school history was so far away, in the beginning you didn’t actually know what to believe about the area, since all you can remember are news reports about people fighting in Serbia, Kosovo, Albania. This is especially true if you’ve been living in the Balkans, because you know these are some things you don’t really mess with. Well, after a little research I found out that Montenegro is actually an extremely peaceful area and there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, after reading countless articles and seeing tens of photos, I fell in love with the place two months before I actually set foot there.
So there I was, in June, driving into Montenegro with a couple of friends after a short stay in Zlatibor, Serbia (a really nice place). When you enter Montenegro by car, after a short passport check, you are required to pay a vignette of 10 Euros (for 6 months or a year, can’t really remember) and then you’re free to go and enjoy the country. But not too fast, because there’s plenty of police radars, some of them in areas which seem completely deserted. We got pulled over a couple of times, once for speeding, but the policeman was kind enough to let us go without a ticket. We entered Montenegro at the Dobrakovo border point and then followed E763 through Bjelo Polje and then towards Mojkovac. Right after Mojkovac, just after you cross the bridge over the river Tara, you make a right turn and prepare to get amazed. Because you are entering the Tara Canyon. If you didn’t know (and I bet you didn’t), this is the second largest canyon in the world (after the more famous Grand Canyon), with a total length of 82 km (50 miles). Also, at 1,300 meters (4,265 ft) at its deepest points, it’s the deepest canyon in Europe. The area is part of the larger Durmitur National Park. Next stop is the Durdevica Bridge, a beautiful bridge that allows you to admire the canyon straight from above the river.
We then continued the drive, passed Zabljak and headed towards Niksic. This is the second largest city in Montenegro, home of the Trebjesa Brewery which produces Montenegro’s most popular beer, Niksicko. We did drink it during our trip, but weren’t too impressed so we stuck with import beer. Anyway, after Niksic, we left E762 and took a right turn towards Vilusi, one of the last cities before Bosnia (you can look for the signs indicating Trebinje, is the border town in Bosnia). Right after Niksic you pass by the beautiful Slansko Jezero area, which consists of a beautiful lake with dozens of small islands.
Before reaching Vilusi, we took a left turn towards Grahovo and now pay attention real good, because I’m about to tell you the secret of one of Kotor’s hidden gems. As you drive towards Kotor on an impeccable road, you will see a sign indicating Risan. Take that road, because you won’t regret it. It’s the old road, that was used before the new one was built and which offers a breathtaking view of the entire Kotor Bay. But beware, the road is pretty damaged, since there hasn’t been any maintenance done in years, not to mention there are no railings and it’s not too wide (we came across two or three other cars coming from the other way and getting past each other was pretty challenging). But it’s totally worth it. However, if you value safety more than us, there’s also a similar road on the Southern part of the bay, which is just as beautiful and is a lot safer (it’s in good condition with side protection and all and it’s pretty popular with buses).
As for the other route to Serbia, we took it on our way back. That means passing Virpazar, the huge Skadar Lake (the largest one in the Balkan Peninsula), Podgorica, Kolasin, Mojkovac, Berane and final stop before leaving Montenegro, Rozaje. The area before and after Podgorica is pretty boring, but once you start climbing into the mountains again it is superb. Not as beautiful as Durmitur, but still might worth a try. The only bad part is that this route is usually used by trucks and overtaking them was quite challenging sometimes (not to mention miles of stretches where you weren’t able to do that). The good part is that there are more places where you can stop and eat and every traveler knows that restaurants for truckers offer great food.
The Kotor Bay
The area has around five or six small towns, the most important ones being Kotor, Dobrota and Risan. We spent the week in Prcanj, a small town about 3 miles away from Kotor, in an apartment we rented on Owner’s Direct (this is the apartment). We paid 400 Euros for the entire week and everything was great, we had a pool in the apartment complex but the sea was just 100 feet away. Except Kotor, the area doesn’t offer any serious entertainment. But once you get to Kotor, things change. You can do just about anything there: visit the Old Town, find a lot of places to eat, drink or party on the beach or in the Old Town or just enjoy the area. You can’t rent a jet-ski in the area, but what you can do is rent a boat. We did that and it was really fun, because we could stop for a swim anytime we wanted and we also visited two of the Bay’s main attractions, the Saint-George and Our-Lady-of-the-Reef islands off Perast.
We ate out a couple of times in Kotor and we were so lucky the first time that we chose an amazing restaurant. It’s called Scorpio and it’s in the Old Town, right across the St. Nicholas church. The place looks nice, on some evening it even has a guy playing a guitar…but the food is what makes it perfect. And I would especially recommend the calamari stuffed with ham and cheese, which are not ordinary ones, because these are traditional to Montenegrin cuisine (the ham is a sort of prosciutto and the cheese is also great). Combined with a glass of wine, it was perfect.
Note: You should know that if you’re seeing any big cruise ships in the port, except the Old Town to be quite crowded.
The first visit outside Kotor was to Lovcen National Park and Cetinje, the old royal capital of Montenegro. While we weren’t too impressed with Cetinje (except for some nice souvenirs), the Lovcen National Park is quite beautiful. It offers some great scenery and its highlight is the mausoleum of Njegus, one of the most important figures in Montenegro’s history. Unfortunately, since we had some problems finding the mausoleum, when we got there it was closed. But the view is superb, because it was built on the second highest peak of Mount Lovcen.
Dubrovnik. Perhaps the most famous city on the Dalmatic coast, Dubrovnik is also the most touristy one and has the largest old town. If you spend some time on the coast you will see that almost each coastal town has an old town of its own. Some are bigger, some are smaller. And Dubrovnik is one of the biggest. It does offer many ways for you to spend time and money, but you will definitely enjoy. For example, we rented a boat and took a short cruise around the island of Lokrum. We didn’t visit the island, but we stopped several times to swim and snorkel (it was magnificent). We also had the worst pizza ever at a restaurant in the center of Dubrovnik’s old town and then we had the time of our lives cliff jumping at Cafe Buza. Since we were on a day trip, we didn’t have time to check other attractions such as Mount Srd, but we had a lot of time to explore the city.
South of Kotor. The entire area is filled with small and scenic towns and we went on short trips visiting some of them. First stop was Budva, Montenegro’s most famous resort. We did stop for a couple of hours and rent a couple of jet-skis and had a blast on that beautiful blue water, plus a nice massage right on the beach. Next stop was Sveti Stefan (pictured below), a small but extremely beautiful islet south of Budva. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit because there was some official summit involving the Montenegrin government and the entire area was off limits for public. Because it was already getting late, our last stop was Petrovac, a small town where we had a nice dinner at the seafront Ambassador restaurant. Food wasn’t that great, but the location is totally worth it.
Things to know
The official currency is Euro. Yeah, Montenegro is a special country, because even though they’re not a part of the European Union, they have Euro as the official currency. Makes it easier if you’re traveling from other parts of Europe.
Things are quite affordable. A beer is around 0.80 cents or 1 Euro in supermarkets, bread is around 0.50 cents and a 2-liter bottle of water is almost 1 Euro. Prices are also ok in restaurants. For example, where we ate in the Old Town of Kotor, we paid around 15 Euros each for a meal including an appetizer, main course and a glass of wine or a beer (the stuffed calamari was 8 Euros and you were full when you finished it).
Except for waiters and people whose job is to interact with tourists, English is not that popular. You will eventually get along (even if you have to use the international sign language), but it will be a pain in the ass sometimes.
Of course, it’s quite difficult summarizing a week in an article, but these are the highlights of my trip to Montenegro, a country which charmed me for life and which I will soon visit again. Have you visited any of these areas? Were you as impressed as I was?