Montenegro: The next big little thing

One of the newer countries in the world, Montenegro had fascinated me since it gained independence from Serbia in 2006. Coincidentally, this is the same year Casino Royale (with it’s famous Montenegro casino scene) came out, likely contributing greatly to Montenegro tourism. So before we set off for Asia, we decided to hop on a bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor to quickly check it out .

Much to our dismay, we learned that the famous scenes from the movie weren’t even filmed in Montenegro, and the luxurious high-speed train that James Bond and Vesper Lynd took to Montenegro does not actually exist. Nonetheless, from beaches to mountains to walled medieval towns, Montenegro still has plenty to offer, especially for a country so tiny. And by tiny, I mean tiny: the entire country of Montenegro (population: 600,000) is about the size of Tokyo (population: 36 million).

Great Montenegro Tour

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Admiring the beautiful vista from the 5th loop of the Old Austro-Hungarian Road

With limited time, we decided to schedule a tour where we could see a lot in one day. We went through a company called 360 Monte and booked the “Great Montenegro Tour.” The tour started off at 8:30AM with a long drive (and several photo stops) along the 25 serpentines of the Old Austro-Hungarian Road. At times I felt like we were hanging on for dear life (kind of like our time in Amalfi) but our driver was either excellent or extremely lucky and we made it up in one piece. This road is a great place to get photos of the Bay of Kotor, which around here, is just called ‘Boka’. Unfortunately, Montenegro was hit with wildfires (one of which we drove through), so the air was hazy with low visibility.

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Haze for days

By 9:30, it was breakfast (aka: prosciutto) time, so we drove to the oldest restaurant/prosciutto producer in the region and momentarily threw our dietary restrictions out the window in order to have this cultural experience. Not pictured: the shot of the local rakija liqueur that we threw back before eating (Gaetan had two).

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Artery-cloggers, but worth it for an authentic experience!

After breakfast, it was time for more sightseeing: Lovćen National Park. This park also has the highest mausoleum in the world: holding Montenegrin ruler Petar II Petrović Njegoš, RIP. Normally, the views from this national park would have allowed us to see the majority of Montenegro, but the day’s haze prevented any truly spectacular views. Nevertheless, we were able to get some amazing photos of us flying!

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No parachutes!
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Lovćen National Park

After taking in some nature, we were off to Cetinje, a town of immense historical heritage as far as Montenegrin culture and Orthodox religion goes. G was not a huge fan of the town (low-blood sugar was kicking in at this point) but I enjoyed the architecture and little churches. Gaetan enjoyed a visit to an ice cream stand.

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Court Church in Cetinje, surrounded by remains of the old monastary

It was then time to check out the Crnojević River, a famous postcard view of Montenegro. We got the requisite panorama shot and made our way down to a pretty amazing seafood lunch along the river. I wasn’t impressed by most of the food in Montenegro, but I loved the seafood at this place! After lunch, we boarded a river boat packed with delicious unlabeled Montenegrin wine, and enjoyed a cruise along the river.

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Crnojević River

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Lilly pad land

I loved our tour overall, and highly recommend it since you get to see parts of the country you wouldn’t cover otherwise. And our tour guide – Jelena – was absolutely hilarious! We didn’t even get to our final tour stop in Budva, the popular party-capital, due to a (much needed) torrential downpour. We decided to turn the van around and cut the tour short, but based on what I had read about Budva, I really don’t think we missed much!

Bay of Kotor

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Bay of Kotor and the Montenegrin flag

The Bay of Kotor is often referred to as the Europe’s southernmost fjord. While it’s actually a submerged river valley and not technically a fjord in the traditional sense, it’s just as breathtakingly beautiful and rightfully listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Montenegro literally means “black mountain”, and the medieval town of Kotor (where we stayed) embodies this. Set along the coast, with huge mountains jutting out right behind it, Kotor is nothing if not dramatic. It reminded me of a smaller, less touristy Dubrovnik, which was a welcome change from the ship-loads of tourists we had just escaped. Locals say that the only downside to this dramatic setting is that the mountain casts quite a shadow, causing a lack of light in the winter months.

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On day 2, we did the famous climb up to St. John’s Fortress along the Austro-Hungarian trail: 1,350 steps, 400 meters up, and around 30-45 minutes each way depending on how slow the people in front of you are. The hike was great, although it could use a bit of maintenance as the stairs are too narrow and don’t allow people to go up and down at the same time. Nonetheless, the views up at the top are worth it: you can see the entire town from the top, and look out into some of the Bay of Kotor.

 

 

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Made it to the top! What a view

So that’s a wrap for our short time in Montenegro. It’s definitely a hot new travel destination with great restaurants and luxury hotels going up quickly. En route to our next stop, Bali, we flew out of the impossibly small Podgorica International Airport (TGD), which I can only imagine will upgrade in size in the next few years!

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