Category Archives: Montenegro

Things to do in Montenegro and the best Montenegro attractions.

Enjoy climbing Montenegro’s Kotor castle – during daylight hours!

The postcard-perfect town of Kotor in Montenegro is an ideal place to visit. While you are there and wandering the lovely cobblestone streets, you will be certain to notice the ruins of the St. John castle walls that stretch far above the old town. For a small fee, you can climb these walls and enjoy the dizzying, gorgeous views of the Boka kotorska (the Bay of Kotor) and the town far, far below.

Photo courtesy of Photomontenegro.me

Even from the intermediate stops, the view is worth it. You can see the town and the port from panoramic points at the beginning of your hike up the walls.

But if you have a good pair of shoes on and enough energy to see you through, you should continue the journey up the 1,350 steps (yes, you read that right) to get to the very top, where you are certain to catch your breath at the beauty laid out before you.

We were up on top, enjoying the views down to the bay at sunset. While it was wonderfully dramatic, the drama – unfortunately – continued on the hike down. The 15th century fortifications are crumbling in places and attempting the walk down under spotty  lighting at night with two young children was hardly our finest parenting moment.

We breathed a collective sigh of relief once we were safely back on Kotor’s main square. Here’s a view of the impossibly high castle walls we miraculously descended without injury.

So, by all means, pack a good pair of walking shoes so you can visit this Kotor attraction and get a fantastic workout climbing these spectacular castle walls. Just be sure to bring along extra bottles of water and attempt this hike during the day… that’s what I’ll be doing next time.

Montenegro is a wonderful holiday destination. For more itinerary ideas for this tiny, but interesting, country, see previous posts about Montenegro’s stunning coastlines , its rugged interior, the seaside town of Perast and ideas for a day trip to neighbouring Kosovo .

A seaside holiday in Perast, Montenegro

I think that Montenegro is truly one of the best European destinations. I’ve already written about Montenegro’s stunning coastline and its unspoiled, wild interior, ideal for hikers, rafters, walkers and other sports enthusiasts.

One of my top Europe travel tips is a holiday in the pretty Montenegro seaside town of Perast. This lovely little Adriatic town on the Boka kotorska (Gulf of Kotor) is an ideal base for a relaxing holiday.

This tiny Venetian town is dramatically situated on the edge of the Adriatic fjord, surrounded by imposing, rugged mountains on all sides. Swimming in the warm waters with this dramatic backdrop is a highlight of any visit to Perast.

The architecture is lovely and time seems to have stood still in this little Adriatic outpost, once an important maritime power and the home to brave sailors who fought as part of the Venetian Empire (1420-1797) against the Ottomans. Perast’s  history museum is housed in the grand Venetian Bujović Palace and its small collection traces the rise of Perast’s power.

The town has a small beach in an idyllic point, just in front of two lovely island churches. One of the churches, Our Lady of the Rock - built in 1630 on an artificial island said to have been constructed at the site of a shipwreck – can be visited by frequent boats departing from Perast. The church houses a small, but interesting museum.

If you are travelling with kids, you'll spend lots of time at the town's popular 'Pirate Beach'.

The 17th century St Nicholas’ church, on the main town square, has a dramatic belfry. Visitors can climb to the top and the vantage point offers dramatic and breathtaking views over the town and the fjord below.

Perast is also an ideal base for exploring other towns in the Boka region – beautiful Kotor is just 12 kilometers away – or other areas of Montenegro or nearby Dubrovnik, Croatia. You are sure to enjoy your time in this idyllic corner of the Montenegro coast.

The monasteries of Pejë/ Peć in Kosovo

My family and I were on holiday in beautiful Montenegro, when we decided to take a daytrip into Kosovo – to the town of Pejë (in Albanian) / Peć (in Serbian). Of special interest to us were two spectacular Serbian Orthodox monasteries: the 14th century Dečani Monastery and the 13th century Patriarchate Monastery.

Travelling in the Balkans is wonderful: stunning nature, a mixture of cultures and influences and warm people. But it also requires lots of patience and flexibility, a spirit of adventure and the understanding that things don’t work the same as in other European destinations. As long as you are willing to accept this, you will certainly find this a rewarding destination.

This self-imposed patience and flexibility was sorely tested on our first attempt to cross into Kosovo from southeastern Montenegro. Although we missed the turnoff to Kosovo at the Montenegrin border town of Rožaje, road signs and our map confirmed a second border crossing into Kosovo. We were surprised by all the shepherds using what was essentially a road to an international border crossing as a grazing area; we were increasingly suspicious when the asphalt ended and the twisting dirt road became narrower and narrower. We stopped to ask, in our bad Montenegrin, two women herding cows if this was the road to Kosovo. After having (rightfully) laughed at us, they pointed out that this road had been in disuse for years and that we would have created a lot of problems with the soldiers at the border. Lesson learned : don’t always trust maps or even road signs in the Balkans – always check with the locals.

We managed on attempt number two and crossed into Kosovo from the Rožaje border crossing. European nationals only require an identity card to enter Montenegro, but a passport is necessary in Kosovo. Border crossing is smooth, but Kosovo is not recognized in international auto insurance policies, so you must also pay a mandatory 50 euro fee for Kosovar insurance (yes, even for a day). The drive through the Prokletije mountains and down to the valley of Pejë below is stunning and we were reminded of Switzerland or Austria. In the summertime, children sell berries they have picked in the forests along the road and they can often jump in front of cars, so drive cautiously. The road conditions are good.

Pejë itself is a bustling, chaotic city with a tremendous amount of rebuilding underway. Road signs are erratic. However, there are many KFOR soldiers posted along the road and we asked for directions quite a few times to ensure that we were on the correct road to the Dečani Monastery.

 The Serbian Orthodox Dečani Monastery is just a few kilometers out of the city and is in a  picturesque spot at the base of the Prokletije mountains. The stunning monastery, said to be the best-preserved medieval church in the Balkans, was named a UNESCO Heritage site in 2004, declaring it a place which “[combines] the influences of the eastern Orthodox Byzantine and the Western Romanesque traditions. The style played a decisive role in subsequent Balkan art.”

Dečani and the Orthodox priests living within it continue to be under the protection of Italian soldiers. You must have your passports ready. You will go through a check point and a  barricaded area before being told to park. Your documents and bags will be inspected and you are accompanied to the door by the soldiers. When we passed through the heavy gates, we felt as if we had been transported to another world. We were struck by  the absolute beauty and tranquility of this monastery constructed at the beginning of the 14th century by  King Stefan of Dečani.

Photo courtesy of the Dečani Monastery web site

It is all stunning: the beautiful marble facade, the fantastically preserved frescoes, the picturesque monastery housing and flowers – all surrounded by walls with views outside to the Prokletije mountain range. We spent a long time examining the details of the frescoes extending throughout the entire surface area of the walls.

Photo courtesy of the Dečani Monastery web site

After considerable time at Dečani, we drove on to the Patriarchate Monastery, closer to Pejë and at the entrance of the stunning Rugova gorge. The 13th century Patriarchate is home to Serbian Orthodox nuns and is also under the protection of Italian soldiers. The soldiers were very professional and efficient – photographing our car and its license plate and following procedures similar to those in Dečani before allowing us entrance. The frescoes here are also spectacular and span from the 13th through the 16th centuries, although they are less well-preserved than those at Dečani. As in much of the Balkans, with its history of centuries of invasions and fighting, one is always in awe that these beautiful places still exist at all. We felt incredibly lucky to have visited these stunning landmarks and highly recommend a visit to these lovely monasteries.

 We had very little time left for exploration of Pejë, but the Kosovar people were warm and welcoming to tourists. There is clearly not much tourism yet, so they are happy to encourage you to travel to other parts of Kosovo. We had an excellent lunch before bracing for the mountain drive back to Montenegro.

Montenegro’s wild interior

The Montenegrins tell a story about the creation of their country. They say that after God created the Earth, he looked down in his bag which had once contained all the birds, fish, animals, plants, water and the first humans who now populated his new planet. He noticed that in the bag there were still some stones left and he threw them down to the newly created Earth, thereby creating Montenegro.

You can’t help but think of this story as you navigate within Montenegro’s rugged, wild interior. Although it is a small country, getting from point A to point B in inland Montenegro takes a long time because you are driving along narrow, twisting (and let’s face it, often terrifying) mountain passes and roads through the country’s numerous gorges.

Many tourists never get to this part – preferring to stay along the more developed coast. But I would urge all visitors to explore at least part of this spectacular interior. Here are some highlights:

Durmitor National ParkThis park, a  UNESCO Heritage site, is located in northern Montenegro, close to the border with Bosnia-Hercegovina. Its pristine lakes and rocky mountains are a wonder to explore – and you will do so easily with extremely well-marked trails for all skill levels. Vegetarians beware: on the menu is lamb, lamb and more lamb, but also scrumptious priganice – a type of small fried dough, like fritters – served with either kaymak (soft, salty cheese), fermented milk or honey, and mouthwatering berries picked fresh from along the trails. A little slice of heaven.

Durmitor

Whitewater rafting in the Tara River Easily reached from Durmitor is the Tara River canyon, a popular place for whitewater rafting excursions. Serious rafters will want to go in the spring/early summer, with its higher water levels and fast rapids, and plan a two-day (overnight) trip to the Bosnian border. Travelling with young children, we were happy for the lower water levels and slower rapids of late summer. The kids loved their first rafting experience and can’t wait to return.

tara3

Morača canyon and Biogradsko Park – This is close to the nation’s capital, Pogorica, and the drive through this canyon is breathtaking. Nearby is the wonderful Biogradsko Park, with lots of hiking, swimming and horseback riding in a  beautiful setting.

moracacanyon

Don’t miss the spectacular Morača monastery, an important Serbian Orthodox holy place. It is set in a lovely surrounding and its frescoes are magnificent.

Moracamonastery

Lovćen National ParkThis is white-knuckle driving at its best, up precipitous, curving mountain roads with lots of hairpin turns – honk lots as you initiate the turns to alert oncoming traffic. Yet the view over the Boka kotorska as you climb higher is breathtaking as is the panoramic view from the tomb of Montenegrin Prince Petrović-Njegoš. Montenegro is a small country and, from this altitude, it is all laid out stunningly just beneath you.

mnegro_lovcen

Lake Skadar – This is the largest lake in the Balkans, divided between Montenegro and neighboring Albania. The biodiversity in this unspoiled region is notable, and it is a well-known bird sanctuary. Boat tours can be arranged from the lake town of Virpazar to enjoy the stunning landscapes and the beautiful monastaries dotting the shorelines and islands. Be sure to try the wonderful, strong red Montenegrin Vranac wine produced in the region.

skadarsko

The best of Montenegro’s coastline

This little country on the Adriatic (just 600,000 inhabitants) is a fantastic holiday destination offering beautiful coastlines and towns, friendly people, excellent cuisine and relatively low prices. It doesn’t yet attract the big crowds that neighboring Croatia does, but that’s sure to change over the next years, so enjoy it now!

Boka kotorska – This region in the north of Montenegro and close to Croatia used to be part of the Venetian Empire and the name comes from the Italian “bocca” (mouth). This is a dramatic fjord dotted with lovely Venetian towns and ringed by stunning mountains. We based ourselves here for a week and explored the whole area and absolutely never grew tired of observing the rocky mountains and the lovely stone of the buildings with the changing light of day. We stayed in the charming town of  Perast , where time seems to have stood still for the last four hundred years and we loved taking our daily swim in the town’s small beach just opposite two lovely island churches. Perast is just a few kilometers from the large town of Kotor, an architectural gem. Don’t miss out on climbing the ruin walls of Kotor’s castle for the dizzying view of the town and the Boka far below. You can’t go wrong here stopping off along the way to visit the charming towns and take a dip in the inviting waters all along this beautiful coastline.

mnegrocoast_perast

Budva – this is Montenegro’s most developed coastal resort, with many options for accommodation. The old town is lovely as is the town’s stone beach. Unfortunately, Budva has developed a little too rapidly over the past few years and the charming old town has been dwarfed by far-less-than-charming overbuilding around the old town walls. Still, if you are young and looking for good nightlife, this is most likely a good place to start. If you are looking for a quieter atmosphere, as we were, stay elsewhere and make this a daytrip.

mnegrocoastbudva

Sveti Stefan- Close to Budva is the picture-perfect island of Sveti Stefan attached to the mainland by a causeway. Relax on the beaches on either side of the causeway and enjoy this tranquil, photogenic spot.

Mnegrocoast_svetis

Ulcinj – Until 1878,  Ulcinj, at the southermost tip of Montenegro and close to the Albanian border, was part of the Ottoman Empire. In that year, fierce fighting between the Montenegrins and Ottomans led to the eventual annexation of Ulcinj (and Bar to the north) to Montenegro. Montenegro’s Albanian minority makes up about 90% of Ulcinj’s population and that of the surrounding regions. Since the area is also popular in the summer with Albanians and Albanian Kosovars on holiday, you will hear more Albanian spoken here than Montenegrin. The city has a rich history. It was settled by the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and was famous as a base for the Algerian corsairs. Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quijote, is said to have been captured by the pirates off the coast of Barcelona and held as a captive in Ulcinj. The Citadel is charming, perched high on a hill with views to the sea below. The Velika Plaža (Great Beach), just south of town is a long stretch of grey sand and the nearby Ada Bojana, an island in the Bojana River, just along the Albanian border has wonderful seafood restaurants not to be missed.

mnegrocoast_ulcinj