In previous articles I’ve shared with you a little bit about my six month sabbatical so far, offered guidance on planning for adventure and dealing with Day One Jitters, but now I’d just like to share with you the highlights of our recent trip to Montenegro. I hope this proves useful and rousing for anyone considering Montenegro as a potential travel destination and also goes to show, in general, that once you get past all the tricky stuff with planning your travels and dealing with your nerves, great things can follow! So without any further ado, here are my seven highlights from my trip to Montenegro:
Hacking through the jungle
This might not be what you’d expect to see in a travel blog about Eastern Europe, but one of the things that really struck me about Montenegro was the amount of wild and untamed nature we encountered. As a country that is only just being discovered by mass tourism, a lot of its natural areas have yet to be manicured and managed. We found this particularly the case when exploring the Lustica Peninsula. We were barely out of the towns, before we were enveloped by lush, verdant greenery and bird song. It felt so refreshing to be in places where you could barely see any trace of humanity, and where nature truly ruled! There were places where the paths had become so overrun by nature that we needed to take educated guess on how to press on and trying to spy trail markers through the foliage, but that was part of what made these experiences so much more adventurous than your standard walk in the park!
Finding hidden ruins!
Hidden in some of these jungles, or up in the mountains are some absolute historic gems! Despite being a relatively young country (13 years old as of a few days ago!), Montenegro has a very rich and diverse history, in large part due to the land having had so many different rulers over time.
From the Bay of Kotor, there are two great old forts I’d recommend checking out. To the East, and connected with Kotor’s Old Town, is the fortification of St. John (also known of the Castle of San Giovanni or Tvrdava Sveti Ivan). Originally built during Byzantine times, it has been further built upon and repurposed over the succeeding millennium. The fort can be accessed either from the Old Town itself, by paying a small fee to access a winding path that takes you up to the very top of the fort, some 280m above sea level. However, to avoid the fee and the potential high volume of tourists off the ferry, I would personally suggest taking the mountain path that crosses the River Skurda just to the North of the Old Town to climb part way up the mountain. Along the way, you’ll need to get past the guard cats, stop of at one, or both, of the mountain cafes nearby, and check out the old church, of Sveti Dorde and its donkey inhabitants. From there, you can gain access to the fort by clambering in through the Spiljarskia Gate. Don’t worry, you’re not trespassing, it’s fairly common practice and there’s even an official path marking on the window itself! And if you get there and you feel you haven’t got your fix of mountain just yet, keep climbing up and you’ll get to the Lovcen National Park, where there are many more lesser known fortifications waiting to be discovered!
To the West of the bay lies another old beauty waiting to be discovered. Well, I say old. Fort Vrmac is a 19th Century Austro-Hungarian fortification, so really it’s just a child compared to St. John! Unlike, St. John, you won’t be able to see it from Kotor, though if you look carefully, you should be able to see the grand zig zag path winding up the mountain towards it. Still, I would suggest getting hold of the ‘maps.me’ app if you have a smart phone or getting an old fashioned non-digital map. To get there, you’ll need to climb up from the West side of the bay (there are the odd ‘Vrmac’ signs painted on rocks) and take the zig zag path up through the trees eventually allowing you to find the fort hidden away on top and get spectacular views of the Bay of Tivat and the Lustica Peninsula. The fort itself is a wonder to see, especially as it has largely been reclaimed by nature due to being more off the grid than St. John. But also very hauntingly intriguing is the abandoned army barracks nearby. As a history nerd, I always enjoy being able to figure out the story behind the places I visit, so if you are likewise inclined, I’d recommend this as a place to investigate. Don’t investigate too hard through, as the buildings are far from structurally sound and have not been cleaned in a very long time!
There are far too many other treasures to mention here, so I would recommend having a good old explore yourself. There’s plenty of ruins that are visible on ‘maps.me’ and asking around will no doubt get you some leads as well!
Exploring the Adriatic Coast
In particular, I would like to recommend the Blue Cave on the south side of the Lustica Peninsular. The Blue Cave is a large natural cave than can be easily accessed by sea and, as the name suggests, is illuminated from within by a blue light as the outside sun reflects off the water. There are lots of tour operators who can get you there by boat, but, if you are able, I’d highly recommend experiencing it by Sea Kayak through an adventurous activity provider, such as Montenegro+. Rather than just sitting back and watching natural places, I much prefer to experience them in a more primal way. To feel the motion of the ocean on my kayak and manoeuvre it to where I want to go, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the blue cave and the Adriatic Coast myself. Having a tour operator with such good local knowledge also allowed us to explore other areas along the coast as well as taking us to their favourite snorkelling spots as well!
(Photographs from Playworking)
Lake Skadar National Park
Another fantastic tour Montenegro+ took us on was a Stand-Up Paddleboard journey in Lake Skadar National Park to the South-East, close to the border with Albania. Our journey took us along the Crnojevic River towards the main lake and allowed us to enjoy fantastic natural views as we paddled through Lillie pads enjoying the bird song and breathing the fresh untainted air in the gentle flow of the river. Again, I would highly recommend doing this as an adventure tour rather than a cruise tour to really get all up in that nature and enjoy the game of “who’s going to fall in first?”!
(Photographs from Playworking)
Oh my goodness the food! I’ve noticed from eating out in various places that the Montenegrins have a very hearty diet! We generally tried to prepare our own food as much as we could to save money, but we found that we could eat out for very cheap, and get a lot for what we paid for! In the historic capital of Cetinja (it was a flying visit, so we unfortunately didn’t have time to check out its historic wonders) we had a fantastic lunch of meat fritters and chips that even came with complimentary freshly baked bread all for under 5 Euros! I would also very much recommend paying a visit to his majesty, the Taco King, in the coastal city of Budva, as well as Tangja BBQ in Kotor. Wherever we ate, it always felt like we had generous hosts who would offer great portions, go out of their way to accommodate us but also gently tease us when we couldn’t quite finish our giant portions! Wine can also be bought very cheap, sometimes by roadside merchants in the middle of nowhere along with bags of tea and a friendly kiss on the cheek! In short, Montenegro is a land of plenty and your taste buds are not going to be bored!
The Adventure House
Normally I wouldn’t describe my accommodation as a highlight of any trip, even if it was good, as its normally just the place I sleep in between adventures, but an exception has to be made for Playworking‘s Adventure House! Not only was the Adventure House a brilliant place to stay, rest and do some digital nomading, but it also allowed us to go on many adventures that we would have been unlikely to find otherwise. From when we first arrived, we were told of the many places we could go and explore on the Lustica Peninsula and beyond! I’ve already spoken about the tours they have on offer, but add to that the discounts that come with staying with them, and the fact that they were frequently able to give us lifts when needed, made staying with them such a boon to our travels! The fact that they had so much to offer meant that the pressure was off to plan stuff in advance as we knew that whatever we ended up doing that day would be a great experience. As previously said, we opted to cook for ourselves using their cooking facilities, but there is an option to have them provide food for you and, I gotta say, we were definitely jealous every now and again!
The fact that there’s so much more to do!
It’s a testament to this relatively small country that 2 and a half weeks is barely enough time to see everything you want! Even our little corner on the Lustica Peninsula still holds many secrets yet to explore! Our original plan was to stay on the Adriatic Coast on Montenegro for a while before heading further afield and venturing into Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we didn’t really feel the need to do that with so much to do locally! However, if we had had the time, we would have returned to Cetinje to really delve into its historic sites. We would have gone up to the north to Durmitor National Park, a rich haven for wildlife in Europe; homed to the Grey Wolf, the Brown Bear, The Golden Eagle and the European Wildcat. Up there, there are also full day rafting trips you can go on along the River Tara, which is definately on my bucket list for a future visit to Montenegro!