Four world heritage sites, four national parks, the deepest canyon and the southernmost fjord of Europe: yes, these wonders created by nature and humankind are all found in Montenegro, one of the most versatile and exciting countries of the Balkan Peninsula.
The power of nature: Tara River Canyon
Montenegro (meaning: ‘black mountain’) is a real treat for nature lovers: I for instance had a massive Lord of the Rings feeling when I caught sight of the mysterious and wild Tara Canyon unfolding in the early morning mist as the first impression about the country. To be honest, until that moment I had no idea that I don’t need to leave the continent to be able to see such monumental landscapes. It’s the deepest European canyon and the second deepest of the world (only the Grand Canyon beats it). It’s located in the northern part of the country, in Durmitor National Park which is a world heritage site (along with Kotor, other treasure of Montenegro). There’s no doubt that Montenegro is full of grandeur geographically and also the symbol of wilderness for me.
Wild and rocky or romantically sandy?
In most places, the sea also tends to demonstrate its wilder side in this country with unpredictable waves crashing the rocky shores almost non-stop. As my swimming techniques aren’t quite exquisite (okay, practically, they are non-existent), I did not spend too much time in the sea during this holiday. But you don’t have to be sad if you are not Michael Phelps or if you are with children as quiet beaches can be found as well. For example there is a 13 km long sandy beach called Velika Plaža next to Ulcinj. We can experience huge (but totally safe) waves here and thanks to the windy conditions, the coastal panorama is often dominated by the army of colorful kites.
Velika Plaža with kite army in the background
Rendezvous of cultures in Ulcinj
Ulcinj is the southernmost town of the country and it is located near Albania (where the most-commonly practiced religion is Islam) so we can enjoy a genuine multicultural blend here that spoils all our senses. The architecture and the gastronomy are dominated by Arabic influences: we can admire countless minarets and if we have enough of sightseeing, we can taste some tasty meals at one of the authentic Arabic restaurants. It was the first time I had the pleasure of waking up to the sounds of the muezzin and the lush nights became even more exotic thanks to the oriental melodies vibrating the air from the coastal clubs.
The town has an incredibly rich history: it was inhabited by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Turks thus it is considered as a true melting pot of different architectural styles. We are given the opportunity to make a visit to the past of Ulcinj at the local history museum.
Colorful nightfall in Ulcinj
Sveti Stefan: let’s follow the footsteps of Marilyn Monroe
Sveti Stefan is undoubtedly the most exclusive location in Montenegro. The little island has been inhabited since 1442 and a wall was built around it as a protection from the Turkish invasion. Today, the former fishing village is home to a luxury resort called Aman Sveti Stefan where even celebrities like Claudia Schiffer or Marilyn Monroe were seen. Unfortunately, as simple human beings, we need a hotel or restaurant reservation to be able to enter the island.
Budva, the Mecca of beachgoers and party people
Budva is a party paradise and the capital city of the Montenegrin coast: it was a bit too crowd-pleasing for my taste with loads of hotels and tourists but the good news is that even those who are eager for calmness and culture can find enough munition in the historic old town. If you are already there, you should give a try to Mogren Beach behind it, which is surrounded by rock giants of extraordinary shapes and patterns and beautiful flora. On our way there, we can also admire the emblematic and graceful ballet dancer statue of Budva which was made for the memory of a young girl who went to swim in the sea and did not return according to the legend. (It was tragicomic to see that poor dancer’s breasts have been rubbed to shine.)
Detail from the old town of Budva
Detail from the old town of Budva
The iconic statue of Budva
Mogren Beach has two parts: Mogren II can be reached through a cave but mind your steps because the road is quite slippery. Apart from sunbathing and swimming, the brave ones longing for some adrenaline rush are given the chance to jump into the sea from the designated rocks. Speaking of the environment, it was one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to but prepare yourself because it can be extremely crowdy during the high season (just like all the trendy beaches in the area).
Detail of the old town with Mogren Beach in the background
The view from Mogren II
Petrovac situated also on the Budva Riviera is an ideal choice if we are thirsty for some calmness. It is less lively but the view is picturesque: we can sail to the rocky islands in Petrovac Bay and we can admire the breathtaking coastline from the boat.
The islands of Petrovac
The view of Petrovac from the sea
Kotor and Perast, the jewels of Kotor Bay
Kotor Bay is one of the largest natural bays of the Adriatic Sea and the southernmost fjord of Europe (although technically, it’s not a fjord but a river valley flooded by the sea): its epic panorama inspired famous artists and if you ever see it you will surely never forget it. Among the numerous fabulously situated towns of the area, I had the opportunity to visit the world heritage site of Kotor and Perast, the town of churches and calm atmosphere.
When walking towards the magnificent old town, it becomes clear almost immediately that Kotor was once ruled by the Republic of Venice – for almost 400 years. The winged lion of Saint Mark can easily be identified on the imposing walls and history comes alive on the cozy, narrow streets of the medieval town combined with an unmistakable Mediterranean feeling. The walls accompany us all the way up to St John's Fortress where our reward for climbing 1350 steps is one of the most wonderful views of the world. A durable, comfortable pair of shoes is a must here because the road uphill is steep, slippery and in poor condition, also sometimes it’s so narrow that the crowd is forced to walk in single file (I saw some interesting stunts and some brave tourists walking barefoot).
Kotor old town
Kotor old town and the bay
View from St John's Fortress
Perast is a small town with a special location boasting of numerous Venetian-inspired temples and palaces. Its two little islets are seducing the visitors with thrilling history as well. One is called Our Lady of the Rocks and it gives space to a baroque church and museum. It’s an artificial islet which was created by the locals according to the legend: they threw stones around a rock where Virgin Mary had been seen previously. On the other tree-covered islet named after St. George we can see a Benedictine monastery. It was once surrounded by a cemetery and today it serves as a shelter for priests. Entry of tourists is not allowed in the islet.
Church on Our Lady of the Rocks
St. George Island
View from Perast to Kotor Bay
Everybody tries to get to the beach
Let’s be prepared that traffic jams are quite common on the main road parallel to the shore: once we spent around 2.5 hours in a gigantic traffic jam and the surrealism of the situation could only be enhanced by the fact that almost instantaneously unearthly clouds, heavy fog and fifty shades of grey (not what you are thinking of, you nasty thing…) overwhelmed the landscape around us.
Mordor-like view on the Montenegrin coast
But where are the orcs?
Not for the first or the last time I felt in this country as if I was heading unconsciously into a scene of the Lord of the Rings (to Mordor in this case – I almost heard the groans of the orcs in the distance). Montenegro might be Europe’s answer to New Zealand?
The photos were taken in August of 2016.