In my prior blog entry I described how I decided on going to the Balkans and how I found day trips to take. The first day trip was to visit Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The second day trip was centered on a visit to Kotor in Montenegro, one of the “youngest” countries in the world.
Montenegro may seem obscure but it has been a part of European history (for example, in Italy and Russia) for a while even while buried under this empire or another.
Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an old town nested in Kotor Bay which is kind of behind another bay that opens out to the ocean. Driving all around the coastline takes a while but provides beautiful scenery and interesting small hamlets to see. (I wrote more about Kotor in another post if you want to read a little more.)
We went straight to Kotor as we also had planned going all the way up to the mountains and Lovcen National Park and that would require a bit of time. The town is quite charming and full of life. Among things to see are parts of the fortifications (which run up the slope of the mountain) and various types of churches (Orthodox, Catholic). The Church of St. Tryphon is well worth a visit – pay to go upstairs and look at the treasures it keeps!
Ride up Lovcen mountain
Going up the mountains will reward you with spectacular views over Kotor Bay and other coastline areas. It is incredible how high you get in such little time. The road up was built during the Austro-Hungarian empire days (it has been updated since then!) and it is quite impressive as you zigzag your way up pretty quickly. Again, you do it for the spectacular views! Hopefully, you won’t have a rainy day (had I done this tour a day earlier, I would have missed them!) After like curve 32, you officially have entered Lovcen National Park (http://www.discover-montenegro.com/lovcen.htm) and gotten to Lovcen mountain where supposedly Montenegro gets its name from (black mountain – which is not how the locals call it, by the way – they call it Crna Gora).
It is funny to re-read the section of “On the Shores of the Mediterranean” by Eric Newby (first published in 1984) and hear how this road up used to be back then: full of potholes and gaps in the protective walls that showed how vehicle occupants on this road made a “spectacular exit to eternity”! The road is still one lane with lay-bys for cars to pass each other but the road is of excellent quality now vs. 1984 (thankfully!).
Our day trip stopped at a mountain hamlet, named Njegusi (famous for being the birthplace in the 19th century of a future Montenegrin ruler), which seemed pretty empty on that day. Maybe the people were elsewhere working… We stopped at a small restaurant where we visited the smokeroom for the ham and then sampled some of it in a fairly basic ham and cheese sandwich (the cheese also being local) bought at the counter. Of course, I also got a glass of vino which was actually quite adequate. The ham was tougher than jamon serrano (Spanish ham) and I had a hard time chewing through it. But it was interesting nevertheless.
Budva and the Montenegrin Riviera
From the hamlet we drove through the mountain countryside. We were quite high up and yet all we saw for a while were mountains that looked pretty dark in color (trees hadn’t grown their green back yet) and some with a little snow.
At some point we did get to look in the distance at the lake that is part of Montenegro’s border with Albania and my heart wished we were a lot closer so I could enter Albania! We made our way down to the town of Cetinje, former seat of the royal house that use to lord over Montenegro and hosted foreign embassies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetinje). We drove through town not stopping on our way to coastal Budva.
Budva seems to be quickly becoming the capital of a Montenegrin riviera. Well, maybe it already is. Hotels and many other modern structures abound, including a hotel we were told was used a good bit by the movie Casino Royal (of James Bond fame). I suspect a lot of Russian tourism hits this part as the countries do have some historical connections and wonder whose money is funding all the construction… But I digress, a favorite weakness of mine.
We got a couple of hours to explore Old Town Budva which is rather charming. As usual, I got a coffee somewhere to get access to a hopefully clean restroom (which it was). It was a nice afternoon and it was nice to be able to stretch them legs on a nice stop like this one.
Montenegro offered me almost two different worlds within a rather small land area! Budva and the riviera sort of contrasted with earlier in the day when I was seeing something that felt more like a distant world from times long gone. Budva old town was worth the stop but the riviera aspect of it (since I was not there to enjoy it, I suppose) diluted the charm I felt earlier in the day and in spending time in the old town. Now, maybe in another visit, I will get to enjoy being seaside and then Budva could become a favorite? I will have to come back perhaps to the Montenegrin riviera which I assume is broader than just Budva!
I have to say that Kotor Bay would be an area I would stick around another couple of days to take in more slowly. I would also love to get lost (not literally) inland in those mountain areas that actually felt remote though, in distance, they were not. They seemed pretty unspoilt as far as the eye could see (which in the very far distance was actually Serbia).
If you do get to go and choose a tour, make sure you get one that takes you up the mountain for the splendid views of Kotor Bay and to see the “hinterlands”. Your impressions of Montenegro will be different if you don’t see these two things! I leave you with that phenomenal view!