We had such a great time in Montenegro that I really didn’t want to wait to write about it. It is beautiful, affordable and small which means it is very easy to get from one location to another. They have a pretty good bus network that allows you to get from one major town to another in the €3-€7 range. If you have the time and the money I would recommend renting a car. It allows you a lot more freedom and there are a lot of local mountain roads with next to no traffic on them. Just watch out for the police on the main highways as there are regular speed traps in the more traveled sections. A majority of it is mountainous but there are also a lot of coastal beach areas. You can drive from the beach to the foot of Montenegro’s highest peak in about three hours. Early October is a great time to visit. On the coast the summer visitors are gone but it can still be warm enough on a sunny day to take a dip. In the mountains the summer crowds are gone and the leaves are starting to change colors. The days are mild and the evenings are brisk though they can get cold depending on your elevation.
Perast / Our Lady of the Rocks
Once a busy ship building town under the Republic of Venice, this town now only has a population of around 250 permanent residents. Quiet and picturesque it is a popular destination for visiting Our Lady of the Rocks in the Bay of Kotor. You can hire a boatman to ferry you to the island for €5 per person for a round trip. Home to a handful of hotels and restaurants as well as plenty of apartments for rent it can get pretty quiet after the sun goes down in the off-season. The few tourists who visit for the day head back to Kotor in the evening and it feels like you have the place to yourself. Many people stay in Kotor and make a day trip to Perast. If you want plenty of time to soak it all in, stay for a couple of days and wander the streets when it is quiet. If it is warm enough there are plenty of places to go for a swim.
Kotor has been a population center for well over 2,000 years. Part of the Republic of Venice for the better part of four centuries, the wonderfully preserved walled old town looks very much like Venice sans canals. Kotor is a very popular destination. Cruise ships dock here frequently and the prices reflect it. It isn’t prohibitively expensive but it is the most expensive place we visited in Montenegro. Walking through the narrow streets of the old town is enough to make it worth a visit. Be sure to visit the Serbian Orthodox church of St. Nicholas. Climb to the top of St. John Mountain behind the old town for a view of the city and the bay from the ramparts of the old city fortifications.
The former imperial capital of the Kingdom of Montenegro, Cetinje is a snapshot of turn of the century architecture. The former embassies of various European countries provide a glimpse into the past. Some are in better shape than others. The former British embassy is now a music school. The once grandiose Russian embassy on the other hand is abandoned with mold climbing the walls. Many once great buildings in Cetinje are in a state of disrepair but as Montenegro’s tourism traffic continues to rise, the money will follow and hopefully the rehabilitation. I fully expect the former Russian embassy to be an expensive hotel or guest hose within 10-15 years. Montenegro’s current president resides in the Blue Mansion even though the government is centered in the city of Podgorica. The wonderful History Museum of Montenegro, housed in the former Government House building, has an impressive collection of artifacts dating from prehistory to present day. They are still finishing the final wings and right now the exhibits only go up to the start of WWII. They have one of the largest collections of flags of any museum in the world, most of which were won on the battlefield. This is just one museum that is part of the National Museum of Montenegro. Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit Cetinje. The leaves were changing colors and wood is still a primary heating source so the smell of wood smoke was thick in the air every evening.
Lovćen National Park and Petar II Petrović-Njegoš Mausoleum
Inside Lovćen National Park you will find Mount Lovćen . On one of its peaks is the national mausoleum that is home to the tomb of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš prince-bishop of Montenegro from 1830-1851 and national hero who is credited with modernizing Montenegro. Not only is the mausoleum impressive but so are the views. On clear days you can see Italy across the Adriatic Sea. Even on hazy days you can see most of Montenegro. If you don’t have a car you can hire a taxi from Cetinje for €20 and they will drive you to the top, wait for you to tour the mausoleum (about 45 minutes) and then drive you back to Cetinje. If you aren’t in a hurry and have a rental car, I’d recommend driving yourself and spending some time in the National Park. It is a beautiful place and there is more to it than just the mausoleum.
Durmitor National Park
Popular in the summer months and during the ski season, it is also a great place to visit in the fall and spring when it isn’t as crowded. Hiking,biking, rafting, mountaineering, skiing: All are available in and around Durimtor. Zabljak is the nearest town and has restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, markets, etc. The park can be reached from Zabljak on foot but a car would be better so you can explore the surrounding areas. Mountains, lakes, small alpine villages, Celtic ruins, rivers, babbling streams,…. It is a gorgeous place to explore.
Tara River Canyon / Tara River Bridge
The Tara River Canyon is the deepest river canyon in Europe. It is technically part of Durmitor National Park, but the Tara River Bridge is far enough away and requires additional transport from Zabljak. You can walk across the bridge and admire the view or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take the zip line. Many of the area’s rafting trips start near the bridge and work their way through the canyon toward the main part of Durmitor.
This Serbian Orthodox monastery is the most visited pilgrimage site in Montenegro and one of the most popular in all of the Balkans. If you’ve never been to a pilgrimage site it is a much different vibe than visiting one of the big, famous cathedrals of Western Europe. Most of the people who are visiting are there for a reason greater than just taking pictures and as a tourist you can feel invasive simply by being there. There is also a lot of rehab work going on but much of it looks like new construction to accommodate larger crowds. I’ve seen pictures of Fatima and Lourdes and the industry that pops up around pilgrimage sites can seem a bit exploitative. Regardless, the structure, setting and view are all breathtaking. Not to mention that the winding drive up and down the mountain is worth it unless you have some acrophobic tendencies.
We were easily able to visit all of these sites in two weeks without a car. Even though Montenegro is small there was still a lot left unseen. We weren’t able to make it to Lake Skadar or the southwest coast. According to Žarko, our host in Zabljak, the northeastern section of the country is the least visited area and is a great place to go if you like the mountains but want somewhere a little more out of the way than Durmitor. Those areas will have to wait until we are able to return at some point in the future.