A quick online search and you’ll be met with a plethora of enticing images showcasing dramatic mountains plunging headfirst into dazzling blue waters, labyrinthine cobbled streets, vast open green spaces and remarkable fortified towns. This is Montenegro.
With only 5 days off work, I was in need of a quick, sunny getaway. Keen to try somewhere new, Montenegro nudged its way to the front of my mind and before we knew it, we were on our way!
Language(s): Montenegrin, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Croatian. English well-spoken in tourist areas.
Plug Sockets: Type F, C and E.
Ease of travel: 5/5 with car 4/5 without
Ease of communication: 4/5
Ease of meeting others: 4/5
General costs: £££
I travelled here in September 2017 with my boyfriend, Paul, and my parents – after flying in and out of Dubrovnik we drove in to Kotor and based ourselves in Muo, a 30 minute walk from the bustling town centre. From here we enjoyed day trips to Perast and Budva.
Kotor Bay is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Staying in Muo, we welcomed each day by gazing into the breathtaking view and munching on breakfast pastries from the Airbnb veranda.
Things to do:
1. Kotor old town
Walk through the sea gate and you’ll find yourself at the centre of an archaic maze of cobblestone streets meandering past churches, cathedrals, shops, cafes and bars. By day the town can get quite busy, thanks to the volume of visitors provided by the daily cruise ship arrival. Once evening comes and the ships start to leave, the town feels significantly emptier, with more time and room to explore.
Look out for St Nicholas church and Kotor Cathedral
Kotor Old Town
The many kotor cats!
3. Kotor cats
It didn't take long to notice the abundance of cats roaming the streets – as a cat-person, this filled me with joy. For all the non-cat lovers who visit Kotor, well it’s kind of tough; you’d better get used to them because they are everywhere.
One of my favourite shops in Kotor was ‘Cats of Kotor’ which is a souvenir shop that puts some of the profits from sales towards helping the stray cats.
Paul and Dad trying to entice one over
4. City walls and the castle/fortress of San Giovanni
By far the top thing to do in my opinion is to walk up the fortifications to the castle of San Giovanni and soak in the most incredible view that pans over the bedazzling fjord. The walk up is steep but well-paved, and there are vendors along the way if you run out of water. The castle ruins are interesting to explore, but the views are what bring visitors here in their masses.
As you walk up you get some incredible views of the walled city
Keep walking and the views get better and better!
Until you reach the top!
5. Kotor Bay
Whilst staying in Kotor town has its pros, staying further around the bay towards Muo offers a unique window into peaceful and simple Montenegrin life. With gentle winding roads flanked by houses leading upwards on the one side, and a short but clear drop into ocean on the other, it’s one of the most scenic parts of the Montenegrin coastal drive. Walking in the morning you’ll pass a handful of people walking, cycling, popping into the odd cafe that presents itself, and generally going about daily life, in stark contrast to the busy, bustling streets of the old town.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Muo (a 30 minute walk from old town).
The view from our airbnb veranda was incredible, I became instantly jealous of all the people who live here.
It was a very refreshing way to start the day! Don't expect carribean water temperatures here!
Paul enjoying a morning dip
Mum managed a whole two feet in the water!
Proof that I made it into the water! No-one wants to see the 30 min long video of me slowly going in - an inch at a time.
Walking along at night you’ll see the city walls lit up with a golden glow that extends deep into the waters.
Kotor walls by night
Budva is a pretty easy day trip from Kotor – a mere 30 minute drive away infact!
Things to do:
1. Stari grad (old town)
Similar to Kotor old town, upon entering the stari grad you’ll find yourself in a medieval maze of marbled streets and Venetian walls, where churches, cafes, shops and buskers surprise you as you explore.
The old citadel is now a museum and cafe, however most people come here for picturesque panoramas over the city.
3. Sveti Stefan
This walled island-city is a beautiful sight to see. The island itself is now a 5 star luxury resort, but you can easily catch a glimpse from the mainland.
There are some really scenic spots along the drive too.
There are plenty of beaches to explore in Budva, with enticing cafes and bars around. My favourites were Jaz beach and Proce beach.
5. Ballet dancer statue
The ballet dancer statue is a popular photography spot, but also marks the beginning of an easy coastal walk for more views of the Adriatic.
Ballet dancer statue, Budva
Another easy day trip from Kotor, Perast is a 15 minute drive. Walking along the waterfront shore felt as if I were walking along a chunk of Venice that had floated away and re-joined the Balklans. Although a nice place to enjoy boat rides, kayaking or lunch with a view, the undisputed highlights are in the water itself: Sveti Dorde and our Lady of the Rocks.
1. Our Lady of the Rocks
This artificial island has an interesting background: in the 15th century an image of the Madonna was noted on a rock, a few kilometres away from the shore. Local seamen decided to build an island, carrying rocks over and sinking old ships filled with rocks to create the island, before building the famous church on top. Every year to this day on 22nd July, locals row over and throw a few stones at the base of the island to continue the task.
To get over to the island is pretty easy – a €5 euro return boat will take you over and collect you on the other side.
Our Lady of the Rocks
2. Sveti Dorde (St George Island)
Unlike Our Lady of the Rocks, Sveti Dorde is a natural island with a Benedictine monastery built upon it.
This island is however off-limits to tourists.
St George Island
Well, that completed our time in Montenegro. Far from a comprehensive trip, but made for an incredibly relaxing 5 days away.
Other interesting places I would love to explore more of include:
A Serbian orthodox church built into the rocks of Ostroška Greda
A beautiful lake in Durmitor National Park.
A twisting, mountainous, adrenaline-fuelled time awaits anyone keen to drive the Cetinje road between Cetinje and Kotor. Sadly time did not permit (and I'm not sure I believed Mum and Dad when they said through gritted teeth "Yes, that sounds fun".
It seems strange to visit a country and not spend at least a few hours in the capital city; Podgorica, I will be back.
How to get to Montenegro
There are two main airports in Montenegro – Podgorica and Tivat. Tivat is pretty close to Kotor: 6km in fact, whilst Podgorica is further inland. Flights are variable to Tivat, so we found the most convenient way to get here was to fly to Dubrovnik (with more frequent and cheaper flights). From Dubrovnik we rented a car (make sure to check the rental agreement to ensure you are permitted to cross borders). We then drove the 60km to Kotor. The drive itself was very easy – well-paved roads with stunning scenery along the way. Crossing the border (albeit late in the evening) was very quick and easy – with only one car in front of us.
Top tips for Montenegro:
Cruise ships do come often and with them come huge crowds and an eyesore onto the view. If this is an issue for you, avoid cruise season.
Prices were not as cheap as I was expecting (perhaps due to the frequency of cruise ships) although I was advised that further north the prices drop.
Hire a car – driving in Montenegro is part of the experience, and allows you to stay further around the bay in more beautiful locations, but it can be a little scary at times with frequent scary curved mountainous roads. The driving can be a little crazy too.
Cats - there are cats everywhere! Personally, I enjoyed this.
Vegetarian options are limited; whilst this is changing, it certainly isn't changing at the same rate as many other European countries. My parents are vegetarian, so it was something we were specifically looking out for. Pescetarians will probably be fine, however.
Montenegro uses the euro, however (at the time of writing), the country is not part of the European Union