48 hours in Montenegro
Owing its name to its impressive mountain ranges, Montenegro is a real feast for the eyes. With a backdrop of grey, rocky mountains dipping into the tranquil blue waters of the Bay, and shores dotted with small medieval towns, this small, quiet piece of land has a lot to offer to the modern traveller.
The country is one of the youngest in Europe, having gained its independence in 2006. But its relative youth does not mean it lacks in History. Walking through its medieval towns feels like being transported back in time. A picturesque example of this is the city of Kotor, standing snug between mountain and Bay.
Our time in Kotor was short and sweet. It gave us a taste of the country, and was a great introduction to what Montenegro has to offer including beautiful scenery, challenging hikes, shimmering lakes and quaint towns.
The Bay of Kotor
We crossed into Montenegro from Croatia, driving on roads snaking through rocky mountains. After a while, the road opens up onto a vast expanse of shimmering blue water: the famous Bay of Kotor. There are many viewpoints on the road and no doubt why that is, with a view like this one!
The drive reminded me of a road-trip we did in Norway, back in 2016. The similarities between the two areas (though very distinct in their own right!) are such that the Bay is often nicknamed as the "Fjords of the South".
The shoreline extends to a little over 100km, and is dotted with small villages surrounded by a couple of massifs from the Dinaric Mountains: Mount Lovcen and Mount Orjen. The Verige Strait is the narrowest and perhaps most picturesque section of the Bay. Historically, this was a strategic point to obstruct entry into the wealthy cities within the Bay.
Before reaching Kotor, the winding road takes you through some other lovely towns of note. At the western entrance, the largest town in the area is called Herceg Novi. Well known for its spa and the Forte Mare castle, the town used to be the most popular destination on the Bay prior to the Yugoslav wars. Now a quieter destination, it is a great place to unwind away from the crowds.
Further along, the lovely town of Morinj is an old fishing village which features some crystal-clear water and very green scenery. Here, one can enjoy some of the Bay's best seafood including grilled octopus, fresh fish and shrimps. We stopped on our drive for lunch and can certainly confirm that Montenegrin food is delicious as we had one of our best meals here!
Between the towns of Morinj and Perast lies the man-made "Our Lady of the Rocks" islet. Legend has it that it was built over time by local fishermen after they found an icon of Madonna and Child on a rock in the water, and that for years thereafter, they laid a rock upon that very spot after every successful voyage at sea, forming the islet we can now see. Today, the islet's church and museum can be visited as a day trip from the mainland.
Lastly, the town of Perast displays a peculiar Italian charm, owing to its long association with the Republic of Venice. Only a 20mn drive from Kotor, it is a lovely alternative for visitors who wish to stay in the area but want to enjoy a more laid-back (or budget-friendly) holiday. Don't miss climbing up the Bell Tower for sweeping views over the Bay, and hopping on a boat to visit "Our Lady of the Rocks" islet.
The city of Kotor
Surrounded by over 4km of ancient walls, the UNESCO heritage listed city of Kotor is the crown jewel of the Bay. Built over centuries, the city's jumble of tiny streets and asymmetrical squares are full of charm. In fact, records indicate that Kotor's History goes back to the first century!
Situated between East and West, Kotor's eclectic heritage can be admired by simply zigzagging around its streets. Of note, we enjoyed visiting the impressive 13th century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, shopping in the Middle-Eastern inspired bazaar and walking around the city's 16th century walls.
I cannot write about Kotor and not mention its huge cat population. Historically, it is believed cats were brought into the city by sailors. They kept the city "clean" by hunting rats, mice and snakes coming down the mountains. Their population today is in the hundreds! And even though they look like stray, they are certainly very well cared-for. There is even a museum dedicated to them - a true cat lover's paradise!
Kotor is also a great spot to enjoy some adventure-filled activities with plenty of invigorating hikes, and a Via Ferrata in the mountains, and canyoning, kayaking or swimming in the clear water of the Bay.
A highlight for us was the hike up the city walls. We went the switchback way through the mountain, and had a really fun day climbing over some (dodgy-looking) wooden stairs and through a window to get to the actual crumbling fortress. The views from up there are absolutely worth the effort!
While we only explored Montenegro for a short time, we really loved our time here. With a diverse offering, visitors have plenty of choice on how to spend their holiday. History buffs, adventure seekers and foodies alike will find something worthwhile to do.
For our part, we would love to come back to Montenegro to hike around its five stunning national parks. Forming about 10% of the country's land surface area, it is a nature lover's paradise and we would love to experience it whether it be in winter for skiing, or in summer for some relaxing green bathing and wildlife watching.
Another reason to come back here is to explore Montenegro's wine country! The country's signature grape variety is called "Vranac", which makes a very strong and dense type of red wine; but it also produces other varieties of red and white wines. There are two wine regions: the Coastal Wine Region and the Lake Skadar Wine Region which can easily be visited by driving through the official wine routes: Crmica Wine Route and the Ancient Dolcea Wine Route.
If you are interested to learn more about this beautiful country, I recommend reading more on the official tourism website.