A country of incredible mountains, historic towns and beautiful coasts. Montenegro has been an experience to remember.
Getting through border crossings is notoriously a pain in the proverbial and we expected a long wait due to Rangga having a ridiculous number of documents which always confuse officials. Before we even got to the point where Rangga usually gets held up for a lifetime, we had to queue. On the way into Montenegro we queued for just over an hour and back to Croatia for over 2 hours. People were getting rowdy and fights were close to breaking out, so that made for some light entertainment. The actual border crossings went smoothly and the full body cavity search wasn’t needed.
The Bay of Kotor
The historic town of Kotor was our home for the last week and despite the masses of tourists that arrive on the enormous cruise ships it was a beautiful place to return to everyday.
Kotor is old. Now I know that’s not the most helpful description but at least its accurate to some extent. We got an Airbnb in the oldest part of town which is beautiful but small. Our flat was the perfect base for our exploration of the country and I would recommend it highly (Bizanti Palace apartment).
The time we spent in Kotor was mainly orientated around eating, I know, what a shock. Whether it be breakfast from the bakery every morning or meals out in the small squares at night. The food wasn’t exceptional but was tasty on the most part, my favourite meal was swordfish with a creamy sauce served with freshly made bread. Other things to do in Kotor are go to the beach which is pretty small and I only experienced at night for cheeky swim in the dark which was refreshing. Also, obviously, there’s lots of old buildings to visit but the town is small so getting out of Kotor was essential for us. The Bay of Kotor itself is a marvel, in places it is fjord-like, in others it is reminiscent of the Italian lakes.
After exploring the abandoned fort on one side of the bay we went up the other side to the highest mountains in the area. 17 consecutive hairpin bends and some breath-taking views later, we were at a relatively flat and straight road, where we could stop safely and take photos.
However, we were only getting started, the Panda was purring like a beauty and AJ was blasting around corners like a madman. We were ready to head to Lovćen national park. The roads got worse but the views continued improving and eventually we reached the car park for the mountain. To reach the top you walk through a tunnel and up over 400 steps until you reach the path at the top from which you have a panoramic view for miles. I think we were supposed to pay to go to the top but no one stopped us and we weren’t complaining. The only problem like most places was the tourists but due to the short climb it wasn’t that busy and staring at the view you could block their noise out.
Our car, the Fiat panda has been put through its paces, with steep uphill sections, gravel roads, and a tortoise by the name of Barry. But nevertheless, it made it through and took us all over the country. If you can afford it, get a car and then you can get to the remote areas which we often had the best experiences in.
Our first experience of the coast was down past Budva which is the main tourist hotspot of the country. The beaches around here are long and sandy but inevitably packed. We wanted to find some less busy and more secluded places for snorkelling and swimming so headed further south, on the map we spied a few small beaches and went to check them out. To our horror and disgust these lovely beaches were all private, on the nicest there was a private spa and then next to it was another where it was 120 euros to use the beach. We did manage to find a small beach but it was very busy and the sea wasn’t clear. Nevertheless, we had fun but were keen to find somewhere to snorkel and swim properly.
After some research, we decided the Lustica peninsula was our best bet. On our first visit, we went to the tiny village of Vesla because it has an isolated cove. The roads to get there were very windy, very narrow and in some cases very close to being demoted to tracks but we made it and were rewarded with a little concrete path on the rocks where we could put our stuff while swimming. The snorkelling was alright, but we were satisfied to just have a swim away from the crowds.
Our next visit to the peninsula was great too. In a cove south of the tiny beach at Mirista we parked at the road side and walked down a long gravel path to find that the turquoise waters of the secluded cove were private. We asked the owners of the house if we could swim and they said yes as long as we go further down onto the rocks. Happy with not having to walk back up the track immediately, especially since 2 separate pairs of flip flops were broken on the way down (I didn’t learn from my mistakes), we quickly got onto the rocks and dived in.
The water here was clearer and the fish were more plentiful and diverse. The most exciting occurrence was seeing an octopus which I’ve never seen in the wild before. Squid and cuttlefish I had seen, but the 8 legged fiend had eluded me. If ‘Finding Dory’ is as factual as it seems then I should’ve expected a long wait to catch a glimpse of a pesky octopus. Hank was one slippery customer.
Warning. There are lots of sea urchins, or as AJ refers to them ‘little creatures’ in the water around this area so unless you want spikes all up in your feet then should probably watch your entry and exit from the water. Also, do not drive down the long gravel path, we were lazy and tried to use the car to pick us up about half way down. It resulted in pushing the car in bare foot (broken flipflops) up a hot, dusty and gravelly hill. Not ideal.
The North west
We booked a day of white-water rafting on the Tara river in the north of Montenegro which was only 45 euros each. Compared to the white water rafting I had done in Costa Rica this seemed like a steal.
The drive there was a quick jaunt through the mountains behind Risan, then onwards through wide flat valleys bordered by mountains. After Nikšić we got back into the mountains and from Plužine onwards we were following the azure blue waters of the reservoir and river which was at the bottom of the steepest gorge in Europe. An innumerable amount of tunnels later, some rain and some amazing views we arrived at the waterfall rafting centre.
Getting out of the car in our tshirts we realised our mistake immediately. The mountains were quite a lot colder than the coast (by about 10 degrees) and we were freezing. After getting our free breakfast and getting changed into the wetsuits we got in the buses and set off for the Tara river.
Now we were a little concerned when the children were getting ready and coming with us too. But I had made sure of the level of white water on the river and it had said 3 and 4. The rafting I had done in Costa Rica had been level 3 and was amazing so I was still excited.
I gave it a while to get going, maybe it would build up to the big rapids I told myself. In white water rafting you want to fear for your life, you want to feel you could fall out at any time, while on the rapids at least. These rapids hardly even splashed into the boat and only once or twice did the water splash above my waist. Bored and disappointed we went for a swim at a certain point but quickly realised that the water wasn’t as inviting as it seemed. Icy water all around my body, I was sure that Ranulph Fiennes in his Arctic expedition hadn’t endured cold like this and soon I would share his fate of losing some fingers to frostbite. Back on the boat and shivering, the offer of a jump off a big rock was too tempting and needing to make the most of the trip, three of us went for it. It was about 12 metres high and was pretty fun, mainly due to the hilarity of Tom landing on his arse in front of everyone, this distracted me from the warmth leaving my body faster than I could say hypothermia.
A quick stop at the least interesting waterfall in the world and then we finally finished. We just wanted to get out, get warm and get our free lunch. Lunch was really tasty but it was a small consolation.
It’s important to say that the gorge and the river are truly beautiful, the river is a perfect blue colour and crystal clear, while the gorge is just crazily steep and deep. However, if you’re a thrill seeker it’s not worth the money to go white water rafting here.
The drive back was beautiful because we saw the gorge in the sunlight, it was very difficult to find places to take photos but they don’t do it justice anyway. Around every corner was an incredible view. We got back to Kotor as the sun went down. It was a fun day, with music playing in the car, breath-taking views and laughing at Tom, but disappointing in terms of the rafting.
That was a long post. Not even sure if anyone is reading this far. Either way, there is a lot to say about this extremely picturesque country. Between all 4 of us around 1200 photos were taken (even some of me which is rare) and I think that speaks for itself.