2018 Montenegro & Croatia – Montenegro

The trip could not have started more chaotic. First the taxi driver had forgotten about us but at least he called us he would be a bit later. Whilst waiting in front of Stephan’s house another taxi passed by so we decided not to take any chance and grab that one instead.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at Koln-Bonn airport to find a large queue in front of the check-in counters. Apparently all systems were down and the only thing we could do was patiently wait, hoping our flight would do the same. Suddenly things started moving and passengers for Dubrovnik were called forward. After checkin we rushed through security and customs and made it to our gate just in time.

Thirty minutes later than scheduled we took off for the flight to Dubrovnik, by now it was finally time to relax…

On arrival we picked up our rental car and made our way to Kotor, our first destination in Montenegro. Immediately both of us were blown away by the environment, the mountains coming so close to the water, the cypresses and the abundance of green. We had not expected it to be that green.

The road was not very wide in spite of being the main connection between Croatia and Montenegro. Not long after leaving the airport we arrived at the border which which we first noticed when we had to join a long queue. It took us ages to cross the border, well at least we thought we crossed it but not much later we had to join another queue which made us realize we had only passed the Croatian part.

Fortunately the Montenegro part went smooth and not much later we were on the road again. It did not take long before we got a first glimpse of the stunning emerald bay of Kotor, beautifully surrounded by mountains from every side.

At the narrowest side we grabbed a ferry for a short crossing. Instead of taking the main road we turned left and followed the shoreline of the bay passed the picturesque villages of Stoliv and Prcanj.

Not much later we arrived in Kotor and found our guesthouse where we were welcomed by a very friendly lady. After unpacking we went for a well deserved afternoon nap, the lack of sleep was catching up on us now.

Once awake we went to the shoreline for a swim and to catch the first bit of sun. It was a welcome and refreshing change from a long day of traveling. We treated ourselves on a Montenegrin wine and beer after which we returned to our guesthouse to wash the saltwater away and enjoy the second nap of the day.

After sunset we walked into Kotor, which was like a time-travel back to a Europe of moated walled towns with shadowy lanes and stone churches on every square. Squeezed between the mountains and the bay, and overlooked by the ruins of a majestic ford it that special atmosphere. Not unexpectedly Stari Grad, the old town, was now housing a large collection of souvenir shops and restaurants but still we loved the cozy atmosphere. To make it even more dramatic at almost every corner music students were playing both classic and modern music which really added to the atmosphere.

In a quiet narrow lane we enjoyed a craft beer after which we returned to our guesthouse and annoyed the silence of our terrace before calling it a day. It had been a long one and both of us started to notice the lack of sleep.

Next morning we decided to backtrack to the ferry and close the loop around the bay of Kotor. The day before we saw some scenic villages but we were too tired to really enjoy it.

Our first stop was the village of Stoliv. A small selection of picturesque houses, concrete piers where people were bathing and the unavoidable church which could not be missed as every village had at least one. The village was simply picture perfect and we loved it to bits. A simple lifestyle perhaps but something definitely worth it, at least now during the summer season.

During our visit to the church Stephan pointed out some original drawings on the outside walls, made by the architect. They were originally used to instruct the workers on how to build the interior details.

Next to the church was a small graveyard and from everywhere we had a stunning view over the gorgeous bay. At one point we stopped at one of the road side cafe’s and enjoyed two Turkish coffees whilst overlooking the bay and the boats passing by.

Next stop was the village of Prcanj where we took some more time to breath the local atmosphere. By now we could have a good view over two islands in the bay, Sveti Dorde and Ostrvo where a church was located. Boat taxi services were offered but we decided to skip.

The wait for the ferry was not as long as the day before and five minutes later we found ourselves disembarked at the other shoreline. From there we moved on and followed the shoreline till our next stop, the Roman mosaics at Rivan.

At the place where the mosaics were found an old villa was build at settlements that go back to the third century. Not much of the original building was left but fortunately we could still get a good view of the mosaics which were in prestine condition.

We continued our journey till we found a place which offered a close look at the two  islands we saw before and after we parked the car we found out by coincidence that we were walking distance from the baroque town of Perasta. So we continued our way on foot and admired the crowded and touristy, but extremely beautiful city. In order to get a good look from above we climbed the bell tower and at times we had to be careful not to bang our heads. The climb was worth it and we thoroughly enjoyed the scene that was to be admired from the top floor. 

It was time to take a rest, enjoy a beer and watch the world pass by. It had been a lovely day so far indeed and we were not even done. After we returned to our car we drove back to Kotor where Stephan went for a swim.

I continued to the old town to make some pictures as I had not brought my camera the day before. It was wonderful to stroll through the little alleys filled with terraces and watch people done or have a drink. Life was good indeed in Kotor, at least during the summer months, I can imagine the place gets a bit isolated when weather is bad and not much is going on.

Somehow I could not find back the main church we visited yesterday but just when I was ready to give up I saw the impressive dome and made my way to it through the labyrinth of narrow alleys.

Later during the evening we went to a restaurant outside town where we enjoyed a fantastic seafood platter. It was the perfect ending of a perfect day.

Next morning after breakfast we checked out, packed our car and hit the road again to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. After we had entered our destination into the navigation system we hit the road. We left the bay of Kotor behind us and started to climb the swirling roads.

Scenery was breathtaking but somehow the road was not as dramatic as expected. As soon as we came close to Budva we realized our navigation system had led us by the coastal road instead of the much shorter and even more scenic road through the mountains. Perhaps this one was the more accessible one.

We continued our journey to Cetinje, the former capital, and then decided to backtrack the way to Kotor, but now on the old road as originally planned. By taking the coastal route we had missed out on Lovcen National Park and this was something we definitely wanted to see.

The limestone mountains were breathtaking indeed and the car was filled with umhs and ahs after every corner we took when another view on the stunning scenery was revealed. The area was breathtaking indeed and much greener than anticipated.

Navigation systems are programmed to take the best route so still we did not make it to where we actually wanted to go. Fortunately a bit of fumbling with the Garmin and creative thinking later we finally did find the road to the Njegos Mausoleum we wanted to see and soon we were off again, this time in the right direction.

We were led to the old mountain road (the one we initially wanted to take) and soon we drove through beautiful forest area. There was a lot of adventure sports going on and we could immediately see why. The area was simply gorgeous.

We started to climb again and now could see the mausoleum high on a mountain top. Once again we were lucky and found a parking spot close to where the stairs were that was the final ascend to the mausoleum. To make things easier an 80 meter long tunnel was carved through the mountain and once we came out of that one we were blown away by the panorama around us. It was simply breathtaking! We could almost see all of Montenegro from here and only another mountain was blocking the views of the Adriatic coast.

We did not need to use our imagination to see where Montenegro got it’s name as the major part was very mountainous. I decided to have a look at the mausoleum whilst Stephan remained behind to admire the scenery. Inside a large statue was placed in a room with a golden mosaic roof and through a narrow staircase I was led to another room that housed the actual grave.

Behind  the mausoleum another viewing platform was created from where I could even see the bay of Kotor. We indeed had taken the long way to get here but then we were on a holiday and had tremendously enjoyed the journey so who cares.

On top of the tunnel we found the old path that led to the mausoleum. Lots of staples of stones were created over here, something I had seen in the Himalayas before but had not expected here.

We backtracked the old road to Cetinje and from there continued to Podgorica. Getting close to there we were amazed by a gigantic plain that was hidden between the mountains. Weird to see such a flat stretch of land surrounded by mountains from every side. This time it was not difficult to find our way to our guesthouse and after checking in we had short nap.

Stephan had done some research and found out the best restaurant in town was Pot Volat, not far from where we were staying so we decided to go there. The place was packed but still we were able to get a table and ordered a mixed grill that was advertised for two but could easily have fed a complete family. On a small mountain of homemade a dead zoo was created with loving care. An overdose of meat prepared in all kind of varieties. Spiced sausage, cevapcici, Schnitzel, pork skewer, just to mention a small part of the selection… perhaps a bit too much but each piece of meat was cooked to perfection.

When we left the place our stomachs were about to explode but we made it back to our guesthouse in one piece. To tired from eating so much food we called it a day and soon found out sleeping on a full stomach was never a good idea but a guarantee for a restless night ahead.

Next morning it was time to move on again. As soon as we had left the centre of Podgorica we hit a well maintained road so we could really make progress. The surroundings were absolutely stunning and it seemed we were following a valley that was meandering below us. After about 50 kilometers we left the highway and descended into the valley  and ascend again at the other side.

We were now approaching the Ostrog monastery, one of the 4 most important religious centers in Montenegro. First we stopped at a small church that was covered with fresco’s. Someone was reciting from the holy script and religious people were saying there prayers and kissing the relics, as usual in orthodox churches.

It was a peaceful place located in a beautiful courtyard. We strolled around a bit before we continued our ascend to the monastery. It was build 200 meters high on to a cliff and even from below it already looked spectacular, as if someone had glued a building onto a wall.

We had to climb the last bit to the monastery on foot and once we reached the square in front of the monastery we saw a large queue of pilgrims waiting in line to enter the monastery. Having come that far we decided to join the queue which slowly progressed while enjoying the breathtaking scenery below us.

Finally we made it to the entrance and were guided into a small room, where the walls were covered with frescos. Only a couple of people were allowed in at a time into the small room and an orthodox priest was guarding an open coffin with what must have been the remainders of someone important. Although all of the pilgrims kissed the remainders I thought a respectful bow would be enough, which resulted in a disapproving look of the priest but I simply was not willing to extend my level of admiration to kissing a covered dead body.

We climbed up the stairs inside the monastery and came into an area which was filled with mosaics. Also from here we had stunning sights over the square below and the surrounding valley. Before we left I visited another chapel that was used for burning candles, a great atmosphere with the walls and roofs blackened from the smoke.

Before continuing I paid one last visit to a church a few hundred meters down the road where I witnessed a baptizing ceremony and then we were on the road again.

This time I did not see much as I fell asleep whilst Stephan was driving. I woke up when he parked the car at the parking area in front of Piva monastery. It did not look very impressive from the outside I must admit. In the seventies the monastery had been carefully broken down stone by stone and then rebuild 30 kilometers from it’s original location. It had to be moved as a dam was built further on they would drown the monastery. The whole process of breaking down and rebuilding took over 12 years.

The unimpressive sight from the outside was a deception because as soon as we entered the interior we were blown away by the impressive fresco’s. There was not a single piece of wall not covered by them. The restoration work had been carefully done and one could hardly see a trace of it.

Next to the main hall there was another room, equally impressively decorated. The whole place was simply stunning and it’s interior left a much deeper impression than the Ostrog monastery, so it was even more surprising the Piva monastery was not flooded with crowds.

We continued our way and the landscape developed even more dramatic. A beautiful green lake was on the side of the road, tall mountains covered with a thick layer of green. It was absolutely stunning.

There were numerous tunnels carved into the mountain walls that we had to pass before we arrived at the dam which had initiated the move of the Piva monastery. On arrival it did not look impressive but once we drove over the dam we could see down the 200 meter deep gap where the Tara river was flowing.

It was not far now to the border with Bosnia Herzegovina and after the formalities on both sides were cleared we finished the last two kilometers to our camp. There we checked in and were shown our cute little bungalow which would easily have fitted a dog or two…

Now it was time to relax and enjoy a beer. We met a nice German couple from Hamburg so we decided to have dinner together, chat and enjoy a couple of beers. Later that event we returned to our doghouse for a well deserved sleep.

And a good sleep it was, although I woke up several times and had to look for “the second tree at the left” to get rid of some excess beer. After breakfast was it was time to move to the shed where all rafting equipment was stored to get our gear.

Ivan, our guide seemed to be a really nice guide, full of jokes. He drove us for 20 minutes to the start point where we took the raft of the jeep and performed the final preparations. All was done very thorough and professional, it made a good impression.

The raft was then launched into the crystal clear water of the Tara river and we were allowed to board. Our journey had begun. I do not know what was more fun, the rafting itself or the spectacular, almost untouched surroundings. One pair of eyes were simply not enough to absorb the beauty surrounding us.

During our journey we had to conquer 21 rapids but as the water level was not as high as in rainy season most of theme were very moderate. A lot of fun without the dangers that normally come with the more exciting rapids. Ivan told us in spring the situation was completely different and at that time of the year the river was only accessible for highly trained rafters. Even they would not be able to complete the journey without flipping the raft at least once.

But today things were peaceful. The sun was shining, enhancing the stunning surroundings even more. The rapids were big fun. Quiet enough to remain safe but still wild enough to cover us with big amounts of water. The silence of the area was then only broken by our laughter of sheer joy.

At one point we stopped to jump of the cliffs. I choose the highest one of 9 meter and immediately regretted my choice the moment I jumped. A big splash later I landed in the water having a big smile on my face having crossed another limit.

We continued our journey and everybody was just mesmerized by the surroundings. Our next stop was an improvised bar close to a waterfall which was another point of sheer pleasure. Although we were already soaking wet no one could resist a shower in the freezing waterfall.

Next stop was at a bridge which was another opportunity for a jump. Although I initially wanted to jump I decided not to when I stood on top of the 15 meter high bridge. This was a line I was not going to cross. Unfortunately our journey came to an end far to early for our liking.

Back at camp we showered, had a late lunch and then had to wait far to long for the pictures of our adventure. Finally we left on our 220 km long journey that lay ahead of us. First we backtracked the route to Podgorica and at times I could really make up for some lost time. Stephan was sleeping and by the time he woke up we already passed Ostrog Monastery. A quick coffee, a bite to eat and we hit the road again.

As we had not started until 17:30 sun was already setting and it was getting dark quickly. Fortunately we could make a shortcut through a long tolled tunnel which helped us avoid the mountains separating the plains of Podgorica and the coast. As soon as we got out the tunnel we were stuck in a traffic jam through an extremely busy coastal town. Fortunately we could speed up again once we excited the town and around 10 pm we finally arrived in Ulcinj.

Like most Montenegrin beach resorts it was flooded with people. Not knowing where to go and the additional confusion caused by the navigation system caused a lot of stress between Stephan and myself. Finally I found a parking spot from where I called the owners of our guesthouse. They were very friendly and helpful and send someone out to help us.

I left Stephan behind and made my way to Stari Grad, the old town. It was surrounded by a party area which was packed with people like there was no tomorrow. There was such a crowd on the streets it was difficult to find my way and I started to wonder whether we had made the right decision to come here. After asking a couple of times I finally made it to the boulevard. It was definitely party town, cramped with bars, disco’s and people dancing on top of tables. Not really what we were looking for.

I finally found a way up to the old town but in spite of a couple of calls could not find the guy that was sent out for rescue. But then I unexpectedly found Guesthouse Susanna, an oasis of rest in an small and atmospheric historic town surrounded by a world going crazy… Ennis the guy still out there somewhere and waiting for me called me once again and when I told him I found the place he returned.

Now it was time to pick up Stehan so we backtracked all the way. More than an hour after I left him I was back with Stephan clearly in distress. I managed to calm him down and the three of us drove through a labyrinth of streets towards the old town. It was surprising we made it to a parking lot close to our guesthouse. From there we had to carry our suitcases over the cobbled streets and finally, around 11:30 pm we checked in. Hours later than planned and completely exhausted.

Our apartment though was stunning and after two beers each to calm down from our distress we went to bed for a well deserved and needed sleep. It had been a long, and in the end extremely stressful day.

Next morning we had a bit of a sleep in and whilst I was updating my journal Stephan went shopping for breakfast. By the time we finished breakfast it was noon. The heat was tremendous and not very inviting to go out. Stephan wanted to go to the beach but I decided to stay behind and sleep a bit more. I was woken up by stumbling at the door and Stephan returned. When I asked him why he was back so early he mentioned it was almost 18:00… I had slept all afternoon, guess I must have needed it.

Later that evening I went out for dinner. Being so close to the sea I went to a fish restaurant. As Stephan was not very hungry I went on my own and found a lovely spot overlooking the Adriatic sea.

It was a special evening as the moon would be totally covered. From where I sat I not only had a stunning view over the bay but I could clearly see the spectacular process of the moon being covered bit by bit. It took about an hour before it was completely red, making the evening darker than usual. In the mean time I had eaten a wonderful fish soup, mussels in tomato sauce and was now ready to order the main, fried octopus. The local wine was ok but not spectacular. Overall I really enjoyed this beautiful evening.

Back at our guesthouse I chatted a bit with Stephan before going to bed. It had been an extremely lazy day but I had no problems falling asleep.

We started the next morning with a sumptuous breakfast that we had ordered the day before. It was a good start of the day and we felt energized to explore the old city of Ulcinj.

“The ancient Stari Grad is still largely residential and somewhat dilapidated – a legacy of the 1979 earthquake, which is part of its charm. It really does feel old, a fact reinforced by its uneven cobblestones and the paucity of street lighting at night. It used to be a stronghold of the Pirates of the Mediterranean.

From one of the towers we could look down at the bay and see the packed beach. There were more bodies than sand to be admired and every inch of the place seemed to be used. In the evening it turns into one big entertainment area with loud music and lights. Fortunately our guesthouse is on the other side and we can sleep quietly.

As the Stari Grad was rather compact and there were no churches or mosques to be admired we were done in an hour or so. We returned to our guesthouse, grabbed our things and picked up the car for the 25 km drive to Stari Bar, the old city of Bar.

The major part of the road we backtracked the route that we had already driven on our way to Ulcinj. Then we headed not the mountains to the old city which now was not much more than a collection of ruins.

During it’s best times, in the early 16th century about 4000 people loved over here. Several wars and earthquakes brought the city into the ruins that it is today, but even the big earthquake of 1979 could not destroy the arches, a true masterpiece of the Ottoman Turks that still dazzles the world till today.

It was wonderful to walk through the ruined city and fantasize of times long gone by. Some buildings had already been restored but it was obvious this city would never return to it’s former glory.

Instead of taking the main road back we decided to take a more mountainous route to the old ruins of Svac. Once we got there we found out we had to walk quit a long way which was not very inviting in this heat so therefor we skipped it and returned to Ulcinj.

We relaxed at our terrace, enjoyed a beer and chatted a bit. Stephan had reserved a table at a small restaurant overlooking the Adriatic and we still had some time to spare until 20:00.

The restaurant was run by a small family and we had a great view over the Adriatic Sea. Whilst the sun was setting we zipped a glass of homemade wine and shared a plate of grilled calamaris. As a main cause we choose grilled dorado and the cat who joined the balustrade next to our table seemed to be as eager for the fish as we were. A glass of homemade schnapps completed a fantastic dinner that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Next morning we enjoyed breakfast at our balcony after which we headed south to the border of Albania. After we passed Velika Plaza we crossed a bridge over the river to Ada Bojana, as peculiar a place as one is likely to find in Montenegro. It was formed around a shipwreck between two existing islands in the river mouth, which eventually gathered enough sediment to cover around 520 hectares and create 3km of sandy beach.

It was former Yugoslavia’s famous ‘natural’ beach… The good thing was that is was much less crowded than the other beaches where deckchairs were setup without hardly space in between to walk.

We had a couple of good swims and worked very hard on our tan. It was a very lazy day. We weren’t the only ones returning from the chain of beaches as we journey a long traffic jam that had formed around the coastal route. Fortunately things started to speed up once we passed the beaches and we made it in time to Ulcinj before 8 o’clock when the main road towards the harbour parking space was blocked.

That evening we enjoyed a simple meal at our balcony and enjoyed the views over the Adriatic.

Next morning it was time to pack and hit the road again. Initially we thought about visiting Albania but then decided against it. As soon as we had left Ulcinj we hit a traffic jam, something that seems to be inevitable around the Montenegrin beach areas.

The beaches are magnets to people from all over south east Europe and most of them are so packed you can hardly see any soil between the deck beds which are set up so close to each other it is almost impossible to walk between them. Totally not,our thing so in spite of having time enough we decided to skip the beaches and just head north.

The scenery was breathtaking, mountains on one site, the Adriatic at the other. Magic would be an understatement to describe the area around us.

We passed Bar and hit another traffic jam after which we continued to Sutomore. Also over there the crowds were massive so we headed on.

One of the pearls of Montenegro without doubt is the peninsula of Sveti Stefan. We were lucky enough to have a good view of it a couple of times. Entrance is totally restricted to those with a very big wallet as it is now turned into a luxury resort.

Late afternoon we arrived in Hercig Novi, our last stop in Montenegro. We found our apartment in the outskirts of the old town and after checking in headed to the center. There we were surprised with an intense thunderstorm, rain and hail. A good excuse to stop at a cafe and enjoy a beer.

Later that evening we returned to the city center, strolled around a bit whilst the sun was setting and choose a nice restaurant for dinner. I could not resist a mixed fish platter and a local wine. The perfect way to finish of a perfect stay.

A good night sleep and it was time to say goodbye to Montenegro. The border was only 10 km away and after having cleared the Montenegrin side we joined another queue to enter Croatia. We were now ready for part two of our holiday.

Continue the journey in Croatia