Montenegro: home to Europe’s most spectacular scenery?

Sveti Stefan sticking out of the Adriatic coastline

Sveti Stefan jutting out of the Adriatic coastline

Montenegro is one of those places that rarely makes the news. Even in the Yugoslav war it remained largely unaffected, siding firmly with the Serbs before quietly voting for independence in 2006 for the first time in almost a century. The James Bond film ‘Casino Royale’ was supposed to be set here; although it is widely accepted that the film makers never actually set foot in the country, working instead under the assumption that the Czech Republic is in fact the same thing. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree about this tiny country? It is widely regarded as having some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery, and after a few days pottering around Montenegro I can fully agree with this.

Kotor

Kotor from the bay

Kotor from the bay

Kotor was one of my favourite spots on our Balkan journey. It is a near perfect walled city, far smaller than Dubrovnik but with a fraction of the visitors. It is one of those places where a map is not required, as you will hit the city wall within 2 minutes walk of any spot in town. Full of narrow alleys, old churches and enticing bakeries, Kotor is a tourist’s delight.

Kotor old town

Kotor old town

When you have enough of wandering the lanes and passageways and eating copious amounts of pizza and ice-cream, there is an excellent climb up to the fortifications (you can’t miss them on the nearby hillside). From here the views of the compact city are superb.

Kotor from above - a quick climb up to the fortress is recommended

Kotor from above - a quick climb up to the fortress is recommended

Kotor is a great place to indulge in some top seafood. There are several fish restaurants that carry an excellent reputation and the one we tried offered a large selection from the daily catch. It’s not cheap (we paid €55 for two) but for that quality in the UK we would expect to pay more; and the setting was a big step up from an English high street!

Cetinje

Government House, now the History Museum - Cetinje

Government House, now the History Museum - Cetinje

The capital of Montenegro in its previous independent life (before 1918) Cetinje is now a pleasant city in the hills that makes a good stop for those travelling inland from the coastal resorts. The old government and embassy buildings are now preserved as museums and the whole of Cetinje has become the centre of Montengrin cultural heritage, in preference to the bland modern capital Podgorica (which does, to our surprise, have a Marks and Spencers on the outskirts of the city).

Old French Embassy, Cetinje

Old French Embassy, Cetinje

Cetinje can be reached by a long slow winding highway from the coast at Budva, or alternatively by one of the most spectacular roads I have ever driven from Kotor. Consisting of dozens of hairpin bends, the road snakes its way up the mountain from Kotor and each turn offers a more breathtaking view than the last. This drive alone is worth hiring a car for.

View of Bay of Kotor from the breathtaking drive up to Cetinje

View of Bay of Kotor from the breathtaking drive up to Cetinje

Ostrog Monastery

If you’ve come as far as Cetinje you may as well go to Ostrog. Or so we thought, looking at the relatively small distance on the map. Nothing is as close as it looks on a map of Montenegro, and nowhere is this more true than Ostrog. It’s only 8km from the main road, but that final approach to this highly significant religious site is a windy, steep and at many points dangerous ascent to this old site, built into the side of the mountain.

Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog Monastery

There isn’t actually too much to see up here if you’re a tourist and not a pilgrim (aside from a relic that is allegedly part of the cross of Jesus), but the real marvel is that the monastery was constructed in the first place, in this most inhospitable spot. It’s only when we returned to the main road and saw the white speck on the mountainside that is Ostrog that we realised just how isolated this site really is.

One of the world’s best drives?

The Lonely Planet listed the drive from Kotor to Cetinje as one of the world’s best, but in fact in our case Montenegro saved the best till last. I would give this accolade to the sensational scenery that greets you on every corner as you travel from Niksic to the Bosnian border and on to Sarajevo. The stretch around 30km either side of the border is worthy of every superlative I could think up. I was too busy admiring it to take any pictures from the bus, so you’ll have to just go and see it for yourself.

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8 Responses to “Montenegro: home to Europe’s most spectacular scenery?”

  1. Ali #

    Montenegro was already on my list but your gorgeous pictures make me want to go even more!

    September 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm
  2. Wow, beautiful places that have yet to be invaded by tourists. Thanks for sharing.

    The Bay of Kotor is incredible!

    September 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm
  3. Hollywood led me on. I was expecting Montenegro to look like it did in the James Bond movie and was surprised to find out that it was absolutely nothing like that. It’s not glitzy, it’s not rich, and there wasn’t an Aston Martin to be seen. But fortunately Montenegro, at least Kotor, was stunning. Quite a relaxing shelter from the crowds of Dubrovnik. And your right about the scenery, it’s so dramatic.

    September 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm
  4. Andrew #

    I had a great time in Montenegro last year. The people are nice, prices are still cheap, and the scenary was beautiful. I highly recommend renting a car and driving the countryside.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm
  5. Your blog brought back lovely memories of my own trip there in April. I won’t forget that drive from Cetinje to Kotor, nor the gorgeous sladoled (ice cream) in the bar in your picture (the one with the beige upturned parasols). And wasn’t Cetinje a strange little place? Very odd and a bit shabby but still sweet with a great market. Very enjoyable piece, Andy.

    September 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm
  6. Thanks for all the comments, and happy to hear others have the same favourable view of Montenegro. And yes Mary, the sladoledy were spectacular! Did you get the see the old UK embassy in Cetinje? In a delapidated state but clearly an impressive building in its day.
    Ali, I hope you make it here and look forward to hearing of your trip 🙂

    September 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm
  7. You are completely right about scenery in Montenegro. Described places are really amazing, but believe me, there are many more impressive places in Montenegro. I suggest to everybody to visit Skadar Lake (the biggest lake on Balkan) and old village Rijeka Crnojevica where you can eat the best fish in Montenegro. Also, you should not miss rafting on river Tara (one of the moste cleanest river in Europe, and the depest Europian canyon – 1300 m), National park Durmitor, canyon Nevidio, National park Biogradska gora.

    February 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm

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