We were very excited about going to Montenegro. It kind of sounds exotic “Montenegro” and until we started planning our trip to Croatia, we didn’t actually know where on the map it lay. As it turns out, for anyone else who doesn’t know, it’s just below Croatia and some distance below Montenegro is Greece. Sounded good to us, so we started looking into it and learned that it is much less touristy than Croatia, cheaper, and yet very beautiful. We looked at photos on Instagram and many times saw a spectacular view of the Bay of Kotor, taken from high up a mountain. We didn’t see many other photos of the country though, so planning to go there for 5 days had us excited about the adventure of exploring a place we knew little about.We rented a car in Dubrovnik and drove down. It’s a fairly short trip, but we didn’t factor in the lengthy wait at the border, which basically doubled our time in the car.
2 Travel Lovers tip: allow 1-1.5 hours to cross the border – more if it’s the beginning or end of their Summer holidays.
We stopped at Risan on our way to Kotor for a quick lunch but ended up gorging ourselves on oysters, calamari and whole freshly caught fish washed down by a beautiful local white wine. Do you remember when I said we had read this place was cheap? Well, the particular restaurant we stopped at clearly was n0t the place all the other blogs had referred to. It lightened our wallet by 180 Euro and was probably our most expensive meal in all of our France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro trip. Note to self – Check prices of each item when the amazingly helpful waiter makes recommendations and you go with it because you’re tired and hungry from a drive on less than easy roads.
The drive into the Bay of Kotor is spectacular with dramatic high mountains enveloping the bay. It’s a slow one-lane each way drive and lots of twists and turns so be prepared to settle in and take your time. The driving in Montenegro seems a little more difficult than we’re used to. Many cars seem to turn onto or off the road without indication. Sometimes the car in front will simply stop to let a person cross the road. Also, there are many different speed limits on one stretch or road. You may be going 80klm/per hour and 50 metres down the road it changes to 70, then 30 metres further a sign says to go 50…. And we saw many traffic police hiding along the sides of the roads at these changes in speed. So we did have to be more present when driving than normal.
Unfortunately, our French bought sim card didn’t work in Montenegro, and we didn’t realised it wouldn’t work until we were already in Montenegro. Ah the joys of travelling. So with the address we had and Kirsten’s shady memory of the view from the accommodation, we drove around for quite some time once in Kotor until we found our place. Oh dear, how to find something without connection to the web – definitely a first world problem. After much searching we found our accommodation and the view didn’t disappoint. Apartments Ponta was located in Dobrota, right on the bay with an amazing view (3 nights cost us 135 Euro – this was the cheap part!) and it was a close walk to a mini mart and a number of cafes and waterside restaurants. Walking along the a little road on the edge of the bay was a spectacular 30 minute walk into the old town of Kotor from our apartment.
Once in the old town of Kotor and we took the climb up 1350(!) stairs to San Giovanni’s fortress via the old city walls. The stairs are pretty basic and in some parts climbing is on steep gravel, but all ages and fitness levels were taking the trek and the views from the top are worth it! Entrance fee 3 Euro in the summer. It’s a great hike, straight up, and up, and up… I’m pretty sure it’s the highest we’ve ever climbed.
Take your time and use the steps when you can rather than the cobblestone path that runs adjacent, particularly when coming back down as it’s rocky and uneven off the steps. There are plenty of places to take pictures, and get your breath back, but the best shots are from the top. The views are breathtaking and we remembered all the instagram travellers accounts with the same view, and realised none of them did justice to the incredible vista. Including our own. It’s a sight you have to see firsthand.
Make sure you have a good look around the Old City of Kotor, it was built in middle ages and UNESCO have listed it as a “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site” and it’s easy to see why. Quaint narrow streets and squares with churches from the 12th and 13th century. Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the cruise crowd, and the hot sun in Summer, as this is a very popular port for ships to dock for a day or night.
We also took a drive to Sveti Stefan, apparently it was a celebrity getaway between 1960 and 1980 with the likes of Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Arkan, Princess Margaret, Carlo Ponti, Ingemar Stenmark and Kirk Douglas. A beautiful town which has an island accessed by a land bridge, but when we tried to cross we were told it was private. Upon investigation we found that the whole island is owned by the Aman resort group, 900 Euro a night. I think we will pass on it. Did we read somewhere that Montenegro is cheap?
On our drive back to Dubrovnik we stopped in at Perast. The architecture was very Venetian and sitting just off the coast was a small island that was formed by sailor after sailor laying a rock on this spot after a successful journey at sea. Inside the church is a tapestry made by a lady while she waited for her love to return from sea. She waited 25 years and she wove her hair into the tapestry across that time – it starts off blond and ends with grey. Make the effort to stop, in retrospect we may have stayed here rather than Kotor – it was that beautiful.
Montenegro was interesting to visit and I would say it is on par with Bali for value, and had a less monied feel to most of it than say Croatia or Italy. Yes you can find luxury there, but you pay international prices for it. One word of caution about his little beauty – if you decide to travel here drink bottled water only, and ask for clean ice. Even having done that ourselves, however, we ate a salad that we think was washed in tap water because we had quite severe vomiting and diarrhoea for a couple of days. Thanks for that Montenegro – whenever our tummy’s aren’t feeling right we now say we ‘have a touch of the Montenegros’.