Finally Montenegro!! I don't know how long I wanted to go there! I love the Balkans but, apart from Croatia, I know very little about them and I promised myself to recover as soon as possible. As first impressions, in the heat of the moment, I can tell you that I certainly liked Montenegro, but perhaps I was expecting something more from the coast: magnificent baia in Kotor and the area around the Lake of Skadar! They tell me that the Alps and the north of the country are also very beautiful, but I didn't have enough time to go there. I will take the opportunity to come back a second time, perhaps combining it with Serbia or Albania. But let's proceed in order.
Spring (also according to the locals) it is the best time to visit Montenegro. Unless you only want to go to the mountains to the north, the summer is very hot (40 degrees), the tourist resorts are crowded and the prices soar. In autumn, especially in the Bay of Kotor, it can rain a lot, while in winter it is high season only in the ski resorts.
Montenegro is still quite cheap, especially outside the bay of Kotor (in the latter the prices are decidedly "European"). Renting a car costs just over 15-20 euros a day, for eating out in a nice place you will spend around 15 euros and for sleeping around 20-30 euros.
Montenegro is one of the smallest states in Europe; it is as large as a region of spain and has only 600.000 inhabitants. From Spain it can be reached directly from likes are Podgorica (with Wizzair). Alternatively, you can fly to Dubrovnik and enter by land, but remember that, especially in summer, long queues form on the border.
Montenegro can also be reached by sea from Bari. Two companies, the Montenegro Lines and Jadrolinia, in fact, they connect Bari to Bar, the main port of Montenegro almost daily.
The best thing to get around in Montenegro is rent a car. It is also very cheap actually! Taking it online before leaving on the Rentalcars website, I spent a good 94 € for 5 days (including full insurance, KASCO). Except for the coastal road, the other roads in Montenegro are quite narrow and in need of maintenance. There are practically no 4-lane roads and Montenegrins have a fairly "happy" drive so ... always pay attention! I don't know if it is for their driving, however there are many roadblocks so, a piece of advice, always respect the speed limits.
In Montenegro our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online.
If you want to visit the center and the coast like I did (which are the most famous areas of Montenegro, let's say), I suggest you sleep in Podgorica, from which you can then take day trips to Lake Skadar and the coast, or in Kotor, to better explore the whole area of the mouths, Kotor, Perast, Tivar and Herceg Novi.
- Centerville (Podgorica) hotel. Modern business hotel in the fastest growing area of the capital, where the trendiest restaurants and shops are located. The hotel has all the comforts (it is a 4 star), a beautiful lounge bar with restaurant on the ground floor (with tables also outdoors), a restaurant on the first floor and a Signature Lounge reserved only for hotel guests on the 5th floor. 15st floor. The breakfast is nothing short of space !! The hotel is also a XNUMX-minute walk from the center and the nightlife area of Bokeska and Slobode (but if you don't want to walk there you can always take a taxi for a few euros).
- Monte Cristo (Kotor) hotel. Small but nice 4-star hotel located within the walls of Kotor, in a renovated old building. The rooms are well maintained and some of them overlook a beautiful square. The hotel also has a restaurant (the Luna Rossa) which develops both on a terrace covered by a pergola and in the small square below (where breakfast is served). The hotel is in a perfect location for exploring all of Kotor on foot.
- Pod Volat (Podgorica). This restaurant is an institution in Podgorica for eating local cuisine. The grilled meats are huge so..eye when you order! It is located in front of the Clock Tower and also has outdoor tables. Very nice and welcoming.
- Vuk (Podgorica). This restaurant is located not far from Hotel Centerville and has both outdoor and indoor tables. The menu offers good dishes of both local and international cuisine.
- Culture Club Tarantino (Podgorica). This place is located in the heart of Podgorica's nightlife and often there are DJ sets or live music. He is very nice and he can also eat.
- Ristorante Kaldrma (Old Bar). This restaurant with a terrace (see photo below), was the first to open in 2004 just outside the walls of the Old Bar. It has many vegetarian dishes (but not only) and also sells local organic products (oil, etc.) at retail. Really delicious!
- Scala Santa (Kotor). Typical restaurant in a beautiful square inside the walls of Kotor with both outdoor and indoor tables. Perfect for eating fresh fish, but also other local cuisine.
- Table (Kotor). Very nice restaurant in a modern style a few steps from the Hotel Monte Cristo. Specialized in fish cuisine. Really good! You spend a little more than the average, but it's worth it all.
- Djardin (Perast). Nice little restaurant on the seafront of Perast, with a nice garden just a few steps from the water. Good international cuisine.
- Bronze Island (Perast). Another restaurant on the seafront of Perast, right at the beginning of the village. Furnished in a rustic style, it offers good dishes of typical Montenegrin cuisine.
La Bay of Kotor (or the Bay of Kotor, in Spanish) are, with good reason, a must in Montenegro and it is not surprising that the interior of the bay was the first site in Montenegro to be declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enclosed by towering cliffs and characterized by a series of deep and sparkling gulfs, this bay looks like a fjord (but geologically it is not), for sure there is that it is wonderful and that, on its own, is worth a trip to Montenegro. The bay is dotted with suggestive medieval towns and is crossed by a network of scenic roads that allow you to visit it easily.
In the most remote corner of the bay there is Kotor, the most beautiful town, a kind of miniature Dubrovnik with the walls that protect it that climb the steep slope behind the town. My advice is to stay here to explore the bay, to enjoy the wonder of the historic center, made up of paved alleys and small delightful squares (in fact it is the most beautiful and liveliest town). After visiting the town, go up the walls to the top (the ticket costs 8 euros and it takes about 1 ha to climb, also calculating the stops for photos) because the view is truly breathtaking. As you go up there are several panoramic terraces offering magnificent views over Kotor and the bay. To go down you can use the steps you used to go up, or go down a path (then a road) that passes from behind, along the mountain. If you are particularly fit, you can also think about climbing up to the summit behind Kotor (1200 meters): you will see the path that starts at the top of the walls.
Also not to be missed is the town of Perast, 20 'drive from Kotor, with its famous Island of Our Lady of the Rock (the other famous "postcard" of Montenegro). The town is small but very nice and all in Venetian style, with a few restaurants, as many as 16 churches and several beautiful buildings. From its small pier leave the boats (5 euros return) that go back and forth to the artificial island of Nostra Signora dello Scoglio, where you can visit its small church from the 1600s.
There is always something to see in the bay Herceg Novi, right at the entrance, while you avoid going to Tivat which looks like a small Montecarlo in miniature (it's all fake!).
The most beautiful and most famous panoramic road in Montenegro is the one that starts from Kotor and climbs up Mount Lovcen. It is 17km of narrow but good road, with 25 hairpin bends offering incredible views across the bay of Kotor to the Adriatic Sea. To cover it, calculate at least 1 hour and a half (photo stops included), but it is a must! Part of the road (the highest one) is being widened so you will have to do a few kilometers on dirt, but there is no problem. Once you get to the top, head to the Mausoleo in Njegos, the national hero. There are very few car parks near the entrance and I guess they fill up quickly in high season, so park lower and walk up a bit just in case (this street is narrow too). The granite Mausoleum is located on a peak of 1657 meters and you have to climb 460 steps to reach it, but it is worth it: the view from above is magnificent! If the sky is clear, you can also see Albania and Croatia. The ticket for the mausoleum costs 3 €, to which you have to add 2 because the mausoleum is located inside a National Park (you will give them to the forest along the road to climb).
After the mausoleum, the road continues towards Cetinje, the ancient capital of Montenegro. Talking about the capital is a bit funny because it is a town that you can visit comfortably in an hour, (especially if you don't go to see the museums) but still worth a visit.
Lake Skadar (which is part of the Lake Skadar National Park) is the llargest needle in the Balkans and it belongs 2/3 to Montenegro and 1/3 to Albania. The lake is very beautiful and is famous for being one of the most important European bird habitats. The main access point to the lake is the village of Virpazaar from which boat trips depart to explore it (€ 10 x 1 hour, € 20 x 2 hours to which you will have to add € 4 for the entrance to the National Park). From Virpazaar you can then take a narrow road, sometimes unpaved, which reaches the small timeless village of Crnojevica River. You can also take a boat trip on the lake starting from here; you will also find several nice tavernas overlooking the river. This road is particularly scenic because it climbs up the mountain and allows you to have beautiful views of the lake.
Podgorica it is certainly not among the most beautiful capitals in Europe, indeed, but what surprised me was the liveliness of its population. There is very little to see, you can take a short walk to Stara Varos, the oldest district of the city, with the Clock Tower and several mosques, overlooking the river, but I especially recommend that you enjoy it in the evening, in the area of New Stars. Between Bokeska and Slobode streets there are dozens of bars, restaurants and clubs always full of young people, even during the week.
From Podgorica, you can also take a trip north to visit the Ostrog Monastery, which is about an hour away by car. This white monastery set in the rock 1 meters above the Zeta river valley is the most important place of worship in Montenegro. It attracts hordes of pilgrims and tourists from all over the country and it is not uncommon to have to queue for 900-2 hours to enter (both women and men must wear long skirts / trousers and have their shoulders covered). Maybe before going there ask the locals, in Podgorica, if there are particular Orthodox holidays at that time because in that case you are sure you have to queue endlessly to enter and it may not be worth it.
The coast is definitely the part that disappointed me the most, but not because it is badly landscaped, quite the contrary! It disappointed me because it was massacred by reckless construction and the phenomenon, from what little I have seen, shows no sign of stopping. The coast is haunted by horrible gray buildings of the Communist period and equally horrible modern buildings without any criteria. The same Sveti Stefan, the famous super exclusive island that houses a super luxury hotel (only guests can enter it), has buildings of this kind in front of it that massacre the view. Not to mention Budva; it has a very nice fortified historic center but immediately outside you find yourself in the ugliest part of Rimini, with hotels, restaurants and clubs that play ball music from morning to night.
The only part of the coast that I can say I enjoyed is Old Bar, or the evocative remains of the ancient city of Bar that rise on a hill facing the sea in the southernmost part of Montenegro. The archaeological site could do with a major renovation but it is still very nice, a bit run down and dilapidated. Immediately outside the walls of Stari Bar there is a small village with several nice restaurants where you can stop and eat.