Montenegro is a true gem. Part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, this small country packs a powerful punch with its combination of rugged coastline, picture-perfect old towns, stunning countryside and sweeping mountain panoramas.
Like much of the Balkans, tourism suffered terribly as a result of the devastating civil war which ripped through Yugoslavia in the 1990s redrawing maps through the formation of the independent nations we see today.
While the scars of this tragedy still remain, today we find a vibrant country well and truly on the up. It may lack some of the infrastructure of neighbouring Croatia but this only adds to its appeal and it more than compensates with its raw beauty.
There can be no denying Montenegro is back with a vengeance and now is the time to visit!
Below is a small selection of highlights from this incredible country to whet your appetite. To discover even more why not try our twin-centre Highlights of Montenegro walking tour which includes Perast and Kotor as well as Durmitor National Park, Tara Canyon and Lake Skadar.
Voted the world’s top city in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2016’, Kotor was always going to be special. Positioned at the end of a stunning fjord-like bay that snakes in from Montenegro’s Adriatic coastline, this ancient fortified town is fringed by mountains on which orange topped buildings line their lower slopes. The cruise ships that enter Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor) show just how compact the stari grad (old town) is with its charming maze of cobbled streets begging to be explored.
The bay and old town are UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. The old town also marks the access point to the many stone steps that snake up the old ramparts of the fortress which clings to the mountainside high above the town. For the more energetic, this steep but extremely rewarding walk is the highlight of any visit as every angle offers sweeping views over the terracotta coloured tiled roofs and far across the bay.
A 15-20 minute drive along the bay from Kotor will bring you to Perast. This quaint village is nestled onto a bend in the bay and runs from the water’s edge up the slopes of the hills behind the town until it reaches the main road.
Take a leisurely walk along its café and church lined promenade, reminiscent of Italian, Swiss or Austrian lakeside towns, and you will be greeted with offers of a short boat ride (for a small fee) to the tiny man-made islet of ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’ on which sits the blue domed Roman Catholic church of the same name.
The islets, one of two, the other being the adjacent St George, sit in the mouth of the bay. While it is not possible to land on St George, a smaller, natural island home to a monastery and graveyard, the views from Our Lady of the Rocks towards St George, Perast and the Bay are quite simply incredible.
Kotor to Cetinje road
Surely one of the world’s most scenic drives, it is hard to keep your eyes on the road as you leave the P22 and take the serpentine, single lane P1 as it winds precipitously up the slopes of Mount Lov?en high above the Bay of Kotor. With every twist and turn offering dramatic views and even more dramatic drops, this drive is not for the faint of heart.
As the initial nerves subside you can relax into the ride and enjoy the excitement as you quickly rise towards the heavens on this most exhilarating of journeys. Sublime views over the entire Bay are the perfect reward as you take the 25th and final hairpin bend to reach the top. From here the road continues deeper into the mountains and through the village of Njeguši before you eventually reach the former royal capital of Cetinje.
Sitting proud at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor is Herceg Novi. Founded in 1382 this fortified town is dominated by a protruding lump of rock on which sits the majority of the town’s stari grad. From the cafes, churches and open squares at the top of this narrow old town, steps lead you down the steep hillside to sea below.
At the bottom a small and pleasant beach awaits. Alongside sits a harbour, cafes and restaurants in which you can catch your breath and get some much need refreshments. Stroll along the bay’s promenade soaking in the sun before tackling the steps back up.
If you arrive in Budva from Kotor or Perast you will notice quite a contrast to this popular coastal town. Here, towering buildings stand like sentinels on the hillsides and preside over a comparatively modern town set around a sweeping curve of coastline.
The crystal clear waters of the Adriatic lap gently against the gravel beaches found on either side of a jutting peninsula, home to the town’s diminutive yet perfectly formed labyrinth of a stari grad (old town) complete with a centuries old Citadel.
Adjacent to the old town is a marina lined with super yachts moored alongside small boats offering tours of the Budva Riviera and day trips to the offshore island of Sveti Nikola while further around the bay you are spoilt for choice with beaches, cafes and restaurants to while away many a relaxing hour before tackling the town’s famous nightlife.
The Budva Riviera is a 35km (22 mile) stretch of stunning Adriatic coastline running south from Budva to the wonderful beach side town of Petrovac. Most towns, and indeed beaches, on this stretch can easily be reached by car, bike or boat giving you numerous options to explore the region.
A popular destination is the iconic Sveti Stefan. This islet sits just off a gorgeous stretch of beach and is connected to it by a narrow walkway. What was once a maze of cobbled streets and historic buildings is now a 5-star resort for the rich and famous. While you have to be a guest to enter the resort the best views can be seen from the beach or one of the roadside viewpoints above the town.
All images copyright Matt Parry.
Matt visited Montenegro in April 2017.
Experience the best bits of an unspoilt European gem where mountains rise dramatically from warm coastal waters, a UNESCO listed national park reveals the world’s second deepest canyon and waterside Venetian towns await discovery.