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Stop Skipping Montenegro and Go There Now



I ended up in Montenegro by chance. I was trying to get from Greece to Croatia to hop on a yacht trip, and Montenegro just happened to be along the way. I had only meant to stay for two nights in Kotor before passing on to Dubrovnik. I stayed a week instead. Such is the magnetic pull of beautiful Montenegro.

My bus from Albania dropped me off outside of Kotor’s fortress walls. I had some very simple directions for finding my hostel: take a right once inside the main gate, turn left, head straight, turn right at the church, etc. But if you’ve ever spent time inside a walled city, you’ll know that the streets aren’t exactly planned with modernity in mind. I got lost five times.

Finally, I approached a waiter paused for a smoke break outside of a restaurant. “Can you tell me where this hostel is?” I asked, showing him the address.

“I’ll take you there!” he said, and in no time he had guided me straight to the front door.

Thanks to the friendly waiter, I decided I liked Montenegrins immediately, although it’s not hard. Not long after, a server drew chocolate hearts for me in my latte’s frothy foam. “Especially for you,” he said with a wink.

Kotor Without the Crowds

What I quickly learned about the country is that mostly everyone underappreciates it. The hordes of people filling the narrow alleyways of Kotor throughout the early afternoon were only making a brief stop – filing off their cruise ships or tour buses, they’d explore the fortress and perhaps even hike to the top of it. The brutal climb is worth the view of Kotor Bay, after all.

But then once the crowds moved out, the lingering few tourists settled into a quiet calm…Montenegrin style. You’d find them chatting with locals at outside cafes, drinking the potent localrakija while devouring seafood. Or they’d be drinking wine at the Wine Bar. Either way, they got to experience something that temporary tourists don’t: peace. I realized I much preferred this place to Dubrovnik, Croatia. They’re similar in beauty, but the insane tourist masses at Dubrovnik were too overwhelming for my taste. It’s easy to escape the chaos in Kotor – just head down to the water’s edge outside the city walls.

I spent most of my week in Kotor town. I had scored a cheap room in a new hotel, and the manager was in the habit of inviting the guests to the shared kitchen for drinks and tapas every evening. It was exceptionally easy to meet people, and the locals were always eager to chat.

There wasn’t a great deal to do in Kotor except take in its beauty, do a bit of shopping, and enjoy some drinks around town. My local hangout became the Wine Bar. By the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized I had spent all my time lollygagging in Kotor Bay and hadn’t really seen the rest of the area. Fortunately, it’s a small country, and the bus system is great, so it wasn’t hard to explore. I set out to Budva, a seaside town with busy beaches, a ton of young people, and lots of great cafes. My mission: find the best beach.

Mountains and the Sea

Montenegro has nearly 300 kilometres of coastline, so you can imagine there’s a lot to choose from. Slovenska Plaza is the most popular, dotted with umbrellas and loungers, and framed by rolling green hills. There are a number of cafes and bars within its vicinity, so if you’re looking for a fun night out, this is it. Mogren Beach is the more beautiful hotspot, though. I spent the day here tanning and relaxing with a good book, but if you’re looking for a little more, snorkelling is a great option. You can also dive from the Shark’s Rock cliff.

Montenegro is one of the youngest countries in the world, only having gained independence in 2006 (although many people I met referred to themselves as Serbs). Before that, it was a part of Yugoslavia. It also runs on the Euro, despite it not being a part of the European Union.

It’s also home to the deepest canyon in Europe, known as the Tara River canyon. You’ll find this place high in the mountains of Montenegro, where I took a pretty relaxed tour one afternoon…in a car with a local. That’s just how things work there. I asked the hotel manager if someone could take me to Durmitor National Park, and he immediately picked up the phone to call a buddy of his.

On our way into the mountains, we pulled over to snap photos of the famous manmade islands – St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks – located in the middle of Kotor Bay. Each has an itty-bitty chapel. It’s enough to make you religious.

But nothing much had prepared me for the grandeur of the Montenegrin mountains. I hadn’t expected such a tiny country to be home to giant peaks, sweeping valleys, crystal-clear lakes, and dense pine forests. We stopped at Devil’s Lake first, a cyan blue pit of water in the middle of a barren landscape. My new friend told me that the locals tried to farm fish in the lake, and not understanding why the fish kept dying out in a foreign environment, they blamed it on the devil. As you would.

We also visited Black Lake, a glacial lake near Žabljak town. You can walk the 3.5-kilometre loop around the area, or choose what I did…find a seat on a shaded bench and appreciate the dark beauty of the lake. The water is cold, but you can swim it. I witnessed a handful of locals skinny-dipping, in fact. I’m not sure they knew I was there.

If you happen to be visiting in the winter, Žabljak has ski slopes and snowboarding runs.

Mountains, fortress cities, glacial lakes, beaches, incredibly friendly locals, and some pretty killer nightlife. If you haven’t made Montenegro your next destination, you’re seriously missing out.

-Contributed by Candice Walsh

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