Sandwiched between Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro may be a small country in terms of its size and population – not even 300km from coastal tip to toe and just 650,000 inhabitants – yet it most certainly doesn’t fall short when it comes to beauty and culture. An independent country since 2006, when it severed ties with Serbia, Montenegro may not – yet – have the reputation and allure of its Balkan neighbour, Croatia, yet it most definitely provides reason aplenty for visitors to come and uncover its many gems.
Perhaps most famous for its stunning stretch of coastline, where the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic meet the varied landscapes of its shores, Montenegro, literally translated as ‘black mountain’ (Crna Gora to the locals), is so-named after the imposing, pine-forested mountains of its hinterlands and makes for a fabulous holiday destination, be it as a standalone break or as part of a multi-centre itinerary combined with the many delights of Croatia.
A likely starting point to any Montenegrin itinerary is the Venetian-era port town of Kotor, occupying one of the most dramatic settings along the Mediterranean. Overlooked by the soaring mountains of the Lovćen National Park (home in fact to the black mountain which gave Monenegro its name), Kotor is tucked into the far corner of stunning Kotor Bay (Europe’s most southerly fjord) and boasts a walled town dating back as far as the 9th century of spectacular proportion, where medieval churches, atmospheric restaurants and stylish shops occupy the narrow labyrinthine lanes and picturesque piazzas. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Kotor swells in popularity during the summer months, when stylish socialites pour in and the marina is packed full of sleek yachts.
Just 22km away is Budva, another beautiful walled town which was, in the 15th century, the last outpost of the Venetian republic. Today, perched on a rock overlooking the bay, the cobbled streets of the picture-postcard, pedestrian Old Town (Stari Grad) are lined with cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops catering from the all-important tourist trade. Whilst undoubtedly you’ll hit one of the beaches – some 12.5 miles of them in total of which Jaz Beach is considered to be the finest – along the Budva Riviera, be sure, too, to check out the 6th century AD Citadela fortress and the imposing Church of St John the Baptist with its soaring belltower whilst you’re in town.
A few kilometres to the south of Budva is the medieval stone village of Sveti Stefan, in fact a tiny fortified island lying off the coast today a luxury Aman resort complex to have welcomed a wealth of A-list stars including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Orson Welles in its time. Sadly the island is closed to non-guests, yet the views from the shoreline are worth making the short trip out of town.
Moving inland, Montenegro’s charms are just as extensive, from the gleaming white Ostrog Monastery, said to be the country’s most important pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians, set some 900 metres atop a cliff face overlooking the Zeta Valley, to the Plantaže Winery set between Podgorica and Lake Skanac, Monenegro’s largest wine producer and famous for its potent red Vranac wine.
For those with a love of outdoor pursuits, opportunities come in plentiful supply too at Europe’s deepest canyon, Tara Canyon, measuring some 82km in length and 1,300 metres deep where visitors can partake in a spot of canyoning, rafting, bungee jumping or zip lining. The Durmitor National Park and Black Lake is also good for hiking, biking, rafting and paragliding, or indeed skiing in winter. If bird watching is more your passion, then twitchers should head to Lake Skadar on the Albanian border where you’ll find over 270 different wetland species, many rare or endangered. And no, albeit it brief, summary of Montenegro’s natural beauty would be complete a mention of the Biogradska Gora National Park, nestled within the Bjelasica mountain range and one of Europe’s last three remaining primeval forests. Monenegro’s oldest national park, Biogradska Gora is often compared to Switzerland for its stunning Alpine mountains, glacial lakes, pine-infused forests and lush green meadows.
Montenegro – a land of wild beauty.