Montenegro marks its National Day
Today – 13th July – marks the National Day of Montenegro, the date on which the country officially marked its independence from the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Much has changed in the geographical, political and historical make-up of Montenegro since this defining date yet, having broken away from the former Yugoslavia in 2006, this beautiful country is slowly but surely making a name for itself on the tourist trail.
With its pine-clad interior mountains reaching down to the shores of the glittering Adriatic Sea, Montenegro (‘black mountain’) may be small in stature but is certainly not short on natural beauty. Indeed, nestled between Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania, Montenegro makes for a fabulous complementing destination on a dual-centre holiday with Croatia, particularly for those seeking a touch of respite from the hustle and bustle of its popular Balkan neighbour.
Most visitors start their stay in the Mediterranean port of Kotor, a charming, Venetian-style walled town dating back to the 9th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Lose yourselves amidst the criss-crossing labyrinth of atmospheric alleyways punctuated with shops and restaurants, discovering timeless old squares, complete with countless medieval churches, as you go. Be sure to look out for the impressive Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, one of Kotor’s main landmarks and a monument to Roman culture, as well as the 16th-century Sea Gate, formerly the town’s main entrance under Venetian rule. From Kotor, the baroque town of Perast and the ancient city of Risan, the oldest city in the Bay of Kotor, originating in the 3rd century BC, are both worth an excursion.
Another must-see just a short distance (22km) away is the beautiful town of Budva, the last outpost of the Venetian republic and today the metropolis of Montegrin tourism. Back to the present day, Budva perches on a rock overlooking the bay beneath and outlying islands beyond and its photogenic Old Town, lying on a small peninsula, is definitely worth spending time in before hitting one of the 17 beaches along the 21km of Budva coastline. Jaz Beach is reputed to be the finest, getting top billing in Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2015 beaches list.
Just 5km south of Budva is the medieval stone village of Sveti Stefan, a tiny fortified island once built by fishermen and traders lying off the coast. Today a luxury Aman resort complex, Sveti Stefan was voted one of the top 50 hotels in the world for weddings and honeymoons (Novak Djokovic got married here) and has welcomed a wealth of A-list stars including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Orson Welles in its time.
As famous as Montenegro is for its stunning coastline, equal billing must surely be given to its rugged mountainous hinterlands. If you have a passion for outdoor pursuits, be sure to head to 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 or zip lining. Here you’ll also find the Durdevica Tara Bridge spanning the Tara Canyon, considered one of the most impressive feats of engineering across Europe. Brilliant for bungee jumping, the bridge also provided a backdrop to the 1978 film, Force 10 from Navaronne.
Monenegro’s oldest national park meanwhile, the Biogradska Gora National Park, is nestled within the Bjelasica mountain range and one of Europe’s last three remaining primeval forests. Here you’ll find an exquisite topography of stunning mountains, glacial lakes, pine-infused forests and lush green meadows. If bird watching is more your bag however, then twitchers should head to the dophin-shaped Lake Skadar close to the capital, Podgorica, on the Albanian border (its nose in fact belongs to Albania) where you’ll find over 270 different wetland species, many rare or endangered. It’s considered to be one of the most important reserves for wetland species across Europe.
Such a quick round-up does not do justice to the beauty and appeal of Montenegro, but I quite liked Lonely Planet’s summary below:
“Imagine a place with sapphire beaches as spectacular as Crotatia’s, rugged peaks as dramatic as Switzerland’s, canyons nearly as deep as Colorado’s, palazzos as elegant as Venice’s and towns as old as Greece’s and then wrap it up in a Mediterranean climate and squish it into an area two-thirds of the size of Wales and you start to get a picture of Montenegro.”