To begin to understand Montenegro you must come here high above the Bay of Kotor, to Jezerski Vrh, to the summit of Mount Lovcen.
It’s all here.
The history: prince, patriarch, poet, Petar Petrovic Njegos is buried here. He is a national hero whose 19th century reign forged the Montenegro clans into a nation. As for the geography well, the country is spread out at your feet.
The view is truly astonishing. George Bernard Shaw once stood here and wondered “Am I in paradise or on the moon.”
To the west, the blue of the Adriatic stretches to the horizon. On a clear day Italy is visible. To the south lays Lake Skadar the largest lake in the Balkans and a sometimes home to over 270 species of birds and nearly 40 varieties of fish. Beyond it, the dark mysterious cone shaped hills of Albania. To the north the turquoise waters of the Bay of Kotor twist and turn around Vrmac and past the towns of Tivat and Herceg-novi on a 29 km journey to the open sea. Described as Europe’s most southerly fjord the Bay of Kotor ( Boka Kotorska) is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site; still further to the north lie the hills of Croatia. Finally to the east Podgorica, the nation’s capital sits on the edge of a cascading curtain of black mountains that touch the heavens and form the true heart of Europe’s newest country.
In September 2010 I decided to return to both Ramblers Worldwide Holidays as a leader, and to Montenegro after a 35 years’ absence, and I have regretted neither decision. Back in the late1960’s and early 1970’s I led Ramblers Worldwide Holidays Dalmatian Islands Cruises, first aboard the Maestral, then the Agena, and finally the Dalmatinac. I had just finished university and the experience proved idyllic. I was born and raised in Canada but both of my parents had come to Canada from what at that time was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. When I returned to Yugoslavia it was very much like coming home and the love affair particularly with the Dalmatian Coast has continued ever since.
Over the years I have returned to Croatia often, but until September, never to Montenegro. Much of course has changed. The turbulent civil war which tore Yugoslavia apart created a host of new countries which are only now beginning to establish their presence in the international community. Montenegro is the newest of these countries breaking away from Serbia in 2006. It is just beginning to be noticed and is being touted as Europe’s next “hot” destination. Although it lacks the islands and the extended coastline of Croatia it more than makes up for it with its dramatic and wild landscape which amazes and dazzles a first time visitor.
Caught on the edge and between expanding empires, historically, Montenegro’s survival rested in the hands of its fiercely independent mountain clans and their leaders. The Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Venetians, Ottomans, Austrians, Russians, French and even British all came. Some stayed longer than others. Each left its mark on the landscape but in the end they all retreated. After centuries of political deals and military excursions Montenegro today finds itself once again standing on its own two feet.
The pride is palatable. The task of building a new country in the 21st century however is huge and fraught with pitfalls. The balancing act between massive seaside resort developments on the one hand and the development of walking and adventure holidays on the other is underway. Hopefully a reasonable compromise can eventually be struck but in the meantime Montenegro is a marvelous destination. Less crowded and far less expensive than Croatia, Montenegro has a great deal to offer and can easily satisfy both the by-the-sea loafer and the mountain trail hiker in each of us. The locals are friendly welcoming and eager to please. The atmosphere is relaxed. The food is good and drink is plentiful.
The Montenegro of 2010 reminds me a lot of the Yugoslavia that I fell in love with 40 years ago. Unhurried and unspoiled, you can still capture the sense of history in the winding backstreets of Budva and Kotor. Walking along old coastal trading paths, the highways of their day, you begin to realize how very important it was to control the sea lanes of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. Wandering high in the mountains above Kotor as eagles soar, dive and sweep, you finally realize why the Montenegrin clans were willing to fight so fiercely and why this land of mountains was so impossible to conquer and tame.
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ Exploring Coastal Montenegro is a wonderful introduction to this once mountain kingdom, offering delicious slices of history with visits to the walled city of Kotor with its mountain hugging fortifications, the Venetian town of Budva, a Dubrovnik in miniature and the old capital of Cetinje caught in a time warp of its own. The walks are breathtaking offering magnificent views of both the Kotor fjord and the Adriatic Coastline overlooking the islet of Sveti Stefan and the former royal summer residence at nearby Milocer. Accommodation is in two comfortable family run hotels adjacent to one another in the village of Prcanj on the bay just 5 km outside of Kotor itself. In the middle ages and even in more recent times the village housed the summer residences of the wealthy families of Kotor. Today as then Prcanj offers a easy and quick escape to the Montenegro of the past. Whether it is a climb to the top of Vrmac a 700+ meter ridge separating the inner and outer bay, a walk to a deserted village clinging to the mountain side, or a short sail to an old sea captains’ town perched on the edge of the sea it is all possible in the twinkling of an eye.
Montenegro is a good place to be and I will go back.