For such a small nation Montenegro is extraordinarily varied, from its rich history to spellbinding natural landscape
Once described by actress Sophia Loren as “the most beautiful fairytale of my childhood”, Montenegro was, for many years, the well-kept secret of the jet set, favoured by the likes of Marilyn Monroe through to Claudia Schiffer. Drawn by the tranquil beauty of its mountainous landscape and medieval charms of fortified coastal towns, the famous could slip away and wallow in the untouched beauty of Croatia’s tiny, lesser-known neighbour. With direct flights upping its appeal, Montenegro now holds its own against any European hotspot, with a wealth of natural and historic attractions, culinary diversity and burgeoning social scene fully deserving of your attention.
A big part of Montenegro’s allure is the mile upon mile of unspoilt beaches that line some of its popular resort towns. Mogren, near the bustling Venetian-style city of Budva, is tucked away at the end of a narrow path that opens onto a stunning swathe of sand framed by brilliant-blue waters and comparatively few crowds.
Also in Budva and offering a more dynamic vibe,
Jaz Beach was rated Europe’s top sandy spot by Lonely Planet, and is beloved of the party crowd. In the quaint port of Bar, the town beach fills up with weekend sun worshippers while nearby Sutomore has a better balance of beach bars to sun loungers.
Glitz and glamour
Those looking to follow in Marilyn Monroe’s footsteps can shell out US$30 (€25) to visit the exclusive 15th-century islet of Sveti Stefan just south of Budva, and explore the beautiful beaches that line either side. Not far from here is the pretty cove of Przno with its 250-metre stretch of sand, while Waikiki Beach in Tivat offers cushioned sunbeds and clear waters.
Flame-grilled freshly caught octopus is a local speciality, as is seafood in general, often served with lashings of olive oil and garlic or in a tomato sauce. Try buzara, a shellfish stew, or sate a carnivorous appetite with ispod sača, the local equivalent of a slow-cooked veal, lamb or goat roast dinner. Konoba Koliba in Tivat is known for it traditional take on wood-fired meats and grilled seafood delicacies.
The Mediterranean dishes advertised outside many local restaurants may sound familiar, but Montenegrin cuisine has a flair all of its own that draws on the flavours of neighbouring Albania and Macedonia as well as Croatia, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Pod Volat in Podgorica is a go-to for its authentic ambience, with waiters dressed in national costume.
Montenegro is home to several standout foodie destinations. Restaurant Galion at Hotel Vardar in Kotor comes with plenty of sophisticated old world atmosphere and breathtaking views over the Adriatic, while Konoba Stari Grad in Budva offers some of the finest Mediterranean fare in the country, complete with a Baltic twist.
Head inland for adventurous experiences, with the mountainous landscape of Maja Kolata offering ample opportunity for hiking, rafting and steep uphill cycling
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Spirit of adventure
At Durmitor National Park, the more intrepid can soar over Europe’s deepest river via the Tara River Canyon and its 865-metre-long zip line; or hurtle over the rapids in a raft. The park’s shady forests, plunging gorges, crystal-clear lakes and winding trails can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace on foot, or by bike, pausing to take pictures of the astounding scenery, including Bobotov Kuk, a towering 2,500-metre limestone cliff.
Between the trees
The primeval forest of Biogradska Gora is another beauty spot to be explored on foot, by mountain bike, on horseback, or even kayak – often in complete solitude. South of the forest is a ski run where winter visitors can get a taste of Montenegro’s emerging ski scene. In summer, people drive to the mountain summit to picnic at the peak, helping themselves to the fresh blackberries and raspberries that flourish here.
Holiday on the lake
All-inclusive activity holidays on Lake Skadar provide daily-changing opportunities to try something different, from kayaking and swimming in the lake’s warm waters to hiking in the surrounding hills, visiting local vineyards, searching out secret waterfalls and happening upon hidden beaches.
Stuff of legend
Legend and folklore abounds in Montenegro. Our Lady of the Rocks church, near the UNESCO World Heritage town of Perast, sits on a manmade island believed to have been built by Croat seamen who discovered the image of Madonna and child on a nearby rock. Every 22 July, locals continue the fašinada tradition of expanding the island by throwing rocks into the sea.
Ostrog Monastery in Ostroška Greda is perched in a nook near the summit of a mountain cliff. Set against a gravity-defying vertical backdrop, some 900 metres above sea level, the gleaming white structure looks almost mythical. Morača Monastery, on the banks of the river of the same name, near the town of Kolašin, dates back to 1252 and houses a clutch of important medieval frescoes.
At the castle gates
Montenegro is full of impressive castles to explore, beginning with the Kampana Tower and citadel in historic Kotor, which was built over a period of one thousand years by different civilisations, from the Byzantines to the Venetians.
Rail journeys are another way to take in the Montenegrin scenery, with the route from Bar and Podgorica to the Serbian capital of Belgrade among the most stunning stretches. Renting a car is the best way to reach the most remote destinations, including the ‘Accursed Mountains’ that span the borders between Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo
MARKETS AND TRINKETS
Montenegro’s creative side is evident in the warren of lanes that wind through Old Kotor, where small shops and street vendors ply local handicrafts that celebrate the town’s traditional trades. Efesya Souvenir does a roaring trade in local trinkets, with everything from hand-painted plates to glass lanterns and fabric handbags, while the Namfleg Workshop runs jewellery-making workshops.
Art galleries abound in Montenegro, beginning with the Dukley Art Centre in Kotor, which is home to a collection of smaller art outlets including Gallery Nives and Galerija Tician. Other highlights include the Cats of Kotor, a gallery-boutique where the handicrafts have a feline theme. Antiques Stanković is home to a fascinating collection of Roman coins, antique jewellery and traditional apparel.
Markets and malls
Retail destinations such as the Mall of Montenegro in Podgorica, Shopping Centre Kamelija in Kotor and Budva’s TQ Plaza offer shopping on a grander scale while smaller markets can be found in towns and cities everywhere, including the Budva Old Town Flea Market and Skoljke Boke farmer’s market in Kotor.
July and August sees many of Montenegro’s tourist hotspots packed with visitors. The country’s charms are best appreciated without the crowds, so plan your travel outside of the peak season
WHERE TO STAY
Aman Sveti Stefan
At the very top end of the Budva hospitality scene, this romantic island retreat set in the dreamy Villa Milocer was the original 1930’s summer residence of the Serbian royal family. Exposed stone walls, private balcony nooks overlooking the blue waters of the Adriatic and an excellent seafood restaurant make this a firm favourite with inbound jetsetters.
There are just 10 rooms at this blissful Kotor seafront getaway, each featuring wooden Baroque furniture and the majority offering breathtaking views over the bay. The leafy restaurant serves romantic candlelit dinners and guests can choose between a leisurely dip in the courtyard swimming pool or jumping off the stone quay for a refreshing plunge in the crystal clear sea waters.
The Astoria Hotel
Set in the 13th-century Buca palace in the heart of Kotor’s picturesque old town, this cosy boutique hotel captures the essence of Montenegro’s historic appeal with stone walls, traditional furnishings (but thankfully modern bathrooms) and hand-painted murals. The owners can trace the origins of the property back to 1295, although it was renovated as recently as 2010.
For a tiny country, Montenegro packs in a wealth of history, culture and extraordinary scenery, from the cobbled backstreets of bustling Budva and quaint charm of Ulcinj with its majestic castle, to the laidback elegance of upmarket Sveti Stefan and the Venetian beauty of Kotor.
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