Montenegro Tourism: 48-Hours in the Balkans’ Gem
Let’s be real. Did you even think of visiting Montenegro before the Bond film, Casino Royale, hit screens in 2006? I didn’t think so. Prior to the film, by the way, whose “Montenegro scenes” were shot in the Czech Republic and Romania, I have an inkling that, like me, many just knew Montenegro was somewhere in the Balkans.
I arrived via overnight bus early in the morning in Budva, the old coastal party town, where Balkanites, Eastern Europeans, and Russians like to see and be seen. I paid a few euros for a bus ticket to nearby Kotor because while Montenegro isn’t a member of the EU or the Eurozone, it doesn’t have its own currency and hopped on the euro train a few years back. Once I reached the Kotor I’d dreamt of, I was ready to see just how much of Montenegro I could soak in over the next 48 hours. Here’s how I spent my time:
Bay of Kotor Boat Cruise
Before stumbling through the Old Town of Kotor to my hostel, I grabbed a flyer for the ever-popular Bay of Kotor boat cruises. For only 15 euros, I was whisked around the bay to see majestic mountains, transparent, turquoise waters, and yes, cobblestone buildings reminiscent of that one Bond film.
If you check out the Montenegro Boat Excursion website in advance, you’ll see two cruises a day offered during the summer season. Do as I did, and hop on the one departing at noon to take advantage of the opportunity to stay longer in the gorgeous town of Perast. I went for swim and baked in the sun there. Perhaps the best thing I did was to grab a few Niksicko Pivo brews to indulge in along the water. Looking out at the mountains and the shimmering bay before me, it was legitimately one of those moments when I thought, “Is this really my life?”
After spending a few hours around town, I was able to jump on the 2:30pm cruise on its way back to Kotor. One additional stop on the cruise was the island in the center of the bay that is home to the Lady in the Water statue and chapel. This is not to be missed!
As the hot sun started to sink later into the afternoon, I wandered around the town of Kotor, which felt like a smaller, more quaint Dubrovnik before its Game of Thrones hey-day. Like Perast, Kotor was built by the Venetians and when I looked closer, I spotted countless tell-tale signs laden in the architecture. There were so many picturesque cafes and bars that it was a challenge to simply choose one. I finally picked a piazza, settled down at a cafe, and ordered a glass of the local rakija, the local Montenegrin fruit brandy. Because I was still wired, I decided to link up with one of several pub crawls offered by the hostels in town.
Great Montenegro Tour
The dawn of the second day brought a massive Montenegrin adventure thanks to the amazing, accommodating, and affable staff at Hostel Old Town Kotor. Although I stayed at this hostel–something I definitely recommend due to everything it offers and the ability to meet people–you don’t need to stay here in order to participate in one of its tours. For only 35 euros, the all day Great Montenegro Tour might have been one of the best values I found during my eight weeks of travel this summer. This scenic tour delivered a cornucopia of Montenegro sights all while not breaking the bank.
Old Road and Mt. Lovcen
The tour kicked off with a drive up the Old Road, which features over 25 hairpin turns and lofty views of Boka Bay, which is the mouth of the fjord bay where Kotor sits. Eventually, we reached the top of Mt. Lovcen, which is home to the mausuleum of Petar II Petrovic Njegos. I must admit, I spent more time admiring the views of Boka Bay than absorbing Petar’s role in Montenegrin history. The stoney walkways dotting the mountain peak seemed to pop out of an Instagram account I follow and simultaneously appeared as if they would just drop off the side of the ridge.
On the way back down from Lovcen, we stopped at a small village, Njegusi, known for its prosciutto-style ham. We were disappointed to learn that Montenegro cannot export this delicious ham due to EU regulations and restrictions. We enjoyed large sandwiches full of this very ham at the nearby picnic tables.
Arguably the largest town we visited in Central Montenegro, Cetinje, came next. Today, Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro, but Cetinje, as the former capital, is now considered the honorary capital of the country. Despite the fact that Cetinje hosts a variety of historic sites, the most fascinating aspect of the modest town lies in its plethora of former foreign embassy buildings.
Boat Cruise on Lake Skadar
Our mini-bus then snaked through the hills to the River Crnojevica where we boarded a boat cruise to take in Lake Skadar via the connecting river. We enjoyed views of bright green lily pads, bluer than blue waters, and quite possibly the greenest flora and fauna ever. At last, it was off to a lunch of fresh fish and then back on the bus to Budva.
Budva’s Old Town
Though I’d originally landed in Budva, I was only now able see its supposedly epic Old Town. I got lost among its ancient streets and wound up on its small beach, which was right next to the Old Town walls. Budva’s party scene is legendary in the Balkans and at the time, it was playing host to the ever-popular Seadance Music Festival on its famous Jaz Beach.
Conde Nast-worthy Jaz became a jetset destination once it started hosting concerts for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Lenny Kravitz. I had all the nightlife I could have asked for in Budva, but really my heart longed for Kotor and its quieter cafes, where I could feel comfortable and at home surrounded by strangers. Whatever you prefer, you’ve got the best of both words in this tiny nook of Montenegro.
Cutting down my time in Croatia to spend a few days in Montenegro was the best decision I ever could have made. It remains on the cusp of increased tourism development and I consider myself grateful to have experienced it before it becomes a tourist hotspot. In Montenegro, I encountered both the warmth of the people, who treasure their corner of the world and were eager to show it to me, and the inescapable natural beauty of the mountains, coasts, lakes, beaches, and streams. Be sure to bask in all of its splendor.
Have you experienced the best of Montenegro tourism? What do you recommend?
Top Photo By Trish Hartmann