7 days in Montenegro

27 October 2019

Montenegro is one of those unexpected – and highly underrated – destinations which until this year I had never even thought of visiting. We just happened to stumble upon this last minute offer and since we had no idea where to take our holidays this year, I started researching about the country and its possibilities and honestly it didn’t take long to have me convinced this was the destination for us. Mountains, icy blue lakes, picturesque fishing villages, more mountains… Montenegro or Crna Gora as the locals call it is a gem for anyone who appreciates a good mix of stunning nature and exploring historical towns.


We were there for 7 days in the last week of July and were based in Tivat. I'll tell you more on why it’s the perfect place to stay and about all there is to do in Tivat in my next blog post. But first I thought it might be handy to give you a bit of an overview of all the activities we managed to squeeze into our week’s stay. While a few extra days to relax in between tours and hiking ventures would’ve been nice, we pretty much got to see everything we wanted in the time we had. It really was the most wonderful getaway and I’m hoping this post can inspire others to put Montenegro at the top of their bucket list!


Lake Skadar National Park


One of the largest national parks in Montenegro is Lake Skadar. Well I say Montenegro but one third of it actually belongs to Albania. As the name suggests, the centerpiece of this park is the Skadar Lake or ‘Skadarsko Jezero’. We did two boat excursions on the lake, one starting in Virpazar in the South and one starting at Rijeka Crnojevića in the very Northern area of the park. In this remote little town you can also find Skadar’s best-known part: the so-called ‘horseshoe bend’. To get a really good look at it, you can visit the Pavlova Strana viewpoint, either by taking a tour or by driving up there yourself. Though I have to warn you, the narrow and winding Montenegrin roads can be quite a challenge.


If you’re visiting this park with a guide, my best tip is to check beforehand if the tour includes the view of the horseshoe bend. The first tour we did with Globtour Montenegro was limited to the Grmožur Fortress and the secluded beach of Pjesacac, where we got to have lunch at the local restaurant. I’m not saying this wasn’t a lovely experience, but it was a bit of a letdown since the tour advertised a photo of Pavlova Strana. We ended up ordering a really expensive taxi the day afterwards to take us up there, only to realize it actually was included in another tour we’d go on later in the week with 360 Monte, but more on that hereunder.



Lovćen National Park


The next national park on our to do list was Lovćen. This park is mostly of symbolic importance to Montenegrins as Petar II, the country’s heroic leader, was buried on top of Lovćen’s second highest peak. The unique mausoleum that was built for him in 1971 is one of the most visited spots and one of the best viewpoints of Montenegro. It took 461 steps to get up there, but I will never forget the stunning views of Kotor Bay, Cetinje and Štirovnik, the park’s highest mountain just opposite the mausoleum.


We visited Lovćen with a tour company called 360 Monte, as part of their ‘Great Montenegro’ tour. This also included a visit to the towns of Njegusi and Cetinje, and photo stops at Sveti Stefan and as I mentioned earlier, Pavlova Strana in Lake Skadar National Park.



Durmitor National Park


And so we’ve arrived at my undeniable favorite: Durmitor National Park. I have a weak spot for tall pine trees and since about 50% of the park is covered with them, you can figure why it absolutely blew me away. It was a 3 hour drive from our hotel in Tivat, but so worth the trip. And since we did it as part of a tour, we also stopped at some interesting spots like the town of Žabljak, Slano Lake and the Tara Canyon on the way. You can find details of the tour here, though if you’re up for a drive, I’d recommend going by yourself so you’re not limited to time and can freely explore the park because it is huge.

 

The Black Lake

Durmitor consists of 18 glacial lakes, also referred to as ‘mountain eyes’. We spent about an hour at the Black Lake or ‘Crno Jezero’, the largest of them all situated at the foot of the majestic Medjed mountain. The Black Lake is the most popular spot in Durmitor with a large beach area, kayak rental and the dreamiest pine forest surrounding it. You can walk all the way around the lake following a 3,5 km path. But unfortunately we only got to do like 500 m of it before we had to head back to our tour bus, hence my earlier advice to visit this park individually.

The Tara River Canyon

Also part of Durmitor is the Tara Canyon, which we were told is the largest canyon in Europe. You can get a nice glimpse of the canyon and the bright turquoise river running through it from the Đurđevića Tara Bridge. This 365 m arch bridge was partially destroyed during World War II to prevent the Italians from crossing and it took four years for it to be rebuilt. Just a little nice-to-know if you ever walk across it.


Near the canyon there’s plenty of activities for visitors like zip lining or rafting on the Tara River. Riding a zip line over the canyon was probably one of the raddest things I’ve ever done. It’s about 1 km long and it was so thrilling and such a beautiful sight to see the canyon rushing by below my feet. We were advised to go with the Yellow ‘Tara Zip’ company because apparently they’re the only one with the right certification (this must only be possible in Montenegro) and it cost €20 + €10 for a photo set of the ride. The memory, though, is totally priceless.


Kotor (Old Town)


For me, one of the biggest surprises of our trip was Kotor. I’d read a lot about it beforehand while deciding which hotel we’d stay in. The coastal town, after which Kotor Bay was named, is one of the most touristic places in Montenegro and that’s why we opted for Tivat as our base instead. But as busy as the center was, I never expected to be so charmed by the medieval stone houses and narrow streets Kotor has hidden behind its old city walls. You can spend the entire day walking past souvenir shops, traditional restaurants and numerous small churches scattered across the map. If you have some spare time, and energy, you can hike all the way up to the St. John's Fortress for a view over the city and the bay.



Perast 


From Kotor we took a speed boat to Perast, the single little town that won me over while deciding whether or not to go to Montenegro. I read about it being described as “a historical fishing village pretty as a painting” and “the highlight of Kotor Bay” so I was really excited to finally see it for myself. It was beautiful and so tiny it would indeed fit into a painting. It features the same Baroque style buildings as Kotor Old Town, but still feels a bit more authentic and less crowded.

 

Our Lady of the Rocks

In front of Perast there are two notable islands which you can both visit by boat. Our Lady of the Rocks is an artificial island built by two seamen after they found an icon of Madonna stuck on a rock where the island is now, or so the story goes. The church on the island is said to be a little museum now, with a small collection of 17th century paintings. But keep in mind the doors close at 5 pm, cause we never got to see them ;)

 

The Island of Saint George

Next to it is the Island of Saint George. This smaller, natural island houses a Benedictine monastery, but its contents seem to be a mystery. Visitors aren’t allowed here, most probably for religious reasons. Legend has it a priest was killed on this island and the Pope himself cursed the place after the event. It’s all quite fascinating, really. And luckily you can get a nice glimpse of it from Our Lady of the Rocks.


Slano Lake


Another incredible lake, that’s not part of a national park, is Slano Lake in Nikšić. We only got a look at it from one of the viewpoints along the road, but there are plenty of beaches and forest roads to be discovered on the green islands gracing the lake. While it pretty much looks like a miracle of nature, Slano Lake was actually built artificially in order to power the nearby hydroelectric power plant.


Optional

I’d place the following attractions under ‘optional’ because they didn’t necessarily mean an added value to our trip, but were simply included in the tours we did. What I’m saying is, if you don’t have a lot of time, save these for last and try to see as much possible of the beautiful National Parks Montenegro has to offer. Want to be able to say you’ve seen absolutely everything? Here you go.

Ostrog Monastery

High up in the mountains of Nikšić – and by high I mean 900 meters above sea level – you can find the Ostrog Monastery, a popular pilgrimage place in Montenegro. Visiting Ostrog was a rather bizarre experience for us. There was a mass going on and what seemed like hundreds of people were praying to some sort of religious music, which made us feel really out of place. The monastery itself had some nice paintings and the view from the top floor was quite impressive, but I wouldn’t go back a second time.

Cetinje

Cetinje is the former capital of Montenegro. As it’s close to Lovćen National Park, a visit to this cultural town is often included in bus tours. We only got to see a small part, mainly the Monastery of Saint Peter where we were only allowed in wearing 'skirts' as pictured above. Other than that there wasn't much to it that's worth remembering.

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan was once an island occupied by the Petrović family, who named it after their protector Saint Stephen. Now connected to the mainland by bridge, the peninsula has become a luxury resort. You can only enter if you have a reservation at a restaurant or a hotel, but since that would cost about €2000 a night the place is only ever visited by royalty and celebrities. This leaves merely a photo opportunity from a distance for the ‘average’ tourist, which to me wasn’t really worth it since getting there means having to drive through the traffic-packed – excuse my language – hellhole that is Budva.

Budva

Speaking of which, I’d totally put Budva on the ‘avoid’ list instead of the ‘optional’ one if it weren’t for the old part of the town. Budva is one of the most crowded places in Montenegro because of its large beaches and many nightclubs. With a mix of modern skyscraper hotels and unfinished building projects, it’s kind of the odd one out next to the other coastal towns. On a small peninsula on the Southern end you can find the remaining part of Budva’s old center surrounded by stone walls. It has some lovely old squares and houses to stroll past. Though the thing is you can see those same style buildings in Kotor or Perast, so making another stop here just seems a bit unnecessary if you’re short on time. It’s up to you!