It’s not very often that you get an opportunity to spend a day in a different country. Doing so in Europe is easier, granted, but outside of Christmas shopping trips to Bruges or Amsterdam, it’s not something I, as a Brit, get to do much. So when granted an opportunity to check out Montenegro on my recent trip to Croatia, I jumped at the chance.
We departed our hotel in Dubrovnik and soon were climbing up the coastal road, the sunlit city weaving in and out of view, the crystal-clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea glistening on a warm October morning. Small villages clung to the coast as we snaked our way towards Montenegro.
We made our way along the coast and soon arrived at the border. Majority of our group were from outside of Europe, sopassport control was a well-drilled procedure by now. Our passports checked and, in my case, not stamped (I love stamps), we were ready to enter Montenegro. Except, we couldn’t. Our toothless Croatian driver has managed to forget his passport at home, stranding us at the border.
While the driver desperately called around for somebody to bring his papers, all the while berated by the unimpressed tour guide, we hung out with the local cats that lingered around for food scraps. Cows, exempt from any such formalities, grazed freely on both sides of the border.
An hour and a half later, with the hapless driver reunited with his documents, we could finally head into Montenegro. We continued along the coast, marvelling at the stunning vistas with imposing cliffs to our left and iridescent sea to our right. After passing a ferry port of Kamenari, we rounded a corner and were greeted to the incredible sight of the Bay of Kotor.
Flanked by mountains and rugged hills, Boka (as it’s also known) spread before us magnificently and we could only marvel at the serenity of the view. Across the bay, a town of Perast lay at the foot of St. Elijah Hill with two small islands off its coast adding to the magic of the scene, with the island of St George housing a 12th century Abbey, while manmade Gospa od Skrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock) being home to a church.
We continued driving around the bay taking in the views before passing through Perast and heading towards our first destination, Kotor. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotor was first mentioned around 2nd century BC and was once ruled by the Romans and Byzantium.
We parked up and made our way to the charming Old City through the 16th-century Sea Gate, with many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages and narrow alleyways begging to be lost in. The Saint Tryphon Cathedral stands proudly above a busy market square, flanked by steep hills, a natural terrain that helped protect Kotor from attackers for centuries
While we didn’t have time to climb the 1350 steps to the top of St John’s Hill, we took in the view of the town’s impressive fortifications.
We continued our loop of the Old City, wandering into St Nicholas’, a Serbian Orthodox church and ducking in and out of quaint souvenir shops before coming back out through the Sea Gate and haggling with the locals for some local almonds in broken Montenegrin (well, I spoke Russian and hoped for the best).
The charm of Kotor remains, which is perhaps surprising due to the constant stream of cruise shops docking in the town, unleashing hundreds of tourists onto its streets. Just like those huge ships, we didn’t linger too long and soon were back on the road for a short drive to Budva.
The well-preserved Stari Grad (Old Town), which immediately reminds of Dubrovnik with its Citadel and fortification walls surrounding the area offered more opportunities to stroll around small alleys and narrow passages, past churches and family bakeries overflowing with pancakes and fresh doughnuts.
We headed to the Citadel, which is now a museum, and explored for a while. We learnt about the history of Budva, which was ruled by Venetians for almost four centuries, explored the courtyard and took in the views of the sea from the fortification walls. After some more doughnuts, we headed to the marina which was full of superyachts.
Budva and the surrounding area has become a haven for the rich, with numerous estate agents offering land and properties to foreign investors, mainly from Russia. The resorts and luxury apartments are at odds with the beautiful Old Town but, nevertheless, Budva is thriving as one of the main tourist destinations in Montenegro.
After almost getting lost in the winding alleys, we made our way back to the bus and began our journey back to Dubrovnik. We avoided an 18m/30km detour via Kotor by heading to Lepetani and taking a short ferry ride to Kamenari before continuing up the coastal road, watching the sun setting over the Adriatic.
We arrived back in Dubrovnik exhausted but delighted with our short but sweet journey into Montenegro. Definitely a day trip to remember…
Kotor is located around 1.5 hours away from Dubrovnik. Taxis and buses are available. The nearest airport is Tivat, 8 km away. Montenegro Airlines operate direct London Gatwick-Tivat flights. Podgorica airport is 90km away and is serviced by a wide range of airlines.
Visas are not required for EU nationals.