For years it was my first spring spent in Europe, and after long searching, hesitating I decided to discover a small part of Montenegro. I had my doubts about this hidden – not so well known – country, but I have to say: it was one of my best choices ever.
As Montenegro was member of former Yugoslavia, counts to war affected areas, and the marks of the Yugoslav War in the 90’s we can still feel and see. The country declared its independency in 2006, so even its union with Serbia was over. I mention this fact, because visiting this amazing country, it can be seen straight at every step, that the Montenegrins try to be as much separated from Serbia as they can. Their official currency is the Euro, though the country isn’t part of the EU. If you don’t want to get unfriendly looks from the locals, it is better not to say or assume , that they speak the same language as the Serbians. The Montenegrins have their own lingo and „that’s it”. Simply do not ask and enjoy the scenic view of mountains hiding wild waterfalls and natural swimming pools.
The way to Stari Bar
Before heading to the little, mediterranean town of Stari Bar, I had one night in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. To be honest, I was not really motivated about discovering it, especially seeing the grey, melancholic soviet buildings. I found plenty of ruins, which take us back in time – like the Depedogen, a fortress from the 15th century, or the Skaline Medieval Fortress – while the contrast between the colourful villas and the crumbling socialist blocks show the huge social differences of the country.
Walking by the Moraca river the atmosphere of the city is a bit friendlier, surrounded by mediterannean trees and flowers. If we cross the Moscow brigde, which is for pedestrians only, we get a quite nice panorama with the Millenium Bridge in front of us. After a long walk several cute restaurants are waiting for their guest in tiny streets, and for drinks. I really recommend the Karver. This unique place – hiding under one of the small bridges – is located in the central area of Podgorica and is not only home to a bookstore, but a bohemian cafe and gallery, too. I loved this kind of hippie shelter with its colourful furniture and awesome music. It was simply the best spot for glass of wine, while enjoying the sound of the river.
Stari Bar, located 1-1,5 hour drive from Podgorica has definitely much more to offer than Bar, the typical beach-city, crowded with tourists. This real gem is hiding in less popular part of the region, surrounded by rough, emerald green mountains. The old town of Stari Bar, with its tiny cobbled lanes, the wine and cured hame-cheese plates, the women selling their local olive oil and other souvenirs maden from lavender take us into the sunlit „Tuscany” of Montenegro.
Going up to the old fortress we get impressive view over the valley, with the luring sea in background. More, than 200 buildings are still in ruins, so this enchanting town operates as open-air museum taking the architecture-lovers for a fabolous expedition into the world of Rennaisance, Romanesque and Gothic. After discovering marks of history or the labyrinth of nature, delicacies of local eateries are waiting for hungry travelers.
To be honest, for us – as we wanted a little bit of impishness after the yoga lessons – the pomegranate beer and local wine was more attractive than the food. Anyway, trying local fish dishes, like carp from the Skadar Lake, the Buzara – shellfish, prowns and shrimps cooked in red or white wine – or the meat specialties, like the Njeguski Steak – made of pork of veal schnitzel – is absolutely a must! When visiting rural areas of Montenegro, don’t miss out on heavenly good cheese varieties, like the Kaymak cream cheese – awh, I really loved it – and the Njeguski cheese, which is aged in cool mountains.
Under the Olive Groves
Arriving to our place I had the feeling, I am dreaming right now. the castle-like stone house with its lush green garden, river running through and mini waterfalls looked like paradise on earth, but far away from the civilization. The Grove is located in a miracolous valley enclosed by wild sierras and ancient olive groves.
The area – like the whole country – is fairly easy to visit, most of the trails are well marked, not to mention the sensational national parks showing us breathtaking views and hidden treasures of Montenegro. The secret, natural „swimming pools” are a bit off the beaten path, but no worries, just let get lost, and discover the untouched beauty of this enchanted land.
Except the hiking trails, which lead us through wonderful paths full of rare flowers and herbs to the best points of Rumija Mountain, exploring the mysterious maze of aged olive trees fascinated me completely. Walking in shadow of the arbor I met small groups of wide-eyed sheep, while the thousand-year-old olive trees were whispering their secret story. One of the world’s oldest trees can also be found here – more than 2000 years old – called Stara Maslina, unfortunately partially burned due to thunderlight.
At the top of the groves I got a superb scenery with the misty mountains and the little, luring towns spreading in front of me, and on the way back we found a fairytale-like area – the Bartula Olive Garden Camp – which offers marvellous spot for camping, fingerfood or drinks for tired hikers, literally on the idyllic „island” of tranquility.
Adventures by the lake
The Lake Skadar is, without a doubt, the gold pot of hiking trails and water activities. From Stari Bar it is a short (20 min) drive along the coast, so even the way to the lake offers us mind-blowing panorama of steep cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea.
There are several points for starting our day by the lake, I personally visited the cute fishing village, Virpazar, where the most of travel agencies, event- and tour-offices are based. The old villas and the restaurants with damn good fish dishes create the pure Mediterranean-feeling. As the Lake Skadar is Balkan’s largest lake and one of Europe’s largest bird reserves, has much to offer even for nature-lovers. I have to admit: this is a real eden regarding to wildlife – especially birds – and different waterplants.
This amazing flora and fauna can be observed by boat tours or kayaking. I definitely recommend kayaking, as it was fun at its finest. It can be guided or you can hire the kayaks for hours or the whole day. On the way I admired thousands of waterlilies playing in wild colours, while the inhabitants of the reserve were grabbing their lunch from the water. Drifting on the water we took a small sightseeing too: the islet monasteries and the mystical ruins of Grmozur’s prison – island prison – stand in the middle of the lake, like ghosts of last century.
After back-breaking „workout” we reached the Pjesacac Beach, which is accessible by boat or kayak only. There is one cute, local restaurant preparing traditional dishes with organic ingredients, but this small piece of golden-sandy beach is perfect spot for picnic, delighting in the sunshine. It was an idyllic place – in the middle of nowhere – where the birds’ song and melody of the waves was the only „noise”.
The way back was pretty adventurous: the whole activity takes 3-4 hours, but the motivation, which was my best friend at the beginning, at the end disappeared. So the return journey was longer, than expected, not to mention the upwind, which shows up every time like the bogeyman in children’s nightmare. Being almost at the pear, only one thing was floating before our eyes: Wine, wine, wine… and some beer.
In addition to kayaking, there are countless other options to explore the area. Cycling is cool for those, who want to feel a bit more lively through hazardous – kind of mountain-biking – experience. This is mostly guided because of wilder, steep parts of trails hiding in forests and up in the mountains. For foodies I advice the wine tasting tour, which can be combined with a little tracking. If you are freak about local food and wine, you shouldn’t miss it out!
As you see, the Lake Skadar as well as the surrounding towns – like Stari Bar, or Virpazar – are perfect both for lazy days and playing Tarzan deep in lush greenery of Rumija. It is the paradise for backpackers, hikers and those, who are desperately in love with gastronomy.
Cats and cobble everywhere
The titel could be a riddle, but I let the cat out of the bag: it is all about Kotor, the lovely town surrounded by the bay and the fortress high, above the winding, medieval streets. It is true, that Kotor is super-crowded in summertime – mostly because of tourists coming by ferries for a short visit – but out of season it is really enjoyable to spend here a few days, especially if you love discovering bars and romantic sunset-spots of ancient cities.
Kotor is home of several architectural masterpieces and with its colourful history, traditions is listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking across the charming squares and lanes I got a bit of Croatia’s picturesque cities, like Split or Dubrovnik, a dash of Lisbon’s ambiance with the shiny, neverending footsteps and a pinch of Montenegrin everyday life. I think, the best option to explore the town is just wondering around and soaking in everything. Just get lost in tiny, golden-like cobbled streets, feel and try yummy bites of the local cousine and as perfect ending of the day immerse yourself in Kotor’s nightlights tasting craft beer and wine of the area.
Before you leave, don’t forget to take a look into the cute souvenir-shops selling vibrant copies of Frida Kahlo’s or Picasso’s works – but nothing to do with Montenegro – furthermore cool handmade bags and coasters with motives of the Little Prince and Bob Marley, in addition all kind of trinketry can be bought as little gift. Most of the souvenirs are decorated with cats in different colours. These furry little creatures can be seen on every cobbled corner of the town giving us the impression, that there are more cats in Kotor than humans. According to the story they were left here by the medieval merchants from all over the world and today they mean the famous symbol of Kotor.