A Balkan pearl of the Mediterranean and brimming with wild mountains, breathtaking Adriatic beaches, medieval villages and huddles of picturesque, orange-roofed houses small but perfectly formed Montenegro is for some the ultimate under-the-radar travel destination.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing where Montenegro is, or never having heard of it before. After all, it’s only been a country for 10 years and it’s one of the smallest countries in the world. But it’s time to get this puppy on your radar because as you’ll see below, there are some amazing reasons to visit Montenegro – before everyone else gets there! Despite its small size, Montenegro packs a lot into a small area, flaunting sandy beaches, 2,000-year-old towns, the deepest canyon in Europe, celeb sightings… and some to-die-for scenery. Here are my 10 beautiful reasons you should visit Montenegro:
Kotor is a walled Venetian town in the heart of the Bay of Kotor. Getting lost in its narrow alleyways and discovering little pubs and historic buildings is a must in this UNESCO Heritage town. My favourite is Letrika, where you can try authentic charcoal coffee – Turkish coffee with a lump of red-hot charcoal dropped into it. It’s said to purify the coffee and have health benefits. But the real must-do here is the hike up San Giovanni Fortress above the town. An ancient path of 1350 steps takes you up to the top of the fortress, where you’ll get breathtaking views of the town and bay. Along the way you can stop at the church of Our Lady of Health – you might already want to offer up a prayer for the strength to continue at this point! Continue on, because the views are worth it! On your descent, watch for a hole in the wall leading to back of the fortifications. Clambering through here will take you to an abandoned church and the one remaining family in this village. Stop by their place to sample homemade cheese, prosciutto, brandy and pomegranate juice while enjoying the view.
Our Lady of the Rocks
Just offshore from a little seaside village, Our Lady of the Rocks is a church on a man-made island that dates back to 1452. You can take a boat from the village of Perast over to the island and take a guided tour of the church and attached museum for the bargain price of €1 per person. But the best way to see the island is to get a boat from Kotor. The scenic trip through the bay allows you to see the old stone palaces and stunning mountain backdrop of the bay. On 22nd July every year, locals hold a festival to commemorate the foundation of the island. A slew of decorated boats head out from town to throw rocks around the island and there’s music and plenty of wine!
Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova, Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor… these people have all stayed on Sveti Stefan. Originally a village and trading post established in the 15th century, this islet was turned into a hotel in the 50’s and became a favourite hangout of royalty and Hollywood royalty alike. Today, it’s an Aman Resort where rooms start from €800 per night. The island is exclusively for guests, but you can stay in the surrounding hamlet, visit the nice restaurants, walk through the forest park and hang out at the beach there. If you want to rub shoulders with the hotel guests, loungers on the hotel beach go for €80 per pair. Can’t afford the hotel’s price tag? Book a meal at the Taverna restaurant on the island and see it that way!
The Black Lake in Durmitor National Park
Durmitor National Park is one of the most stunning places in Montenegro. It’s so wild, we once had two bears cross the road in front of us and wolves roam the mountains here. The main attraction here is the Black Lake in the town of Zabljak. It’s a relaxed 4km walk through the forest around the lake. When you’re done walking around, set up a picnic on the lakeshore, lie back and bask in the sun. Visit a traditional Montenegrin restaurant here to try the region’s speciality – kačamak. Kačamak is a cornmeal porridge mixed with potato and fresh cream cheese called kajmak.
The Tara Canyon
The Tara Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. And the best way to see it is by whitewater rafting through it. The rafting course covers around 18km and you get about 3 hours rafting on a tour. Along the way, you can swim and cliff jump. A must-do on this tour is getting a photo under Skakavica Waterfall. At a maximum temperature of 4° C (39° F), it’s usually very quick photo stop! The other way to see the canyon is to head up to Djurdjevica Tara Bridge between Zabljak and Mojkovac. Once the tallest vehicular concrete arch bridge in the world, you can see the Tara River 170m below or take a zipline across the canyon.
Skadar Lake National Park
Montenegro is home to one of Europe’s most important bird reserves – Skadar Lake National Park. The area is so valuable because it’s on the flight path for migrating birds and it’s an important rest stop for these birds each year. The endangered Dalmatian Pelicans are a must-see here. You can hire a boat to take you out to see the birds on the lake or take a kayak tour. These majestic birds are the largest pelican species and one of the largest flying birds in the world. Along the way, you’ll be able to pick waterlilies, visit island monasteries and swim!
Velika Plaza, Ulcinj
Shhh… Ulcinj’s Velika Plaza (Long Beach) is Europe’s latest under-the-radar destination. While the glittering yachts float around the northern coast, the cool crowd are partying until dawn at Velika Plaza’s beach bars. In between sipping cocktails and soaking up the sun on the 12km long golden sand beach, the likes of Rita Ora and Lewis Hamilton can be seen kite surfing through the waves.
The Blue Cave
The Blue Cave is a sea cave that you can only get to by boat or kayak. And even then you’ll miss it if you don’t know exactly where it is. Inside, the sunlight reflects off the sandy bottom to bathe the whole cave a blue glow. Bring a pair of goggles or snorkeling mask so that you can see the fish swimming around the cave’s rocky and sandy while you’re inside.
The Budva Riviera
If you love beaches and parties, you’ll love the Budva Riviera. Hang out on party beaches, where you can order cocktails from your lounger in between dips in the crystal-clear Adriatic. Rent a lounger on Sveti Stefan’s exclusive pink pebble beach and rub shoulders with people like Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova. Or explore hidden coves dotted along the coast that are as raw and natural as nature intended. And when the sun goes down, head into Budva old town’s bars and pubs to party among the town’s 2,000-year-old fortifications. After that, Top Hill, high on a hill overlooking Budva, is where up to 5,000 party until dawn every night through summer.
The Serpentine Road to Mount Lovcen
25 hairpin turns. That’s all that stands between you and the best view of your life. It’s called the serpentine road and following this 100 year old, winding road will take you through 25 hairpin turns, each revealing more stunning views. When you finally get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with views of the whole Bay of Kotor laid out before you. Best. Selfie. Ever.