When telling friends about my next trip, one asked what made me pick the Middle East and another asked if the Caribbean was too far to go for only a week. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the European country of Montenegro is not a well-known destination!
What this beautiful little country lacks in global recognition, it certainly makes up for with its diverse natural beauty and budget-friendly travel costs – making it one of the most overlooked, and underrated, countries in Europe.
Nestled between Croatia and Albania on the Adriatic coast, Montenegro is a relatively new country, having only gained independence from Serbia in 2006. This, and the fact that Montenegro is smaller than Wales, means you might be forgiven for not knowing that much about the country.
Luckily, its small size does make it an ideal destination for those who like to experience as much as possible on their trip *cough*me*cough*. With rugged mountain ranges, 300km of unspoiled coastline, the deepest canyon in Europe and the southernmost fjord in the world, this country is every outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
The Bay of Kotor and Kotor Old Town
Boka Bay, or the Bay of Kotor, is the famous fjord and the gem in Montenegro’s crown. Surrounded by dramatic mountains and with narrow winding roads hugging the entire shore, even just a drive around the bay is rewarding. But don’t forget to make a few stops on the way. Kotor itself is one of the many scenic medieval towns dotted around the bay and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss the old walled town with its tiny alleyways and unique shops, or the Kotor Fortress – the uneven and winding path to the top can be challenging but the view of the bay cannot be missed.
Perast is a must-see. Located at the head of the bay is this tiny village with so much character and medieval Mediterranean charm. From here take a boat for €5 to the island of Our Lady of the Rocks. This colourful baroque church is the main feature of the island and houses stunning artwork collections plus there are amazing view from the island looking back towards the mainland. Afterwards you can enjoy a glass of Vranac, Montenegrin wine, at one of the little cafes that sit right on the water’s edge.
If you’re after something with a bit more energy, the town of Tivat has beach bars aplenty with Ponta Seljanovo’s beach area stretching out into the bay. There is also Porto Montenegro if luxury shopping, yachts and fine dining take your fancy.
The Costal Roadtrip
No one can discuss Montenegro’s coastline without mentioning the jewel of the Adriatic, the luxury resort island of Sveti Stefan. Whilst reserved only for paying guests, there are stunning views of this island from the clifftop roads above it. We spent a day roadtripping down the coast from Budva to Petrovac and Bar and every corner had another stunning view. Budva is a main tourist hub with a beautiful old town not dissimilar to Dubrovnik – just with much fewer people! Whilst the beaches here are rocky, the water is crystal blue and a boat trip out to the island of Hawai (not that one) is a bonus.
If you make it down to Bar, don’t miss the old town Stari Bar, built into the hillside and surrounded by olive groves. The ruins of the old fort can still be explored through a museum there and the mixture of religions, Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Catholicism make the buildings and architecture fascinating.
Inland sights: Monastery of Ostrog and Black Lake
Don’t let Montenegro’s stunning coastline detract from its inland attractions. The Monastery of Ostrog is carved into a cliff-face and is one of the most visited Christian shrines in the world. Biogradska Gora is one of Europe’s few rainforests and is a haven of plant species and lush pools. Lake Skadar is not far inland from Bar and is the largest lake in southern Europe, straddling the border with Albania. In northern Montenegro, you’ll find Black Lake, a glacier lake perfect for hiking and boat trips. Whilst I wouldn’t say the capital of Podgorica is worth a visit, the entire country really is in the palm of your hand.
Montenegro on a Budget
And if you’re wondering how all this can be done on a budget… Return flights from London are around £100 and if you travel just outside of high season, September in Montenegro still has brilliant weather without the peak season prices! Entire apartments on Airbnb are available for less than £25 a night so split between two, you’re looking at £60-£70 for a weeks’ accommodation and it’s easy to use Airbnbs to move around and stay in different towns. Car rental was also £60 per person, giving us the freedom to explore as we wished and even meant we took a drive over the border for a daytrip into Dubrovnik, Croatia!
The great thing about Montenegro is that its obscurity outside of eastern Europe means it’s still a largely untouched and brilliantly budget-friendly destination, especially compared to its neighbour, Croatia. The country’s efforts to make tourism its main economy also mean that the infrastructure is ever-developing and the locals are all incredibly welcoming and friendly. Montenegro is home to five airports, and with more flights every year leaving the UK, it’s easier than ever to discover this unique and beautiful destination, right on our European doorstep.