Montenegro was never on my list of must-travel places, but with only three weeks to plan a week of holiday during high season in Europe with school holidays, it was one of the few places that had cheap plane tickets. It was the kind of holiday that I planned by the seat of my pants.
Still, the whole holiday I couldn’t help wondering what exactly brought people from the UK, Australia, Sweden, and more to Montenegro over other places. The country does have a lot of natural beauty, but it’s not the sort of place you read about in travel guides or hear stories from colleagues.
In fact, when I told most colleagues that we were going there, they either responded with, “Oh, that’s nice” or “Oh. …..really?” Nobody had been before and many pointedly never want to visit. It is worth noting that we have a lot of Ex-Yugoslavians in Switzerland and many people are pretty biased about the entire region, but I was trying to keep an open mind.The first day going through pass control to get in and the subsequent two hour drive and first grocery impression had me wondering, “Dear Lord, what did I get us into??” but when we finally made it to the flat with the balcony viewing above, I was confident that this week would be great.
We had woken up at 5am on Sunday for our flight and on Monday, we also needed to wake up around 5:30am for our rafting trip because we were meeting a group in Kotor for a day trip. So much for sleeping in on holiday!After a 3.5h drive over the border and into Bosnia and Herzegovina, we put on sleeveless wetsuits and started our day-long rafting trip, which was a lot of fun.I had asked if the food included on the rafting trip could be gluten free and they assured me it would, but I am glad I found some Schär bread to bring along, because there were definitely no substitutes for the gluten parts of the meal like bread and pastries at breakfast and grain laden soup or bread at lunch. Womp womp. But I could have potatoes and meat and I survived just fine.
On Tuesday we also got up at 5:30am to head to Budva to go diving. It was our first diving experience after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and it was a little… different. Haha. It is really hard to compare to great dive spots, but anyway the visibility around Budva was not great and the thermoclines made it quite cold lower down. I only saw a few interesting fish.Kay was happy to test out his new outdoor underwater camera, but after two dives, we decided to leave it at that. With a free afternoon, we decided to stay in Budva for lunch and a stroll.We also wanted to make sure we saw Sveti Stefan, one of the famous sights.The Australians on our rafting trip warned us that you are not actually allowed to visit the island unless you are staying there, which is quite expensive, so we just had the look from the road above and left it at that.After all the early days, I was really ready for some relaxation with a capital R. We planned for several days at home with a mix of home cooked dinners, restaurants, and snacks by the water. I also never got tired of the changing look of the mountains with the light.My favorite part of the place we stayed was the deck with sun chairs right across the street.From there, the view of the mountains was uninterrupted.I also loved popping back upstairs for cold drinks and snacks. 😉After a couple days relaxing, we put some clothes on and headed on the 29 hairpin turn drive up to the Njegos Mausoleum.The drive up was incredible with great views down to the bay of Kotor. A storm was rolling in when we finally made it to the mausoleum and Kay made me come inside because after noticing lightning in the distance, my and other womens’ hair was standing literally on end
straight up and you could feel the static buzz in the air.No lightning ended up hitting the area where we were, but it was so exposed that we did not want to risk it in those conditions.After braving the worst of the rain, we headed back down the road with wonderful sunset clouds and light along the way.Below is the bay of Kotor again with another storm front coming up in the direction of home.
Over the weekend we headed back to Kotor again because they had a local festival we wanted to check out.And the next day we went to Herceg Novi in the afternoon for a stroll and early dinner.The country definitely has a lot of beautiful views, but don’t think that it all looks like this.I didn’t take any pictures of all the trash and abandoned buildings we saw, but any place where you could possibly stop on the road, there were trash bags and sometimes hillsides had trash spilling over into dumps. We saw them on every road, especially around the back country with less populated areas.Also what was really weird to us was that it looked like none of the houses are ever renovated. Many are in disrepair and falling down, while next door a new house is being built up. Even more often, we would see apartment complexes or even large scale hotels being built, simply abandoned and already decaying.
It was really creepy seeing so many abandoned construction projects. When we went diving we saw a huge hotel with cranes up and thought that it is nice there is something being finished, but our dive guide told us that since 10 years, nothing has happened to the hotel and nobody knows what happened. Even the construction cranes were abandoned, which is just weird. You would think whoever owns the cranes would move them for other projects going on in the country. It was truly bizarre!In these two pictures, it’s a bit hard to see, but on some of the only beaches the country actually has, there is trash and junk laying around. Below you can see cardboard and stuff covering the beach.There was definitely a lot of beauty to be found, but I worry what this place will look like in 20-30 years if people continue to dump things wherever and not pull together as a community to take care of buildings and public spaces.
In general, Montenegro is a very affordable holiday destination in Europe with good Mediterranean food, fresh seafood, and friendly people who welcome their burgeoning tourist industry. I would recommend it to people who ask about it, but I probably would not insist that people must go, although maybe it’s better to visit sooner than later if it’s on your list. Don’t wait for the dumping to get as bad as Naples, Italy!
Kay and I still want to visit Croatia together some day because unlike Montenegro, it is quite often recommended and visited by colleagues. I am really wondering how different Montenegro’s neighbor looks like and if the people and culture make a big difference on the way the country is treated.