Our Scenic Stay in the Mediterranean - Montenegro Part I
We had been looking forward to visiting Montenegro for quite some time, and before we got there we already knew we would love it. With the Adriatic Sea, rugged mountains, amazingly fresh food, and old medieval coastal towns - what’s not to love! We were fortunate to spend 17 lovely days in Montenegro. Our time was spent around the Bay of Kotor (Boka Bay) where we explored almost all areas of the bay. There are so many places to see that we easily filled our time with day trips. In fact, we did so much that we are going to split Montenegro into two blog posts. So here is the first one, outlining a few activities we did while enjoying our time around the bay.
Tara River Canyon
We were fortunate to pass through the Tara River Canyon on our way from Serbia to Kotor. It’s about 3.5 hours from the Bay of Kotor, so it can be done as a longer day trip if you are staying in the area. This canyon is huge! It is the deepest gorge in Europe, and second deepest canyon in the world at 1300 meters – only the Grand Canyon is deeper. When we were passing through we decided to pull into a parking lot just before the Đurđevića Tara Bridge so we could walk across the bridge and admire the views. It was really beautiful to see the water winding through the canyon below, all while being surrounded by huge Montenegrin mountains. On either side of the bridge there are zip lines for people who want to experience a thrill while checking out the views.
Ostrog Monastery (Manastir Ostrog)
This was the second stop we made on our way from Serbia to Kotor. It is about 2 hours outside of Kotor, and makes for a scenic day trip. It is probably the most famous monastery in Montenegro and it is very picturesque. It is situated 900 meters up in a cave on the side of a mountain. We could see it from the base of the mountain before we started the curvy drive up, and it looked very beautiful even from far away. The drive up was pretty intense. It is full of steep switchbacks as you make your way up the mountainside, and sometimes the road is so narrow there is only room for one car. The views the entire time were spectacular. It’s a pretty stressful drive, so the driver doesn’t really get an opportunity to enjoy the views nearly as much as the passenger. But there are a few look out points if you want to stop.
There are actually two monasteries here: a lower one called Donji manastir, and the upper one, called Gornji manastir. The upper one is the one in the mountain cave, and the one we came to visit. Some people park at a lower parking lot and take the steep 2 km walk up to the upper monastery, following the same path the Othodox Christian monks take, but we were a bit pressed for time and could only make a quick stop.
It took 20 minutes of driving before we reached the top parking lot. From there we had to walk about 200m up a beautiful rock pathway to get to the monastery. The monastery is a very popular tourist attraction, with over a million people visiting each year. It wasn’t too crowded when we were up there, but it was definitely busy. We weren’t properly dressed to go inside, as you shouldn’t be wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts, so we just enjoyed the views from the outside.
We wanted to get a good view of the monastery in the mountainside, but it was hard to see from the top. So on our drive down we stopped at the Church of St. Stanko the Martyr. It is about halfway between the two monasteries, and you get a great view of the upper monastery in the mountain cave.
We were staying in a small town right beside Kotor called Skaljari. It was a great place to stay, with awesome views of Kotor, Boka Bay, and the mountains that surround the bay. It was about a 10-minute walk into Kotor, so really not far at all. We went into Kotor about 4 times during our stay. It is a small town, but there is enough to see and do to justify a 2-3 day stay. The main attractions we found were: the Kotor fortifications and fortress, walking around old town, and the market.
The fortifications are so impressive. You see it as soon as you get to Kotor, because the huge walls drape up the side of the mountain, almost like a ribbon. At the top is the Fortress of St. John, which is in a ruin state, but really fun to explore and take pictures of. It’s quite the climb up to the fortress, at over 1350 stairs, and we detoured quite a bit to explore as many of the ruins as we could, so we had a fair number of steps packed into one morning. We really wanted to see it all, and soak in the beautiful views of the bay.
This is really a must do when in Kotor. If you are in the area and interested in the climb, make sure you go in the morning before the sun rises over the mountains. Not only does it get super hot during the summer months, but also if you start the walk before 8 am there are less people and it’s free! We knew we wanted to go in the morning so we had the best light over the bay for pictures, as well as the cooler weather. However, the free part was a surprise! This was great, as the cost is crazy expensive at 8 euro a person! We think they raise the price in the summer, because online we saw it as low as 3 euros. But either way, go before 8 am and it’s free. Another tip, for people staying multiple days in Kotor is to look up the cruise ship schedule. It was great to go on a day when there were no boats in the harbour, as the large ships take away from the best views of the bay. No cruise ships also equals less people, making it much more enjoyable.
Kotor’s old town is also beautiful to walk through. You get a good view of it from above while climbing to the fortress, but we found it so much more beautiful while we walked around its stone streets. There are souvenir shops, boutiques, and great restaurants throughout the old city walls. You can also walk a part of the city wall, which is free, to get great views of the town and the harbour.
Located under one section of the town wall is a market where locals sell produce, meat, cheese, treats, and honey. We purchased items from here a few times and it was great to try local products. However, we found the prices to be a bit high on a few things, and had read that some vendors tend to raise the price for tourists.
Njegos Mausoleum in the Lovcen National Park
This was our favourite activity during our stay in Montenegro...maybe even one of our favourites so far on our trip! It’s about an hour and 15 mins from Kotor, and a great place to go to get views of Montenegro. On a clear day, you can supposedly see four countries from this mountaintop, and almost all of Montenegro. We went on a relatively cloudy day, but the views were still magnificent!
We had to take a pretty sketchy road to get to the national park. The road is currently under construction, so we drove about 10km on a torn up construction road. As soon as the road construction ended, we entered the national park. At the entrance of the park you need to pay a fee of 2 euro a person, and then continue on a mountain road up for a few more kilometers. Once at the top, parking at the mausoleum is SUPER limited - maybe enough for 10 cars. We had to park along the road leading to the parking lot, but thankfully there was enough space. From the parking lot you walk up a few steps to the entrance, where we paid 3 euro each to get in. You have two options to get to the top of the mausoleum: you can climb 461 steps through a tunnel, or you can take an old staircase on top of the tunnel made out of stones. We didn’t even know the second option would lead us up. Sharleen headed that way to take some pictures, and we decided to follow it and see where it took us. The views that way were amazing, and much more interesting than a tunnel. We probably took 30 minutes to walk up because we were taking so many pictures and enjoying the fantastic views. We had timed our trip so we could watch the sunset, which meant the light was really great.
Once at the top we headed through the mausoleum, where the famous Montenegrin philosopher, politician, and poet Petar II Petrovi-Njegos is buried. It is the highest mausoleum in the world, and is on the top of Lovcen mountain - the mountain that inspired the name Montenegro (Black Mountain). It is quite a beautiful place, and the building itself has very impressive statues and stonework. Once you pass through the mausoleum, you can walk onto a pathway that leads to a 360-degree lookout over the mountaintops. It really was spectacular. We felt like we were in the clouds, as we could see for miles in each direction.
We walked around the lookout, took some pictures, and then planted ourselves on some rocks near the pathway. We really wanted to take some pictures with no one on the circle, but the closer we got to sunset the less likely our chances looked. Instead, we just enjoyed the views and the sunset as the sky changed colours. Just before the sun set, the most magical thing happened...the mausoleum was closing! The guard started kicking people out so he could close the doors, and we saw an opportunity to get our picture. We asked to stay a few seconds longer to take a picture with no one on the circle, and he didn’t seem to have any issue with it. So after being there for almost 2 hours we were so excited we got a picture with the empty look out.
It was such a beautiful, peaceful, and amazing place. Truly one of the prettiest places we have seen on our trip.
This little country has been so beautiful and picturesque, it definitely lived up to the hype that we had heard over the last few years. In addition, after four months of travelling, Montenegro has been the only place that has felt like a vacation. Maybe it’s because we are by the clear blue water, or maybe it’s because we have developed the darkest tan lines we have ever had in our lives. Some thing about this place has made us feel like we are in vacation mode, and we aren’t complaining! We haven’t slowed down our adventures, but we definitely feel relaxed and rejuvenated. It made us excited for our other plans on the Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea!