Amongst all the places that I have been to in Europe, I must say that Montengro has been one that has exceeded my expectations the most. Not many people seem to know much about this country, so I would like to share about my experience. Located in the Balkan region, this country shares its border with Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. It’s one of the six countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia) that were once part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The cultural diversity of the Balkans is very evident when you cross borders in this region.
When planning our trip to Montenegro, we noticed that there wasn't a lot of official information we could obtain about places to visit, just blogs of people who had visited this place. So, although there is a lot to write about an entire country, I'll try to mention all that I did and hopefully help those of you who are planning on visiting this beautiful country. For those of you who aren't, I would recommend that you start considering to. Most of the tourist attractions are along the Adriatic coast and some also near its border with Albania.
How to get there - Munich to Kotor
Of course, this totally depends on where you're coming from. If you're coming from any of the other countries that it shares borders with, I'm sure there would be plenty of options by road. Buses are pretty cheap in this region. We were travelling from Munich, so we took a flight to Podgorica, which is the capital of Montenegro. We took a flight from Memmingen as that was way cheaper than the options directly from Munich. There is a bus available from Munich Central Station that goes directly to Memmingen Airport.
Once you get to Montengro, you'll need to travel to wherever you're planning on staying. I wouldn't recommend staying in Podgorica, although, there are some places to go to directly from Podgorica such as Shköder (in Albania). But besides that, there's not much to see in Podgorica. There are several cities to choose from to stay, but I can highly recommend Kotor and Budva. Both of these places are right at the coast, so they offer spectacular views. We stayed in Kotor.
The first step was to get to Podgorica bus station. Although I had read about a train station located about a 15 minute walk away from the airport from where we could get a train to the bus station, nobody at the airport was really helpful in navigating us in the right direction. Moreover, the place outside the airport seemed a bit bleak, so we chose to take a taxi. It was actually quite cheap (12€). Our taxi driver was very entertaining and interestingly knew quite a lot about India (where I'm from) and told us that he had been wanting to go to India for a long time.
From the bus station, we took a bus that directly took us to Kotor. The bus ticket cost 7€ per person. The bus made a stop at Budva on its way to Kotor, so in case you're planning on staying there, you'll be taking the same bus. It took about 2 hours to reach Kotor.
Bus Timings from Kotor Bus Station
|Banja Luka Derventa - Prnjavor||18:45|
|Bijeljina via Užice - Zvornik - Ljubovija||18:25|
|Bijeljina via Zvornik - Rogatica - Vlasenica||19:30|
|Zvornik via Zvornik - Rogatica - Vlasenica||18:25|
|Mostar via Herceg Novi||7:40|
|Mostar via nord of Montenegro||11:00||22:00|
|Mostar via Dubrovnik||14:40|
|Gacko - Nevesinje via Herceg Novi||7:40|
|Gacko - Nevesinje via nord of Monetenegro||11:00||22:00|
|Trebinje via Herceg Novi||7:40|
|Trebinje via nord of Monetenegro||11:00||22:00|
|Sarajevo via Herceg Novi - Trebinje||7:40|
|Drač (Durres) - Elbasan||10:40|
I'm extremely glad we chose Kotor as the place to stay. Not only was the place extremely beautiful but the people extremely nice and helpful. There are lots of things to talk about so I've broken it down into parts.
1. Climb up to St. John's FortressAlso known as the Castle of San Giovanni, the hike up to this fortress offers the best view of the bay of Kotor. The ticket to the road leading up to the fortress is 8€ per person and although it takes a while to reach the summit, its completely worth it. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that we were stopping at every few metres to click pictures. My phone eventually ran out of memory on this hike because I clicked too many pictures and I had to make a halt to delete old pictures from my phone. The only thing I regretted wasn't carrying a couple of bottles of beer.
2. Walk around the Old TownI would really recommend spending a few days just in Kotor because it's such a delight to walk around in the Old Town. Quaint cobbled streets packed with pretty cafes and shops, Kotor Old Town still preserves roman, gothic and baroque architecture dating back to the 16th century.
People in Kotor only made our experience more pleasant. We had heard of how friendly Balkan people were but we understood just how friendly they could be in Kotor. From extremely helpful strangers on the road to lovely shopkeepers and tour guides, we were overwhelmed with the hospitality we received at Kotor. We even became friends with one of the local tour organizers and had several chats with him pretty much every day we were there. Everytime we went to his office he would abandon all his work and chat with us for as long as we wanted to. I would love to go to Kotor soon again and just stay there, meet him again and talk to more locals. Hopefully, soon!
3. Boat tour to Blue Caves and Lady of the RocksMonetenegro Hostel: http://www.montenegrohostel.com/
We booked this tour at the reception of Montenegro Hostel but I believe you can book such a tour at any of the hostels or touring companies. It cost 30€ per person, which seemed a bit pricey to me at first, but in retrospect, was completely worth it.
The tour took almost 3 hours in total including the 25 minutes halt at Our Lady of The Rocks. We were first taken to the Blue Cave, one of Montenegro's most popular destinations. The way the light hits the bottom and reflects up makes the cave look blue, and hence it's name. Unfortunately the water was too cold when we went, otherwise in summer they let you swim inside the cave for a while. Although we couldn't swim, the boat stopped inside the cave for around 10 minutes.
Next, they took us to an islet called Our Lady of the Rocks. The islet has nothing but a small museum (which I don't remember anybody going to) and a church. Legend has it that this island was created by local seamen who placed a rock after returning from successful voyage as part of an oath they took. Well, if that's true, I thank all those seamen because the islet was one of my favourite spots in Montenegro. The place is absolutely gorgeous and has got the most phenomenal view. It's a pity we couldn't spend more time over there.
We passed by the city of Perast on our way back. If you are spending more time in Kotor, you could probably visit Perast for a day. We couldn't fit it into our itinerary and were pretty happy with the view of Perast we got from the boat.
4. The Big Montenegro Tour
We booked this tour at the same hostel. This was an all day tour, starting from Kotor and covering several popular destinations.
Our first stop was Budva. We had been to Budva once before already, so knew our way around the old town. The old town is really nice, but if you've seen the old town of Kotor already, it's not very different. In fact, I prefer the old town of Kotor. The place you should be spending more time at is the beach. Kotor has a very different view of the sea as it's bay is a ria (a coastal inlet). Budva, on the other hand, gives you a more typical view of the sea and a lot more beaches.
4.2 View of Sveti Stevan
A little south of Budva, Sveti Stefan is a small islet on the Adriatic coast. Currently a 5-star hotel resort, the island was once home to 12 families (400 people). The population, however, declined over time and went down to 20 people, after which it was converted to a luxury hotel. We were taken to a view point from where we got a pretty amazing view of this island. The day wasn't particularly sunny, in fact it was raining intermittently throughout the day, but the view wasn't bad at all.
4.3 Virpazar and boat ride at Skadar
Next, we were taken to Virpazar, a village in the Bar municipality of Montenegro. River Crmnica and Orahovštica flow through this city into Skadar Lake. Lake Skadar or Lake Shkodër lies on the border of Montenegro and Albania and is the largest lake in Southern Europe. The lake is named after the city of Shkodër, in Albania. People wanting to visit the lake from Montenegro, usually go to Virpazar from where you can get boats that'll take you around the lake. The lake was extremely massive and we got the chance to see a little bit of Albania from the boat.
4.4 Ostrog Monastery
Nestled in a cave at the peak of a mountain, this monastery offers a beautiful view of the landscape. The monastery is dedicated today to the Saint Basil of Ostrog (Sveti Vasilije Ostroški), who had founded it and was later buried there. However, most of the Monastery that you see today was reconstructed in 1923-26. The monastery is visited by believers from all over the world. Pilgrims believe that praying his body can cure people.
On our way back, we made one last stop in the city of Cetinje. Being the Old Royal Capital and the current secondary capital of Montenegro, this stop as quite a history lesson for all of us. The city, unlike any other city I had seen on the trip, was filled with houses painted in vivid colors, even the embassies. We ended the day with some Börek at a local bakery.
5. FoodBBQ Tanjga: Trip Advisor Link | BBQ Tanjga Website
There's no denying that Balkans are meat lovers. Primary meat-based, balkan food is very diverse owing to the several countries and cultures it's home to. Having tasted their food in Montenegro, leaves no questions as to why they love their meat. Although not my first time with Balkan food, it was certainly another experience to eat it there.
While doing some research on restaurants in Kotor, we found a place called BBQ Tanjga. Not for nothing, is it the highest rated place in Kotor. The food is out of this world, the portions huge, and the prices extremely reasonable. We tried the meat platter which consisted of some chicken, beef and lamb. We also tried the Ćevapčići which was also great. We ended up going there several times as this was very close to our place and the food was tough to resist. Oh, and there's free WiFi too!
Naturally, being next to the Adriatic Sea, we had to try the local seafood too. The seafood restaurants were a bit more expensive, of course, but were serving really fresh stuff. The Old Town had several of these restaurants and they all looked pretty decent. I would definitely recommend trying them out.
6. Cats of Montenegro
If you've been wondering about why this travel blog has been named so, it's because throughout the entire trip I was blown away by the number of cats I came across on the streets, in restaurants, at stations, pretty much everywhere. The locals seemed to love them too, which was also apparent from how healthy the cats were. If these prowling well-fed creatures weren't enough to speak for the city's fascination with cats, the souvenir shops did the rest. Magnets, cups, postcards, name it, everything had a cat on it. Although I don't usually buy magnets, I ended up buying a cat magnet.
I asked one of the souvenir shop owners about the origin of their love for cats and I was told that cats were considered lucky for Kotor as they protected the city from mice. It is also said that Slav sailors would bring cats from all over the world to Kotor.
We spent 4 days in Montenegro and although I feel that is a pretty decent time to spend there, I would have liked to stay longer. We loved Kotor and I would definitely like to go back there soon.