Above: Piva Lake. Image courtesy NTO Montenegro.
Montenegro may only span around 14,000 square kilometres, but there’s endless splendour to savour within its borders. Mountains, gorges, rivers, lakes, Medieval towns, and a 293-kilometre-long coastline characterise its landscape, all accented by a friendly population and impressive hospitality offerings.
In recent years, various world-class hotel brands have invested in the country, offering travellers an upscale retreat while exploring its diverse territory. The five-star Regent Porto Montenegro, Chedi Luštica Bay and One&Only Portonovi all hold pristine properties on the coastline and join luxury brands such as Hilton, Voco, Ramada, Cue, Best Western and Falkensteiner in calling Montenegro home.
Above: Boka Bay, Kotor. Image courtesy NTO Montenegro.
Once you’ve checked into your superb hotel, the world becomes your oyster in Montenegro, with an almost boundless array of experiences on offer. Not to mention the 240 days of sunshine a year, met with twenty-plus-degree temperatures in autumn. Start with an introduction to the country’s magnificence by driving around the breathtakingly beautiful Bay of Kotor with its fjord-like proportions that get ever more dramatic the further you venture in. The bay’s interior, sandwiched between ominous mountains and a sapphire-hued sea, foreshadows most of Montenegro’s backdrop, which is peppered with towering mountainscapes and glistening waters.
Another unmissable drive is the old serpentine road linking Kotor to Lovćen National Park. As you climb the slopes, passing through 25 hairpin turns, the view continually expands until it eventually encompasses the entire Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea beyond. Once you enter Lovćen National Park, you’ll soon realise that it’s one of nature’s most extraordinary creations. At the heart of the park sits the majestic Mount Lovćen, and at its foot lies the country’s old royal capital, Cetinje, a stunning city replete with palaces and museums.
Above: Lovćen National Park. Image courtesy NTO Montenegro.
After relishing the park’s hiking and mountain-biking tracks, a place of historic significance can also be visited atop Lovćen’s second-highest peak; the striking Njegoš Mausoleum, which brims with Gargantuan statues by acclaimed Yugoslav-era sculptor Ivan Meštrović. En route back, make a pit stop at NjegušI, the village most synonymous with Montenegro’s heartland. Known for being the ancestral home of Montenegro’s Petrović dynasty, it’s also famed throughout the region for its cheese, honey and prized prosciutto.
Speaking of culinary delights, there’s an abundance of local fare on offer throughout the nation to please even the most discerning palates. Seafood lovers’ cravings will be pleasantly satiated on the coast, where the cuisine mirrors that of neighbouring Dalmatia. Expect oodles of fresh seafood liberally doused in olive oil, lemon, flatleaf parsley and garlic. A Venetian influence is also prominent, with excellent pasta, risotto and gnocchi on many of the restaurants’ menus. For heartier comfort food, head to the mountains in the northern hinterland. Here, long winter nights have produced tummy-hugging dishes, such as the traditional ispod sača, a meat-forward meal roasted on a hearth under a domed metal lid covered with charcoal.
Above: National Montenegrin food products. Image courtesy NTO Montenegro.
Luckily for travellers, Montenegro is a year-round holiday destination, so although the winter nights are cold, summer is warm and perfect for days spent outdoors exploring the landscape. But the cooler temperatures in winter do have their benefits; they bless the country with bountiful snowfall on its mountains. And what makes Montenegro particularly enticing is that several of its ski resorts are just a two-hour drive from the coast, meaning day trips or longer excursions are effortless.
Kolašin, a municipality in the Bjelasica mountain range, is one of the country’s major winter attractions. In addition to its many cultural and historical sites, its abundant natural resources offer the perfect setting for winter sports. Along with a handful of new facilities currently being built, it’s already home to an impressive tourist hub with two distinct ski centres, Kolašin 1600 and Kolašin 1450.
Left: Durmitor in winter. Center: Durmitor Black Lake. Right: Tara Canyon activities. Images courtesy NTO Montenegro.
Another popular ski destination is Durmitor National Park, which offers reliable snow cover and a ski centre, Savin Kuk. This jewel in Montenegro’s natural crown boasts an awe-inspiring landscape with around fifty 2,000-metre-high peaks, plus eighteen glacial lakes and various karst caves. The park’s remarkable environment gives way to a vast network of hiking and mountaineering trails that stretch almost 150 kilometres, ranging from a leisurely three-kilometre stroll around the scenic Black Lake to major alpine expeditions.
The park is also home to the legendary Tara Canyon, a cleft in the limestone cut by the Tara River over many millennia. With its forested walls reaching 1,300 metres at their apex, it’s a unique natural marvel that is best witnessed while rafting in the summer. Various operators offer expeditions of the last eighteen kilometres, which has most of the rapids, but for the complete experience, opt for the classic two-day trip, which ventures to the canyon’s deepest crevices.
Lake Skadar National Park is also a must-visit if you’re a watersport enthusiast. Split between Montenegro and Albania, Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans and one of Europe’s most significant wetland bird habitats. A protected national park since 1983, the Montenegrin side of the lake can be explored by boat or kayak, where visitors can have a peek at the 280 species sheltered in its surroundings. One of the lake’s most famous beaches is Murići, on the southwestern shore, where you can take a plunge in the river from the terrace of the floating restaurant in the village of Dodoši.
Skadar is also home to a cluster of tiny islands complete with Medieval monasteries and the Ottoman-built prison fortress, Grmožur, once known as the Montenegrin Alcatraz. If you take a paddle further upstream of the sinuous Crnojević River, you’ll reach the pretty, historical village of Rijeka Crnojevića, which offers some of the country’s best fish restaurants. Alternatively, hire a bike to explore the ruined fortresses and winemaking villages hidden within the lush hinterland. An exciting winery to visit is Plantaže at Ćemovsko Polje. Covering approximately 2,500 hectares, it’s said to be the largest unbroken vineyard in Europe.
Biogradska Gora National Park also boasts a splendid lake, which can be viewed from a spectacular three-kilometre-long train trip that hugs its emerald-green waters and tree-lined shore. Located within the Bjelasica mountain range, this park encompasses fifteen square kilometres of virgin forest, making it the ideal place to rent a cosy cabin and spend a few days unwinding in nature.
The country’s quintet of incredible national parks rounds off with the newest addition, Prokletije National Park. Established in 2009 to protect a 160-square-kilometre expanse of the Prokletije Mountains bordering Albania and Kosovo, it’s also the location of the southernmost and highest section of the Dinaric Alps, one of Europe’s least-explored corners. Prokletije translates to ‘accursed’, which immediately indicates its terrain’s treacherous and unforgiving nature.
Prokletije also lends itself to short, casual visits; it’s not only a destination for major hiking and rock-climbing expeditions. Start at the gateway town of Gusinje and its seventeenth-century Vizier’s Mosque, then take a half-hour walk to soak in the beautiful Ali Pasha Springs, which bubble up from the karst at the foot of the mountains.
If you prefer cities over the wilderness, then Montenegro won’t leave you disappointed either. The towns and cities offer a wealth of entertainment along with all the modern comforts travellers seek. The charming capital, Podgorica, has an abundance of cafés and various cultural sites like The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and the centuries-old Podgorica clock tower. But if it’s glamour and glitz you’re after, look no further than the coastal towns.
A must-visit is the sun-soaked holiday hotspot Herceg Novi, which sits on the slopes at the foot of Mount Orjen, adjacent to the Adriatic. With a gorgeous pedestrian promenade winding along the shoreline, it’s a graceful hideaway caressed by greenery and some of the region’s best beaches. A little further on, the Bay of Kotor beckons with its historic streetscapes and magnificent setting. Wedged between the mountains and the bay, its ancient core is encircled by mighty stone walls and is one of Europe’s most visually attractive cities. The new One&Only Portonovi is located here, and offers guests the height of luxury from which to explore this fabled place. With its own private beaches, a revolutionary Chenot Espace wellness centre and gourmet cuisine, this resort is poised to be the Adriatic Riveria’s crowning glory.
On the other side of Boka Bay, in Tivat, lies the sumptuous nautical village of Porto Montenegro. Home to a host of prestigious hotels, world-class boutiques and fine-dining establishments, it’s also recognised on the global superyacht map, thanks to its top-tier marina.
Located just seven miles along the bay from Kotor, Perast is another popular spot in summer. Tourists flock here to dine at its excellent water’s-edge restaurants, visit the fascinating church on Our-Lady-of-the-Rock Island and marvel at the grand Venetian palaces.
Montenegro’s buzziest beach town, Budva, was once a Greek colony and is one of the oldest cities on the Adriatic. Within the old town walls, the Budva Museum houses many archaeological treasures from the Classical period, some of which were unearthed from the Roman-era necropolis. The fifteenth-century fort island of Sveti Stefan, one of the most photographed sites in Montenegro, is also situated in Budva. With its own beach, church, and an exclusive Aman resort, it’s the idyllic destination for those seeking a dose of indulgence.
A haven of natural and cultural beauty, Montenegro offers big experiences in a small and accessible environment. Brimming with year-round splendour, much of which remains unexplored by the masses, it’s a paradisiacal destination for travellers looking for a rare and remarkable holiday.