Another land where fairytales come alive. Black mountains connect sea to sky by fearlessly stretching into commanding gray clouds. Stone walls creep left right left to the landing where a royal red flag proudly waves. Wrought iron gates open to welcome visitors from Croatia, Greece, and Italy arriving by boat for a days’s walk in their city of choice.
Sunbathers get their time to tan and sweat. Skiers get their time to swerve and freeze. Paragliders, mountain climbers, white water rafters, nudists; For those who dare to cross south from Croatia and Bosnia, North from Albania, West from Serbia, or for those who arrive via the Adriatic Sea – in Montenegro everyone has their place, their pastime, and season.
From Dubrovnik, I set out first to Montenegro’s small coastal town of Tivat, driven by my own personal chauffeur, Remi, a French guy I met at the hostel in Dubrovnik who laughs a mile a minute had a similar route planned. The border from Croatia to Montenegro was the longest stretch of no man’s land I’ve ever encountered. Typically only a few meters will separate one country’s control from the other’s, but here nearly ten minutes of driving through mountain roads led us through the space between the two countries and between passports stamps.
Once in Montenegro, the mountain landscapes ended abruptly at the Adriatic Sea as waves slammed against cliffs far below. The Bay of Kotor soon appeared and in the distance, across the narrow inlet we saw houses white houses and stone churches: our final destination. Yet, rather than connect the two sides of this narrow bay by bridge, engineers built a road which scribbles dramatically along the water’s edge and doubles the trip length. In doing so, it also leads past two small surprises: two small islands in the bay each with their own small church. Remi stopped despite the rain and let me scramble around to try to catch a better view of the churches accessible only by a boat taxi.
Two hours after first spotting Tivat from across the bay, we’d encircled the entire water mass and found our way to the town of 15000. The hostel I’d chosen for its promising reviews was up on the hillside. We opened the doors to Montenegro Art Club Hostel Anton to the main area and found an open space decorated in antique knick knacks and paintings, and a young Brazilian guy playing piano in the corner. Another guest from Singapore who was staying there for a month’s time was watering seedlings arranged on a large table, and a newly married couple from Argentina welcomed us in for coffee. I didn’t go out to see the town that night – this place was too cozy and welcoming that despite having to wear winter coats indoors to keep out the cold, we stayed warm and comfortable and enjoyed a communal dinner of baked mac and cheese and a card game lasting for hours.
The next day Remi left to continue his own journey and I went down to the harbor, taking in the calm presence of the water and the town’s people slowly walking from place to place. Complete relaxation. Many of the restaurants were closed for the season, taking time off before tourists flock the area to soak up the sun. A few cafes remained open so I ducked into one, finding a spot amongst couples and groups sipping on espressos and chain smoking cigarettes until their ashtrays overflowed. I watched as an older gentleman taught a boy not yet five years old how to hold a fishing pole and wove through groups of school children holding hands as they walked home together. The town is small and simple, and a lesser-known alternative to the nearby UNESCO town of Kotor, which is where I went next.
Click on an image to browse through the photos of Tivat, Montenegro:
Forty minutes away from Tivat by the scenic route, seventeen minutes away if traveling direct, Kotor is a smaller, lesser known “Dubrovnik.” Here I stayed in an accommodation appropriately named “Old Town Hostel” and found another dynamic group of people to spend my days there with. In the morning, we’d share breakfast, in the afternoon, we’d explore, in the evening we sat together to a full meal cooked by the hostel’s staff, and at night we played games together in the cave-like gathering space of this 700 year-old building.
Kotor resembles Dubrovnik on a multitude of levels: The same red roofs, the same bay, the same mountain-scaling fortress. But what makes Kotor different is that it’s not swarming with tourists. Game of Thrones has not been filmed here – yet – and the biggest man-made attraction may just be the Cat Museum in Old Town (closed for the winter months).
It has its own charm and personality, and a walk up to the fortress is the town’s absolute must-do. Grey cobblestones laced with bright green moss turn into steps and ramps leading toward Montenegro’s sky-high red and gold flag. In my attempt to conquer the fortress on my own, I set out while the sun shone brightly and step by step began my assent. Quickly I climbed and quickly I realized that “photo opps“ grew more and more frequent and simultaneously grew more and more prolonged. Those “photo opp” breaks were really just excuses to catch my breath before continuing higher, but truly, the views were just spectacular. Water, mountains, architecture of varying styles. Sailboats dancing together in the bay, tourists huffing and heaving their way higher and higher, locals sauntering to the market or to cafes far below. Even in winter, Kotor is a treasure of a town; Imagine in summer!
In summer months, the town turns into that place I spoke of earlier: “something for everyone.” Extreme sports, extreme history, extreme sunbathing.
Click on an image to browse through the photos of Kotor, Montenegro:
After two nights, I continued down the coast to the very south of Montenegro: a little town called Ulcinj. Here again: a fortress, an old town, a lot of delicious places to eat cevapci. What makes this town different than the rest is its 14 kilometer long beach, its eerie looking fishing huts with wires strewn about and nets resembling gigantic claws ready an able to scoop up unsuspecting fish, and in particular: a type of place which exists nowhere else in the Balkans.
A nudist colony.
Yes, I went. I walked around, I took photos, I watched the waves slide up onto the soft sand. I went. But it was closed for the season. For this, I was happy.
Click on an image to browse through the gallery of Ulcinj, Montenegro:
When I say Montenegro has something for everyone, truly I mean it.