It is hard for me to kick-off this post in a way that adequately conveys how much we loved our time in Montenegro. It is an incredible country with so much to offer. Hopefully by the end of this post I will do the country justice and have you all adding Montenegro to your list of countries not to miss!
We arrived from our short, but incredibly expensive bus ride from Dubrovnik ($26.51 CAD for a 2.5 hour trip!) To the small town of Kotor. Stepping off the bus and walking into the town we were mesmerized by the incredible beauty around us. The 360° view surrounding the town of Kotor is one of the most impressive to date. Stunning mountains with limestone cliffs, a historic fortress atop a cliff, and of course the bay itself. There is a great debate about whether the bay of Kotor is a fjord or not, with the current decision being that it is not. Despite the battle over its classification, it will wow you none-the-less.
We hadn’t booked accomodation ahead of time but had the address of Old Town Hostel and went to check it out. It is located within the walls of the old town, where immediately you are brought into another world upon entering.
We were warmly welcomed by the staff and told of their winter promotion; stay 3 nights and get 2 nights free! We were originally planning on only staying 2 nights, but after our first day and night in Kotor we realized we needed to take advantage of this promotion. (Also, our hangover did not permit us to do anything on our second day in Kotor, more on that later.)
The Old Town Hostel is separarted into two buildings, the East and West wing. Both parts are in a building built in the 13th century with many interesting artifacts located throughout the buildings. Really, really cool hostel that is fully equipped with everything you need, and the most amazing staff. If you are headed to Kotor make sure you stay here, you won’t be sorry.
After checking in we headed to grab a bite to eat at a local place that is referred to as “the butcher” which was recommended by the hostel staff. The story of the butcher is that originally he was operating only a butcher shop, but a large supermarket opened up a few towns over and began selling meat for a lower price than he could even obtain an animal for. Rather than be driven out of business he decided to turn his butcher shop into a small restaurant as well, providing both BBQ and roasted meat. There are only 3 tables in the place, and they are rarely empty. For 5 euro you can pick any type of meat you want which will be grilled infront of you, along with a side of potatoes that are slow roasted in the drippings of roasting chickens for 12 hours, a salad, and a massive bun of homemade bread. The butcher is also what you would picture a butcher to be, a massive man with a very intimidating accent. He seemed impressed with our ability to finish our meals, and insisted on giving us more potatoes. We barely were able to walk out of there. If you are in Kotor, eat there! It also still functions as a butcher shop where you are able to purchase meat to cook yourself, if that appeals to you.
We staggered back to the hostel insisting we weren’t able to consume anything else for the entire day, food or liquid as we were bursting at the seams. We relaxed for a few hours and then the hostel staff broke out a bottle of Rakia, which is a fruit brandy that is the considered the national drink throughout the Balkans. The brandy can be made from plums, apples, blackberries, etc and is anywhere from 40-70%. Most families make their own Rakia throughout the Balkans. This led to an entirely hilarious night, and a very rough next day. Luckily we were (beyond) due for a laundry and catch up day, so we were somewhat productive for how rough of shape we were in.
The next day was a much more productive day, starting with a trip to the fortress atop the hill that overlooks Kotor. It definitely was akin to a stairmaster workout, we could feel our thighs burning on the way to the top. We were rewarded with incredible views every step of the way so it made it more than worth it. When we reached the top there was only 4 other people there, with 2 going back down shortly after we arrived. We stayed for a few hours at the top, taking in the breathtaking view and marveling in the fact that it was completely free. Kotor is (in my humble opinion) infinitely more beautiful than Dubrovnik, and so much cheaper! Check out the photos below, they will speak for themselves!
After our venture to the fortress we headed to the walls of the old town which are also free to walk. It was definitely a shorter walk than it would be in Dubrovnik, but still fantastic. When we arrived back to the hostel we met two other travelers who were arranging a tour of the country for the next day. Usually Chris and I avoid tours if at all possible, but for 29€ a local tour guide would take us on a 9 hour tour around the country seeing a major portion of the country. We enjoyed our tour on Hvar Island so much and this tour sounded very similar, so we decided to go for it. Although it did blow our entire daily budget, it fell on one of the days where we were staying for free, so it was not an issue. We headed to bed early that night to ensure we were well rested for the next day.
Our tour started at 9am with our first stop being the town of Perast. Perast is famous for the two tiny islands in the middle of the bay a short distance from its shores. The first island is St. George which is a natural island and has a small chapel and a graveyard, where locals are still being buried to this day. The second island is a man-made island called Our Lady Of The Rocks, and our tour guide told us it was created by sailors over the years throwing rocks for good luck into the bay at that point for luck on their voyages. A chapel was then built on top and today it is a major tourist attraction.
Our tour guide was quite the character and had us entertained the entire day. He chain smoked like no one I have ever met and had hilarious tales of why Serbians live long. His granny is 94 and starts each day with 2 shots of rakia, smokes 3 packs a day, and he claims it is those very things that keeps her alive!
After stopping to view the islands we headed towards the mountains and were rewarded with a different perspective of the islands from above.
Our next stop was to view the Salt lake which, ironically enough, is a fresh water lake. It was a beautiful view and allowed our guide to inhale 2 cigs while telling us all his drunken stories from parties on the lake.
We then stopped for a coffee and bakery break. For 1.5€ each we had an excellent coffee and delicious cherry danish and nutella filled croissant. Did I mention how much we love Montenegro? We couldn’t find a crappy expresso in Italy for that price!
We continued on our way towards the Ostrog Monestary. The ride there was very reminiscent of traveling in South America; the road barely wide enough for two cars to pass, sickening switchbacks carving their way up a mountain, and of course, cliffs on either side without any type of guard rail providing stomach clenching views. Stay tuned for an epic GoPro video. The Ostrog Monestary is carved directly into the mountain and has incredible views of the surrounding valley and mountains.
We continued on to the town of Cetinje where there is a very famous monestary. Within the monestary there are numerous relics of importance to the history of Montenegro, and one peculiar relic; the right hand of John the Baptist. The hand is only on display for holidays, so we were not able to see it, but we found it rather interesting the hand is kept there. We walked around the very cute little town and then gladly sat down for a traditional lunch. I do not know the name of the meal, but in essence it was meat, stuffed with another type of meat and cheese, with a massive amount of cheese on top. (Fat free 😉 The homemade bread that accompanied the meal was unlike any other bread we have encountered; it was spongy almost like a sponge cake, but tasted like bread. Our tour guide enjoyed a beer, to which he grabbed the salt shaker and added an inordinate amount of salt to the beer (while continuing to chain smoke). Montenegro people must have good genetics because their lifestyle habits are doing them no favors! His claim was the salt was good for his throat. Perhaps Dr.Oz will confirm that in a future episode.
After lunch it began to downpour, so we made our way slowly back to Kotor stopping every now and again to try and take in some of the views through the fog.
We were very satisified with the tour, we were able to see so much of the country that we otherwise would have missed. We left at 9 am and returned at 6pm, and if hadn’t been for the rain it would have been even longer. The tour guide was a riot, as well as very knowledgeable. In high season the price is higher, as to be expected. For the same tour it would have been 55€.
For those of you wondering, my pharmacist skills did kick in and I asked the guide how many cigarettes he smokes a day. His answer? A pack. (I witnessed him smoke a pack and 3/4) His secret to good health? Rakia. I will say no more!
The following day we did some planning for the upcoming days and figured out how we were going to catch the train to Belgrade. We went out that evening for a few beers before turning in for an early evening.
The following day we tried Burek, a traditional food throughout the Balkans. It is like a meat pie, but in a pastry form. Very delicious. We then caught the bus to Bar, about an hour and a half away and 7€ ride. We then bought tickets for the nighttrain to Belgrade. I will save that “adventure” for my Serbia post.
So- did I convince you? Will you be adding Montenegro to your next EuroTour itinerary?
Look out for my post on our time in Belgrade in the next few days!