There are plenty of destinations that hold long-term spots on my travel wish-list. Places where I’ve researched what I want to see and pored over photos and blog posts. Places that are just waiting for the right combination of time and money to make the dream trip a reality. And then there are other destinations. Places that I might not know much about or have thought of visiting until circumstances conspire to put them on my travel radar. And once I know about them I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of visiting there before. Montenegro was definitely one of the latter. Croatia was on the list for sure, but Montenegro? I can’t say I knew much about it other than the name and that it was in the Balkans. But when we were looking for somewhere to spend a relaxing week in the Mediterranean in May it kept cropping up.
As Croatia’s lesser-known neighbour, Montenegro shares a lot of the same architecture, scenery and climate. But where Croatia’s popularity has rocketed – bringing crowds and high prices along with it in some areas – Montenegro is still relatively unknown. It’s got its own patch of the Adriatic coastline, historic walled towns, beautiful lakes and mountains. Back in the 1970s it was the place for celebs and royalty to visit. But the Balkans conflict put an end to that, and since then the turbulent history and a lack of tourist infrastructure have helped keep it under the radar until now. But once my flight was booked and I started to research what there was to see out there, I could see it wouldn’t stay like that for long.
Montenegro is one of the world’s youngest countries (only beaten by Kosovo and South Sudan). After the break up of Yugoslavia it joined up with Serbia and was part of ‘Serbia and Montenegro’ until it got its independence in 2006. You can still see signs of the communist legacy, like deserted concrete former state-run hotels, and the fact that visitors still have to register with the police. But there’s a lot of redevelopment going on – the road outside our apartments was being relaid, there were new hotels and apartment blocks springing up along the coast. The country is investing hard as it tries to join to European Union. You can already use euros here though – the currency used to be the Deutschmark after it gave up its own currency to fight inflation, so when Germany changed over to euros Montenegro did too.
Montenegro isn’t very large in terms of area but it packs a lot into its 14,000 square kilometres. Apparently its size causes no end of trouble for cartographers as its name is much bigger than its area, so it’s hard to fit on a map. There’s over 300km of coastline along the Adriatic Sea, with resorts ranging from the party town of Budva to tiny pine-fringed beachside villages. There’s the fjord of Kotor with its red-roofed Venetian-style walled towns. There’s the towering mountains which give the country its name – Crna Gora in Montenegrin or Monte Negro in Venetian–Italian, meaning black mountains. There’s also rafting in the Tara River Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. Or fishing in the giant clear expanse of Lake Skadar on the Albanian border.
So that’s beaches, historic towns, mountains, lakes and canyons all in an area half the size of Wales. Montenegro has certainly got the looks to become a hugely popular destination. In ten years time I can just picture boutique hotels in the abandoned palazzos, luxury super-yachts filling shiny new marinas, those bumpy mountain roads replaced by smooth new highways. Which is why I’d say go there soon. While you can still see where Montenegro has come from as well as where it’s going.
Is Montenegro on your travel radar?
- The Bay of Kotor: Where the fjords meet the Mediterranean
- Climbing Kotor’s city walls
- An island of luxury at Sveti Stefan