Having spent some time in the public facade that is Budva, I was keen to get out and discover a more true side to the country. Fortunately, this was made possible with a tour organised by my hostel. Montenegro’s a small country. So small, in fact that it’s possible to see most of it in one day. Which is what I did, in a minivan driven by reckless Djordje along with a Norwegian, two Icelanders and a New Zealander.
Our tour started in the mountains overlooking the bay of Kotor, where a stunning panorama takes in the whole of the complex coastline, including the town of Kotor where I stayed two days ago.
Our next stop was Lovćen national park, and its eponymous mountain. Contrary to popular belief, there is no single ‘black mountain’ in Montenegro, in fact the local name for the country, Crna Gora, literally translates as ‘black forest’ and refers to the dense woodland that covers most of the country. At the peak of Lovćen is a mausoleum housing the famous Montegrin poet Njegoš. Inside an impressive statue stands under a solid gold ceiling, guarding the crypt beneath. From the top of the mountain, you can see about 70% of the country on a clear day.
Our tour then took us through Cetinje, the old royal capital. We saw many old embassies here, now refurbished as cultural centres and art academies. The town had a look of faded affluence, a once rich city now left behind. Cetinje’s pride was dented when Podgorica was chosen as the capital of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro in 1946, having been renamed to Titograd (a blatant suck-up to the Yugoslavian Prime Minister, Tito).
After grabbing some lunch, we paid a visit to the remarkable Ostrog monastery, where I got to find out what holy water tastes like. Hint: like water. The road up the mountain is as breathtaking as it is precarious, the only safeguard being the occasional low rock wall. Djordje had some fun driving us a little too close to the edge, prompting some rather nervous outbursts. Montenegrins are crazy.
The monastery, built directly into the cliffside, holds the bones of St Basil of Herzegovina and is an important site for Orthodox pilgrims.
Next stop was Skadar Lake in the east of the country, on the border with Albania. Running past the lake is the only passenger railway line in Montenegro, which runs up to Belgrade. We stopped by the edge of the water and enjoyed the Best Pancakes in the Universe, according to our guide. They were pretty good.
On the way back to the hostel, we paused for a final photo opportunity overlooking Sveti Stefan, a former island town now turned into an exclusive luxury resort. Access to the islet is denied for non-guests, but the best views are from the coast anyway.
The roads in Montenegro make it hard for a visitor without a car to get to the more remote points of interest, so this organised tour, though a little rushed at times, was a good way to see the best of the country.