Into the Black Mountain
Black Mountain was the name the Venetians gave this small country in the Balkans, and Montenegro, as we know it today, does indeed have mountains. But as a holiday destination, it is still relatively unknown to the general public. I did not need any more convincing than this so I decided to head over for a short break filled with incredible landscapes and medieval towns.
Flying into its capital Podgorica - only a short 2hr50min flight from London - you quickly realise Montenegro did not steal its name, as mountains surround the valley where the city is located. Podgorica is not the sexiest of cities so any trips to the country rarely include a visit to the capital, but it’s an ideal starting point for your Montenegro adventure. Another major hub is the nearby, well-known, Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Podgorica’s airport is very efficient and small enough so within 30 minutes of landing we were in our rental car and on our way to the mountains.
One of the youngest nations in Europe, Montenegro very much has its own identity and the population of just over 600,000 people is very proud of their little country. They claim it has the most sunshine in Europe and to quote our taxi driver ‘reaches temperatures of 65 degrees in Summer’. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but nevertheless, I’m sure it may feel that way in the sunniest place in Europe.
Our first stop was the Durmitor National Park in the northwest corner of the country. Known for its mountain landscapes, it is ideal for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. The roads in Montenegro are winding but of great quality, and very scenic. A nice plus is that you will find almost no traffic except in the coastal towns. A short and easy walk from the park entrance will take you to the Crno Jezero (Black Lake). The reflections on the lake in the early morning are almost too good to be true, shielded from the wind by the evergreen forest on one side and the giant Bobotov Kuk mountain on the other, a photographer’s dream.
After the short lake visit, we drove a bit higher up in the mountains and from there we hiked a 5km return trip to a viewpoint overlooking the Jablan Jezero. This is a moderately challenging slightly uphill walk through mountain pastures, forests filled with wild mushrooms, woodpeckers and squirrels topped off with another great view – you can expect that I’ll mention views a lot in this blog as the country is full of spectacular ones!
You could spend days hiking around here while staying at the cute wooden house village of Zabljak but even with limited time the shorter walks give you a much-needed (at least in my case) dose of mountain therapy.
Another advantage of it being a relatively small country is the limited time spent in vehicles while travelling to your next stop. For us, this was the medieval town of Kotor, only a three-hour drive away and unmissable on any Montenegro visit.
The walled old town centre still feels very preserved (it’s also car-free!) and if it wasn’t for the cruise ship in the port you would genuinely believe you stepped back to the Middle Ages. We took our time exploring the narrow, cobbled streets and relished getting lost. Thankfully the town is so small that you’ll never end up more than a 10-minute walk away from where you needed to be.
Although the fame of Kotor means it can get a bit busy during the day, staying overnight gives you the luxury of roaming the streets with far fewer people in the early mornings and evenings. However, you’ll never feel alone as the many (friendly) stray cats, a big attraction here, stay overnight and roam the streets too.
A short drive away you’ll find smaller and incredibly scenic towns such as Perast with its beautiful Venetian clock tower and church island just offshore. The restaurants and cafes on the bay/seafront are excellent spots for a late afternoon Niksicko, the local beer, or a fresh seafood platter - but as vegetarians, we stuck to the former.
Both Kotor and Perast are located in the bay of Kotor surrounded by spectacular mountains. A tough but rewarding hike up from the town centre of Kotor will provide you with amazing views of the bay and bayside towns. Another easy day trip from here is the former island monastery of Sveti Stefan, closed to the public at the moment but the beach and the view of the little island connected by a footbridge are more than enough reasons to spend some time here.
The last stop for us was the hills around Skadar Lake, which are home to quaint villages such as Rijeka Crnojevica from where you can hop on a boat trip to the lake. You’ll find little settlements and farms surrounded by vineyards and streets lined with Pomegranate trees. But perhaps the main draw of this area is the incredibly scenic viewpoint (there it is again) at Pavlova Strana. The sunset overlooking the winding river below was the perfect end to a great short getaway.