It may be a whopping 18 times smaller than the United Kingdom, but Montenegro packs plenty into its 13,812 square kilometres. Idyllic coastal towns stack up alongside monumental mountain-top memorials, via some of the most incredible nature in all of Europe. Montenegro might not be on your bucket list, but that is about to change.
Croatia might have Dubrovnik and its iconic red roofs, but what if we told you that there was a mini-Dubrovnik set between the contrasting aesthetics of a ponderous mountain and an exhilarating bay? Kotor ticks all of the boxes when it comes to ‘blissful Adriatic coastal town’, with narrow cobbled streets revealing hidden gem after hidden gem. This is as romantic as this part of the world gets. Despite the magical nature of the old town it is clear that real life continues here, making Kotor the living, breathing embodiment of everything that makes the Adriatic Sea so special.
Just 22km separates Budva from Kotor, but the latter’s Adriatic neighbour could not be more different. The picturesque old town remains, but the tranquil ambience of Kotor is replaced by heady beach parties and no small amount of debauchery in Budva. This is Montenegro’s most popular destination, although it might not be clear why until the sun has gone down and the rakija comes out. If you ever wondered what Belgrade would be like if it was set on the seaside, Budva is your answer.
George Bernard Shaw famously pondered whether he was in paradise or on the moon, and similar questions might enter your mind once you reach the summit of Mount Lovćen. Montenegro was born here, in the place where its great poet prince Njegoš was laid to rest. On a good day you can see as far as Albania from here, and the Njegoš Mausoleum remains the greatest individual attraction in the country. Saying that, the views and the hike make the use of the term ‘individual attraction’ somewhat incorrect.
The Balkans is full of underrated towns and cities, and Cetinje ticks that box when it comes to Montenegro. The Old Royal Capital is usually overlooked in favour of the alluring towns of the coast, but don’t sleep on this famous town. Most of Montenegro’s best museums are found here, along with some of the country’s most fascinating architecture. The Biljarda is one of the most impressive buildings in the country, with or without Montenegro’s first billiard table.
Cetinje is also the best place from which to launch a full-scale attack on Durmitor National Park. Forget focusing on just Montenegro, as the nature found up here more than holds its own when compared to anything else on the planet. This is drama, excitement, tranquility and beauty, in its most natural form. Durmitor is the perfect destination for nature lovers, adrenaline junkies, animal enthusiasts, and basically anyone who enjoys anything.
If you looked up the word ‘idyllic’ in the (sadly mythical) Great Dictionary of Tourism, a little picture of Perast would more than likely be waiting for you. Less than 400 people call this seaside town home, but they may well be the luckiest 400 people on the planet today. What Perast lacks in size it makes up in romance and beauty, not to mention an abundance of peaceful churches and opulent palaces. Its two islands are magical destinations too, both of which come with somewhat unusual stories.
The lakes of the former Yugoslavia are almost as famous as its cities. Lake Bled, Ohrid, Bohinj and Plitvice have been popular destinations for years, but all pale in comparison (when it comes to size) to Montenegro’s Lake Skadar. This is the Big Daddy of Balkan lakes, one of the best places on the continent for birdwatchers and those looking to cool off during summer. There are few experiences in Montenegro more invigorating than an afternoon on beautiful Lake Skadar.
If you simply looked at the map, you could be forgiven for assuming that Ulcinj would be similar to the many towns of Montenegro’s coast. Similarities can certainly be found, but Ulcinj is a whole different kettle of fish. Minarets replace churches and Islam replaces Orthodoxy here, the centre of Albanian culture in the country and one of its most endearing towns. Ulcinj doesn’t get the numbers that Kotor and Budva do, but that won’t be the case forever.
The smallest of Montenegro’s national parks, Biogradska Gora is very much a microcosm of Montenegro itself. It is home to one of the few remaining virgin forests in Europe, hemmed in by the usual spectacular mountains and absolute tranquility. A number of glacial lakes are also found here, with the eponymous body of water found directly in the centre of the untouched forest. It is as breathtaking a setting as you’ll find in Montenegro.
The monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church are found all over the Balkans, but none are placed in as dramatic a location as Ostrog. It appears out of nowhere, miraculously existing in a sheer cliff face just 15km from Nikšić. The monastery has seen plenty of conflict since it was established in the 17th century, but tourism has replaced tragedy with over 100,000 making the pilgrimage annually.