Had someone asked me a year ago, or even a few months ago, if I ever wanted to visit Montenegro, I would have said no. Europe had never interested me much; it was always too close, too ordinary, just like my backyard. I always thought that Asia was my one and only destination, probably because that’s where I discovered (and got hooked on) traveling. And as funny as this sounds, I always understood Asia better. I had studied local languages and cultures, so traveling there was a wholesome experience for me. And the food, it’s everywhere, at all times, it’s beautiful and delicious – I love food. And boring Europe… I had visited Britain, Germany, and Sweden before, nothing special in my books, back then. It was only recently that I actually got interested in really traveling Europe. I discovered Tallinn, the northern hipster mecca with cozy neighborhoods, excellent restaurants, interesting events, and vibrant underground culture. A few years ago, I went to Lisboa, God bless the seafood there. If you are interested in doing street photography and smoking weed this is your destination. Paris was another story; I hated and loved it at the same time, mesmerizing. But Slovenia was the country that finally opened my eyes. Majestic mountains, beautiful valleys, cute villages, busy seaside, delicious food and excellent art museums. I realized that there are things to see in Europe and I have come to appreciate short traveling times.
Now then, Montenegro was a spontaneous kinda thing. I didn’t have enough time to visit Asia, but I wanted to go somewhere. So I opened google maps, thinking about some-place I hadn’t visited yet. Albania came to my mind first, but a friend, I was planning to travel with, was concerned about landmines. What’s next to Albania? Montenegro! After putting Google to work, we realized that landscapes are extremely beautiful in Montenegro, and we wanted to see them for real. We found cheap flights to Dubrovnik, decided to rent a car there and drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina because we saw photos of Mostar and thought it would be nice (it turned out that everything else there was nice except Mostar). I must say that renting a car at Dubrovnik airport is convenient. The rental offices are right across from the airport, there is a gas station nearby. But if you are planning to cross borders it will cost extra 80€ or so. In our case, it was still cheaper to fly to Dubrovnik and pay extra for border crossing documents (you will need the green card). If you are planning to rent a car at Dubrovnik note that the offices are busy so don’t make a tight schedule. We had to wait one hour for our car, and we were not the only ones waiting. We rented from Avant Car, because I knew they offer a fairly cheap insurance that covers pretty much everything, 20€ a day.
Our itinerary was as such:
June 21st: Dubrovnik Airport -> Stolac ->Mostar
June 22nd: Mostar –> Piva Canyon –>Durmitor –>Zabljak
June 23rd: Zabljak –> Ostog Monastery –> Cetinje
June 24th Cetinje –> Sveti Stefan –> Skadarsko National Park –> Cetinje
June 25th Cetinje –> Mt. Lonvcen –> Kotor
June 26th Kotor –> Risan –> Dubrovnik Airport
5 days was definitely not enough, but we saw quite a lot (because we are obsessed with activities), and the drive was only about 1200km all together. That doesn’t make too much driving per day (but we stopped so much that it actually took all day). I’d say two weeks could have been quite ideal. Our itinerary would have probably looked something like this:
Day 1: Dubrovnik Airport -> Dubrovnik
Day 2: Dubrovnik
Day 3: Kravice falls –> Stolac Old Town –> Mostar
Day 4: Exploring Mostar
Days 5-6: Activities at Piva Canyon
Day 7: Durmitor –> Black Lake –> Tara Bridge –> Zabljak
Day 8-10: Zabljak –> Ostorg Monastery –> Podgorica
Day 10: Podgorica –>Skadarsko National Park –> P16 road from Virpazar to Vladimir (if you dare) –>Stari Bar
Day 11: Stari Bar –> Sveti Stefan –> Cetinje
Day 12: Cetinje –> Lovcen –> Cetinje
Day 13: Cetinje –> Kotor
Day 14: Kotor –> Risan –> Dubrovnik Airport
When to go?
It really depends on what you want to do. Most of the tourists visit Montenegro between April and October, so it can get crowded. But the problem of visiting outside the tourist season is that a lot of places are going to be closed, and not that many activities will be offered. In my opinion, even if wandering around old towns alone might seem fascinating at first, it can get quite boring in the end. The restaurants won’t be open, there won’t be live music around every corner, no bustling, and hustling. The place is going to be dead. After traveling quite a lot, during the season and outside the season, I have come to a conclusion that visiting either at the beginning or at the end of the tourist season is ideal. Places will be open, activities will be organized, there will be people but it won’t get too crowded. If you travel during the busiest time, going off the beaten path will give you some room to breathe. Most of the tourists visit only the most famous places, old towns, and museums. Of course, tours will be organized to places like Ostorg Monastery and Black Lake, but tour buses go there between 10am-4pm, so visiting outside these hours will give you some peace of mind.
What to do?
Montenegro is full of activities year-round! Skiing in the winter, hiking, rafting and sunbathing in the summer. There are several ruins to explore, old towns to wander around, small beaches to be taken over, and interesting museums to visit. Nature will be beautiful at any time of the year. Black like should be especially nice in autumn and winter. If you are interested in one of the many scenic roads / scenic roads then you should go in the summer as in the winter these roads will be either closed or very dangerous to drive. If you would like to avoid the busies tourist season then going in September-October would be ideal, you will get to see autumn foliage. Remember to check out the ongoing events on Visit Montenegro website.
How to move around?
Without hesitation, I’d say, rent a car. Just do it. If you want to travel comfortably and see a lot, you have to rent a car. But on the other hand, if you are not a confident driver you might not be able to drive everywhere, because some roads are quite narrow and challenging (also emotionally), and they are high up in the mountains. Hiring a driver in major cities won’t be a problem. You could get a driver in Cetinje, who will drive you to Mt. Lovcen, wait for you, and drive you back, for 20-30€. Public transport will be limited in the mntaneous region of Montenegro. If you are planning to stay mostly on the coast there are plenty of buses and taxis, you will be fine. We saw a lot of people hitch hiking, so this is an option too. Train travel is limited because there is only one route in whole Monetengro, which stops in all major cities, though. After finding out about this route, I believe it is quite scenic, and I would love to take it one day (train from Serbia to Monetenegro)
Where to stay?
You will find different options throughout Montenegro. There are fancy hotels, cozy hostels, locals renting apartments through booking.com and airbnb. We stayed mostly in hostels and rented apartments. If you have a car then don’t be too relaxed about ‘free parking just in front of the house’ – promises. The parking will be free, but it might be a mini space on a narrow dark alley, and if your car is, say, bigger than VW Polo, you will be fucked, especially on the coast. But for example in Kotor, there were several paid parking options with free space 24/7 and the parking wasn’t too costly either.
Pay your city tax!
If you stay in hotels/hostels remember to ask for a stamped coupon before you leave, so you can prove at the border that you have paid your city tax. Some hostel owners, like ours in Zabljak, register you online, then no physical coupons are needed. In Cetinje our apartment owner paid city tax for us and gave us a coupon upon my request. In Kotor, our apartment owners said we wouldn’t need to pay the tax because we had already paid this elsewhere. Not true. Luckily we saw a registration office at the Roman Mosaics Museum in Risan. You can register in such office by yourself as long as you know your host’s full name and the name of their business, which is usually XX apartments. Take note that not all apartment owners will know/care about this city tax thing, and if yo don’t pay you might get fined on the border. If the tax is 0,5-1,5€ per person and you will have to pay a fine in size of 100-200€, that’s just gonna be really annoying.
COMPULSORY GOVERNMENT TOURIST TAX
Visitors to Montenegro holding a passport of any kind other than Montenegrin are subject to a daily tourist tax. The price of the tax varies depending on the season (it is increased during the summer season). Currently the winter price is EUR 0.50 per day and summer EUR 0.70 per day per person. Most travel agencies issue tourist tax coupons if you are an independent traveler. If you are staying in a hotel the tourist tax will be collected by the hotel and they will register you and provide you with a coupon. You will be asked to show the coupon upon leaving the country so it is recommended to visit a tourist agency within the first 24 hours if possible of your stay. There is a charge for the coupon which varies according to the issuer. Expect to pay around EUR 1 for the coupon in hotels and EUR 2 from agencies.Guidelines are quite strict and we advise you not to wait until the last day of your stay to register. Agencies are not permitted to register latecomers and this could cause some problems. Despite the advice given in some guidebooks it is no longer necessary to register your stay with the police – unless you cannot find another way to register (hotel or travel agency). Children under 12 pay only for the coupon, and children from 12 to 18 pay half of the tourist tax. [Montenegro Tourist Information]
This is probably a very unpopular opinion: I hated food in Montenegro. And this comes from an ex-cook, food hipster, eat-it-all person. The seafood was cheap and delicious in the south (unfortunately we didn’t spend much time there) but in the north and outside tourist attractions/city centres… I don’t really have much to say. At least, they know how to grill meat, and the portions are big. If you travel in a group then eating will be a nice experience, you could order a few dishes for sharing (don’t forget to order one soup each meal). The weight of the food almost always written in the menu and varies between 250g-1,5kg. But if you hate the idea of sharing then skip all fancy steaks and order l-o-c-a-l dishes, traditional food. If you are lucky you will enjoy your meal very much, if you are unlucky you will be very unlucky. The menus will be long but they often don’t have half of the dishes… We ordered salad in several places and never got it, this happened so often we started to suspect this is some sort of a thing, lol. It’s probably not a thing, but for some reason they always forgot the salad, didn’t bill for it either.
Time to talk about the coffee. In the middle and northern parts of the country, Montenegrins drink mostly Turkish coffee, and I absolutely loathe that “mud” drink. I’m sorry but I can’t stand it. Coffee with milk means a cup of mud with a drop of milk in it. #InappropriateBehavior If you like your cafe latte order a glass of milk separately, then drop a few drops of that extra strong coffee into the milk and you will have your cafe latte. As for breakfast, I’m just… just so fucking tired of eating bred everywhere at all meals. Montenegrins sure love their bred.
One of the must try local foods is the local kebab “cevapi” which consists of french fries and small cylinder shaped meat patties. I mean, you will see ads of this everywhere. We tried this dish on the Bosnian side and it was horrible. To be fair, I think the fault lies with that place, not with this dish in general. I mean, how indifferent do you have to be about food to fuck up french fries? They sell better french fries at Mc Donalds, for God’s sake! So we stopped at a restaurant by the roadside, had been driving for hours and started to be pretty damn hungry. When you are hungry food is tastier, right? Well, not always. There was a group of noisy men drinking at that place, they yelled at the waitresses, the waitresses yelled at them, someone yelled in the kitchen. The place seemed okay, with a nice terrace and the views over Tara River. But they didn’t have half of the dishes mentioned on the menu, so we were sort of forced to order the kebabs. Now, forgive me for what I am about to say, but you know that feeling after having really bad sex on a hot day, right? You are left disappointed and annoyed. Those french fries had absorbed half of the oil they had been cooked in and the kebabs were dry like sand paper, with some suspicious looking sour cream on the side. Don’t get me wrong, I love sour cream, I just didn’t love it at that place. They had also run out of all soft drinks and only had Cockta, and I can’t imagine a worse end to a sorry meal than washing it down with Cockta. But anyway, I think there should be plenty places in Montenegro that actually make good kebabs. They also sell a pita bread version of this dish.
Another food that’s worth trying, I think, is Montenegrin sandwich, which is like a pita bread with local cheese, ham and fresh veggies. I didn’t have a good experience with this either. Ordered one sandwich to go at a touristy restaurant in Cetinje and it tasted like, well, crap. All I could taste was that cheese! It resembled the cheapest cheese they sell in Finland, the one that tastes like cardboard boxes. Again, I am sure that other place sell better tasting sandwiches, hopefully.
Okay, I have to say something positive too, so it wouldn’t seem like I am complaining too much. The cabbage rolls “japraci” I ordered at the Mt. Lovcen restaurant, which is the only restaurant at the mountain top, with nice terrace and all, that was a really delicious meal. This was probably the most touristy place we ate at, but one of the best as well. Another dish that I really loved was fish soup “Riblja Čorba”. This soup is made with several types of fshes, and its essebtial ingredients are tomatoes and paprika, the consistency is thick.
Anyway, don’t hesitate to taste everything everywhere. Even if I say I don’t like it, you might like it. Eating at the coast is a pleasure, but I have to say that enjoyed food in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Slovenia a lot more than in Montenegro.
Have you ever tasted Montenegrin food? Did you like it?