Thursday, 3 December, 2020

Read this in: German

Thinking about Montenegro, what do you think of? Well, a survey in my circle of acquaintances revealed to me abyss: “Montenegro, well, I live right next to the Alps, but I’ve never been to Italy.” or also “Montenegro, this is this city in Croatia with the whole cruise ships?” The country Montenegro has been on everyone’s lips as a backpack tourism blogger since 2011 or 2012 at the latest. Also in this time I met Montenegro, through analogous word of mouth. We were in Croatia near Dubrovnik and that even before the Game of Thrones hype. At the campsite another holidaymaker showed us pictures from Kotor and we were blown away. So we came to Montenegro for the first time.

Kotor on the Adriatic

Many people may think of Montenegro just as the bay of Kotor. That is very understandable. After all, it is a good day trip from southern Croatia, and a good alternative if Dubrovnik is once again overrun by cruise ships. I got to know Kotor because my parents. They were on tour in southern Croatia, where they were recommended Kotor as an insider tip almost 10 years ago. To the Adriatic Sea and the typical beach holiday we come at the end of the contribution, because of course you can have in the south of Montenegro a good beach holiday, that is no secret.  To be honest, Who among us Millenials today would like to just lie on the beach when we are in a country that offers us diversity in the smallest space? Beach is a good end to a holiday. But one or two weeks at a time just beach and la dolce vita would be too boring for me.

Arrival to Montenegro

The question is, first of all, how to get into the country, because you can travel quite differently. Of course, the most comfortable way is to fly. From Hannover, Berlin or Frankfurt there are several flights to the capital Podgorica. If you want to travel with your own car after all, you should definitely make a stopover in Austria. And the sustainable travelers among you unfortunately do not have so many options in Montenegro except to travel by bus and train. From Belgrade, for example, there is a train to Bar – this costs from Belgrade to Podgorica about 20 euros per person. On my own arrival with Ryanair, I noticed that there were mainly two types of tourists my age: backpacker with backpack and beach vacationer with no large hand luggage on board the plane.

In Montenegro you will not only find beach. For outdoor fans, this country is a paradise, because it offers diversity in the smallest space. Here at the Tara you can not only hiking – also rafting and even Zipling are possible.

Montenegro, where is it?

To be honest, until recently most of my people in my circle of friends did not know what Montenegro is now. The term may have been read or heard, but most thought it was a city or a region in Italy or Croatia by the sea. Some might have known Kotor, but then they were more in the topic of travel. Accordingly, I try to make this blog post really detailed, as just Podgorica one does not say so much as Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca or Lisbon. That’s why I recommend you – as with all countries that you do not know – to first glance at the page of the Foreign Office.

Anyone interested in the culture of Montenegro can discover them not only in museums, but also in numerous Orthodox monasteries. This charming monastery is located near Sveti Stefan.

The young country in the Balkans

So a small excursion to Montenegro: Montenegro was part of the former Yugoslavia and was from 2002 part of the state of Serbia and Montenegro. From 2006 it was completely self-contained and exists in its present form. The country is about the size of Schleswig-Holstein in terms of area and has about 280 000 inhabitants. The country has always been influenced by many cultures such as the Venetians or Turks, and there is also a close relationship and exchange between neighboring countries. Also with the religions one finds a diversity. About 70 percent are Serbian Orthodox and 16 percent Muslim. In addition, there are some 1000 Catholics there, especially in the south due to the Venetian influence. As there are many mixed marriages between the different denominations, there are families, especially in the south, who celebrate the feasts twice.

Why do I explain this to you? Unless you are entrenched in a hotel, you will meet Montenegrins and it is really good to know a bit about the culture you are traveling to. Because in Montenegro it is very warm and personal. If you travel to this country, you will also get to know the locals and to exchange ideas with them is really a good idea, because they certainly know a good restaurant that is not overcrowded by tourists or a good place to stay.

The thing with the language

I was quite confused about languages before I arrived. So I downloaded Google Translator Offline versions in Albanian and Croatian. But I tell you: If you speak English well, you can get through Montenegro pretty well. Partly also German is understood. And with the language it’s a bit like in Scandinavia: Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin are very similar. Similar to Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, which are already independent languages but closely related to each other. And some can understand each other or approach each other in border regions. Albanian, however, is related to the Hungarian language and thus has nothing to do with the language in Montenegro. Nevertheless, there are mainly near the border Albanian-speaking residents. And partly the inhabitants speak very diverse second languages.

The writing is partly Cyrillic, partly Romanesque. At school, children learn both scriptures and can even write their exams in the script of their choice. Thus, you should not be surprised if you see a place sign in Romanesque and then again in Cyrillic.

Also, this tower in Podgorica is not a last piece of the old city, which was completely destroyed in World War II. It has been restored twice, but at least gives a hint as to how the city used to look like in earlier times.

Podgorica – the capital

In my opinion, exploring the North and arriving in Podgorica is the best option with its clear-cut airport. Podgorica is very young as a city, a little Hanover in the Balkans. Therefore, one is certainly surprised when you arrive there. Because instead of Mediterranean Old Town applies in this city largely from the Soviet era: Form follows function. Where then the residential areas of the valley city spray a Mediterranean flair. Although the average wage in Montenegro is 500 euros, it lives well there. About 75 percent of the population lives in their own homes, often in multigenerational households with multiple salaries.

Formerly a military airport, today a winery in the style of a French winery.

This city is surrounded by a huge wine-growing region. So who would like to taste good Montegrin wine. Please register in advance. The wine cellar Šipčanik today is a treasury that you can visit daily and participate in a wine tasting.

Not only hotels can be used for overnight stays. In addition to inns, there are also good lodging options for self-catering such as the Neovidio Etno Solo near the Durmitor National Park.

Money and travel within the country

Several times I have made the experience as a tourist: Do not prefer your 50 Euro bill in the supermarket, but in the chic rooftop bar of the Hilton hotel. If you like luxury, I can definitely recommend this hotel with modern design, because from there you can set off well in the north and south for day trips. Either you rent a car or a car service yourself. If you are as experienced as me, a North German, in driving serpentines and narrower roads in the mountains, I advise to the car service.

The advantage is undeniable that you immediately have an interpreter and local who definitely knows better about roads, parking lots and maybe even more tips regarding apartments or inns. Because in Montenegro it is not so in the north, that some restaurants and accommodations are explicitly signposted. No, you often ask and then meet someone who operates something like an alpine hut and then cooks when he gets guests.

One of my personal highlights was the Durmitor Ring. With this panorama way behind each corner a completely different world waits. Sometimes it looks like in the Black Forest. Suddenly follows a landscape as in England or Scotland. And then you feel like in the Scandinavian high mountains.

The panoramic paths

Without a car in Montenegro nothing works, because many roads are not made for larger vehicles. Traveling can be very adventurous from time to time. So you should not underestimate that it can quickly come to a change in the weather, when you are traveling in the mountains. The thunderstorms can become violent, as well as the heat. Water, sunscreen and rainproof clothing is therefore mandatory.

Deep gorges, narrow paths. For me as a North German, this is an unusual and very wild sight.

A total of 4 panoramic routes in Montenegro are planned, of which two are already fully passable. One of them is located directly on the Podgorica valley. With its approximately 65 kilometers it is a great day trip with a bit of hiking and an optional museum visit to get to know the culture of Montenegro right at the beginning of the journey. You do not necessarily need a guide, because fortunately, in times of smartphones, there are also apps that can take over this job. With the izi.TRAVEL app you can not only explore panoramic routes in Montenegro from the car, but also find numerous audio guides worldwide in German or English. But another time more.

Through these audio guides you get as a simple tourist a lot of information that you will otherwise look for in vain on a trip.

The Durmitor ring

One of my personal highlights was the Dumitor ring. The Or, where the gods sleep, has long been a National Park and offers a variety of landscapes, as if you travel to 10 countries at the same time. I would like to devote my own blog post to this beautiful panorama route, as I find it very sad to slow down such a magical place and its scents, beauty and tranquility to just a few characters.

Bathing at your own risk – but for the selfies there are also webs. After we were at the Durmitorring, this lake offered a very different audience. Some Chinese women wearing high heels and summer dresses used the scenery a few hundred meters away for a photo shoot.

The black lake – a selfie spot

One of the first must-sees I have read in the context of Montenegro is the Black Sea. Accordingly, I was particularly curious about this photo spot. Here in Germany we also have lakes with cult status like the Eibsee, Schrecksee or Blautopf. Black is this lake because it is surrounded by tall black firs. The road to the lake is wide paved and in this place Montenegro, the wild beauty, has already been tamed a bit for those tourists who are not so adventurous. Near the lake is a climbing playground, a café overlooking the lake.

You can swim at your own risk, says a sign in Montenegrin. But in English it is not there. In the overcast sky and ominous rumbling in the distance, no one feels like bathing. Rather, small groups are on the way, who use the lake for photo shootings. This lake is also shrinking over the summer and is designed to hold some great photos.

So if you want a completely untouched lake, maybe you should look for another one at the Durmitorring. But this touristically developed lake has of course its advantages with a toilet and restaurant nearby, because many of you may not want to go hiking or countless hairpin bends. Sometimes you just want to hike around a beautiful lake with the family and then back to the sea. But the 2010 insider tip of some backpack travel bloggers you must definitely look elsewhere.

It does not always have to be the Black Sea. This enchanting lake is located directly on the Durmitorring and was deserted. Through the rocks, this lake gradually shrinks and disappears over the summer.

Budva is touristy, but also impresses with its beautiful old town. Electro music fans may already be familiar with the place. Every year a big music festival takes place near the village.

On the Adriatic

Kotor is probably the most famous place in the Bay of Kotor thanks to the cruise. Because of the many materials I will also devote a separate report to the beautiful places of Perast, Budva and Kotor, because here you will find really great cuisine, charming old towns and great beaches. Among other things, you will also find here the longest sandy beach on the Adriatic, more than 13 km long, is Velika Plaža, south of Ulcinj. It does not always have to be Kotor, for example Budva surprised me a lot and I would like to visit the citadel of the old town there on another trip.

On the private beach of Huma Kotor Boys I had not only a beach bar and sunbed and umbrella, but also a magnificent view over the bay of Kotor.

Kotor will be familiar to many. If the old town is too full, you can venture a climb behind the old town. The walk along the old city wall takes about 45 minutes.

Luxury for everyone?

For me, the perfect holiday in Montenegro would look like this: I drive or fly to Podgorica. Then I travel one or two of the panoramic trails, go hiking, do some canoeing or looking for wild horses and try to find accommodation there. And for the grand finale, I would look for a nice hotel on the Adriatic and a few more days to enjoy the Mediterranean and the venerable cities. Here by the sea you have a good chance to stay for 2 or 3 days in a nice hotel or to go out for a good meal.

You can also enjoy this view over Sveti Stefan from the street for free. But you can not get much further.

However, there is an island, which is another caliber. Maybe you already know Sveti Stefan, because every year, the Who’s Who from Hollywood with his yachts also creates them there. The area is enclosed in a large area. If you want to go in there, you do not have to stay there overnight – it is also possible to eat there – reservation is necessary beforehand. The spa costs about 200 euros per person.

To be sure, this cake in Budva was called a Black Forest cake. But she did not have much to do with the classic from Germany.

Contrastive cuisine

From high cuisine to hearty cuisine there is much to taste in Montenegro. Anyone who lives vegan like me, should definitely take a few supplies, because as a vegan to provide itself in Montenegro is already a challenge. If you want to go out to eat, I’d just get in touch with you before the trip and ask what vegan diets or other allergies are like. Vegetarian diet should not be a challenge, because in addition to hearty cuisine with meat and fish and cheese in Montenegro is very popular.

Also vegan cuisine as here in the Regent Porto Montenegro or its restaurant Murano can be found on request. It’s best to let them know before the trip, if you live vegan or otherwise have allergies, because vegan is more of a foreign word in Montenegro.

In the north, the kitchen definitely looks much more rustic – yet everything tastes excellent and is often produced regionally. Something like mass animal husbandry will not be found in the small country of Montenegro. Many live in the summer as self-sufficient in the Katuns. These villages can be compared with alpine villages, which are inhabited only in summer. There the animals are grazed in the mountains and cheese is made.

Those who like it more dignified can find high cuisine, especially on the coast. Especially around the bay of Kotor there are some good addresses. Personally, I was able to convince myself in Regent Porto Montenegro of an excellent vegan menu – the other journalists had a no less wonderful menu with fish.

Both in the north and in the south, fish from the kitchen in Montenegro are indispensable.

High cuisine can also be found in the restaurant, which belongs to Huma Kotor Bay. This was recently opened and delicious cuisine and a wonderful view of the Bay of Kotor.

This report was created during a press trip. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the whole team of the National Tourism Organization Montenegro, especially Andri, who accompanied us throughout the trip. More information about traveling to Montenegro can be found here on the official website of the organization. Thanks also to all families and hotels, where we were allowed to be guests and food.

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