Croatia & Montenegro Road Trip: Montenegro's Mountains and Coast
Though most would consider the Bay of Kotor the jewel in Montenegro’s tourism crown (partially because it’s a popular day trip from Dubrovnik), the country’s coast on the Adriatic is worthy of a visit. Similarly, the rugged interior offers a serene escape from the crowds and a view of rural Montenegrin life.
Lovćen National Park is an easy trip from the Bay of Kotor, only an hour and a half’s drive east, and well worth it if at least for the views of the bay from above. We opted to take the “back way” (Old Kotor Road, route P1) which includes a seemingly never ending series of hairpin turns with commanding views of the surrounding mountains at every curve. Once at the car park near the summit, we took the many stairs up to the Njegoš Mausoleum, the burial place of 19th century national hero and poet Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. The most noteworthy part of our visit to the mausoleum was sitting on the platform on the backside of the building which allows for a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains!
Our drive down from the mountains toward the coast was a bit of a hairy one. The main road between Lovćen and Budva was unexpectedly closed for construction, so we had to instead navigate tiny unsigned mountain roads that were not even showing up on our GPS half the time! On two occasions we ended up on local farms where we had to awkwardly apologize and turn our car around. The first time, the two gentlemen we saw did not speak any English and did not seem to want to help anyway, but the second time we stumbled on a friendly husband and wife that were very willing to help. They did not speak a lick of English either, but the husband was animatedly adamant that we take a right at the fork in the road farther down, repeatedly shouting “desna!” (which we picked up only because of its similarity to the Italian “destra” for “right”) and grabbing and shaking Rico’s right arm to get his point across. With his help we ended up at the coast and stopped at Drobni Pijesak for lunch and a swim. The beach is beautiful, tucked away and sparkles with clear blue-green water. After relaxing and swimming for a few hours, we grabbed bruschetta from Smokov Vigenac and started our journey back to Orahovac, but not before hitting a terrible traffic jam near Budva—apparently the country had hoped construction to update and widen its primary coastal highway would be complete by the tourist season, but alas…
It wasn’t long before we were back in the Budva area, this time to have a go at paragliding for the first time! We met our instructors in a parking lot and crammed into their old, non-air conditioned Mercedes for the ride up to the launching point. After many hairpin turns up the mountainside, we pulled over in Brajići and started to set things up. It was a bit chaotic as our instructors spoke varying levels of limited English and we were trying to feel them out on whether or not the thick clouds in which we were enveloped and even distant rumbles of thunder were things to be concerned about. Rico got geared up first and we sat and waited for a clearing. Once the clouds broke just enough to see half a mile down to the coast, we were off! The views from up in the air were incredible and we had a good 15 minutes to take it all in. Once we got closer to the coast, our instructors separately asked us whether we wanted to do “acrobatics.” Sure, why not? We started to swing wildly in the air, in some cases hanging almost upside down. After a minute or two of this, we tried to tell them that we were “good,” meaning we were all set with acrobatics and happy to continue floating down, but our “good” was interpreted as “keep going!” The joys of language barriers.
We landed right by the parking lot where we left the car and quickly fell to our knees to kiss the ground! One of the coolest features of the coastline from high above is the unique islet of Sveti Stefan, so we decided to head in that direction. Pictures of Sveti Stefan, with its stacks of neat houses with uniform orange terracotta roofs and its strip of beach connecting it to the mainland, were the first inspirations we had years ago to visit Montenegro in the first place. Unfortunately the island is now a resort and does not allow visitors, but we grabbed lunch right by the beach with the island in our view. Feeling refreshed, we made our way to Budva, one of the richer party centers in Montenegro. The Old Town is very pretty, almost like a mini Dubrovnik (but much cheaper!). We walked around the Citadela at the town’s extreme southern point and then wandered our way through the streets, stopping at Katedrala Svetog Ivana and the Catholic Church of St. John. After some gelato in the shade of one of the Old Town’s many little squares, we hopped in the car back to the bay.
Our trip to Croatia and Montenegro was full of the things that make trips so fun and memorable—beautiful towns, stunning beaches and scenery, friendly and interesting people, good food, and a little adventure. We loved our second visit to this part of the Balkans so much that we already have a third trip to Croatia tentatively penciled in for 2017! And we have a feeling that won’t be our last.