Montenegro: A little known must-see

Montenegro: A little known must-see

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

Montenegro, which means “Black Mountain,” is a country in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic Sea. It is a smaller country, surrounded by Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and across the sea from Italy. Its capital city is Podgorica, which is home to 30 percent of the population. Although Montenegro may not be as well-known among travelers, a little research of its gorgeous landscapes and unique culture will certainly put this country on the top of your travel bucket list.

A little background

As with many nations in the Balkans, Montenegro has a long history of being under different rulers and influenced by various cultures. In recent history after World War I, Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia, followed by being in a federation with Serbia. In 2006 it separated from the federation to claim its independence.

The country’s cultural influences are easily seen and felt. Architectural monuments and remnants of former rulers like the Illyrians, Romans, Dalmatians, Venetians, French and the Habsburg Austrians are sprinkled throughout the country. The culture has also been significantly shaped by religion, primarily Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and the primary language is Montenegrin.

In terms of tourism, Montenegro is quickly becoming the spot to go, seen as a cheaper yet rewarding locale compared to the French Riviera, Monaco and other Mediterranean spots. Although it was a popular travel destination in the 1980s, it fell off many travelers’ radars after the Yugoslav wars.

Enticing landscapes

For being a small country, it packs a lot in terms of natural features, from its 295-kilometer-long coastline to rugged mountain ranges and gorgeous lakes. The coastline is full of charming stops, including well-preserved medieval towns. The mountains have some extremely rugged terrain and average more than 2,000 meters in elevation.

If spending time outdoors is what you seek, Montenegro has a plethora of national parks to visit.

  • Lake Skadar – The largest lake in the Balkans, Lake Skadar and the park are shared with Albania, and it is home to the largest bird reserve in Europe.
  • Durmitor – This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the home of 18 glacial lakes, known as “mountain eyes,” with the largest being Black Lake.
  • Prokletije – Part of the 192-km Peaks of the Balkans hiking trail, you will find gorgeous views because it is part of the Dinaric Alps.

With Montenegro’s relatively small size, it’s worth renting a car so you can visit as many spots as possible. Drive along the coast and stop in towns like Kotor, Perast and Stari Grad, and make detours to some of these gems:

  • Sveti Stefan – This fortified island village is worth a visit just to see it, but you can also check in to the five-star resort on the island for a bit of luxury.
  • Njego’s Mausoleum – For some amazing views and to truly experience Montenegro’s name, visit this impressive mausoleum on top of Black Mountain.
  • Ostrog Monastery – This is a holy Orthodox site that will give you a taste of the religion that has shaped the country’s culture.
  • Tara Canyon – For the thrill seekers, a visit to Tara Canyon will warrant a rafting trip, as that will be the best way to get nice views of the canyon.
  • Ulcinj – The southernmost town on the coast, this is where to go to relax and enjoy the longest sandy beach in the entire eastern Adriatic.
  • Bay of Kotor – You might think you’re in Norway here, as this bay looks awfully similar to a fjord.

Good eating

What treats and dishes pair with discovering these Montenegrin treasures? It depends what area you’re in, such as on the coast, in the mountains or somewhere in between. Although influenced by culinary traditions of Italy, Turkey and other Mediterranean cultures, Montenegro claims a food scene that stands on its own.

Naturally, you will find lots of seafood on the coast, including the dish “Buzara,” consisting of fresh seafood cooked in either a white or red wine sauce. Don’t forget that beach time also means doughnut time! Keep your eye out for a vendor selling sweet and fried doughy goodness while you sunbathe.

Deeper inland and in the more mountainous areas, foods consist of more comforting dishes such as lamb in milk or stew made of slow-roasted meat and vegetables. One of the country’s specialties is Njegusi prosciutto, which is served on its own and wrapped around steak. Cevapi sausages are also common; these are small sausages of pork or beef that you will find all over the country. Lastly, “burek” pastries are worth a taste, made of thin and crispy phyllo dough surrounding savory fillings.

For those interested in wine, be sure to taste some Montenegrin varieties like the red Vranac. You can even visit the Plantaze vineyard near Podgorica to learn more about it.

Getting to Montenegro

You have a few different options for flying into Montenegro. Tivat or Podgorica are the two airports in the country or fly into Croatia’s Dubrovnik airport and rent a car. Lastly, fly into Italy’s Bari airport and ferry across the Adriatic.

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