Montenegro….When you think of Europe, what comes to mind? For an initially not-so-well traveled American, I always thought of Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome…you know where I’m going with this…
Yet, when Josh and I came to Europe and decided to explore ALL it had to offer for an entire year, we were quickly surprised by all the places that weren’t on the list. Budapest, Bratislava, Malaga, Dubrovnik and Kotor, Montenegro!
We initially came to the Balkan region (a geographic area in Southeast Europe, which includes old Yugoslavia) to get out of the Schengen Zone. Yet, we quickly discovered that this region of Europe was one the most beautiful of all the places we’ve seen, and is vastly underrated. One of the hidden gems of this region is Kotor, Montenegro.
I had truly never heard of Montenegro and only learned about the country from a great Serbian-American friend of ours. Her father still lives in this incredible country. She described to us the beauty that Montenegro has to offer, yet you never really can relate to a place unless you’ve been there.
We stayed for two months total in Kotor, Montenegro. Our first month Airbnb was located a 10-minute walk outside of Old Town. Mila was the BEST host ever and her place is HUGE and very budget friendly. Our second month Airbnb was located right next to the City Walls entrance, in the heart of Old Town. For $34 off your first Airbnb booking, check out my Discount Code. After living like a local for two months, I can truly tell you that this country is incredible! It’s unforgettable and is an absolute MUST SEE that needs to be on your list. I’ve listed 5 reasons why Montenegro should be at the top of your list when you visit Europe.
While we barely scratched the surface of the history that took place in this great country, we have such an appreciation for this region, its people and everything they’ve experienced in the past 80 years. Despite the multiple wars and tough times, Montenegrins are happy, laid back and very family and community oriented.
I loved walking about the city with Miesha (our dog) in the mornings. I’d watch all the locals greet one another on the street with hugs and chatter. I loved watching friends meeting for coffee or beers in the local cafes without one cell phone being in sight. There is a kind of authenticity here that doesn’t exist in other places we’ve been. People are PRESENT. They are REAL and their relationships are IMPORTANT to them. As I often creepily watched in admiration, I took a LOT away from our time here in this great country. Most importantly, that family and friends are so important. We should certainly value them and put much more effort into those relationships than we often do.
We were coming from Dubrovnik, a city that we absolutely fell in love with. So, we had standard expectations for the city walls of Kotor, but we ended up being TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY by them. They are such a stark, unique contrast to the walls of Dubrovnik, making each special in their own way. While the city walls in Dubrovnik are relatively flat and easy to climb (and absolutely gorgeous), the ones in Kotor are truly distinct in their own way
The construction of these great city walls begin in the 9th century and didn’t finish until the 15th century. The walls loop up and back down around the entire hillside, totaling 2.8 miles (4.5 km) in distance. First and foremost, I need to tell you that it’s MUCH steeper and strenuous than Dubrovnik. This hike involves a 1.5 hour trek up 1,355 steps to about 853 feet (260 meters). You are literally climbing a mountain. About 100-meters into the climb you’ll come across the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. This church was built in 1518 by the survivors of the 14th-century plague. This is a great place to stop for photos and to take a break before trekking up the rest of the way!
If you’re physically capable, you MUST climb all the way to the top. The views are OUT OF THIS WORLD with the mountains, water and city below. There’s such a calmness and peace about being up at the top, you’ll absolutely want to stay for a while and take it all in!
NOTES: Take note that you return from the top of the mountain the same way you went up. If you’re planning to climb in the summer, be SURE to go early! Wear tennis shoes…you will be miserable if you don’t. Bring water and snacks, as the climb is strenuous. I wish we would’ve packed a few sandwiches and had a picnic at the top of St. John’s Fortress. Also, be sure to take a look at the city walls at night, even from the city below. They’re illuminated with lights all around and absolutely breathtaking!
I could write for hours about the beauty of the Old Town of Kotor, but I’ll attempt to cover the highlights for you. Once you pass the usual tourist shops and restaurants, you’ll encounter narrow alleys filled with cobblestone streets, hanging laundry, smells of home cooking, beautiful European doors, green shutters and orange tiled roofs. If you’re not staying in the city long, it may be difficult to ‘get lost’ like we did so many times and really breathe in the REAL city, but I totally suggest you do so! Go off the beaten path and enjoy it!
Surprisingly, there are almost 10 churches in this small city, each having their own unique history. The most famous are St. Tryphon Cathedral (the main church in the center of the city), St. Nicholas and St. Lukes.
I absolutely advise taking a private tour to really learn the history of Kotor. We had one of the BEST private tours we’ve ever been on with Gojko Samardžić.
Gojko is a native to Kotor. He speaks excellent English and did an AMAZING job of reading us as tourists and what we were looking for in our tour. He gave us all the information and history we wanted, but didn’t hover nor bombard us with an overwhelming amount of facts. His knowledge was so vast, yet was simply described and we had such a wonderful experience exploring Kotor and Perast with him. The Kotor Tourism Organization was also MORE than hospitable and I advise making a stop into their office as soon as you arrive to really get to know what the city as to offer. Ask for Dragana, she’ll take excellent care of you!
As far as food goes in Old Town, we were less than impressed with any of the restaurants we ate at while visiting. Our daily spot to Basque in the views of the bay and people watch while drinking black tea in the sun was ‘Dojmi,’ although we never ate actual food there. If you’re looking to eat in Old Town Kotor, our favorite sit-down spot with descent eats, wine, coffee, tea and music was Old Winery. We also liked Tanjga Family Restaurant for ‘fast’ inexpensive grilled meat and veggies. It’s family owned and the manager is a real hoot. For the best atmosphere, check out La Dovina located just a 5-minute walk outside the city.
I’d seen pictures of Perast prior to our arrival in Kotor, but never really appreciated it’s beauty or history until we took our private tour with Gojko. This tiny, historical town beside the sea is located just 20-minutes driving north of Kotor. Perast is a city that once thrived long ago. Although it is a tiny town with just one Main Street, it surprisingly boasts more than 16 churches. Yet, the most picturesque memories of Perast don’t even come from the town itself. They come from what lies off shore, just a 5-minute boat ride from the city itself.
Just a short ferry ride from the main town of Perast will lead you to ‘Our Lady of the Rocks.’ This island has a deep, beautiful history. Interestingly, it is an artificial island, created in 1452 on July 22nd by local seamen. These seamen would pray to Madonna when embarking on a voyage. They claim that they saw the actual icon of Madonna and the Child on a rock in the sea on this sacred day. After returning from each voyage, each seaman laid a rock at the same location. Over time. this island grew to what it is today, with the most symbolical church built atop. So beautifully, this tradition is still carried on yearly at sunset on July 22nd. The local seamen row in their boats to the island with stones to throw into the sea, widening the island.
The church on the island itself contains 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a famous 17th-century baroque artist from Perast. The inside of the church reminded us of a mini Sistine Chapel, and because we visited in March, we had the entire place to ourselves. One of the most emotional and heartfelt parts of the church were the silver votive paintings created by seamen who luckily returned home from their voyages at sea. There’s also a famous votive tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijovićfrom Perast. It’ is said that Jacinta’s husband was lost at sea and it took her 25 years to finish this tapestry. She worked so diligently on the tapestry and actually incorporated her own hair into it. You’ll see in this masterpiece how it turns from blonde to darker then to grey. Sadly, she eventually became blind.
If you don’t know me well by now, I have a confession. I LOVE wine, especially red, local wine! Fortunately, Montenegro offers up the most delicious local wine we’d had in all our travels of Europe, at less than 3 Euros per bottle.
The local wine comes from the grape Vranac. You’ll see this displayed all over wine bottles at the local grocery stores Aroma and Idea. A bottle of 2-buck-chuck from Trader Joes in the USA is a dismal, sulfite-filled liquid that is labeled as wine. This $3 bottle of Vranac, is rich, bold, flavorful and never gave me a hangover (and I drank a few too many bottles). I honestly wish I could’ve taken a whole suitcase home with me and totally contemplated why Montenegro doesn’t export this great wine more often (I’d be their number one customer)!
If you’re in Old Town, Kotor, be sure to stop in at Old Winery for the greatest selection of local wine. Also, if you’re on a budget, skip dinner in the city, grab a slice of pizza at one of the to-go shops, grab a bottle of $3 Vranac and head up the old town walls. About 100-meters up, you’ll reach the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, which is the PERFECT place to watch the sunset. Epic views with epic wine in an epic city…it doesn’t get much better than that!
We were working so much during our two months in Montenegro, so we didn’t get a chance to check out all the other amazing sights that it has to offer. If you’re planning to come to Montenegro for 2 weeks or more, I suggest renting a car and seeing all these incredible places!
Tara Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the USA. It is located in the northern region of the country, about 3-hours driving from Kotor. The town of Zabljak is located nearby and is the city with the highest altitude in the Balkans.
Budva is a town, located on the Adriatica Sea, located just 30-minutes driving from Kotor. It is great for nightlife and it’s beaches.
Ada Bojana is an island in the southern region of the country, about 2-hours driving from Kotor. It is a popular for its sandy beach that extends for 2 miles (3 km) .
Porto is located just 15-minutes from Kotor and is a luxurious contrast to the classic Kotor.
Lake Skadar lies on the border of Albania and Montenegro in the south. It is the largest lake in the Balkans and is comprised of a beautiful national park and fresh water lake.
I’d suggest 2 days minimum to visit Kotor and Perast. 3 days would be better. While we went in the off season in Feb-April and it was wonderful because there were very few crowds, the weather was very wet! I wouldn’t suggest visiting until at least April, when the rain has subsided and temperatures are in the pleasant range of 60-70F (5-21C).
Be sure to take a stroll around the flat city of walls of Kotor, as well! We almost missed the short, flat, city walls that outline the circumference of Old Town.
There are literally cats everywhere in this city, it adds such a unique quality to the region.
If you’re looking for inexpensive accommodation, The Old Town Hostel is perfect, as it’s located within the city walls. Rates start at 20 Euros per night in a mixed dorm.
Shopping Centre Kamelija is the ‘shopping mall’ in town and should be your go-to spot if you’re looking for a large shopping market (Aroma), a pharmacy, a fitness center, a beauty supply store and much more.
The only fitness center (gym) in town is located inside Kamelija Shopping Center on the 3rd floor. Wellness Center Zen is small, but has nice equipment (free weights, machines, treadmills, bikes) and kind service. A one time visit costs 5 Euros and a one month membership is around 40 Euros.
Do NOTE that smoking is EVERYWHERE in Kotor, inside the shopping mall and inside all restaurants. We were laughing because we had to walk through three floors of smoke to get to the gym in the Kamelija Shopping Center. Oh the irony….
Niksicko is the local beer in Montenegro and the dark version is quite good, although they have a light version as well! Just about every single bar in Kotor serves this beer. At many bars, it’ll be the only draught choices available.
We took the bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Kotor, Montenegro, which was a gorgeous ride and super affordable, at around 20 Euros per ticket. Do note that they charge extra for bags. They also DID NOT LIKE the idea of us bringing our dog across the border to Montenegro, but we somehow talked them into it (although they refused our ‘tip’).
We hired three different taxi/car hire companies while in Montenegro, all of which I highly recommend:
PODGORICA: Where to stay
Podgorica is an AWESOME town and we totally regret not staying there for a few nights and enjoying more of it. The downtown area is young, urban and hip. There are SO many fun restaurants and bars and there’s just so much going on! I HIGHLY recommend staying at Apartment Athos if you’re in town. For 35 Euros a night (book through them, not Booking.com to save money), you’ll get a modern, chic apartment with a balcony and full kitchen. It’s located one block away from all the fun restaurants and bars, but is still so quiet to ensure you’ll get a good nights sleep. We loved it so much, we stayed there twice during our trip.
PODGROICA: Pet Shop
We’re always searching for a great pet shop when traveling because Miesha, our fur baby, needs grain-free food (which I can never find at the grocery store). Pet Shop Pluton is the perfect pet shop, as they’re located right in the city center and offer a lot of pet supplies at really affordable prices. The owners are also super kind and helpful.
The World Is a BIG Place, Don't Stay In The Same Spot! Currently traveling Europe after 2.5 years in Asia! Check out my website for all the details of the best places to go, eat, drink and LIVE FREE :)