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Montenegro

Places I've Been

5 Things To Experience in Montenegro (and 1 bonus)

August 17, 2015

Planning a trip to Montenegro any time soon? You should! Montenegro is a small country and its beauty has attracted tourists for many decades, but when the Yugoslavian war broke out, the tourists naturally abandonded the country and were gone for many years. Today, Montenegro is frequently visited mostly by tourists from the neighbouring countries and it is seen as a cheaper alternative to Croatia. With tourism being the main income for the country, you’d expect that it’s a touristy nightmare – like, say, the Canary Islands (which I did not like that much) – but it’s not. It is small though and there aren’t as many places worth a visit as in Italy or Greece for example. There are some things you’ll want to visist though, and if you’re completely lost on where to go and what to see in Montenegro, here are 5 things I recommend experiencing:

1. Picturesque Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan beach

Sveti Stefan beach

The small coastal town with its peninsula, now privately owned, has attracted the rich and famous for decades and it continues to do so. Once you go there, you’ll understand why. Sveti Stefan was my favourite place in Montenegro, and I wish we had stayed there instead of in Kotor. The town is very small and you won’t find big malls, fancy fashion boutiques or big tourist trap restaurants here. It feels very genuine, very original, I’d say – although tourism is the most important income, you don’t feel the same forced beauty here as you do in many other cities on the coast. It feels real, genuine; it doesn’t feel like the city has adapted its beauty to get the tourists there and I believe that’s what attracts travellers. You can either stay there and rent an apartment or room, from one of the locals, or you can splurge and visit the 5 star luxury resort located on the peninsula that is no longer open to the public. Or, you can stay in Budva and get here by car or by bus.

2. The Tara River Canyon

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I’ve already written about our rafting adventure on Tara, which you can read more about here. It truly was one of the highlights on our trip and I’d love to go back and do it again in June or May when the water goes completely wild. Rent a car and drive there yourself if you’re an experienced driver, or you can go by bus with one of the many travel agencies and hostels that offer a river rafting package. The drive up to the river, going through Niksic, offers breathtaking views over mountains and lakes, and you can stop on the way to buy some homemade rakija or local honey (look for signs that say med).

3. Walls of Kotor

City walls of Kotor

View from the top, overlooking Bay of Kotor.

The old city walls that surround the old town of Kotor and continue up over the rocks are truly impressive. Looking out on them, I couldn’t help but wonder how they built it on top of the steep hills. The thing with Kotor is, there’s not much else to see here except the walls and the old town, so get here either in the morning, before the sunrise, or a bit later, when the sun has settled behind the mountains, and climb the circa 1,300 steps up to the top. There, you’ll get a magnificent view of the Bay of Kotor. Bring water and good shoes!

4. Crystal clear beaches on Sveti Nikola

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If you’re staying in Budva, you must visit the island that you see from the city. Get up early, get on a boat going to Hawaii (not the Hawaii, obviously 😉 ), lie down on a comfy deck chair and enjoy the surroundings and the turquoise waters. I’ve written more about Sveti Nikola here.

5. Budva Nightlife

If you’re all about partying Balkan style, vibrant Budva is the place to go. You’ll find everything here – from beach parties to outdoor bars with live music and nightclubs playing music until the early morning. If you’re up for getting day drunk by the pool (take it easy, though!), Torch Beach has DJ’s and a bar IN the pool. Or you can take a boat or taxi to Ploce Beach, where there’s a pool, cocktails and music all day long. If you’d rather relax in the day and save your partying for the evening, Budva has lots of options. I really liked a place that I’ve completely forgotten the name of, located just by the citadel in the old town. There’s live music with a great local band, the venue is outdoors and has both comfy sofas and bar tables to stand by and enjoy your drinks. If house music is your thing, head on over to Casper. If you like something wilder, try the big plaza right by the marina, where the music is so loud, all you can do is dance and use your body language to talk. All the bars close at 01 (1 A.M.), so if you want to continue the fun, you’ll need to head for the nightclubs. There are many of them – Trocadero, Paris, and Top Hill (which is in the hills – get there by taxi for 2 euros) to name a few. Music is mostly traditional Balkan music and many of the famous singers from the Balkan countries play here during summer.

BONUS
Porto Montenegro

Want to live the high life? Visit Porto Montenegro and its pool club, with an infinity pool, cold mojitos, perfect service and even better food. If you’re all about a luxurious escape, you can stay at the five star Regent Hotel.

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Porto Montenegro pool

Porto Montenegro pool

Image 1,2, 4, 5 and 6 by Liveandletsgo.com

Image 3 of Kotor City walls by Chico Boomba.

Places I've Been

A Budva Recommendation: Sveti Nikola Island

August 7, 2015

Sveti Nikola is a small island just outside of Budva, known for its pristine water and beautiful surroundings. Boats run regularly between Budva and the island, and for 3 euros, you get a return trip. The boat ride takes around 5-10 minutes and when you hop off, there are three small beaches to choose from. Unfortunately we got there around 13:00, which is pretty late, but there were still free sunbeds. The water that surrounds this island are so clean, it’s almost ridiculous. Beware though, there are plenty of sea urches in the water here, which is generally a good sign that the water is clean and fresh, but be careful and watch where you step. If you’re lucky, like I was, you might even spot starfish here, trying to hide under the rocks.

Sveti nikola, Montenegro

On the boat to the island

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Very clear water

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Turquoise water

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Places I've Been

River rafting in Tara River Canyon

August 3, 2015

The Tara River is the longest in river in Montenegro and its canyon is the second deepest in the world with its 1,300 metres. The water is fresh and clean which makes it excellent for drinking and provides an important water resource for the country. The river divides Bosnia and Montenegro and when you cross the Montenegrin border, you’ll cross a bridge over the Tara river before you reach the Bosnian border. No man’s land indeed.

We started our drive from Kotor at 7 in the morning, but not before buying burek with cheese (or pita sa sirom as my mom insists it’s called, while burek is  always made with meat) from the local bakery. It was still hot and came straight out of the bakery’s oven and was exquisite. We drove along the narrow roads along the Bay of Kotor and then came the curvy, narrow mountain roads which had breathtaking views over the Montenegrian landscape. As we got closer to Bosnia, the roads, clinging to the canyon walls, got narrower and of poorer quality. Finally, we passed the border and reached our destination for a one-day river rafting experience.

There are many rafting centers around Tara and we googled and googled and ended up chosing Rafting Center Drina-Tara, located in Bosnia, 7 km from the border. It’s important you do some research if you’re planning to go as there are many unprofessional centers as well who do not put any emphasis on personal safety etc. which is a must, especially if you’re travelling in May or June, when the river rafting experience can be quite dangerous. In July, however, Tara is calm but as beautiful as any time of the year.

After checking in, we got some breakfast, which was included in the 45 euro price. We had the choice to choose a vegetarian dinner, which was important to us and oh was I glad when they came out with ustipci (Bosnian, fried dough-buns), kajmak (a salty soft cheese, which is only edible when homemade, the store-bought stuff is crap) and other good stuff I know from my grandma’s kitchen table. All organic. My eyes lit up and I ate ’til I could eat no more.

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Our breakfast with eggs, ustipci and kajmak

Me in my wetsuit. Felt so much like Katniss ;-)

Me in my wetsuit. Felt so much like Katniss 😉 Also look drunk, but am not.

We headed to Tara by car. On the way, we were paired with 5 Bosnian men which I, circa 30 seconds after take-off wanted to high-five. With a bottle. In the face. We made sure not to get stuck on the same boat as these dudes, who by 11:00 were already way past drunk – and brought along an IKEA-sized bag full of beer, whiskey and rakija.

Finally, our skipper Tomo, who’s been a river rafting instructor for 8 years, gave us instructions and we were off!

The rafting experience took around 4 hours and we stopped along the way. At one point, he told us we could go into the water, which was 13 degrees Celsius, and I thought I’d be adventurous so when Jacob said “No way!”, I said “Let’s do it”, jumped in and started screaming/laughing/screaming that it was “f’cking cold!!!” and our skipper laughingly helped me up on the boat again while Jacob swam in the ice cold water.

Skipper Tomo to the left and I

Skipper Tomo to the left and I

Jacob on the boat

Jacob on the boat

During these 4 hours, we were all taken aback by this unspoilt beauty of nature, the clear water, the waterfalls, the little birds flying down to have a sip of the clean water. Seeing the surroundings, I felt like I was in a fairytale, or one of those old Disney movies where nature always was ridiculously perfect and surreal. Only this was real.

We stopped around 2 hours into the trip down Tara where there was a small café and a beautiful waterfall. Unfortunately Jacob is the worst photographer on the face of the earth (although he has many other great qualities – photography isn’t one of them) I had to get into that freakin’ cold waterfall THREE times to get a decent picture of myself there. And the waterfall was circa 5 degrees Celsius, and the picture still turned out…let’s say not-so-great, to spare Jacob’s feelings 😉

The best shot we got by the waterfall.

The best shot we got by the waterfall.

Boats parked as we're  ready to take off after our break.

Boats parked as we’re ready to take off after our break.

When we arrived back to the rafting center, we took our wetsuits off, changed clothes and dinner waited for us. The dinner. OH, the dinner. I think when you’re not from the Balkans you won’t get why it’s so delicious but the food was by far one of the best meals I’ve had, and it was so simple. We had cabbage salad, which doesn’t sound interesting at all, I know, but trust me when I say it was delicious, and some homemade vegetable soup. You always start with soup in Bosnia, before dinner. Then we got a big plate of pasta cooked in a delicious sauce, perfectly seasoned potatoes and those light green peppers that all Balkan-people love, cooked in oil and garlic. Oh my. I was overwhelmed and Jacob laughed at me and said my big eyes had turned even bigger and he could sense that in my mind, I was back at my grandma Sava’s kitchen table, savouring my feast.

Cabbage salad, so delicious! It's called "kupus salata" in Serbocroatian.

Cabbage salad, so delicious! It’s called “kupus salata” in Serbocroatian.

AMAZING Bosnian food!

AMAZING Bosnian food!

We had a long drive in front of us, so we took off straight after dinner, but first had a quick chat with the staff (they called me boss all day and I felt so cool) who asked us about our experience and the first thing I said was “THE FOOD WAS AWESOME”, but after seeing their faces I quickly added “And of course the river rafting was exceptional”.

You need to do this. At least once.

On our way home, we stopped along the way to take in this fantastic view of Slansko Jezero just outside of Niksic, which is the second largest city in Montenegro.

Slansko jezeroSalty lake Montenegro

Places I've Been

One day in Lido Mar, Porto Montenegro

August 1, 2015

Porto Montenegro is not a city, which I mistook it for the first time I read about it and the international sounding name raised my suspicions. No, Porto Montenegro is a luxury yacht marina just outside of coast town Tivat, made to cater to the overly rich and famous. Here, the luxury apartments all surround the five star Regent Hotel and the all-new streets have shops that sell clothes by Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and the likes. And the yachts. Oh the yachts.

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The streets are empty though, as are many of the luxury apartments and it’s clear that no local Montenegrins live here, which the sushi restaurant, Montenegro’s only from what I hear, is another proof of. It is clean. It is beautiful. It’s a little too perfect for my taste and I feel slightly out of place in these surroundings.

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When you walk along the marina you will reach the Lido Mar yacht club, which used to be a Puro Beach Club, known from glamorous spots around the world but today it is no longer owned by the beach club franchise. Upon entering, we are greeted by two or three smiling young women who welcome us, inform us of the price and escort us to the pool area. There, staff is waiting, asking us which sunbeds we want. The ones by the pool, of course! Quickly, towels are placed on two chairs and ice and water is served for us, but I’m already in the pool, floating and looking up to the sky, enjoying every little second of it. I soak in the air, study the crowd of the rich, young kids ordering bottle after bottle of rose wine, hop up on my sunbed and let my skin barely dry before I’m cooling off in the pool, gazing out over the ocean.

By the infinity pool

By the infinity pool

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The service is impeccable. Staff are attentive to your every need and when we order our first round of mojitos they are quickly served to us while we’re in the pool, music blasting in the background, and they are delicious – the best one in Montenegro so far.

Later that day, we get hungry and order lunch from the pool restaurant menu, which has something for everyone. The food is served on a big tray by our sunbeds and we enjoy every last bite of it, order some wine and just enjoy our little day of luxury.

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Suddenly, while we’re in the pool, big drops of rain are falling on us and we hide under the parasol, hoping for it to go away but it’s not looking any better 15 minutes later. So we pack our bags, pay our bill and go back to the car. When we’re back in the car, the rain has stopped and the sun is once again peaking out from behind the clouds, but it’s a bit too late to turn back so we head home.

If you’re in Montenegro, I’d definitely advise a visit here, if you’re after some real relaxation.

Mojitos

Mojitos

Our beds

Our beds

<3

<3

Places I've Been

5 days in Kotor

July 30, 2015

 

To be honest, I have no idea how we decided to stay in Kotor. We knew we had 14 days, 2 of which we wanted to spend in Dubrovnik right before going home and we felt like 12 days in just one place would be too much. We want to see, experience, discover! We first thought of staying around Tivat but somehow settled on Kotor instead. We also decided that while staying here, we would go river rafting in Bosnia one day and visit the luxurious emerging city Porto Montenegro one day.

Anyway, here’s my conclusion on this little city:

 

BEACHES

Because there is no beach in Kotor, and the little bay gets polluted by the many cruise ships who dock here during summer, we needed to find another place to bathe. The day after we arrived, we headed to Jaz Beach just outside of Budva and had a little lunch at a local hotel restaurant, before we decked in the comfy sunbeds by the beach. Jaz beach, like almost all beaches on the Adriatic cost, is pebbly and takes some time getting used to for your feet but the water is clear and clean.

Chillin' at Jaz Beach with a fresh lemonade.

Chillin’ at Jaz Beach with a fresh lemonade.

We also visited Porto Montenegro, which I will tell you more about in my next post, and a beach club called Almara beach club. Almara Beach Club could be so perfect but honestly was ruined due to an extremely unpolite hostess at their restaurant. It takes a lot to piss me off and she managed to do so exactly 2 seconds upon greeting me. I won’t go into why right here, but rule number one for any hostess should be not to offend your customers. Apart from this excuse of a hostess, the other staff were nice and polite and the food was good, but at that point I was so pissed off and focused on keeping my cool that I couldn’t enjoy anything.

Jacob at Almara Beach Club

Jacob at Almara Beach Club

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Pouty face!

FOOD

Overall, the food in Kotor is great and the restaurants offer a varied menu with something for everyone – even us vegetarians (for vegans, it might be a bit harder as much of the non-meat dishes contain cheese instead). The best restaurants we ate at and that I can recommend are:

Konoba Boka Bay

This is a true little gem, hidden away from Kotor. We drove here on some very narrow roads and it took around 15 minutes from Kotor. We got a table right by the ocean just after the sun had set behind the mountains. We ordered bruschettas to start with, because we were very hungry and they were one of the best bruschettas I’ve ever had. I took a pasta with  spinach in white wine sauce, if I’m not mistaken and it was a great meal as well. Prices are cheaper than the good restaurants in Kotor, staff is friendly and efficient, and the setting is magic. Definitely go there.

View from our table at Konoba Boka Bay

View from our table at Konoba Boka Bay

Bruschetta.

Bruschetta.

Konoba Boka Bay in Montenegro

Pasta with spinach in white wine sauce, walnuts, fresh herbs and parmesan.

Like a painting

Like a painting

Hotel Hippocampus

This boutique hotel turned out to have some amazing food. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much with only a few (empty) tables greeting you. So go in through the reception and take the small elevator up to the fourth floor where there is a small roof-terrace with only four tables. Only one of the tables was occupied and we were a bit nervous as to why this restaurant had so few guests. Turns out, we needn’t worry as the food was absolutely delicious. The fresh stone-oven baked bread was still hot when we got it and it I don’t think I’ve had better bread ever. I had a mushroom risotto and Jacob had something with truffles and we were both impressed of the food as well as the service.

My risotto was reaallly good, especially paired with that bread!

My risotto was reaallly good, especially paired with that bread! Risottos never look good on camera, do they?

Lido Mar

Lido Mar is the yacht club in Porto Montenegro, which I will write about in my next post and it took us around 20-25 minutes to get there by car. While hanging out by the gorgeous infinity pool we ordered some lunch. A chicken burger for Jacob, which he swears is one of the best burgers he’s ever had, and a delicious salad for me. I’ll tell you more about the place further on, but just wanted to say that the food here is pretty darn good! (And the mojitos, too).

Delicious salad with the creamiest feta cheese I've ever had...

Delicious salad with the creamiest feta cheese I’ve ever had…

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

All in all, we stayed in Kotor for 5 days and in hindsight it’s far too long. Sure, the old town is quite picturesque and you can easily wander around the cobblestoned streets and find small shops or little bars to have a cold drink at. But other than the old town, Kotor is to be perfectly honest, a bit underwhelming. You could easily skip it or just visit it for one night/day. If you do stop by, I would recommend climbin the 1400-something stairs up to the top of Kotor’s city walls. We didn’t do this, because we’re lazy, but I wish we had. From the top you’ll get a breathtaking view of the bay and I hear the sunrise/sunset watching from here is worth every step.

The apartment we rented was, as I mentioned in my last post, quite perfect and they even had two cats and a dog, which if you know me at all is always considered a plus in my book. The reason I love staying in apartments in the Balkans, as opposed to hotels, is that they are often of higher quality, in better locations and you get to meet the locals. We arrived early to our apartment but were let in by the hostess’ mother because the hostess wasn’t there at the time. This was much appreciated considering the heat outside and we were let into the chilled apartment and offered a cold drink while waiting. This is just one example of the hospitality down here – people are generally very open and social.

Places I've Been

Off to Montenegro…first stop Kotor

July 29, 2015

After dropping our cats off at a friends’ house for “catation” (cat+vacation… it’s a thing) we set the clock to 04:00, but only managed to get 3-4 hours of sleep. Copenhagen was cold, but the sun had just risen and cast its rays on us as we made our way down to Frederiksberg metro station to go to the airport. There, we had our traditional vacation breakfast at the bakery Lagkagehuset before boarding the plane and jetting off to Dubrovnik, as there are no flights from Copenhagen to Montenegro. Two hours later, we set foot in Dubrovnik airport and went to the place were we had reserved a car for our stay.

“How cold is it where you’re from?” the lady behind the desk asked. “18 degrees”, I answered and waited for the usual “Oh my god! In July? Are there icebears?!” that I normally get from people south of Austria but instead she replied “Oh… that is perfect! It should never be hotter than that” and informed us that it had been 34 degrees Celsius at 8:00 that same morning. We hopped in our Ford Fiesta, a printed Google map at hand and began driving south to the border that separates Croatia and Montenegro.

I had feared the border control as I know they can be royal a-holes down here, despite my mom’s reassuring that it was no longer that way. See, whenever we visited family in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia when I was younger the border control would always mess with us. Sitting in a car without air condition in scorching sun 35 degrees Celsius wasn’t that appealing and after being stopped for the umph-tieth time one summer, my dad had enough, opened the trunk of our car, grabbed a bottle of wine and 100 deutsche marks and was away for five minutes. Magically, we were allowed to finally move along.

This time though, my mom was right and they barely glanced at our passports as they let us through. We arrived in Kotor two hours later and after some time find the place where we were staying. It was just outside the Old Town of Kotor and was newly refurbished, clean, with a balcony overlooking the small town, which according to Wikipedia first was mentioned in 168 BC… older than Jesus that is!

We quickly learned that there are no beaches in Kotor and we were so tired that day that we stayed inside, parked below the airconditioner, sometimes getting out to the balcony to, once again, conclude that yes, it’s still freakin’ hot – 40 degres that day.

In the evening, we went out to grab a bite at a restaurant located in the old town called Luna Rossa with picturesque surroundings and a fan spraying water to cool us down. I had a tasty risotto with vegetables accompanied by white bread. Later, we decided to try one of the local bars and found one which had 5 different types of mojitos on their menu. We thought, that since they bragged so much about these mojitos we would try them. They were absolutely horrible.

Luna Rossa in Kotor

Luna Rossa in Kotor

 

Mojito is my absolute favorite cocktail and if I could drink it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and while I sleep, I would but I don’t because…well, social acceptance, alcolism and so on. Jacob has also learned to like mojitos and so whenever we’re travelling we like to try mojitos to see where we can get the best one. So far, we’ve tasted many good mojitos, the best in Berlin, and many bad mojitos but this was beyond anything bad we’ve ever tasted. Normally, the bad ones are still drinkable, but this…if I’d describe it, I’d say it tasted something like gas mixed with sugar. White sugar. We left our glasses half-full, bought some Coca-Cola and went home to our airconditioner.

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Risotto with vegetables

PS: Sorry about the poor image quality, I’ve just gotten a new camera lens and am still working it out…