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Tara River Canyon

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

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