Magical Montenegro

Some places you travel to you will only visit once. Real special places make you want to come back, and they give you special memories each time you return. Montenegro is one of those places.

Whether you are looking for stunningly beautiful coastlines, rugged mountains, or charming centuries old villages, you need to look no further than the compact country of Montenegro, which has it all.

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I need some of that magic of Montenegro right now! It snowed here yesterday in Oregon and it is unseasonably cold. After shoveling the driveway and sidewalk, I soaked my tired body in the hot tub and reminisced about a summer kayak trip in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Now that’s a trip worth taking again!

I gazed up at the November night of Oregon as I shivered and saw the planet Mars next to the waning gibbous moon. Then, as I closed my eyes, I allowed myself to be transported back to the warm waters of the Bay of Kotor. The moon quickly metamorphosed into a bright sun which warmed my face. I went into the depths of my memory and my brain triggered the smell of the salt water on that most perfect day. My body momentarily left its interior continental location in Oregon and traded it for Mediterranean climate on an indented coastline off of the Adriatic Sea. It’s amazing how a place, especially a special one, can make such a lasting imprint on your memory. And that day was only ONE of many magical memories I had while in Montenegro.

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For one of the youngest countries in our world, Montenegro has a lot of old world charm. Long a part of Yugoslavia in the 20th century, it became independent from Serbia in 2006. They use the Euro as their currency. Besides its beautiful coastline, Montenegro boasts high mountains and the deepest gorge in the continent of Europe. The name means “Black Mountain” in Spanish, but they don’t speak Spanish in Montenegro. The name of their country in Montenegrin, a Balto-Slavic tongue, is Crna Gora.

Montenegro in Europe:countryreport.org
Geography of Montenegro and it neighbors

Traveling by bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, the first town you come to is Herceg Novi on the north side of the Bay of Kotor. It is well touristed, but without the huge crowds of international travelers that flock to Dubrovnik.

Beach at Herceg Novi

The tourist office near the bus station can hook you up with an affordable homestay. Herceg Novi is built on the side of a mountain, and it felt like an old-world version of San Francisco as I climbed the steep streets and alleys to get to another main road, where my host met me. When I went down the street and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful Bay of Kotor, I wondered why I was the only patron in the establishment. Was it because the food was no good? Was I there at the wrong time? Because it was 7PM and the meal ended up being an excellent one, I thought it must have been something else. Maybe it was just because all of the tourists were still jammed packed back in Dubrovnik!

The Ancient Walls of Herceg Novi

The next day I took a bus around the Bay to the larger town of Kotor, where the old town has the feel of Medieval charm as it is surrounded by fortress walls. It is a good place to set up a base for a few days to explore the surrounding environs, both on land and sea. Like in the old days, there is safety and comfort behind those walls at the end of the day! There are boats to rent at the harbor to explore the sea and some great hiking trails in the mountains right behind the town. It is busier than Herceg Novi. Although crowded, the amount of people was not as large and overwhelming as you would experience in the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.

downtown Kotor, Montenegro
a busy town square

With my eyes still closed to block out the chilly Autumn night in Oregon, I began to move my arms in a paddling motion and my mind began to transport me back to the scene below. My damaged shoulder slowly started healing itself and soon my arm was back to pre-accident strength. How fortunate I was to have kayaked the Bay of Kotor when I did! I had paddled all the way from the shore in the distance. It didn’t seem to me that it was so far at that time. I took a moment and thanked my former self for providing me with such a vivid memory and a proud accomplishment.

looking back toward Kotor and the mountains behind it from a rental kayak

A small island was just off to my left, out of sight from the view before me. The seas were mostly calm. I remember the warmth of the sun on my face and how my sunglasses shielded my eyes from the glare of the shimmering water so that I was free to drink in the totality of that moment.

Taking a quick turn to the Northeast brought the Roman Catholic Church on Our Lady of the Rocks islet into view. Another smaller island, St. George, lies nearby. A few power boats are anchored just off of the islet. What a lovely place to be in!

Church of Our Lady of the Rocks
another small islet off the coast of Perast, Montenegro

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Just then, the motor from the hot tub clicked on and interrupted my euphoric dream. I opened my eyes and felt the bitter cold of the Central Oregon autumn night once again. The ache returned to my damaged shoulder. There was no way I could paddle the distance all the way back to the shore with my injured arm. Clouds now blocked out the light of the moon. The Red Planet of Mars had disappeared. I sank back down until the level of the water was at chin level. Time to warm up for a few minutes, pause, and recover from a dose of reality. After that, I could be free to transport myself back to Montenegro for a few more minutes. However, this time it would be for hiking!

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Warmed once again, I closed my eyes anew and allowed myself to be transported back to the edge of the city of Kotor at the start of the hiking trail. The trails climb steeply from the edge of the city. One could theoretically walk all the way to the ancient capital of Cetinje near the other side of Lovcen National Park, but that hike would take longer than one day, unless you were a triathlete. I settled for a hike far up the hill and to maybe reach the border of the national park.

View of Kotor and the bay from behind the town

The architecture revealed a history of Orthodox Christianity, and also influences from the Venetian Empire. Further inland, the mountains provided a barrier to Mediterranean peoples venturing further inland. A modern cruise ship was now in the Bay, so industrial tourism does seemed to have found its way here. The breeze, although gentle, was just strong enough to have the flag of Montenegro show its full colors for a moment.

Montenegrin flag flying at the ruins of an old fortress above the Bay of Kotor

Montenegro is definitely for those who like hiking. The trails are lightly traveled and the scenery is magnificent. The only problem is that free camping is illegal, even in National Parks. One either has to camp on private land and pay the landowner for the privilege of sleeping in a pen with his livestock, or be very discreet and clandestine about camping in the wild. I chose the latter when hiking in Durmitor National Park. It’s not that I don’t mind paying to camp on private land. I’d just rather not sleep with pigs and sheep when I do!

The mountains around Durmitor are rugged, high and impressive. I had planned on trying to climb the nation’s highest peak, Bobotov Kuk, but I got no further than a private ranch. I won’t show you the picture of where they wanted me to pay to sleep for the night. They wouldn’t allow me to take that picture. So, I turned around after a half day’s walk, shot a picture of their nice ranch from inside the pig pen, and headed back towards the town of Zabljak. But I did end up seeing some nice country that day.

Looking out from a pig pen toward the Dinaric Alps

On another day I took a long hike towards the Tara Gorge, the deepest gorge in all of Europe. I underestimated the time it took to get there and the ruggedness of the terrain, but I did get away with a night of free camping far away from civilization. There were some crude structures that I passed that were used by ranchers that might be shelter for someone in a rainstorm, but I quickly bypassed these as rain was not in the forecast and I didn’t want to be discovered. I never did make it all the way to the Tara Gorge, but I did see the cut in the earth from a distance. The whole of the landscape was simply Gorgeous (pun intended).

Mountains of Durmitor National Park

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Just then I felt some snow flakes hitting the top of my head. I looked up and saw that it was snowing! The hiking trip in Montenegro was coming to an abrupt end. I was immediately back in Oregon’s High Desert. There would have to be time to relive that trip another day. However, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to relive times in a special, magical place called MONTENEGRO. It makes me realize how brief our lives are and that we should cherish each moment we have and strive to make a memory worth reliving, wherever we are.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took while hiking there and let you dream of your own trip and make your own story of that place. Bon Voyage!

Camping in the Dinaric Alps
What music would go well with this picture?

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Flying the Flag of Montenegro in Oregon on a warm summer day
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