The fairytale you never heard of – Montenegro

Overshadowed by its ever-popular neighbour Croatia, this is perhaps one of the most underrated countries on my list. Steeped in culture and untamed wilderness, it manages to pack 72 miles of beaches, rugged mountain ranges, glacial lakes and southern Europe’s largest fjord, a national park, UNESCO-listed medieval towns, ancient byzantine monasteries, and a millionaire’s playground, all into an area smaller than Northern Ireland.

kotor-montenegro_csBay of Kotor © Julian Love / Lonely Planet

There is also something a bit magical about this place; you can find an island built on the wrecks of enemy ships, medieval mazes, monasteries mysteriously carved into cliff sides, pink sands caressed by glistening turquoise waters, and mountains with eyes. It becomes easy to understand why Sophia Loren once referred to it as the place “from the most beautiful fairytale of my childhood”.

sveti stefan.jpgSveti Stefan at dusk © İlhan Eroglu

If you’re already Googling everything I just described, you will be happy to know that as of last year Gatwick offers direct flights to Podgorica, the country’s capital. But if you prefer not to mingle in the peasant class, you could always moor your super yacht in the marina next to Jay-Z and Queen Bey; either way, see you there.

 

What you can’t miss:

  • The bay of Kotor is surely the jewel in the Adriatic crown. Begin in the Venetian town of Kotor to find some panoramic views of the bay, and meander through the medieval cobbled alleys of the old town. One of the best spots in town has to be Star Mlini, a 16th century flour mill nestled between the mountains and the coast, offering fine dining with panoramic views of the bay. You can then continue your evening at the Old Winery to sample some excellent wines and drift away to the smooth sound of live jazz, blues and soul music.
  • Head around the bay to the town of Perast, where you can find the artificial island Our Lady of the Rocks, said to be created by sinking old and seized ships with rocks, and by the rocks left by seamen after each successful voyage (a tradition carried out till this day as local inhabitants gather on the 22nd of July to lay down a rock on the islands edge). Once you have worked up an appetite be sure to grab lunch at the Conte Hotel restaurant, perched on the edge of bay it offers the perfect location for a chilled glass of wine and irresistibly fresh seafood .
  • Njegoš Mausoleum sits at the top of a 1675m peak, and has a muscle aching 461 steps up to the entry, but I assure you it is worthwhile. Once you reach the entrance, two granite giantesses guarding the tomb of Montenegro’s greatest hero will greet you, then, once inside, you will see a 28-ton granite carving of Njegoš under a golden mosaic canopy. If that weren’t enough, there is also a spectacular circular viewing platform to the rear of the mausoleum. This will give you the very same panoramic view from the tip of Mt Lovćen that inspired George Bernard Shaw to ask, “Am I in paradise or on the moon?” and as I live for inspirational views, this is certainly my top tip for Montenegro.
  • With the warm terecotta roofs contrasting the cool sapphire waters, it is easy to see why Sveti Stefan is the most photographed sight in Montenegro; an Instagram must! It’s a tiny fortified island linked to the mainland by a causeway and consists of tightly packed, if somewhat haphazardly jumbled, 15th century tile roof villas. However, as it has been privately owned since the 1950s, you can only enter the island if you are a guest of its luxury villas, but don’t worry if that’s a bit pricey, the best views are from the mainland.
  • If you aren’t afraid to sweat, you must hike through the Durmitor National Park. It offers some jaw dropping views from its 2000m high peaks, and be sure to look out for the emerald ‘mountain eyes’ decorating the rugged landscape (a translation of the native name for the glacial lakes). If you are brave enough, you could also hike the ‘Accursed Mountains’ in the South East, bordering Albania and Kosovo.
  • Finally, if you still have the energy, visit the Ostrog monastery: a 17th century Orthodox monastery carved into the rock face of a cliff. You will likely see pilgrims scaling the mountain on their knees to reach the gleaming white summit, but you can just walk if you prefer.
Lovcen1.jpgView from Mt Lovcen
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