Montenegro is on the “up-and-coming” list when it comes to tourist destinations in Europe. It has a little bit of everything – history, scenery, a beautiful coastline on the Adriatic, and even mountains. It’s a little more off the beaten path than its crowded neighbour to the north, Croatia, but don’t let that stop you. If it was too easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile, right? If you love Europe but want to get away from the tourist hordes, you need to visit Montenegro!
Here are our 5 reasons why Montenegro should be on your travel bucket list.
The Beautiful Port Town of Kotor
We’ll get this one out of the way. When most people think of Montenegro, they think of Kotor. It’s doable as a daytrip from Dubrovnik, more and more cruise lines are stopping here, and yes, it’s beautiful.
The old town is everything a Mediterranean old town should be, complete with narrow alleyways, boutique hotels, restaurants, and a partially intact town wall. Those in decent shape can even climb to the castle on the top of the hill behind the town. Those less physically inclined can sit on a patio and sip on a beverage while admiring the beautiful harbour.
Just try to ignore the tour buses coming and going, and the groups of cruisers comparing a checklist of what cruises they’ve been on rather than admiring where they now are.
If you have a car, try driving up and down the coast away from Kotor for some amazing views of and from lessor known towns. Or head over to nearby Tivat to see if you spot a Russian Oligarch on his superyacht at the new marina.
Don’t get me wrong, the views of the entire Bay of Kotor are amazing. And the town is beautiful. If the crowds get to you, just remind yourself that as you explore the rest of Montenegro, things will only get better.
Montenegrin Charm (with a touch of Albanian) in Ulcinj
Further south along the coast from Kotor brings you to the lessor known port town of Ulcinj. They’re in the same country, but feel a world away. Gone are the bus groups. Gone are the cruise ships.
Sure, some people would rather stay in Budva with its tacky waterfront. Don’t be one of those people.
Ulcinj is not for everyone. If you don’t like beaches and waterfront restaurants, Ulcinj is not for you. If you complain about how every cool thing in Europe is uphill, you will hate Ulcinj which has an amazing old town on the hilltop overlooking the natural harbour. However, if you like beaches, good food, friendly locals, and paying a fraction of what you’d pay in Kotor or Croatia, Ulcinj may just be a good fit.
What really makes Ulcinj interesting is the Albanian influence. The border is only a 45 min drive away, and many of the locals have Albanian heritage. Speaking of Albania, Shkoder, just across the border, is an easy and fascinating daytrip from Ulcinj. Just be careful of the crazy drivers and the occasional cow on the road.
Go Hiking in Durmitor National Park
There’s so much more to Montenegro than the coast. Heading inland brings you (eventually) to Durmitor. In only a few hours, you can go from hot weather and warm beaches to an alpine environment. Think more tree-covered hills, not jagged peaks. There is plenty of great hiking, some amazing viewpoints, and even skiing if you’re there during the winter.
The town of Zabljak is a great base for Durmitor. Just keep in mind that since the town is at an elevation of almost 1,500m above sea level, the temperatures are noticeably cooler than on the coast.
Stop and Taste the Wine
Ever wonder why your local wine shop has such a big section for Montenegrin wine? Of course not, because that has never happened outside of Montenegro.
But if you like wine, and especially if you like checking out local wineries and varietals when you travel, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you ignored the wine in Montenegro. Every winery will have a flagship wine based on the local Vranac grape, which is a wonderful, fruity red.
Unfortunately, the tourism industry around wine isn’t very well developed. Calling ahead to arrange a tasting is pretty much mandatory. But what they lack in convenience, they make up for in local charm.
Our best recommendation is Plantaze, near Podgorica. It’s state-owned and runs the largest single vineyard in Europe at 2,300 acres. Set yourself up for a tour, and if you’re lucky it’ll be inside their underground former air force hanger turned wine cellar. The wines are fantastic (and inexpensive), and the tasting experience and tour are well worth the €10 charge.