Trip Start Nov 09, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Well as planned we went to Montenegro for the day today. Dubrovnik is just 38 kilometres from the border with the world's newest nation, Montenegro, which split from Serbia just over a year ago. We had booked into a group tour and were asked to wait outside of the Pile Gate at 8:30 for our tour guide to collect us. Shortly after 8:30 a Kia Carnival pulled up and a man got out and introduced himself as Vladimir and advised us that he would be our driver and guide for the day. It appeared that we were to have a private tour!
As we headed down the coast to the Montenegro border Vladimir explained a bit about what we would be doing over the day. We would first visit Kotor Bay, then travel to the walled city of Kotor itself as we made our way around the largest fiord in Southern Europe, then over the mountains to visit Budva, another walled city, then return via a car ferry.
As we approached the border between Croatia and Montenegro I realised that my tally of land border crossings was rapidly increasing. The border is situated in a narrow valley. First we came to the Croatian checkpoint where our passports were examined then we drove along the valley for about 2 kilometres, passing a number of 'duty free shops' at the side of the road. The Montenegro entry gate appeared, looking a bit like a large bird. Our passports were stamped and we were in Montenegro.
It didn't take long for the landscape to take on dramatic proportions. Soaring mountains plunging into the sea and road signs in brown indicating sites of interest every couple of kilometres were clear indicators that we were in a pretty special place.
Vladimir took us first to the site of some Roman mosaics. Unfortunately they are under reconstruction as the government attempts to protect and make then accessible at the same time. Vladimir wasn't perturbed by this, leading us over the barricades after talking to the workman and showing us a break in the enclosure where we could view the mosaics. Even though we could only see a small part, it was clear that they are in remarkable condition.
From there we drove to Kotor Bay, and marvelled at the spectacular fiord - ragged mountains with sheer sides, deep blue water frothing with the strong winds that were blowing. We stopped at an old mill that has been turned into a restaurant (Stari Mlin). Vladimir (whose real purpose, I suspect, was to get another coffee hit) showed us around the beautiful gardens and we saw trout swimming in their ponds. The girls ran around the small bridges over streams that criss-crossed the gardens.
The road around Kotor Bay is one of the great drives that you can do in Europe and yet it's not really as well known as perhaps it should be. We detoured through a beautiful seaside village called Perast and thought that we would love to have more time to wander around the town. At this time of year though, it was all but shut down. Just off the shore is a remarkable man-made island called 'The Lady of the Rock', built by some fishermen to commemorate a miracle that had occurred.
On to the walled city of Kotor, a UNESCO listed treasure. As soon as we approached I realised it is featured on many of the posters of Europe that you might see, with its dramatic walls climbing the mountains, appearing hewn from the very rock on which they stand. Vladimir told us that the fortifications include more than 3000 steps and that 'only crazy tourists' climb them. He laughed and said 'look at them' pointing out some tourists far off in the distance, struggling around the walls.
Vladimir then took us on a whirlwind tour of the old town of Kotor, showing us the main sites and explaining a bit about the history of the town. It had been a part of many different empires, including the Spanish and the French for a short while but owes a lot of its appearance to the centuries during which it was part of the Venetian Empire.
From Kotor we drove to Budva, taking a panoramic drive rather than the more direct tunnel so we could see Kotor from above. Budva is another beautiful walled city. Vladimir showed us all of the development around the town, telling us that most of it had occurred in the past 10 years. 'There has been a tourist explosion here' he said. 'There are 300,000 beds in the area and only 250,000 beach spaces available. I think they will need to visit the beach in shifts soon.'
Before we visited the old town of Budva we ate lunch. Vladimir took us to a place that he knew well. 'It serves good local food at good prices.' Porto certainly appeared to be a good choice, as we were mixing with lots of locals. We took a place near the roaring log fire and Vladimir warned us that the portions are big. We heeded that and didn't order too much. Interestingly, Montenegro uses the Euro as currency even though it is not yet part of Europe. We paid for our lunch and shouted Vladimir too - it seemed only fair.
The old town is picture perfect and Vladimir led us around, again telling us a bit about the town. Jess particularly loved the old church Santa Maria, built in 840. It is situated within the walls overlooking the sea. Also within the walls are remnants of the previous Roman settlement. I would have liked more time to stroll about the town, but in truth it was so freezing cold that we tended to race around to get out of the arctic blasts as quickly as we could.
One way back we took a car ferry that cut about 60 kilometres off the return journey, meaning we didn't need to travel around the fiord again. Given that it was by now almost dark that was a good shortcut. We travelled back through the border, once again entering Croatia. We had time on the return journey to visit Cavtat and even though it was dark the beauty of this walled city just 12 kilometres south of Dubrovnik was easy to see. It is surrounded by harbours and the city itself is filled with interesting looking shops, bars and restaurants.
Vladimir took us into a warm jewellery shop, seemingly to chat with the owner, but in fact to purchase a gift for the girls. Both girls were perplexed when presented with what appeared to be pretty plastic hats. They graciously thanked Vladimir even though they were not quite sure what to do with it. Back in the car Georgie then fiddled with the hat, discovering that it was just a case for the gift that was inside - a small silver ball that Vladimir told us was a 'button for the national costume of Croatia'. They will make very special pendants for the girls when we attach a chain.
We arrived safely back at Pile Gate and said goodbye to Vladimir, thanking him for a most wonderful day. If you are looking for an organised tour for Montenegro or for one of the many other options that Vladimir provides, we can thoroughly recommend his tour company, Amico Tours ( Vladimir is the Manager and can be contacted on +385989399432.
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