We left behind the violent storms that were approaching Dubrovnik and headed slightly inland towards Montenegro, aka Crna Gora, aka Black Mountains. After failing to purchase green card insurance on the Croatia/Bosnia border crossing last time, we thought it wiser to stick to the main roads/crossings. Sure enough, this time after passing through immigration, we were directed to visit a small office to purchase insurance. We weren’t required to, they returned our passports to us, so we could have continued on without it, if we’d wanted to run the risk.
I’d read all sorts of prices for this basic insurance coverage and really didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t help matters that a German couple had just walked out of the office to their passenger van and told me that it cost them €77! We were without any alterative options, and were at the complete mercy of this monopolistic insurance provider. Well, it turned out that for whatever reason, our insurance came to a grand total of €18… I’m truly not sure why ours was one quarter of the German couple, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I paid as quickly as I could to avoid him changing his mind or allowing him to realise he’d made a mistake in the calculations.
I found it odd that the insurance had to be paid in Euros, rather than the local currency until I eventually learnt that Montenegro actually uses Euros as their local currency, despite not actually being in the Euro Zone. It made calculations much simpler for us, so we had no complaints.
It was dark by the time we properly entered Montenegro, country #28. Again, we were entering a foreign country after dark. We had a new set of road rules and conditions to deal with, and we had the added difficulty challenge of nighttime. We didn’t stay in the country very long, instead passing back into Croatia on a minor border crossing (predictably without the insurance office) for a free campsite down on the southern peninsular. As we crossed back into Croatia, we were once again hit by the full force of the storm from earlier. We parked in an abandoned beach resort’s car park, and spent the night lashed by heavy rain, and being violently shook by bursts of wind. I’ve experienced quite a few earthquakes while living in Japan, and this was much, much more violent. And not only that, it was near constant, carrying on all night, and into the next morning. I eventually fell asleep, but it was like being in a small boat on a stormy sea.
The weather this morning had certainly improved from last night, but it was still exceptionally windy, and the skies were colourless. There were a few increasingly bright patches developing, teasing a change in the weather, but it hadn’t eventuated by the time we’d left our camp at 10AM.
We made our back through the minor border crossing without issue, thanks to buying the insurance yesterday at the major crossing. It felt good to have all our documents in order for once!
Bay of Kotor
We followed the coastline around and eventually we were in the Bay of Kotor. We thought that it had been rather cold last night, but still we were surprised to see fresh snow on the peaks of the mountains here. Surprised and worried… We are very conscious about staying ahead of the snows, not only for comfort, but mostly avoiding icy roads for our own safety.
It was still quite overcast when we reached the bay, though we could still clearly see the beauty of the area, with the dramatic mountains dropping right down into the sea. The area is described as ‘the fjords of the Balkans’, which while geologically incorrect, is a pretty decent description of this bay.
Dotted around the coast were countless tiny fishing village, with gorgeous little wooden boats bouncing up and down. The wind had reduced significantly by now, and the water was looking much, much calmer. Every corner we crested seemed to have a better, more dramatic view, so we continued to stop so I could take a better version of the same photo, over and over.
Konoba Ćatovića Mlini
We decided to treat ourselves something fancy for lunch, for no real reason. This restaurant, Konoba Ćatovića Mlini is said to be one of the top restaurants in the country – and it was still in the price range that we could (just about) afford.
The restaurant is housed inside an old mill, surrounded by (mostly) beautiful gardens – the bamboo tunnel at the entrance didn’t really feel to fit in with the surroundings.
We were immediately greeted as we passed through the gate, and shown to a table inside the beautiful old building. I was starting to feel uncomfortable with this attentive service – I’m far more used to, and comfortable with being ignored. We were seated inside a beautiful, 250-year old stone mill, and overwhelmed by fantastic options for our meals.
In the end, Risa had a fish soup/stew, followed by a phenomenally rich black-rice seafood risotto. I went for the equally incredible gnocchi (also loaded with seafood).
The meals were moderate sized, but we still binged in a desert afterwards – though we split it, and had it with a coffee. It truly was fantastic food, and in the end, it wasn’t all that expensive – less than the average meal we had in Oslo (much less if you don’t include the parking ticket).
After lunch we walked through the grounds, watching the super-elite clientele arrive, while I was dressed in my thongs and worn shirt. We helped ourselves to some of the pomegranates growing on their trees – they were delicious, too, for the record.
The Venetians had colonised most of this coastline, and their presence is still visible, especially in little towns like this – you could see their educated lion mark on many of the buildings here. This tiny little town was filled with palazzi and small churches. The backdrop couldn’t have been any more spectacular, either.
While it was quite different to the luxury and opulence of Venice, it still certainly had a similar feel. I couldn’t imagine if the real Venice was surrounded by mountains as spectacular as these – I think it would be too much for me to process.
In the middle of the bay were two small islands, one housed a ‘floating’ monastery, the other a church. One island formed naturally, while the other was man made, and is said to be built up each year with additional stones taken out during a festival. It wasn’t the best light to be able to see it clearly, but it looked so bizarre and out of place. There were boat tours to visit the islands, but we decided against a boat trip.
Instead, we just strolled up and down the small town, along the waterfront, and through the small back alleys. If this was to be our first taste of a town in Montenegro, then it was a good way to start.
By the time we’d arrived, the weather had nearly cleared, and the snow on the mountains seemed to have disappeared – though, they could have been hidden from view now that we were at the foot of the mountain.
It was getting late by the time we’d parked and walked into town. The town was in the shadow, and the last rays of light were making the hills above glow rose-golden. We could just make out the ring of fortification that rose high above the town – which we would go explore tomorrow.
Kotor was much, much larger and grander than small Perast that we’d just come from. After stepping through the thick, solid walls, we were surrounded by rich courtyards, and beautifully decorated buildings.
It was also much, much more popular with tourists, included the dreaded cruiseships, which filled the bay. We’d arrived late enough that most had returned to ship to feed/drink/sleep, so we wandered through the town without too much resistance.
The city is said to be home to 800 residents – but some 2,000 cats! That number seems absurdly high, but there were cats in view at all times. They were clean, healthy and exceptionally friendly. It was like an open air cat café.
We wound our way through the alleys, which is our usual way of seeing a new old town – as in, an old town that is new to us.
Once the sun had completely set, and the skies had darkened, they slowly started illuminating the walls protecting the city. It was hard to imagine that they needed fortification up hills that steep, already providing some incredible natural protection. From a distance, the town seemed to have a golden ring surrounding it, almost like a dotted halo.
We returned back to where we’d parked, which happened to be in the car park of an abandoned hotel. It was hard to believe that not just one, but at least two hotels in such a central location could be abandoned, but here we are with several other motorhomes. The wind had picked up again, and by the time we returned, our van was shaking with each gust. We circled around and found a nice sheltered spot to spend the night, which was needed after the terrible nights sleep last night.
It was brilliantly sunny, clear and warm when we finally emerged from our van. We returned back to Kotor and immediately made our way to the trail to climb to the top of the city walls. The ferries were busy shuttling the tourists from the cruise ship into town. It felt like a coming invasion, making us pick up our pace a little.
It was a moderate climb, and I was glad to have worn appropriate shoes for the occasionally slippery surface – especially when I needed to leave the path to overtake the slower walkers. It was said to be about 260m of vertical ascent, though it didn’t feel particularly hard – especially while we were still in the shade of the slowly rising sun.
It was gorgeous to look back down at the town below us, now that it was brilliantly illuminated. Sunshine always makes things look vibrant and beautiful.
By the time we’d reached the summit, we branched off to explore out beyond the walls, finding a small stone church, as well as the stone foundations of a small village. It was truly wild and gorgeous, with these steep rocky hills right on the doorsteps. There were further paths that continued to zigzag up the mountain, but we decided to give it a miss – it looked like hard work.
We re-entered the city walls, and made our way to the tower at the top for some fantastic views of the city, the walls, and the so-called fjords. It was great standing here in the fresh air, with the cool breeze and the warm sunshine.
Eventually we made our way back into town, following the footpath/stairway, which was much slipperier on the descent. The crowds were starting to build, and they started filling the entire pathway, rather than walking single file and sharing.
We had one more quick walk through town, and it was much as it had been last night, only crowded. We were satisfied with our exploration, and started on our way back to the van. On the way, we walked past a small stream/river beside the town and couldn’t believe just how many fish were here in the river. I’ve never seen so many fish so close to shore. I’m guessing they weren’t very tasty, as there weren’t people fishing for them.
I had considered visiting the mountain high above Kotor, Lovcen, with access via a narrow mountain road that switch-backed 25 times on it’s way up the steep rocky face. It didn’t appear too busy, but I wasn’t sure how wide it was going to be, or how many passing places there would be. Plus, with the snow we had seen up there yesterday, I wasn’t sure about the condition of the roads. I hate skipping things, but we drove on towards the coast.
The drive wasn’t particularly dazzling. We’d occasionally have some nice views of the ocean and coast, but surprisingly it was quite infrequent. We did love the low-tech advertising on the highway though, with the concrete walls protecting against rock falls painted with the adverts of various companies. It felt a little like being on a race course with this advertising so close to the road – except it was poorly painted, and we were in a motorhome.
Our guidebook sung the praises of Sveti Stefan, so we couldn’t skip it. Getting here was a little more challenging, with old narrow roads and an almost complete lack of signage.
It’s a private hotel island, connected via a narrow land bridge. There was significant security at the gate to the bridge, so there was no way for us to sneak our way over to have a peek. I started to get curious, and found that rooms cost between €800-€5000 per night!!! It was said to be popular with oligarchs and underworld figures.
It was probably quite pretty, but we were in terrible lighting, making it hard to really see it in much detail.
Instead, we lay on the pebbled beach, searching for interestingly coloured rocks. The sun was starting to hide behind the clouds, and the temperatures were coming down. I went for a swim, but mostly for novelty rather than because I needed to cool off. Either the water here is saltier, or I’m getting more buoyant, because I floated with absolute ease. It’s usually quite hard for me to relax and just float, but not today. I was starting to understand why people do it.
Montenegro isn’t a large country, but we still had a bit of driving ahead of us to get to Albania tonight. So, without further delay, we hit the road. Looking at the map, there was a more direct route to get to Albania, but it seemed to be quite minor roads. There was a more major looking road, however it followed the coastline. We opted to stick to the major road, even if it meant travelling an extra 40km. It would have seemed to have been the right decision, until inexplicably, with 10km to go, it turned into a terrifying 1.5 lane road, filled with long sections of uncontrolled road works. It truly felt like a game of chicken, with oncoming cars unwilling to slow, nor to move onto the shoulder. It was a shame to have such a bad final memory of an otherwise beautiful country.