Immediately we entered into Montenegro we knew we would love the place. Our bus from Peja in Kosovo climbed nearly 2000 metres over the Rugova mountains, where there was thick snow all around us. From the border crossing at the crown of the pass it was all downhill for 4 hours to the Montenegro capital of Podgorica. The journey was spectacular, winding its way through steep sided valleys, through tunnels and over bridges, the likes of which we had not seen since South America. We were grateful not to be cycling but also regretted not taking Europe’s most thrilling train journey (the train runs only early morning or late at night) as we saw the railway line high above us from time to time.
After a day in the not too interesting capital city of Podgorica (the one bit of Monetnegro we would recommend you give a miss), we bussed the relatively short but steep journey to the old capital city of Cetinje. Arriving a couple of hours before sunset we quickly found our accommodation and then set about exploring this beautiful old town.
We stuck our heads inside the door of the museum (which was closing), where the helpful attendant gave us a map of town and directed us up the small hill behind the monastery, with the viewpoint from the top at the Tomb of Prince Danilo. 20 minutes later, after a serpentine walk, we were at the top looking down and admiring the scenery.
The following morning we needed to travel a relatively short distance to the costal town of Budva, where we would stay 2 nights. With the only road being very busy and a mountainous descent, cycling was not an option. Unfortunately the bus was little more than minibus size and we eventually gave up trying to squeeze both bikes into the luggage compartment. As there weren’t many passengers, Vanessa’s bike got to ride up top for a change! The views approaching Budva were stunning.
We arrived in Budva shortly after midday and after checking in to our accommodation, we caught the first bus approx. 10km along the coast to the spectacular Sveti Stefan island monastery, which has been the holiday destination of dignitaries such as the Queen. Unsurprisingly the entry price was a bit steep (we were reliably informed that Robert De Niro had stayed there the previous week at a cost of €4,500 per night). We took a few photos, ate our lunch on the beach and then decided to walk, rather than bus, the 10km back along the coast back to Budva.
This turned out to be a great decision, as the walking path along the coast offered us a combination of coves, caves, tunnels, rocks, fishing ports and beautiful scenery. We arrived back in Budva as the sun was setting over the old town.
We woke early the next day determined to take advantage of the clear skies and went for a run. Firstly through the old town centre with its labyrinth of tiny lanes and then along the seafront retracing our walk from the previous afternoon.
Despite the temperature struggling to get out of single figures, the combination of sunshine, running and crystal clear water was enough to temp us both (yes…Vanessa too!) to strip down to our underwear and go for a swim. We may have looked strange to the jacketed locals out for their morning walk but we didn’t care.
After breakfast we caught another local bus about 15km east to the coastal town of Sutamore. From there we intended to switch to another bus north which would take us to the highly recommended lake Skadar…but when we were advised of a 2 hour wait (meaning we would get there only an hour before sunset) we decided to stay and see what Sutamore had to offer instead.
After a very relaxing lunch in the sunshine on the pebbled beach, we looked on Maps.me and discovered a lookout and an unnamed castle on a nearby hill overlooking the town. Not known for missing an opportunity to explore, we decided to check it out. 30 minutes and one slightly sweaty, rocky climb later, we were standing at the entrance to the ruins of what would at some point in the past have been a grand castle, overlooking Sutamore. We were slightly surprised that nobody had thought to turn the ruins into a tourist attraction, as it was so close to the town…but their loss was our gain as we had the place to ourselves for a half hour or so.
Back down the hill we grabbed a cold drink and waited a short while before bussing back to Budva shortly after sunset.
The following morning we managed to catch an earlier than expected bus west to the town of Kotor which sits hidden in deep valleys on the bay of Kotor. We had been told to expect an incredible ancient walled town in a beautiful setting and were not disappointed. We cycled the short distance from the bus station to the walled town and found our hostel, where we left our bikes.
We immediately headed upwards through the town to an entrance gateway, where we paid €3 each to continue up the mountainside and explore Kotor’s Castle and St Johns Fortress. We were told by our hostel manager that there were over 1300 steps to the fortress but, in all honesty, it didn’t seem that many (maybe the beautiful views distracted us from the climbing).
Reaching the top of the fort, we could see that there was a further climb winding its way up the mountainside high above us…but how to get there?
We looked at Mapsme, which indicated Spiljarskia Gate was nearby, with it’s footpath through the valley and then up the mountainside. We searched a little and discovered that, what we thought was only a hole in the fortress wall, was actually the gateway, with small stone steps on the opposite side.
Once through the hole, we walked a small distance to a derelict but beautiful chapel in the valley, then headed upwards on a zigzagging stone path, the likes of which we had not seen since the Inca trails in Bolivia and Peru.
We walked up reasonably quickly, anxious to avoid heavy rain forecast for the afternoon (which never materialised). As we did, the views of the valley, the bay and the fortress below us grew more impressive. After an hour or so of zigzagging we reached the viewpoint, where we stopped to eat and looked back down over the valley. We had climbed 600 metres.
Behind us as we ate, to the East, was the enticing Lovcen national park but we had only an hour or two of daylight left, so instead set off down the hill back towards town.
Coming back down, we passed a few other hikers (a rarity) and one or two goats.
We stopped shortly before the bottom for a cold drink at a hillside cafe with amazing views (Jon scored himself a shot of Rakia from the owner to accompany his beer) before continuing back down to the old walled town and our hostel.
Our final day in Montenegro started with an early morning run through the intriguing old walled town, followed by a short run around the bay. Then we cycled off to the bus station to catch a bus to Dubrovnik in Croatia. We were actually keen to explore the nearby town of Perast, further along the bay of Kotor but the lack of a recognised bus depot in Perast and issues with our bikes, meant that we instead had to settle for views (and photos) of the town and its nearby islands, complete with Benedictine monasteries, as the bus drove by.
Not to worry; Montenegro had certainly delivered the goods.