Montenegro – Small Country, Many Faces

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While we spent the vast bulk of our trip in Croatia and Slovenia, it seemed wasteful not to bag a few other countries in our passports with many borders only miles away from our core route. This is nowhere more the case than in Dubrovnik, which despite being Croatia’s most famous international tourist destination, is actually separated from the rest of its country by other nations and the Adriatic. To head north to the rest of Croatia by land, you must pass through a narrow strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an artifact of a land sale by an independent Dubrovnik to shield itself from the Venetian republic. Head south from Dubrovnik, and you’ll soon be leaving Croatia in this direction as well. After passing through a curiously long no-mans land between the borders, you’ll enter Montenegro, one of the youngest countries on earth. In fact, your authors were already teenagers before this country existed.

While all of this land was united in the Yugoslav times, now you will pass through relatively lax but frequent border checkpoints. As Croatia has recently joined the EU, it is brushing up on border control in order to be included into the EU’s open boarder Schengen area. As a result waits can be long at times,  but we brushed through the roughly 1 kilometer no-man’s land between the two countries fairly quickly in both directions.

A view of

A view of Budva and typical mountainous Montenegran coastline

Once in Montenegro, you’ll continue winding along two-lane roads just like Dubrovnik – the nearest freeway ends 140 miles north of here in Split. Quickly, you’ll notice that the roads aren’t as smooth as they were in Croatia, and the buildings on the sides of the road are not quite as beautiful to look at. The cars on the road are in a little rougher, and more than a few of them sit on the sides of the road rusted and unused. The fact is, Serbia (which Montenegro was a part of until its succession in 2006) did not accelerate economically like Croatia and Slovenia did after the split of Yugoslavia. Even before the split, great economic divides existed between the member states. As such, more dilapidated Yugoslav-era buildings still stand in Montenegro, whereas this class of building has largely been replaced in Croatia and Slovenia.

Some of Montenegro's cars are a bit more... utilitarian

Some of Montenegro’s cars are a bit more… utilitarian

The other striking thing about entering Montenegro is the sudden spike in Russian influence. Montenegro is a large vacation destination for Russians – you’ll see them here over Croatia and Slovenia ten fold. Cyrillic alphabet characters adorn signs and restaurant menus everywhere.

Sveti Stefan, a particularly famous resort in Montenegro

Sveti Stefan, a particularly famous resort in Montenegro

As you continue on the road, things quickly take a turn for the more posh as you enter Budva, one of the chief tourist destinations in Montenegro, famous for luxury resorts and casinos. Instead of old rusted Ladas, you suddenly see many foreign SUVs driving along spotless streets and gleaming buildings. The harbor possessed yachts that put Croatia’s marinas to shame. We stopped for lunch and a walk along the beautiful harbor boardwalk. Having some more time to kill before the bus left, we stopped in a Harley Davidson themed cafe, filled to the brim with Russians.

No shortage of 100' yachts here!

No shortage of 100′ yachts here!

The next leg of the journey proved even more awe. Soon, we were back on narrow roads, with cliffs bordering on one side and the beautiful Bay of Kotor on the other. Often described as the Mediterraneans only fjord, the Bay of Kotor impresses with beautiful clear water and steep, jagged mountains right along the water. Everything was quite green within the bay, feeling quite a world away from much drier Dubrovnik just up the road.

Prime rocky Mediterranean beach real estate isn't that hard to come by here

Prime rocky Mediterranean beach real estate isn’t that hard to come by here

The two highlights along the bay were the town of Kotor proper, and the Church or Our Lady of the Rocks. Kotor is a fortified medieval city, complete with a moat and walls stretching all the way up to peaks several hours worth of hiking away. The Church of Our Lady of the Rocks was built in 1452, by taking rocks from the shoreline and stacking them in shallow water until an artificial island resulted.

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The walls and moat of Kotor

Our Lady of the Rocks Church, accessible only by a short  5 euro boat ride

Our Lady of the Rocks Church, accessible only by a short 5 euro boat ride

In short, Montenegro is full of surprises. Like most of this part of Europe infact, Montenegro is much more unique than you’d think at first glance, and we both think that you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the years to come as the west gets more acquainted with this young country.  It is a do not miss detour from any trip to Dubrovnik, or worth a trip of its own right.

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