aerial view of the Bay of Kotor and surrounding mountain ranges
Home to glorious beaches, multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites and an award-winning music festival, Montenegro is starting to make a regular appearance on any good Balkan itinerary.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / efesenko

Why You Should Venture to Montenegro, Where Sea Meets Mountains

Coast, Canyons and Mountains

Secreted away between Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Albania, Montenegro easily qualifies as a hidden gem. One of Europe’s smallest countries, this tiny nation still manages to encompass some of the Adriatic’s most spectacular coastline, one of the deepest canyons in the world, lofty mountains and the largest lake in Southern Europe.

If you have trouble placing Montenegro on a map, don’t worry; it might be because Montenegro has changed hands and borders many times throughout history. Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines and Serbians have all laid claim to Montenegro at some point.

Becoming fully independent as recently as 2006, Montenegro is still making a name for itself; as a country in its own right and as a tourist destination. And making a name for itself it is.

So what is Montenegro like? To experience the best this country has to offer, you’ll have to get in quick. Home to glorious beaches, multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites and an award-winning music festival, Montenegro is starting to make a regular appearance on any good Balkan itinerary.

Picture Perfect Kotor

Type ‘Montenegro’ into Google Images and most of the pictures that pop up will be postcard views of the Bay of Kotor. The poster child and biggest lure for Montenegro, the Bay of Kotor brings mountains and sea together in a dramatic combination.

The natural beauty of the bay seems as endless as the mountainous folds that wrap around this so-called Mediterranean fjord. The bay — actually made up of four smaller gulfs — loops around quaint villages, idyllic swimming spots and picturesque islands.

The historic town of Kotor, tucked into the furthest recesses of the bay, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an excellent base from which to explore the rest of the bay.

Everyone loves a clever alternative when it comes to travel: Belgrade is the new Berlin, Prague is the Paris of Eastern Europe, and Annecy is the Venice of the Alps. One comparison that many people fail to draw however is the similarity between Dubrovnik and Kotor.

Less than 100 miles south of Dubrovnik, Kotor shares the same red-roofed, white-walled, old world charm of Dubrovnik, minus the cruise ships and crowds that swarm all over the Croatian hotspot. With its cozy, small town feel combined with a proximity to great hiking, swimming and historical sites, Kotor strikes the perfect balance between relaxation and adventure.

The real beauty queen of the Bay of Kotor, however, is the lush village of Perast. Strung along the water’s edge, closed to cars and with views across to the islands Saint George and Our Lady of the Rock, Perast is idyllic, sleepy perfection. The pace of life in this tiny village is no faster than a leisurely stroll along the waterfront.

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Something for Everyone

On the subject of strolls, one of the most charming aspects of Montenegro is the way Montenegrins spend long summer evenings. Come sundown, people of all ages don their finest and spend hours promenading leisurely through the streets. The time to see and be seen, the lively atmosphere of the evening parade provides one of the simplest and most enjoyable forms of entertainment.

If the thought of spending your evenings walking doesn’t excite you though, don’t fret. In summer, Montenegro hosts one of the best beach parties in Europe. Seadance music festival, held on the beautiful Jaz beach, draws revelers from all over the world. Spanning four days and nights and seven stages, Seadance is a hedonistic mix of sun, sea and world class music.

With the Dance Paradise stage directly on the beach, festival goers can dance on the beach until the sun goes down and keep the party going until it rises again. As far as festival locations go, you can’t get much better than on a beach in Montenegro and the EU Festival Awards would seem to agree, officially naming Seadance ‘Best Medium Sized European Festival’ in 2014.

In peak season, if the number of sun-seekers toasting themselves on the pebbly beaches becomes a little overwhelming, the mountains further inland offer an unspoiled natural playground to escape to. Second only to the Grand Canyon in size, the breath-taking Tara River Gorge provides an unbeatably dramatic setting for rafting. Surging through the steep canyon walls splashed by the glassy waters of the river Tara is a truly invigorating experience.

Adrenalin junkies can keep the thrills going by taking on Montenegrin roads. With sheer, winding roads, stunning views and scenery that served as inspiration for the Bond film Casino Royale, Montenegro has all the ingredients for a spectacular road trip. All you need is a rental car and a sense of adventure.

Crammed between the beach and the mountains, there are monasteries, villages, ancient mausoleums and national parks waiting to be discovered. Picture parking up on a lookout point somewhere high above the ocean, watching the changing colors of the sunset and falling a little more in love with Montenegro with each passing moment.

The most beautiful, most dramatic, most exciting: superlatives are unavoidable when it comes to describing Montenegro. It simply has the best of everything, effortlessly proving the point that good things really do come in small packages.

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