Peaking expectations of the Adriatic Coast

Peaking expectations of the Adriatic Coast
By admin

Colour is slowly returning to my travelling companion's face. Stepping off the bus, she exhales audibly. For a split second it appears as though she is preparing to kiss the ground, like the pontiff of old.

We have arrived in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, but this is scarcely cause for celebration. In truth it is an unremarkable and drab city in the south east of the country. But richer rewards are to be found elsewhere. 

The bus journey here has taken us from the south eastern extremity of neighbouring Croatia, departing from Dubrovnik and heading north, before winding through the mountainous interior of Montenegro for several hours. 
The mountain scenery along the route is so spectacular it almost defies description. But experiencing it requires a fair degree of intestinal fortitude – the cliffside roads are hazardous in the extreme and guard railings are conspicuously absent. Often mere inches are all that separate the tyres from the craggy abyss below. That our bus driver steers these treacherous roads like an escaped lunatic only makes things worse.

But even after surviving this first harrowing leg, our trial by tarmac is not over with. Having reached our terminus it is time to tackle the country's roads alone. The rental car I have been assigned looks like a European version of a Holden Barina, but smaller, flimsier and more effeminate. Not exactly the Chevy convertible I'd hoped for. 

We plot a course for the Bay of Kotor and take to the roads leading out of Podgorica. Our route takes us south towards the coastline, passing through the low-lying and waterlogged Skadar Lake National Park. Along the way my adherence to the speed limit infuriates the local drivers, who speed past me, lights flashing and cursing loudly out of their windows.

When we reach the ocean at the seaside hamlet of Petrovac we turn north once more and hug the coastal roads. The beachside hub of Budva, which is already beginning to catch on as a holiday destination with British visitors as well as continental Europeans is the next major town. But a brief stop is time enough to reveal that with tourist patronage and attendant prosperity often comes the unwanted side effects of over development.

We leave Budva behind without hesitation and drive inland to the historic town of Kotor, which sits on the bay of the same name. By contrast to the chintz of Budva, this place is the reason every traveller worth their salt should pay a visit to Montenegro. It is a mesmeric vision of dark brooding peaks (Montenegro, after all, translates as black mountain) with the dazzling emerald waters of the bay in the foreground. The mountains rise steeply straight out of the bay, giving it the feel of a Nordic fjord transplanted into the Eastern Mediterranean. Our accommodation, an ultra modern three bedroom house – between you and me, secured for a scandalously low price – showcases the best of the magnificent terrain. 

In fact, visitors in non peak periods will be delighted with the quality and range of lodgings that can be found around Kotor, to say nothing of the views. On our second morning I recline on the balcony for two hours, luxuriating in the late autumn sunshine and drinking tea, doing nothing more than admiring the landscape. 

Aside from the jagged mountains, the view across the water affords glimpses of the old town of Kotor, an almost perfectly preserved medieval village. And just a few kilometres further up the coast lies Perast, another striking bayside town, but on a smaller scale. Two islands off its shoreline are home to the medieval churches of St George and Our Lady of the Rock. Although only the latter is accessible, it is well worth the trip.

The history of this region and of Montenegro in general makes for interesting reading. In the grander scheme of nationhod, Montenegro is an infant country, a babe in arms, having only declared its independence from Serbia following a referendum in 2006. This split also rendered Monetenegro a small country. On the map of Europe it is a mere inkblot on the Adriatic coast. But as they say, size is no guarantee of quality and Monetengro does a fine job of proving the adage. 

Locally in Kotor, the Venetians held sway here from 1420 and much of the existing architecture as well as the impressive ramparts, towers and walls that line the hills, date from this era. With the somewhat ponderous title of Natural and Culturo-Historical region of Kotor, this UNESCO World Heritage area doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but there is certainly no questioning it's place in the pantheon. From the western side of the bay, the floodlit fortifications prove to be an incredible spectacle every night.

So if you can summon the courage to take on Montenegro's roads, there is not a shadow of a doubt that the the scenic payoff will justify the decision to visit in spades.

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