Would you enjoy dramatic mountain scenery and hiking along a glacial lake? Montenegro travel is that, plus exploring beautiful medieval stone towns, rocky Adriatic coastline – all within a short drive or boat trip. Plus, Montenegro highlights include a plunging canyon, a church only reachable by boat, and delicious food. World TravelingMom recommends Montenegro travel to check out the stunning beauty of this hidden gem in Europe.
My husband and I spent a week exploring Montenegro on a Classic Journeys tour. We enjoyed Montenegro’s stunning mountains, coast, and medieval stone towns. Plus, its local wines and delicious food with Turkish and Italian influences. But an undiscovered gem like Montenegro won’t stay hidden forever. So go now, while Montenegro travel is still off the beaten path.
Montenegro travel means dramatic natural beauty.
Montenegro’s varied natural beauty knocked me out. Most important, Montenegro is mountains – plus a small coast. Yet in a compact space the size of Connecticut, Montenegro varies from rugged mountains and glacial lakes, to rocky Adriatic beaches.
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So in a week in Montenegro in May, we experienced amazing variety. For example, from the ski resort town of Kolasin, we took a 4-wheel drive up higher in the mountains and hiked near melting snow. Just a day later in May, we picked wild garlic leaves in a forest next to a glacial lake. And wore T-shirts to visit a deep rocky canyon – where we cheered our braver travel companions as they zip lined. Also, all in the same week, we lingered at outdoor cafes on the Adriatic coast, tasting fresh seafood and dipping our feet in the sea.
TravelingMom tip: Montenegro is not big on handrails on hiking trails, banisters on stairs. Or even sidewalks. For example, the bridge over this canyon had a ledge for us to step away from cars driving across. So bring hiking boots with ankle support, be careful – and watch little ones.
Montenegro highlights: Medieval stone towns.
We loved exploring Kotor, a medieval stone town on a bay in the Adriatic. Wandering its narrow pedestrian stone streets, as church bells chimed, was a magical walk back in time. Even though Kotor is crowded, especially when a cruise ship is docked.
And we especially loved the stunning views from above Kotor. We climbed up the fort walls behind Kotor to the church overlooking the bay. While rocky and steep, it’s worth the climb for delightful views all the way up.
I loved waking up with a cappuccino outside in the beachfront town of Budva, among Montenegro highlights. And then exploring Budva’s medieval old town (stari grad). The Venetian symbol over the entry gate reminded us who ruled this part of Montenegro, hundreds of years ago.
Bay of Kotor is a bucket list spot.
I’m so glad our tour of Montenegro included speedboating on the Bay of Kotor. First, it’s beautiful. Also, some places on the Bay are only accessible by boat. For example, Our Lady of the Rocks church, dedicated to sailors and located on a tiny rock island. Inside, believers leave hammered metal images to protect loved ones at sea.
Also on the Bay of Kotor, we took a speedboat to enjoy a mouthwatering seafood lunch at a restaurant that juts out into the water. And expects diners to arrive by boat and linger for a swim in the Adriatic. I was in heaven. In fact, returning to Montenegro would be worth it just to enjoy another afternoon there.
A knowledgeable local guide knows the best spots for Montenegro travel.
We were lucky to visit Montenegro with Classic Journeys, our second trip with them. For both our trip to Patagonia in Chile and our Montenegro travel, Classic Journeys hired knowledgeable local guides who enthusiastically taught us what they loved about their countries.
In Montenegro, our fantastic guide Vesna taught us Montenegrin history and culture. Montenegro is filled with mountains, and Montenegrins “are goats,” Vesna said. So experiencing how much the mountain trails meant to Vesna gave us insight into Montenegrin culture.
And Vesna showed us places even Montenegrins don’t know about. So often our Classic Journeys group of 8 people were the only hikers on a mountain trail. And the only sounds we heard on some Montenegro trails were birdsong or a cow’s bell.
TravelingMom tip: Taking advantage of the spectacular mountain scenery meant sometimes we hiked on rugged trails. And bathrooms are rustic. So I was glad I brought toilet paper and hand sanitizer on the trails.
You’d smile too, if you were one of the pampered cats of Kotor, Montenegro. Montenegro highlights include happy cats relaxing on the stone streets of pedestrian-only Old CityKotor. They think they own the place. Maybe they do.
We reached the stone town of Perast by car. But others arrive by boat, since the town fronts the Bay of Kotor. And clings to the narrow strip of Adriatic shore at the base of a mountain. While it is only 15 minutes walk from end to end, and just a few streets deep, Perast is filled with postcard views of stone buildings framed by the natural beauty of sea, sky, flowers, olive and pine trees. While some Classic Journeys tours of Montenegro include Perast, ours did not. But when we saw Perast across Kotor Bay, we decided to visit the day after our tour ended.
Since the town of Cetinje once was the capital, its tree-lined streets have grand former embassies. Now, they’re converted into public uses like university classrooms. I especially enjoyed listening to music students practice when we walked by. Vesna, our guide, led a walking tour of the church, former palace of the Prince of Montenegro, and the town center.
Delicious and varied food.
Montenegro highlights include tasting local food. For example, Classic Journeys arranged a rustic lunch at a shepherd’s house. I loved it. Piping hot bread, homemade cheese similar to feta, roast lamb, delicious tomatoes, Montenegrin red wine, and water directly from a mountain spring. And baklava and Turkish coffee for dessert, a lingering reminder of the 300-year Ottoman occupation of parts of Montenegro.
Montenegro travel includes great seafood. Outdoors at the Budva marina, we enjoyed grilled octopus, clams in broth so delicious I spooned it up, and black scuttlefish risotto. My favorite feast was at a tranquil outdoor restaurant on the Bay of Kotor. After shrimp with truffles, monkfish in a bechamel sauce with truffles, and Montenegrin red wine, some of us swam.
In a converted mill in the mountain town of Koloscin, we enjoyed a traditional rural dinner. Prosciutto, freshly caught trout, feta-like cheese mixed with warm potatoes and topped with tart yogurt – delicious. (Even though the town was too small for a bakery, our resourceful guide Vesna conjured a fresh-baked cake for the birthday boy in our Classic Journeys group.)
We even picnicked. At Black Lake, a glacial lake in Durmitor National Park, the wild garlic leaves we’d picked that morning was perfect with local prosciutto, local cheeses, freshly baked bread – and Montenegro red wine. And Vesna, our Classic Journeys guide, always made sure there were options for our group’s vegetarian.
TravelingMom tip: We were happy our Classic Journeys trip spent little time in our meeting place, the capital city of Podgorica. While it’s a livable modern city, it doesn’t offer much for visitors.
Cultural experiences in Montenegro.
My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural experiences of our Montenegro travel. For example, we visited an olive oil maker who demonstrated how to use his family’s traditional olive press. And high in the Montenegrin mountains, a shepherd welcomed us to his place with homemade blueberry juice and grappa.
But our Classic Journeys guide, Vesna, also created cultural opportunities we could not have found on our own. Like listening to a man play a traditional Montenegrin instrument and sing in a heartbreakingly sad voice, while Vesna translated the tragic story of a Montenegrin princess. Vesna was so moved, she teared up. And at a Montenegro villa, over traditional Montenegrin apple pastry and Turkish coffee, a mosaic artist showed us his work-in-progress.
Montenegro churches and monasteries.
Montenegro highlights include gorgeous churches. For example, at a 13thcentury Serbian Orthodox Monastery, nestled in mountains and surrounded by gardens, the church exterior was plain. But inside, its walls were covered in 17th-century frescoes. From floor to ceiling was a riot of color. Frescoes told stories from the Old Testament, Prophets, Jesus. And a gruesome Hell that included a snake gobbling sinners, even a priest. At the beautiful island church, Our Lady of the Rock, our Classic Journeys guide Vesna showed us a Montenegrin ritual involving the original rock the church is built on.
Mausoleum of Prince Bishop.
In Lovcen National Park, we climbed up a rocky path, with stunning mountain views along the way. At the top, we reach the Mausoleum of the ruler credited with uniting the Montenegrin tribes, Prince/Bishop Njegos. The view from the cafe at the top was among Montenegro highlights.
Montenegro travel means unique hotels.
Classic Journeys arranged for us to stay in three different hotels, each luxurious and unique. At a wood-paneled mountain lodge, Bianca Resort & Spa, it was a pleasure to relax in the sauna, Turkish bath, and pool. On the Adriatic coast, we stayed in the elegant boutique Hotel Moskva, next to the old town of Budva and its waterfront cafes. Finally, we stayed at super-swanky Regent Porto Montenegro, at a marina where “beautiful people” arrived by yacht.
My husband and I enjoyed a small boat ride on Skadar Lake. First, we drove to a lookout to gaze down the Lake from high above. Then we drove down the mountain. Finally, our guide Vesna knew about a hidden goat path that led to the boat launch. So on our hike to the boat, we got to see waterfalls, wildflowers, and abandoned mills. Plus, meet some locals. Including a donkey and a chicken.
And then we boated across Skadar Lake, a natural bird preserve, thru spooky flooded trees and lily pads. I loved how the still lake surface mirrored the trees, sky, and mountains surrounding the Lake.
Montenegro highlights – colors.
I love how the Adriatic Sea shimmers greens and blues, a striking contrast to the creamy rocky coastline. Brilliant red, purple, and yellow wildflowers brightened our hiking paths. And the name of the country is Black Mountain – in Italian, Monte-negro, a leftover from when it was part of the Venetian empire.
Montenegro is a beautiful part of the former Yugoslavia. While still less well known than its near neighbors Croatia or Slovenia, that won’t last. Discover Montenegro travel while it is still a hidden gem in Europe.