Montenegro: A country like a photo mural

The Republic of Montenegro is often ignored by Balkan travelers. And that’s a good thing. Because everyone else is welcomed by a quiet, little coastal state with the most beautiful sites: cobblestoned old towns, fjord-like bays and panoramas as from the picture book.

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Kotor in Montenegro

After several stops in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, our Balkan Road Trip #BalkanStattBalkonien (which means Balkans instead of balcony) in summer 2014 led us to a country that is smaller than Connecticut: picturesque Montenegro.

Picturesque because many streets have not been properly expanded to traffic after the wars in Yugoslavia in the 90’s and still look more like dust slopes than proper roads. Picturesque because on the way from Tirana in Albania towards the Montenegrin coast one drives through sparsely populated mountainous country and valleys, past ancient farms, rustic wine taverns and donkey ranches.
Picturesque also because on the said coast one can find one old town near the other, while the Adriatic clings to the rocky coastline of Montenegro like a lover, as if it never wanted to leave. And as if it would hope the tide would never drag it away again from the dreamy coastal strip of the tiny Balkan state.

Kotor in Montenegro
The beautiful Port of Kotor in Montenegro.

The beauty of the Montenegrin coast unfolds in front of you like a picture book – and made it an easy decision to ignore the rest of the country and instead going from bay to bay, from mountain to mountain and old town to old town.

Our first stop was Budva, one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic, which originally stood on an island that is now connected to the mainland by a sandbar. The only 19,000 inhabitants get abundant growth summer after summer by backpackers, honeymooners and yacht owners alike.

Bucht von Budva in Montenegro
Typical for Montenegro: a bay in Budva hidden between high cliffs and the Old Town wall.

If you wanted to be mean, you could call Budva the little sister of Dubrovnik. The undisputed pearl of the Adriatic is located just a few hundred miles to the north in Croatia.
The main reason for that comparison is that the old town of Budva exudes a similar romantic charm with its thick, old walls, hidden courtyards, the very affable, mostly family-run restaurants close to the photogenic city walls and the unbeatable view of this same; down to a bay that unfolds in front of the viewer like a giant photo mural. If I had such a large pair of scissors, I would be almost inclined to simply cut it out and take it back home to rather cold and grey Germany.

Montenegro, Budva
This is also Montenegro: the Caribbean colors of the Adriatic.

A typical day in Budva looks something like this: First you have breakfast in the quiet cafe around the corner, at 8, when the old town is still under sedation and you not hear anything but the sound of thick brooms on old stone, the hum of espresso coffee machines and the soft rustle of palm leaves above you.

Palmen in MontenegroBudva in Montenegro Kotor in Montenegro
Welcome to Montenegro: lingerie at old shutters and shells as souvenirs.

Two delicious cappuccinos, a croissant-like pastry and a little chat with the slightly entrepreneur-like, young café owner later, you let yourself drift through the cobbled streets of the old town. You joke with the owners of craft shops, catch some ice cream somewhere and stroll past the three-aisled church of St. John the Baptist from the 9th century and on to the medieval city walls of Budva.
Before you climb up to it, you have a look into the venerable Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity from 1806. There’s always enough time for a little bit of history, right?

Kirche in Budva, Montenegro Kirche in Budva in Montenegro Budva in Montenegro
Step by step to the medieval walled city of Budva in Montenegro.

And then suddenly it is right there: the wide view over the bay of Budva. While the ice cream melts away in your hand, you’re probably busy trying to capture this surreal view with all sorts of cameras that you are carrying. Finally, the panorama function of your smartphone makes total sense.

Budva in Montenegro

But wait! Are there other small bays on your right? You totally fall in love with this idea and make your way on the well-trodden paths of rocky coastline to the next quiet bay, where you enjoy the moment in a bar in the middle of the rock with a fresh draft Montenegrin shandy.

Budva in Montenegro
The main beach of Budva is always well filled, in contrast to the smaller bays.

Once you have finally wasted the afternoon by sitting in the sun at the beach just like the locals do, you stop for a bite to eat in the late afternoon in one of the many seafood restaurants at the harbor. And while you gobble up your seasonal and congenial prepared fish plate and a handful of greedy gulls is already circling above your table, somewhere on the boardwalk a bunch of buskers start to play some live music. Balkanbeats unplugged. Welcome to Montenegro!

Still not convinced? No problem. Every half an hour there are buses leaving north to the city of Kotor, the gateway to the steep coast of the Adriatic Sea. From the bus station it is just a short walk along the city wall that were built between the 14th and 17th century to the palm-fringed promenade, from where you enter the old town of Kotor via the impressive sea gate and on to the imposing St. Tryphon Cathedral.

Kotor in Montenegro Kotor in Montenegro Kotor in Montenegro

While the even older town of Kotor might be at first glance similar to Budva in many aspects, the biggest difference is best visible from above. Namely from the mountain of St. Giovanni and the fortress Sveti Ivan, which is placed high above Kotor.
From here, you have a simply amazing view of the coastline. A nearly 30 km long, highly convoluted and fjord-like bay lined with high and steep hillsides, which is somewhat reminiscent of Norway – just in the Adriatic.

Kotor in Montenegro

Surely by now it should be clear that Montenegro is something special. And that neither Kotor nor Budva have to be the little sister of anything or anyone, but rather exude their very own charm. And in doing so, they are both very convincing. It’s the way they are nestled in their idyllic coves. It’s the charming welcome they give you with their cobblestone old towns that you take them immediately to the heart. It’s the stunning panoramas that unfold before the eye of the beholder, that on my next trip to Montenegro, I will for sure bring a very large pair of scissors.

Planning a trip? Check out my favorite Montenegro travel guides:

I can highly recommend the Lonely Planet Montenegro, especially when traveling the Balkans as a backpacker, because they always have some really useful advice on hostels, best routes, busses, trains and so much more.

More Articles on Balkan Travel:

• 15 facts proving Bulgaria is more than just a place to get wasted

Complete Guide to Dubrovnik – the Pearl of the Adriadic

A Walk on the Walls of Dubrovnik

• Anekdotique 2014 Travel Retrospective Part 2

This post is also available in Deutsch.

  1. Clara says:

    Been there, great country!

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  2. Such amazing photos. Montenegro looks like a amazing place to visit.

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  3. Blue skies and blue seas – very pretty. It’s great when you have somewhere untouched by tourists.

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  4. Dana says:

    I haven’t traveled here but it looks stunning! You’ve painted a morning in Budva so perfecting that I can’t wait to experience it myself.

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  5. Sky says:

    So, so beautiful! Montenegro has only recently been put on my list of places to visit. Now I know I definitely need to get there, it looks so stunning! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Holy moly! It looks absolutely amazing there! Putting it on my bucket list.

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    • Clemens says:

      Bethaney – you’ll probably never remove it from your bucket list! Montenegro is way too nice for a sigle visit!

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  7. All that blue is giving me wanderlust! Gorgeous photos!

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  8. Hey Clemens!!
    Thanks for such a great post and stunning pics! Me and my husband have been thinking to go to Montenegro this summer (June & July), and maybe stay there for awhile… Would love to hear your thoughts about it, do you thing Montenegro is a good place for nomad digitals? Easy to get around with english and find a reliable internet connection?
    Super thanks, happy travels.
    Nat 😀

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    • Clemens says:

      Yes Natalie, it is. Cities like Kotor or Budva have their old towns but they are very modern and good in shape. There is goof Wifi in every second café and English is no problem at all. I’m actually a bit jealous right now when I think about your plans 😉 Have fun down there!

      Reply
  9. Chris Wotton says:

    This is incredible – these are the countries which are so wrongfully overlooked and which you’d never think were so beautiful. It just goes to show!

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    • Clemens says:

      Absolutely Chris! Montenegro is a prima example for this kind of countries. And I’ve only been to the coast of Montenegro, there must be so much more to see and do.

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  10. Diana says:

    montenegro is my heaven on earth going back for the 3rd time! Kotor is my fav! However up in the mountains I love visiting kolasin too ❤️

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    • Clemens says:

      I loved Kotor as well. The scenery is simply stunning with all the fjords. I’ve heard of Kolašin. It’s also a great place for winter sports, isn’t it?

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  11. Wow. Wow. Wow. Take us there!! Beautiful, and beautifully written.

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  12. Neraida says:

    There is no country named Macedonia, but only a large part inside Greece, including Thessaloniki, Serres and various other cities. Please be careful when you expect visitors from Hellas-Greece. Thank you in advance.

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  13. TIjana says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story about my country!

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  14. Risto says:

    Hey, I’m not happy that you missed my hometown Ulcinj, on the border with Albania. We also have very old town to see and enjoy 🙂

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    • Clemens says:

      I know Risto! I’m also not happy about that I missed to visit Ulcinj. It must be soo nice! But I’m pretty sure this way not my last visit to Montenegro 😉

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  15. Elena says:

    I read your post with great interest. I liked your wonderful photos and engaging writing. Last summer we spent couple weeks in Montenegro: drove along the coast, visited Kotor, swam in Adriatic. It was good, but the main reason for our visit was “testing waters” for longer stay (about 3 months). Ultimately, we decided against it. The main reason for that was the lack of fast and reliable internet. True, wifi was available in some places (for example, Budva), but it was no match to the excellent internet connection speed that we found in Sofia, Bulgaria. Digital nomad covers an awful lot of different professions, so for some Montenegro’s internet could be suitable, but I would not recommend it for those who is working in web/software development field.

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    • Clemens says:

      Hi Elena, thanks so much for all the compliments. I loved Montenegro so much and actually the Internet was quite ok in the places at the coast. I’m not sure about the inner parts of the country though. Of course, it’s not good if you really need a fast internet connection while traveling and don’t find one…

      Reply
  16. Jon Dunn says:

    Terrific piece. I went for a week last September and was enchanted, just like you. Kotor was my base for four days, making day trips to Budva, Perast and Herceg Novi all very viable. I then went down to the coast and stayed in Bar for two nights, to see the wonderful Turkish ruined city of Stari Bar and lastly some time visiting / birdwatching on lake Skadar. Awesome!
    Plus there’s the mountains and national parks up in the north – for a small country, it sure has a diverse range of fantastic things to see and do!

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  17. jack says:

    Another great source of info for travelers not just to Montenegro but the whole Western Balkans is the National Geographic Map Guide. It’s supported by businesses who create sustainable tourism, for the preservation of the regions unique cultural and natural assets, and for the benefit of the local communities. We loved your blog by the way 🙂

    Reply
  18. kami says:

    I loved Montenegro and wouldn’t mind returning there! Kotor might be one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen! 😉 you just made me want to return there!

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  19. Sarah says:

    Such a pleasure to read about your stay in our little ‘undiscovered’ paradise Clemens! Next time you will have to check out some of the beautiful interior like Durmitor and Skadar Lake. Prost!

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    • Clemens says:

      Wow! Just looked up Skadar Lake & Durmitor! They look like great places. I will put them on my list as I really have to visit Montenegro again soon.

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  20. maurice says:

    I’ve been to MONTENEGRO a number of times and my favourite place would have to be the old town of Bar , it’s just breathtakingly beautiful !!! My kids love Ploce & Horizont beaches !!

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  21. Reine says:

    Great post! This makes me want to go back and explore Budva, since I unfortunately skipped that city on my visit. Montenegro is a very beautiful country!

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  22. Great post! I really enjoyed traveling in Montenegro. I had great weather in Kotor, but less so in Budva (it was really rainy and windy). I would love to go back and see Budva in the sun!

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  23. Kirsi says:

    Hi Clemens & all,
    I totally agree with the title of this post, but encourage everyone to go and experience the 98% of the further reasons why it is true – the mountains, villages, lakes, rivers and canyons of the backcountry – with the 5 totally diverse National Parks and their surroundings too – in all 4 seasons – just 2h drive from the coast. One more thing: Living and working here since 2006 – I swear, the 3G Internet coverage is by now better than in Germany. This is to all the digital nomads, above – doubt no more ;=)!

    Reply

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