Adriatic holidays Montenegro: Europe's Pleasant Unknown
Sunny Montenegro, where the mountains and the sea meet, stuns visitors with a delightfully surprising mix of world-class beaches and cultural attractions. For the discerning traveller looking for a pleasantly unknown spot to discover, Montenegro, cradled along southern Europe’s Adriatic coast, is a feast for the senses. From spending days wandering the medieval cobblestone streets in Kotor to joining pilgrims on the climb to Ostrog to tossing stones in the sea on July 22nd for Fašinada, this small nation is rich in possibilities. Stake out your base camp for exploration at the superbly located hotel in Montenegro Iberostar Heritage Grand Perast, which sits along the picturesque Bay of Kotor, and get moving. Could Montenegro be Europe’s last secret? We think so. Just don’t tell anyone.
KOTOR OLD TOWN
The walled town of Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site set among the mountainous, coastal landscape of the Adriatic. Kotor is maze-like in its layout, a design that helped protect inhabitants from foreign invaders. If it were not for the guiding landmark of the 12th century St. Tryphon Cathedral that sits high above the town, getting lost would be inevitable. The old town of Kotor is a feast for the eyes—a journey into Montenegro’s past through winding streets intersecting through markets squares, churches, and museums. Iberostar’s Herceg Novi, just outside of the old city, is the perfect base for exploring the ancient wonder, located in modern day Kotor, arguably Montenegro’s greatest beach town.
OUR LADY OF THE ROCKS
A man-made island in the Adriatic just off the town of Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks is largely occupied by its namesake church. Legend has it that the island was formed over hundreds of years by local seamen who would place a rock in the water after completing successful journeys home, as a token of thanks—and an oath of loyalty—to an image of Madonna and child found on the rocks in the 15th century. Even now locals continue to ceremoniously pay tribute and throw rocks in the sea every July 22nd for an event known as Fašinada. Of the church’s many paintings, the most noteworthy are the ones from Tripo Kokolja, a 17th century Baroque painter from the town of Perast. 68 of Kokolja works hang in the church.
THE RUINS OF STARI BAR
At the base of Mount Rumija, in southern Montenegro, lie the ruins of Stari Bar, a small fortressed city that once served as a thriving and vital trade city for Montenegro. Destroyed during the 1878 fighting between the Ottomans and Montenegrins, Stari Bar contains remnants of medieval churches from the 9th through 14th centuries. Stari Bar holds the world’s largest fortified archeological sites and is yet to be fully excavated so there is no telling what will be unearthed in years to come. Stari Bar is home to what is believed to be the oldest olive tree in Europe. For 1 euro, visitors, can pay the 2,000-year-old tree a visit.
It’s a climb to reach Njegoš Mausoleum—the highest (altitudinally speaking) in the world—but by now you’ve probably grown used to Montenegro’s steps and the rewarding monuments and sea and mountain views at the end of them. At the top of the 461 steps is the final resting place of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, the much beloved 19th century cultural and political leader of Montenegro. Njegos constructed the mausoleum in 1845 in advance of his death just a few years later. The mausoleum that sits at the site today is not Njegos’s original, which was largely destroyed in a fire. Nevertheless, the site and its view beckon.
BUDVA OLD TOWN
Everything old is new again in Budva. This 2,500-year-old town is the center of tourism in Montenegro thanks to its spectacular beaches, vibrant nightlife, and beautifully preserved walled medieval city. Budva is one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic coast and a walk through the streets of the old town have charmed visitors through the centuries. Although crowded in the summer months, there is no denying the magic that is Budva. The hotel in Budva Iberostar’s Bellevue, located just where the sea meets the Balkins, couldn’t be a better place to escape the bustle but still be immersed in Budva’s magic.
KASTIO IN PETROVAC
This small but mighty castle is emblematic of the Balkan coast, and a worthy subject of many a postcard. Built as a fortress by the Venetians in the 16th century, it juts off land from the coastal town of Petrovac, and offers sweeping views of the Adriatic’s azure water, and was once used as a quarantine for past epidemics. Well worth a stop and stair climb for the view.
CATHEDRAL OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IN PODGORICA
Unlike most other popular draws in Montenegro, the Cathedral of Christ’s Resurrection in Podgorica is a bit of a contemporary mix. Consecrated in 2014, the new Serbian Orthodox cathedral mixes the Balkan artistic styles and influences of recent times and is a welcome addition to the town of Podgorica—the capital and largest city in Montenegro.
ŠIPČANIK WINE CELLAR
Stepping into the vast underground Šipčanik Wine Cellar, you would never know you are descending into what was formerly the secret aircraft hangar of the Yugoslav People’s Army. Such is the beauty of Šipčanik Wine Cellar, just outside the town of Podgorica. The wine cellar is now the expansive home of Plantaže, Montenegro’s largest wine company. Tours and tastings are offered and a visit to the vineyard directly above ground is well worth a stop as well.