Because of its natural beauty, Montenegro has often been called the Pearl of the Mediterranean. Its landscapes are varied and striking, from its lovely white beaches to its green mountainsides, crystal lakes, and pristine forests.
Montenegro, a tiny European country, lies in the Adriatic Sea, in the middle of the Balkans. It is only recently being rediscovered by tourists, after years of neglect during Yugoslavia’s civil war. While the country’s infrastructure is still being perfected, its natural beauty remains largely unspoiled.
In addition to its breathtaking landscapes, Montenegro offers visitors a glimpse into yesterday. With its cliffside monasteries, quaint fishing villages, and historic walled cities, Montenegro seems to have preserved itself in another century.
While not widely known by global tourists, Montenegro has become something of a playground for Europe’s idle rich, due to its ideal location, unparalleled natural settings, and its historical and cultural pedigree. However, Montenegro is now reaching out for mainstream tourists the world over. If you are considering a trip to Europe that is off the beaten path, here are some of our favorite stops:
One of the world’s three destinations most visited by Christians, Ostrog Monastery is a striking sight for any visitor, regardless of religion. The monastery is built into a mountainside, literally carved into a vertical mountain cliff. More than 100,000 visitors each year come to see its monastery complex, erected by Saint Basil, the Saint of Miracles, according to Orthodox Christians. Ostrog’s setting is lovely, and the monastery complex is both a religious and aesthetic masterpiece.
The Lower Monastery contains the Holy Trinity Church, dating from the nineteenth century. Its vivid colors shine through wall paintings that cover the interior’s walls. A steep footpath (as well as a paved road) leads to the Upper Monastery, which is constructed in two caves. The structure completely nestles into the surrounding rock face of a cliff, while the interior contains two cave chapels, one built in 1665; the other, built in 1774, containing the bones of St. Basil.
This destination is a work in progress. Porto Montenegro lies within a setting filled with history. The site lies on the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the southernmost fjord in Europe. It creates the largest natural harbor in all of the eastern Mediterranean. Because of its ideal location, international investors are finalizing the construction of a marina which will be state-of-the-art. Located on the site of a former Yugoslav naval facility, the marina will feature over 600 berths for yachts and a wealth of other amenities for seafaring vessels. Around the marina, a waterfront community is being built, including shopping outlets, restaurants, hotels, and leisure activities.
Nearby Perast is a delightful town to visit, filled with quaint old architecture, bustling taxi boats, and mountain and bayside vistas. Its many restaurants offer delectable fresh seafood specialties. Visitors may want to make a stop at Our Lady of the Rock, a tiny isle in the bay, which contains a lovely church and museum.
This charming valley is home to Lake Skadar, the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula. A National Park was established here in 1983. The area is renowned for its natural beauty, as it lies in a cradle between mountains and the sea. A short drive through the Sozina tunnel will carry a visitor to the nearby Adriatic. Lake Skadar is home to over 260 bird species, due to the complex ecosystem found in the area, and many endemic plant and fish species are found here as well. Bird-watching is understandably popular in the area, and nature enthusiasts flock to this area to observed endangered species of both flora and fauna.
History buffs also find much to appreciate in the Zeta-Skadar Valley. The remnants of civilizations dating back to the 14th century are found throughout the valley. Several archeological sites, fortresses, and monasteries attest to the area’s historical significance. The remains of Zabljak, the capital of Zeta, a medieval state, can be found here.
Located on a rocky island cliff, Sveti Stefan is connected to the mainland only by a thin sand isthmus. Viewed from the cliff, the city’s red roofs gleam in the sunlight, and the Mediterranean sparkles beyond. Once a sleepy fishing village, Sveti Stefan has gone through many incarnations over the past half century. In 1960 it was converted into an “old town,” and its narrow streets filled with shops and churches remained largely untouched. The town became a popular getaway for celebrities over the next 30 years, including such luminaries as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Bobby Fischer, and Marilyn Monroe.
By the 1990s, the exclusive Mediterranean resort went into decline, as the Yugoslav federation broke up. A new lease on life came in 2007, when a luxury resort operator contracted to lease Sveti Stefan and several other beach resorts. The island closed for massive renovations, but is open today for resort guests, and it is once again a popular summer resort. For visitors not staying at the resort, nearby beaches are open to those wanting to get a glimpse of the famed locale.
Space would not permit a full recounting of all the treasures found in Montenegro. We would recommend that visitors check out the following, at a minimum:
- Any of the country’s historic walled cities, such as Stari Bar or Herceg-Novi;
- One of Montenegro’s four splendid national parks, for glimpses of untouched nature;
- Any of the area beaches, such as Lucice Beach, with its Riviera Hotel , promenade, and lively nightlife;
- The mountains in the northern regions, perfect for a leisurely drive away from beachside tourists.
As you can see, Montenegro may be largely undiscovered by the “outside “world, but there are a host of wonderful sights, attractions, and adventures to discover within the boundaries of this Mediterranean gem.