Hello, Montenegro! Time for a last bit of fun in the sun before the winter closes in on us once again!
We arrived in Bar, Montenegro late in the evening after a harrowing bus ride through the mountains. Our driver had been drinking something that looked very suspicious, and the mountain face was literally right next to the road (why bother with any kind of buffer zone in case of falling rocks? Who needs it anyway). Relieved to get out of the bus (and to be alive), we made our way across town to find a place to rest our pretty heads for the night. After walking for an hour, completely lost, we stopped at a convenience mart to ask for directions and grab a snack. They were so nice, they actually called the owner of our guest house and the guy came pick us up! Thank goodness, because driving up a maze of twisting, unlabelled roads made me think we hadn’t stood a chance of finding it on our own in the dark.
The city of Bar itself wasn’t too interesting– a plain, sprawling collection of buildings reminding us of our Canadian cities, but Stari Bar was worth the trip on its own.
Like the rest of Montenegro, Stari Bar (old town Bar) has changed hands numerous times over the centuries, with the Montenegrins finally reclaiming it after their second push for independence from the Ottoman empire in 1878. After more than seven weeks of artillery bombardment the Ottomans were still refusing to surrender the city to the Montenegrins. In a drastic move the Montenegrins detonated a bomb destroying the aqueduct supplying Bar’s water, and after a couple of days the Ottomans surrendered at last. The aqueduct and city were restored, but in a sad twist of fate, just a hundred years after the Montenegrins regained their city, an earthquake destroyed this new aqueduct. The site was abandoned, but the aqueduct was rebuilt once again some years later and people have begun to return to the area. Stari Bar, however, has been left as a beautiful ruin sitting on the hill.
Next up, a short bus ride along the coastline brought us to the touristy town of Budva, a jewel on the Montenegrin shore that everybody wants a piece of (apparently even the Russian mafia!). Hotels, apartments for rent, restaurants, and everything tourism-related are popping up all along the prime beach-front, a lot of which we felt looked pretty out-of-place and tacky. But we couldn’t deny that the beaches were lovely and the views were beautiful. What were we looking forward to the most in such a beautiful beach town? Meeting up with old friends!
Elin and Jesper, a couple we stayed with way back in Bergen, had invited us to spend some time with them at their flat in Bečići, a town just outside of Budva that was once proclaimed to have the most beautiful beach in Europe. Elin and Jesper wouldn’t be arriving until late in the evening, so we ventured off on our own to Budva’s Old Town. It has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever been! It was everything you would imagine an old, coastal, European paradise to look like. After spending a couple hours wandering through the maze of alleys admiring the shops, houses, and city defences we ventured down along the cliffs to Mogren beach.
It was wonderful to see familiar faces when Elin and Jesper arrived later that night, and we got to planning a great hike for the four of us to do together. Montenegro has some phenomenal hiking trails, but many are unmarked and there aren’t really any trail maps out there. Lucky for us we had experienced hikers for guides who knew some of the best trails 🙂 We decided to head to the Bay of Kotor (somewhere I had been dying to see!), where we would hike up the winding city walls that stretch up the side of the mountains, culminating at the Castle of San Giovanni. Instead of going all the way up to the castle, we would be climbing through a mysterious-sounding “hole in the city wall” and heading further up the mountains toward Mount Lovćen. I couldn’t wait!
The hole in the wall was even better than I’d imagined, and it was actually marked with trail signs! Through the hole everything opened up into an idyllic, little valley, nestled between the castle and the mountains. Perched in the middle was an abandoned, stone church surrounded by olive trees and, for some reason, recently mowed lawns. Why someone had mowed the lawn up there is anyone’s guess, but it made a great stop for a refreshing snack of olives, oranges, and wine.
After some refreshments, we continued on and up. The path had been nicely carved out and lined with rocks, so a lot of the climbing early in the hike was easy and relaxing. We passed a cafe (!?) partway up the mountain which probably had the best view I’ve ever seen. But who needs coffee when you can pick fresh pomegranates? Yum! The pomegranate trees lined the pathway, many of which were bursting open with bright, red seeds. Further up, we found a mysterious well in a cave (marked succinctly, “H2O”), in case we were thirsty for what was likely a goat’s watering hole.
About three hours into the hike, right near the end, things really started getting tough (and treacherous!). I had to focus on looking ahead and where my feet were going, because looking down at the valley below made me feel a bit sick! The mountain sides were so sheer that looking off the path was dizzying. But we made it! There was a restaurant conveniently placed at the top which we collapsed into. Beer never tasted so good. As exhausted as we were, at least we had known what we were getting into when we started the hike. We overheard a couple of poor girls that had flopped into the booth next to us (wearing flimsy-looking flats) saying that when they had started the hike they had just wanted a cup of coffee! They had asked someone at the castle about a cafe they had heard about (probably the one we had passed) and the person had pointed them up the mountain, but the girls somehow missed it and kept on climbing looking for it… For three hours!
Elin and Jesper made sure to show us some of the secrets of their getaway paradise. We took a boat around the bay, cruising around Hawaii (not the one you’re thinking of! The Montenegrin version :)) and Sveti Stefan, a really cool, fortified village that had been turned into a resort inaccessible to the average joe. We ended up at their favourite place to eat, a hilarious fish restaurant tucked away at the end of the beach board walks, far from all the other tourist hotspots. The owner, Zoff, was larger than life; schmoozing with the ladies and keeping the guys laughing with cheesy, lime-green sunglasses and a nonchalant approach to everything.
Unfortunately, the time to leave came far too quickly, and it was sad to say goodbye once again to this amazing couple, but the road was calling. Thank you again, Elin and Jesper, for the great wine and wonderful memories! We’re heading back to Serbia for now, but I can’t wait to see the sparkling shores of Montenegro again!