The official end of the summer is fast approaching and I haven’t taken a vacation yet. Two weeks at my parents’ 2.5 hectare mountain paradise in Central Serbia could only constitute as another reason for a holiday, if anything. Alas, my son has already started the school year and if we’re to play hooky it has to be quick and close by. He says he’s not too interested in revisiting any of the countries we don’t need extensive paperwork for and there’s just no time for Visa applications right now. Luckily, we have close family in Montenegro that we haven’t seen in a while. Best of all, it’s just a hop and a skip away. Yes, just the hop and the skip will do, thank you. Add a jump and we’d be on the Croatian coast.
You may have heard a few complaints about taking a holiday in Montenegro. I guarantee that the people making those comments haven’t travelled much. Ever try staying at an inn in one of the dodgier neighborhoods in Paris? How about roaming the rural parts of Italy? And that adventurous backpacking trip through India? Checked out what a holiday in beautiful upstate New Jersey has to offer? Yeah, all wonderful to visit, look at, even experience but every place leaves that certain je ne sais quoi to be desired, n’est pas? For those of you who are forever complaining about something, I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that you stop reading this right now and check into your local Hyatt Regency for a few days first thing tomorrow. It’ll save you a load on holiday expenses and any 5 star hotel is really the same so don’t even bother going anywhere. Scoot now. Get packing while I continue.
Right then. Montenegro may have it’s flaws, but the landscape itself will not only make up for those but knock your jaw to the floor. I can add all the pictures in the world here and none of them could convey the unique feeling of humility and awe that rushes through you as you stand at the base of Kotor Bay, your head tilted back as far as it will go, staring into the sky above at the imposing, majestic limestone Orjen and Lovćen mountains.
My aunt married in the Kotor Bay area some 40 years ago and I have passed through there almost every summer since I was born. Subsequently, my portrayal of this region will be anything but objective. Kotor Bay, which is actually not a bay but a ria (like a fjord and the largest one in Europe outside Scandinavia), has a cozy warmth to it that I believe can’t be encountered in any other part along the Adriatic coast. The water is always just a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the Adriatic. My cousin’s house is literally right across the street from a small beach so my morning routine is as follows: wake up, brush teeth, slip into bathing suit, grab towel, slide into flip flops, make my way down to beach, order coffee (yup, there’s a cafe/bar on the beach), jump into the water, swim out about half a kilometer to the place where the currents of warm and cold water sway me back and fro as I float on my back, resting and looking at those same mountains I mentioned above. Once I’ve rested enough, I make my way back to the tiny, quiet beach to have my morning espresso and read the morning paper they always have on hand at the cafe. Priceless, wouldn’t you agree?
Kotor’s Old Town is a UNESCO site and the history and architecture of the towns along the entire bay are nothing less than captivating. If you happen to be a history buff, like myself, then you know all of Eastern Europe is like Disneyland and Montenegro is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Here’s a short account of that history for now. Hopefully, I’ll be blogging more on the subject after our little trip. I’ll be staying in Herceg Novi, a little farther down the line, between Kotor and Igalo. That’s the hop and the skip. The jump I mentioned before would take you straight to Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast down that same road.
Igalo isn’t all that interesting except for the Spa there. On the other hand, while Kotor is historically fascinating, it still has colossal problems regarding infrastructure such as fresh water distribution and sewage. Let’s not get into that right now, but if you plan on staying in Kotor, look into that first. Herceg Novi is the best of both worlds as it has all the modern amenities one needs and leaves one open to all other activities and towns in the Bay.
Other than sightseeing and decadent behavior on the beach, activities in Montenegro and Kotor Bay include scuba diving, white water rafting, hiking, kayaking, paragliding, horseback riding, sailing, and so much more. I find the aptly named montenegroholiday.com sums it up quite nicely and offers a search for accommodation as well. Nothing is exactly cheap these days, but a 10 day stay in Montenegro shouldn’t cost you much more than what you’d spend staying at home and trying to salvage whatever is left of the summer.
I should also mention that there’s a Marine Biology Institute in Kotor and it has recently been nominated by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) to be the center for the preservation of biodiversity for the Adriatic region. Aside from being a scientific research center, the Institute is also open to tourists so my son and I will definitely be visiting while in Herceg Novi.
If you’re in the Belgrade area and haven’t taken much time off this summer, I hope you’ll take that one hour flight down to the Montenegro coast. September is always the best time to visit any tourist destination, especially the Adriatic as the water and air temperatures are closest around this time. Besides, I don’t know about you, but I was taught never to arrive first to a party and to leave when the party is at its best.