From Kotor Bay to the Montenegro Coast | Road Trip, Part Two
Rise and shine – it was time to get going on the next segment of our Montenegro road trip. Out the door at 7 a.m., our first mission was to make our way up the mountain for what would be stunning views of the bay.
There is a popular hike in Kotor where visitors can walk the Old Town walls, continuing to trek partway up the mountain for bay views from a fortress. Unfortunately, it was far too hot to do this during our time here, so we opted for the driving option, which actually takes you up much higher for a more expansive view. The catch — the drive up the mountain was said to be sketchy, involving narrow roads and 25 hairpin turns.
The hillside rocks are sporadically spray painted with contact info for roadside services, implying that such services are often needed in these parts. I had read that leaving early in the morning helps to alleviate the stress of the drive, as no one will be on the road yet. This proved to be true. We did encounter two large tour buses, which were kind enough to eventually let us pass them. But watching the buses up there, I could see how painful this drive could be.
The roads are narrow and usually not wide enough for oncoming traffic to pass. So each time a car approaches from the opposite direction, one vehicle will need to pull over to let the other squeeze by. We had a smooth ride and only encountered one oncoming car the entire time.
We made one photo stop within the first few turns up the mountain, then waited until the end for the best views. Right when we reached turn number 25, we saw a small pull-over spot with a few other camera-strapped visitors. We joined them and the view was incredible. I was scared that the rocks we were perching ourselves up on might very well crumble at any given moment, but the scenery was so exhilarating I was willing to risk it.
We were so high up, the view seemed endless. I read that on the clearest days, you are able to see Italy and Albania from here. I don’t know how true that is. It wasn’t the clearest day in the direction of Italy, as someone had a trash fire burning in the distance, and I wouldn’t know Albania if I saw it.
We continued on our route, heading deeper into the mountain and the countryside of Montenegro. The drive we were doing was basically one big loop that would lead us back to Croatia eventually, allowing us to see a lot of Montenegro. Soon we approached a small village named Njegusi. This town is known for it’s production of prsut, what we know more commonly as prosciutto.
It was almost 9 a.m. and we could see the tiny village slowly waking up. The scenery made me feel like we'd traveled back in time. We were hungry and thirsty, but the restaurants weren’t yet open. We spotted a convenience store and pulled over. In the parking lot, there was some sort of roadside market just starting to set up. A few vacant stands were in place, but two of them had men setting up products. We approached one to see what he had to offer.
Wine, prsut, cheese, honey — all made from his home just one kilometer down the road. The man was in his 60s and didn’t speak much English, but he was pulling out goodies for us to taste left and right. “Wine? I make! Very strong!” Without consenting, the sweet Montenegrin poured me two cups of his homemade wine, one “strong,” one “sweet.”
He was very proud. He showed us photos of the meat smoking at his home. He started opening jars of honey, jars of nuts soaking in honey and handed me little tasting spoons, insisting that I try them all. Of course, I was happy to do so, but I quickly became a hot spot for bees and had five land on my hand at once.
I couldn’t help but purchase a fair amount of goodies from this precious man. He snuck behind his stand and then came back to me with a huge smile on his face, handing me a magnet with a photo of the Njegusi countryside. “My son — take picture. He make this.” My heart was full from this tiny encounter and the kindness that can be communicated through any language barrier.
Back on the road, we were winding uphill and enjoying incredible views of the countryside. The land was green as far as the eye could see, decorated with occasional small villages and fields sprinkled with animals. The roads were now in much poorer condition than they were coming up the front of the mountain. The next major town we’d encounter would be Centinje, Montenegro’s historical royal capital.
We reached Centinje and decided not to stop, doing a quick driving tour of the town of nearly 20,000 people. It’s important to note that these are all relatively poor locations. I assume that being located on a main road where tourists may pass is crucial for them.
There was a restaurant just outside of Centinje that I had read about, so we agreed to stop there for breakfast. Placed in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, this restaurant felt like a truly authentic Montenegrin countryside experience. We were surrounded by locals and no one could speak English, but we were able to get by. I was happy to finally have a proper breakfast, I hadn’t had one the entire trip. But of course, a meat platter was also part of the meal.
Our waiter was very kind, but communication was difficult. He asked where we came from and looked rather confused when we said San Francisco. I kind of love the idea that someone might not know where San Francisco is, which seemed to be the case with him. It’s refreshing to feel small in the grand scheme of things. Living in America, especially in San Francisco, I think it’s easy to forget how tiny we are and how much more is out there.
After breakfast, our drive would continue taking us around and down the mountain, now heading towards the coast of the country. When we got to the other side of the mountain and began our decent, we were greeted with more incredible views, this time of the coast. Montenegro is a gem when it comes to natural beauty.
The downhill journey led us into Budva. We decided to take the 10-minute detour south to check out Stevi Stefan. Once a village inhabited by a few hundred people, Stevi Stefan has an interesting history. After WWII, it eventually became a resort playground for the rich and famous — people wanted to be seen here. The peak of this was in the 60s and 70s — later declining immensely by time the war started in Yugoslavia.
Stevi Stefan has since been restored as a resort, once again catering to the wealthy. Visitors aren’t even allowed to enter the heart of the islet unless they are registered guests. I didn’t officially look into pricing, but I read that it is $1,000+ per night to stay in a room here. I much prefer the view from above.
North up the coast, we admired Budva and its beautiful, very lively beaches. As I mentioned, these beaches are filled with many Russians on holiday, as well as Serbians. Just like in Croatia, the water is picturesque and inviting. The heat here is real, so it’s no wonder the coast is packed.
Our next stop was the town of Tivat and Porto Montenegro. Tivat was interesting to me. The coast and the port are lined with palm trees, shiny yachts, and Italian-inspired cafes. Then you go a few blocks inland and things quickly again become more rundown. The town has a reputation for being ritzy and glamorous, which is why I was surprised to see the contrast of neighborhoods occur so suddenly and in such close proximity to one another.
Nonetheless, Tivat is another gorgeous town on the water. We walked along the port and head further up the coastline for a drink in a British-themed bar. The rooftop patio had a nice view of the beach club down below. The waiter sold me on drinking their homemade raki, which was incredibly hard to swallow. I’m not really into drinking rubbing alcohol, especially when I’m sitting and sweating in 95 degree heat. But I tried it, that’s what counts.
After a little splashing around in the turquoise water, it was 3 p.m. We were ready to begin our journey back towards the Croatian border. There was a restaurant in the Croatian countryside we were hoping to get to for dinner.
To complete our full-loop in Montenegro and avoid backtracking on any ground we had already covered, we planned to take the ferry back across a different segment of the bay. We were both pretty lamely excited to go on the kind of ferry where you get to take you car on with you. I’d never experienced this in real life, I’d only seen it in Free Willy — an American classic.
The ferry spit us out on the south side of the bay close to the border, saving us well over an hour of driving time. We quickly reached the Montenegrin border control, this time with a short wait in line. They waved us through to approach re-entry to Croatia. We stuck our arms out with our passports. Again, the intimidating man glanced down, saw that they were US passports, gave a grin and chuckled. He pushed his hands toward us, pushing our passports back and waived us through.
Reflecting on the experience, it’s crazy to think that until recently I didn’t know anything about Montenegro. I wasn’t able to point it out on a map; I knew absolutely nothing. Sure, I was here vacationing, but it was so much more than just sitting on a beach the entire time with a cocktail in hand. I made a point to dive as deeply into this country as I possibly could and was rewarded with beautiful nature and generous people. My mind is more open than it was when I arrived here and my heart is much more full. Hvala (thank you), Montenegro!