We have been to Croatia twice and plan to return in June of 2020. It is a country we have fell in love with and so it made perfect sense after reading about Montenegro that we visited it as it sounded idyllic. Montenegro is a Balkan country with rugged mountains, medieval villages and a narrow strip of beaches along its Adriatic coastline. The Bay of Kotor, resembling a fjord, is dotted with coastal churches and fortified towns such as Kotor, Herceg Novi and Perast. The Durmitor National Park is home to bears and wolves and encompasses limestone peaks, glacial lakes and the 1,300m-deep Tara River.
With only two airports in the UK having direct flights to Tivat, Gatwick and Manchester, we decided to fly to Dubrovnik, hire a car and drive to Perast where we had rented a villa. According to Google maps this was a 30 minute drive to the border then a pleasant 1 hour drive round the picturesque Bay of Kotor. Checking google for weather in May, it should have been on average 24 °C with little rain. As we all know sometimes not everything goes to plan. It was raining when we left Dubrovnik and it rained every day we were in Montenegro which was somewhat unfortunate. The drive to the border was easy and did only take 30 mins, then it took us another 30 mins to get through passport control and out of Croatia. Thinking that was it we were surprised to have to queue again for passport control to get into Montenegro which, another 30 mins, so much for free travel within the EU. As for the pleasant drive round the bay of Kotor – it’s not that pleasant in the rain, and the 1 hour queue for roadworks in Igalo didn’t help. The road was also packed with day buses from Dubrovnik so in the end the 1½ hour drive was closer to 4 hours. Not the best start but hey ho we are on holiday and just get on with it.
We booked villa Violica via home and away website. https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p1961456. The villa was perfect, it had been fully modernised and was complete with everything you could need as well as a pool, BBQ and wonderful views across the bay. In only a 5 min walk via some steps you’re in the centre of the village. Perast had a wonderful local store, as well as quite a few bars and restaurants for a small village and in our opinion is the prettiest village on the bay. However, it does get busy during the day with day visitors from Dubrovnik, but reverts back to a very friendly, local village after 4 pm.
Kotor is a lovely, old walled city however, the day we visited 3 cruise ships were docked in the bay and the car-park was full of buses from Croatia. With the towns population of 10,000 it certainly struggles to accommodate a further 10,000 tourists. The best time to visit is after the day visitors leave as it does have some lovely restaurants and boutique shops as well as a thriving local market.
Porto Montenegro is close to Tivat airport and has a very high-end marina, luxury apartments, designer shops, top end restaurants as well as wine and cocktail bars. It is worth a visit even if it just to see the super yachts but I am not really sure Montenegro is ready for high end tourism quite yet.
Montenegro, like Croatia, prides itself on its family run restaurants serving local fresh food and one thing it does have in its favour is, for Europe, it certainly isn’t expensive and is overall a great value destination. We were not disappointed with any of the restaurants we ate in and as I said, Perast has quite a few for a small village.
The first night we visited Café Armonia, initially only to have a drink and decide where we would dine however, the weather changed that decision as soon as we arrived it started to “chuck” it down. The waiter was very friendly and looked after us, he also had good English so we decided to stay for dinner. It was a good decision as it kept us dry and the lamb was delicious and to cap it off the owner drove us back to the villa. So it became our bar of choice, we also dined there on another night and the food and service was excellent. The Otok Bronza Restaurant is situated at the far end of the village and is also the most authentic restaurant in the village which the locals use. The service was great, we had lamb under the bell and our first taste of Montenegrin red wine, which was surprisingly good. The authenticity and local feel was evident when the bill arrived as it was the least expensive restaurant we dined in.
Our favourite Restaurant was the Stari Mlini Restaurant which is in the village of Dobrota on the road between Perast and Kotor. It started out in the 1700’s as a flour mill and has been a restaurant for over 3 decades. It is built around the former mill and feels like it is in a fairytale setting oozing charm. It is worth exploring the gardens and grounds, it even has its own dock. But behind the charming setting there is a culinary delight with the restaurant specialising in fresh sustainable seafood, the waiters are on hand to explain the catch of the day and the different ways it can be cooked. We settled on the grilled mixed platter which was wonderful, it really is a dining experience.
We had catch of the day at the Admiral Restaurant, it was one of the few days the rain held off and we had lunch on the terrace. The service was great and the waiter took time to explain what fish was available and provided his recommendation, so we shared a grilled seabass and a seabream both were excellent.
The Restaurant at the Conte Hotel is the fine dining option in the village with wonderful fresh seafood, excellent wine and great service.
So our overall assessment of Montenegro – it is a small country trying to come to terms with tourism and the financial benefits that brings. It is a fine balance that, at the moment, they haven’t quite got right. So even with the weather and the drive would we return to Montenegro anytime soon? The answer would have to be no as we think Croatia has so much more to offer.