We almost crashed… Road to Lovćen – Montenegro

Lovćen Mountain View

Coming to the end of our trip to Montenegro we were running out of things to do, so we set off on a drive to the old Capital, Cetinje. On our way we noticed a sign to Lovcen view point, so we changed direction and headed off. The road wound up the mountain and we passed multiple people with trees on their roof. We had seen in Budva earlier people selling these same brown leaved branches. We searched online, to no avail, more on that later.

As we drove up the valley to Lovcen, the road started to get a little snowy. The road was not busy and so the snow got deeper and deeper. Eventually after about an hour of driving the snow was about three inches deep. We probably should have used chains. But we started a steep climb up the valley with high mounds of snow on each side of the road. Having not come across anyone in at least 40 minutes we were not worried about the single track road. Anyway we had a 4WD!

How wrong we were! rounding a corner we saw a Land Rover, right in the middle of the road. The door wide open. There seemed to be just enough room to get around, but that involved going through the deeper snow. Again, how wrong we were! Halfway around the corner the car lost traction and started sliding towards the open door on the Land Rover. The 15 year old child ran around and shut the door, but it was too late, we was stuck and merely centimetres from the Land Rover.

After a few minutes of spinning wheels and pushing from the 15 year old and his dad, Rob had to allow the child to turn the steering wheel whilst he applied the agreed amount of pressure. We blame it on the child parking his car in the middle of the road. But it is probably because Rob is “the worst driver in the family, by far!” – ask his mum.

Eventually after a big more sliding we got to the top of Lovcen. We then had to walk about what seemed like a few hundred steps through a tunnel. The tunnel itself was like something out of a James Bond movie. There was no-one there and the wind blew down through the tunnel. But the view was amazing as you could see all across Montenegro; on one side down to the lake and the other side down to the sea.

Cetinje

After our hazardous drive up the mountain, we needed to drive down the mountain again. Luckily we came across no vehicles, though the car slid around quite a lot. we were happy to make it back to a solid, snow free road.

The old capital of Cetinje is smaller than the current capital and has even less to do. We grabbed some lunch in a small cafe to rest off the stressful drive and walked around the small town, taking some silly photos.

King Nikola's Palace - Cetinje - former palace of the Montenegrin Royal Family
King Nikola’s Palace – Cetinje – former palace of the Montenegrin Royal Family
Being silly in Cetinje
Being silly in Cetinje

The high street itself, although pretty empty, was relatively pretty for Montenegro and you could tell this was an older city. Apart from walking up and down this street and the surrounding roads, there was still not much else to be found. Though we did see even more people buying and selling small oak trees with brown leaves. We managed also to work out what this was later in the evening.

Cetinje high street
Cetinje high street

It’s Christmas!

It turns out that it was Christmas Day! In the Orthodox Church they use the Julian Calendar and so Christmas falls in the first week of January. One of the traditions in Montenegro, amongst Serb Montenegrins seems to be Badnjak. This seems to involve chopping down a young tree and burning it as a blessing for the coming year. Unfortunately we missed the actual celebrations though we could see them and hear them from our hotel room and we caught a little snippet of the tree burning in the centre of Budva.

Badnjak Celebrations in Budva centre
Badnjak Celebrations in Budva centre

Exclusive guests only

On our way to Budva we had seen an amazing island linked to the mainland by a man-made causeway, which we decided we wanted to visit. Looking online we saw it was called Sveti Stefan and so we made our trip down there.

View across the bay to Sveti Stefan
View across the bay to Sveti Stefan

The view is really cool and we were really excited to park up and go in. We paid the £3 parking fee! (Most expensive in Montenegro we saw). Unfortunately once we got to the causeway there are some guards and you aren’t let through, turns out it is an exclusive hotel resort. We were a little disappointed as we had no plans for the rest of the day and we were already hungry so we took some more photos and went our way trying desperately to try find some food.

Trying to sneak onto Sveti Stefan
Trying to sneak onto Sveti Stefan

Jenny CAN drive

We had a few days in Budva and the surrounding area to just relax, soak up the atmosphere (eating and drinking) and get lots of photos. It was really lovely to take that time and we really wanted to stay for quite a lot longer. Some of the exciting aspects for us both were the Ballerina out on the rocks along the coast and all the animals that wanted our attention.

Lots of kittens (seven of them) around the coast line, almost very friendly
Lots of kittens (seven of them) around the coast line, almost very friendly
The Ballerina dances along the coast overlooking Budva
The Ballerina dances along the coast overlooking Budva

Unfortunately we came to the end of our trip. Packed up and in the car we set off early to make our morning flight from Podgorica. Jenny hasn’t driven in quite a while (about 7 years) but feeling brave she got behind the wheel and drove us the whole way from Budva past Sveti Stefan down the coast road. All the way to the winding road up the mountain and back over to Lake Skadar. At this point she got out the car and became a passenger instead but we were both very impressed and she intends to do some more driving on our next trip.

Many of the roads and tunnels in Montenegro are still being built
Many of the roads and tunnels in Montenegro are still being built

Gotta go back to work

As we got on the plane, we could see the world was listening to us, and speaking how we felt! CBA indeed!

See you next time guys!

CBA - The world was telling us something
CBA – The world was telling us something

Finances

We need to dig through our transactions in entirety, but the best estimate is that the whole trip cost between 2,000 and 3,000 GBP. This was not a cheap trip in all. But we spent a lot of time drinking and eating. The major cost was the astronomical RyanAir flight. And the expensive Chalet Kolasin was worth every penny!

Over the hills and far away to Budva – Montenegro

The Drive

Montenegro is small, smaller (as they say) than Wales. Therefore the drive from Podgorica down to the coast in Budva was only about 65km and took about 1 hour. On single lane roads with a speed limit of 60 km/h you get the opportunity to take in the surroundings, and they are amazing. A great expanse of open lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. This is the biggest lake in the Balkans, Lake Skadar and stretches out of Montenegro into Albania.

Lake Skadar reaching out towards Albania
Lake Skadar reaching out towards Albania

As we came over the mountains which run along the coast of Montenegro there was some absolutely amazing scenery. The road winds up the mountain, with viaducts hanging out over the side of the cliff. Every bend warranted another stop for another photo or a view in amazement at the amazing scenery. After pushing up our jaws and pushing our eyes back into our head we made our way down to the coast and into the town of Budva.

Drive to Budva is amazing - this view across Lake Skadar and the coastal mountain range was to die for
Drive to Budva is amazing – view across Lake Skadar and the coastal mountain range

Budva

Budva has a few distinct areas to it. First the new town with modern apartment blocks and hotels. This is the first area that you come across when entering the town. Then as you drive into the centre you notice that there is a set of older and more charming buildings which creep up the steep hill which the town nestles against. And finally once you are out of the car and on your feet you come across the real jewel. The Old Town (Stari Grad). This is the typically balkan mix of stone buildings with ochre clay tiles and narrow streets. Most people would know what Croatian coastal towns looks like, and I believe this is comparable, though on a smaller scale.

Budva old town from the beach
Budva old town from the beach

The small old town was only a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel room. Jutting out into the ocean, it is a very pleasant place to walk around to look at the houses and examine the history of the place. There is a photo below which was taken in the same location that sold us on our visit to Montenegro from this blog that we mentioned previously.

Budva old town by the church
Budva old town by the church
Budva old town in the palace
Budva old town in the palace

Our Hotel

We checked into our accommodation (Apartments Teona) and were immediately met with a beautiful room. Everything was white and we were high up looking out across the city. Unfortunately we enjoyed our room so much that we only took a photo of the balcony and not of the room itself.

Our balcony view across Budva
Our balcony view across Budva

There was only one issue with the room, which they apologised profusely for; the sink drained really slowly. They promised an engineer would come the next day, but as we found out later, it was the weekend of Orthodox Christmas. The Engineer never came, but the owner’s Son came in person to apologise and they gave us a 30% discount on our agreed price. This very much softened the blow.

Feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy ourselves we set up the camera to look over the old town and film the darkening of the sky. Unfortunately, this is where you see the issue of the new part of Budva with the high rise buildings, it spoils the view for many of the older homes and apartments up on the hill side. In any case the view was excellent and it was great to see the lights come on in the town.

Darkening sky across Budva
Darkening sky across Budva

Food Options are improved

As mentioned before the food options in Montenegro weren’t the best, but over the 4 days we spent in Budva we ate in the local Chinese restaurant, which was very good. A local restaurant on the Marina, which seemed to be past its prime, but still very good food. A Cafe-Bar on the edge of  a shopping mall (sounds bad, but was very enjoyable). And an Italian restaurant in the centre square of the old town. These were all quite good and there was a good range of options out there to choose from.

Restaurant on Marina - A little past its prime
Restaurant on Marina – A little past its prime
Lots of meat in Montenegro
Lots of meat in Montenegro

Every night with full belly’s we ended up back in our hotel room looking over Budva ready for another day. There was lots more to see in the other coastal towns to.

Tivat

A short (30-45 min) drive around the coast ends up in the Kotor peninsula. We came across Tivat first and made our way down to the waterfront. It has clearly had a large amount of investment in the recent years as it is the only place that we saw no damaged or derelict buildings. The buildings are all made of white stone which shines and gleams in the light, this area is evidently full of wealth.

Shining stone buildings of Tivat
Shining stone buildings of Tivat

We walked down the waterfront, lined with an old sailing ship on one side and modern Cafe-Bars on the other. In addition to this there are a number of food and drink stalls along the waterfront and this is where we tucked into our lunch of burger and chips for only about 10 EUR including mulled wine. Walking up and down the waterfront and down through the Marina we found another bar to sit in and enjoy some juices. The prices here were not so reasonable and our 8 EUR pineapple juices were the most expensive drinks (alcoholic or not) that we drank on our whole trip.

Tivat's cafe and palm lined waterfront
Tivat’s cafe and palm lined waterfront

View from Tivat waterfront to the mountains
View from Tivat waterfront to the mountains
Old ship on Tivat Waterfront
Old ship on Tivat Waterfront

This area of Montenegro is really beautiful and we saw some amazing sights along our way. There was even a cruise ship in the middle of the bay. This must be a touristy area! Wearing coats and scarfs walking along the coast and driving around the bay was fine. But we both noted that this area must be amazing in the Summer months. We are willing to bet that it is much quieter than the other Mediterranean coastal towns, even in that summer heat.

Kotor

In the same area and only around the bay Kotor has more of a historical appearance than Tivat. The historical centre is enclosed by an impressive fortress wall which continues up the valley side. At the top there is a palace also part of the fortress which is quite impressive. We have to admit that we were feeling a little lazy and didn’t make the long climb up the mountain. Instead we wandered around the old town, looking in shops, stroking the odd cat we saw and looking for a souvenir or two to purchase. To be honest, we probably didn’t give Kotor the best chance. But after having been to Tivat in the morning we didn’t feel like wandering around for too long. In any case the town was starting to fill up with cruise ship passengers. In the end we only ended up spending about 90 minutes in Kotor. Though we did manage to get some nice pictures.

Kotor Fortress Wall

Kotor Fortress Wall

Pavement outside an old palace in Kotor
Pavement outside an old palace in Kotor
View over the rooftops of Kotor
View over the rooftops of Kotor
Kotor Fortress Wall - opposite side
Kotor Fortress Wall – opposite side
Kotor Fortress up on the hill - at least a 20 minute walk
Kotor Fortress up on the hill – at least a 20 minute walk
Some lovely although damaged buildings in Kotor
Some lovely although damaged buildings in Kotor

Leaving Kotor behind us, we decided that we would take the long scenic route back to Budva, adding around 30 minutes to our route. This road runs very close to the water and is very narrow. This adds to its charm greatly and with the sun setting it was an absolutely lovely scene. A few points along the way Jenny was worried the car would slide into the sea as another car tried to pass, but we made it around all in one piece and it was definitely worth the drive.

View across Kotor Bay as the sun is setting
View across Kotor Bay as the sun is setting
Another amazing view across the Bay of Kotor
Another amazing view across the Bay of Kotor

Coming up

Next time we will go over our last few days in Montenegro. This includes almost falling off a mountain, getting caught in snow and dipping our feet in the Med.


Financials

At this point we had well and truly lost track of our expenses, but in the final blog post covering Montenegro I will outline the best estimate of our total spend on the trip.


Bonus Content

Here’s some more photos from these days to have a look at what we did. (Click to enlarge)

Kotor
Kotor
Kotor cats
Kotor cats
Tivat waterfront
Tivat waterfront

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The view on the way to Budva
The view on the way to Budva
Budva has dogs too
Budva has dogs too
Couldn't help taking a picture of this action
Couldn’t help taking a picture of this action

To Podgorica and beyond – Montenegro

Podgorica – Area below a little hill

Following an amazing few days of skiing in the mountains of North East Montenegro it was time for us to move on to a City. Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and is situated close to the centre of the country.

View across Podgorica towards the mountains
View across Podgorica towards the mountains

According to Wikipedia Podgorica means “area below little hill”, which is an apt name since apart from the river running straight through it, the city is completely flat. After having been in some extremely rugged and steep sided terrain it was quite unusual to be met with a wide expanse of nothingness and with a population of only around 150,000, the city itself offered only a little more than nothingness.

Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge

Sights

Most research on Podgorica turned up very little in the way of sightseeing opportunities, A bridge, a couple statues, an old (read derelict) town and a few short streets in differing parts of town, So we didn’t really know what to expect.

Our hotel as mentioned before was cold and very smelly, but very cheap and located in Stara Varoš. This meant we immediately ticked off one of the items to see (the old town). Also within 500 metres walk was the Most na Ribnici; apparently the oldest bridge (from Roman Times) in the city. Although it turns out it was rebuilt in the 18th century. Unfortunately there was rubbish everywhere around it.

Most na Ribnici (Roman Bridge)
Most na Ribnici (Roman Bridge)

The Millennium Bridge, shown above, is a relatively impressive suspension bridge crossing the river at a good height but it was a bit dirty and could do with a lick of paint. The statues weren’t particularly impressive and many of the streets had falling down, boarded up or derelict houses.

Upsides

The above few paragraphs have been particularly negative, but there are some positive aspects to Podgorica. It is extremely small, and so we were easily able to wander from our hotel, into the city centre, around a few run down parks, over a few bridges and eventually even found a row of cafe-bars. These were quite chilled out and three were from the same company “Culture Club”.

Portion size in Montenegro is particularly large, which is remarkable given the generally low prices. A plate stacked high with sausages and potatoes and corn bread and onions was meant to be a late brunch snack, but it went down a treat with a mojito and a coffee. This was the standard fare in Montenegro (meat and potatoes) and so we tended to crave fruit and vegetables quite a lot.

Culture Club Tarantino Food
Culture Club Tarantino Food

There are many stray dogs around Podgorica, and Montenegro in general, but they were all friendly and didn’t seem to be rabid or diseased. Jenny in particular is a huge animal lover and so made a few friends along our travels, the favourite being “Patch” (we named him) who followed us walking around the City for many hours following us and asking for strokes behind the ear at any opportunity.

"Patch" with a very happy Jenny Watts
“Patch” with a very happy Jenny Watts

Finally, the people of Podgorica are lovely, they are always up for a chat and will help you to find your way. This is really the star of the city; you never feel in danger and always feel able to get about and have a good time.

Conclusion on Podgorica

Personally, unlike the rest of Montenegro we would not recommend you spend any time in Podgorica. Although it is cheap and easily walkable, there is very little to do or see and it is mainly just a working city, trying to build a viable capital in a new country. I have no doubt it will get there, and there is a lot of building work going on, but it currently lacks any identity to define itself by.

Next blog we will take you through the joys of coastal Montenegro, which are more famous and really beautiful once more.


Bonus details

We ate in a restaurant called Hemera (part of the Astoria hotel chain) and it was probably the most expensive place we ate in the whole of Montenegro (about EUR 60 a head, including a cocktail, starter and main). The starters were very good and there was a lot more fresh vegetables than you have to get used to in Montenegro. However for what you got it was overpriced and we preferred the food in the Gyros Grill we went to in the early hours of the following day.

Enjoying a lovely meal in Hemera Hotel restaurant - Fancy food, but not as good as the cost would suggest
Enjoying a lovely meal in Hemera Hotel restaurant – Fancy food, but not as good as the cost would suggest

We also managed a trip out of the city to “Niagara Falls”. Which is a waterfall on the river of Cijevna, a little way out of town. Although we haven’t been to the real Niagara Falls in North America, it is probably more impressive in scale than the Montenegrin version. It was however quite cool to be walking over the rocks right next to a torrent of water and a lot of other people seemed to think so too as it was one of the most busy areas near Podgorica that we went to.

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Finances

We lost track of our costs a little by this point so much of the below is merely an estimate.

Carried forward: £2,045

Lunch x2: c. £75
Dinner (Hemera): £100
Dinner (Gyros): £5
Drinks (two days/evenings): c. £120
Petrol: c. £45
Supermarket: c. £15
Running Total: £2,405

First few days: Kolasin: 1450

Location

Most people don’t seem to know where Montenegro is, or confuse it with Moldova, Monaco or other countries starting with an “m”. Indeed Montenegro is a relatively new country, gaining independence from Serbia for the first time since World War I. Bordering Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania; it is located in the Balkans and looks across the Mediterranean to the east coast of Italy.

LON>PODGORICA flight map

The flight is relatively painless, except for the price and flying with RyanAir and takes just over two hours which conveniently leaves enough time for us to watch a movie on our tablet. The airport itself is small but clean and seems quite new. A man with an Alamo sign greeted us and took us to our car in the car park. It turns out that Alamo don’ have an office or desk in the building, but the system works relatively well.

Arriving in Kolasin

The roads in Montenegro are generally only one lane, which is not an issue as there are very few cars on them and the signage is very easy to follow, that we didn’t need to make use of any satellite navigation. The route itself to Kolasin is amazing, and we immediately knew we ewre going to love being in Montenegro, one lane winding up the steep gorge with a sheer drop on one side and a steep cliff on the other. The weather was leaving a little to be desired, but this added to the experience, as we plunged in and out of tunnels carved out of the rock with no lights or concrete covering where water poured down in waterfalls onto the road below.

We arrived just as it got dark and pulled up to Chalet Kolasin. This is an absolutely lovely building, which seems to be relatively newly built, the owner is a lovely man who met us at the front of the building and showed us to our chalet style room, gave us some recommendations for restaurants and told us how to get around.

Skiing in Kolasin: 1450

The drive to the ski-area is very straightforward and you follow one road the whole way meeting very few other drivers on the way. The conditions on the first day were not that good, it was snowing and icy and there had been little cleared off to the sides but as the days went on the road was very clear and easily passable, though the car park was quite muddy and icy so I am glad I had a 4WD.

The system to hire equipment and buy ski passes was a little confusing, we approached two desks each time being told it was the wrong one, but not saying which was the correct one, but eventually we got ourselves sorted. This is the only negative about the ski-area, the equipment is in very bad condition. My boots had no insoles and the skis were very damaged on the surfaces with a large amount of material having been scraped away, but the whole affair was cheap coming in at around EUR150 or £130.

The ski-area itself is a little limited. They claim to have 7 lifts, but in reality there are only 3 proper lifts other than the ones used to learn to ski. One of these lifts was closed the whole time we were there and one was extremely slow and uncomfortable, this really only left one viable lift. Therefore we just pottered up and down a few times, choosing slightly different routes each time, trying out by the end of the week every different run at least once. Three days skiing at this resort is absolutely plenty, until the new lift opens next year.

Eating in Kolasin

Food at the resort for lunch was more expensive than the surrounding area, but we managed to each burger and chips or pork and potatoes with a few drinks each for less than £25 a day.

Food options in the town of Kolasin were fairly limited and seemed to be predominantly focused on traditional Montenegrin food of potatoes, cream and cheese in a big dish – Kačamak. Also no restaurant ever had more than one table of service in addition to ourselves, which was unusual.

The restaurant “Konoba” on the main square of Kolasin is decorated in a very quaint and charming way, and the food was ok but we wouldn’t recommend the wine. On the completely other end of the wine and food scale was the main recommendation from our hotellier – Vodenica. It was only around the corner from our hotel in an Old mill house with beautiful old fashioned decor and a pleasant atmosphere. As always the portions were huge but extremely tasty and the wine was also delicious. This was all perfect for us as we celebrated 6 months of being married.

 

IMG_20171230_185704

All these meals added up to around £250, which wasn’t too bad. And we ate breakfast in our hotel room, so the supermarket bills were only around EUR35.

 Relaxation

Not as common in Europe as it is in the USA is a post ski jacuzzi dip and relaxation, so we hunted out and found that the four seasons hotel allows external persons to come and use the spa for EUR10. It was just around the corner and Jenny even additionally had a massage for an additional EUR 25.

Also there is Nordic skiing available in Kolasin:1450 and snowmobile hire too, though we did not try any of this ourselves.


Costs so far

Carried forward: £1520Ski hire and passes: £130
Lunch at the ski-resort: £75
Dinner X2: £250
Spa experience: £40
Supermarket supplies:£30

Running Total: £2045

December Blog 002: Booking the Trip

Flights

As we all know, RyanAir is an airline that offers no-frills flights mainly around continental Europe and the UK and their slogan says “Low Fares Made Simple“, therefore we assumed booking flights on RyanAir to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro would rightly fit into that mantra.

Our flights cost 350 pounds! Each! Though at least that is return with one packed hold bag.

In any case, with gritted teeth we paid the flight price, knowing that the accommodation and food would be dirt cheap. Well, it’s Eastern Europe right? Right!

Accommodation in Montenegro is pretty cheap but seems to be split into two camps. On the one hand you have the high-end international hotels that everyone knows and loves or hates. Whilst on the other hand all the other accommodation seems to be rooms in apartment buildings. After having spent a hefty chunk of our budget on the flights we opted for the latter.

We had decided from the blogs we had read (see our previous blog post) and the WikiTravel pages that we would spend a few days skiing, a short stop in the Capital city and then the remainder of our 10 days on the coast visiting Budva, Kotor and Tivat.

Accommodation

We managed to book all 10 nights of accommodation through Booking.com for an average nightly price of around 30 Euros! All in central locations, with parking and cooking facilities!

Unfortunately three weeks before we were due to leave we received an email from our accommodation in Kolasin saying they had had a flood and so they couldn’t guarantee our stay so we should cancel. At the time we were a bit annoyed and we knew the other accommodation in Kolasin was quite a lot more expensive. It turned out to be the such a great outcome because we booked into one of our favourite places we have ever stayed “Chalet Kolasin”.

Car Hire

Car-hire was easy, as always we booked through economycarrentals which has the most old fashioned website I have seen in a long time but always the cheapest prices. Selecting a 4WD with chains for the snowy roads and adding the second driver, we took the first and cheapest choice and ended up with a Dacia Duster from Alamo. It was much cleaner than the below photo when we originally collected it.

Next post we will have a look at what there is to do in Montenegro.

Costs so far

Flights: £720 (£360 x2)

Accommodation: ~ £500  (~£250 before the flood incident)

Car Hire: £300

TOTAL: £1520

December Blog 001: Planning the trip

Having got married in June 2017, we wanted to enjoy our first married Christmas together away on Holiday. We looked at a number of different locations from Greece to the Philippines, Denver to Barbados and Florida to Costa Rica.

We even booked flights to Manila and hastily canceled them, unsure of wanting to go all that way for 10 days. Thinking that we might want to go skiing we both started searching for cheap destinations that we could do some skiing and also enjoy some other activities. Rob happened across this story which noted the skiing in Kolasin was passable and Jenny stumbled upon a blog which suggested Montenegro as a great Winter destination to get away from the crowds. For us, the combination sounded perfect.

Planning a trip skiing in Montenegro isn’t as straightforward as planning one to Tignes, Vail or Saalbach-Hinterglemm, but it is definitely a lot cheaper. To start with, its initially not even clear where the ski resort is; the town shows up on Google maps but to find the resort itself one must deduce that the resort is called “Kolasin 1450” and was another 20-40 minutes drive up the valley.

The website for the “resort” itself has very little information on it, some of the information on the Montenegrin pages is in English and some of the information on the English pages is in Montenegrin. However we eventually deduced that they do ski, pole and boot hire in the same building as the ski pass purchase and the total cost for two for three days would be barely over 150 pounds.

This all seemed like a match, so we booked our flights and our accommodation and looked forward to Christmas. More on that in the next post.