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.

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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!

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.

 

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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