Edit Blog Post
Published: September 14th 2012
For a country that is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut, Montenegro seems to have gotten more than its fair share of the Balkan’s natural splendor. It’s not that the other countries I have seen - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia – haven’t been beautiful, sometimes breathtakingly so. But it’s the density of beauty in Montenegro that is astounding.
The Bay of Kotor itself, the area where I was based for most of my time in Montenegro, is a natural wonder. Situated next to the border with Croatia, the narrow entrance of the bay widens as it passes the town of Herceg Novi, narrows again before opening into its first major basin, a large triangular affair. One point of that triangle opens as a tight entrance to the final two, also somewhat triangular, inlets. The gorgeous walled town of Kotor, appropriately, nestles at the farthest tip of the bay, encircled by some of the highest mountains on the Montenegrin coast. The road from Herceg Novi to Kotor hugs the entire convoluted edge of this bay, providing ever more spectacular views at each sharp turn. I think I let out audible gasps at several points during my first bus ride
along the shore, much to the amusement of my fellow passengers!
But Montenegro’s beauty isn’t just confined to the coast. On my second day in Kotor, I joined a small group from my hostel for a rafting trip in Durmitor National Park, which is situated in the northwest corner of the country, almost abutting Bosnia and less than 50km from Serbia. Slavko, our chain-smoking, hard-drinking Montenegrin guide, drove up the winding mountain road from the coast and into something of a high plain, dotted with farming villages and pristine lakes (including a beautiful freshwater one known head-scratchingly as Salt Lake!). The show-stopping scenery, however, was yet to come. Once we were in the park, we were surrounded by soaring mountains, plunging canyons, and thick forest.
We were going to raft the Tara River, which carved the Tara Canyon – the deepest in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. The river’s water is so clear that from the top of the main bridge spanning the canyon you can see every rock beneath the surface.
As it was late summer, after a period of drought, the Tara was not at its wildest. So the rafting was
a rather gentle affair – but that allowed us to enjoy fully the operatic scenery. (We also more than enjoyed the hearty lunch we were served at the end of the ride – a gut-busting spread of freshly baked bread, homemade cheese, garlic-vegetable soup, grilled meats, all washed down with homebrewed rakija.)
It would be enough, more than enough, if Montenegro’s beauty were confined to its natural setting. But it also has some of the most picturesque towns in the region. Although Dubrovnik in Croatia gets the lion’s share of attention for its Adriatic urban beauty, I actually found many of the towns on the Bay of Kotor ultimately more appealing. Though smaller than Dubrovnik, Kotor remains a lived in place, one with soul. And its fortification walls are unlike anything I’ve seen.
Old Kotor rests within a triangular walled section on a flat piece of coast, but the fort sits high above the town on a narrow ridge of what basically is a cliff. The walls between the fort and the town zigzag at crazy angles down the extremely steep slope. One morning, before the heat of the day settled in, I huffed up the
1000+ stairs leading to the fort; I was awed by how far you could see across the bay and back into the mountains. In its heyday, Kotor must have been all but impenetrable.
There is also a gemlike town about 12km from Kotor, a village called Perast. While there is a small fort on the hill just above the town, Perast was not walled like Kotor. Instead, its stone structures – homes, palaces, churches, and schools – ring the shore, facing out to two small islands each holding a church. The whole scene is as postcard worthy as any in Montenegro (which is saying something!). As I walked Perast’s quiet streets, I imagined myself buying one of the empty stone houses and fixing it up as a summer retreat. Peace and quiet, with sweeping views of the bay and mountains…what could be better?
Montenegro has proven yet another Balkan country from which I will have a hard timing tearing myself away.
[Note: As my camera was stolen in Split, I have relied on the generosity of a fellow traveler - a young South African woman who shared my wanderings in Perast - for both her own photos
and for the ones she allowed me to take on her camera.]
Tot: 3.997s; Tpl: 0.047s; cc: 15; qc: 81; dbt: 0.0746s; 3; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb