Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 5 - Montenegro - Podgorica, Pavlova Strana & Lake Skadar National Park
November 03, 2018
Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.
We had booked 5 nights at Pearl Apartments in old town Kotor. Our plan was to use that as a base, and take some days to take the car and do some exploring. Montenegro is a small country. But it is filled with mountains, some very dramatic mountains, and some very narrow and crazy winding roads. We had read about the switchbacks on a road heading out of Kotor towards Cetinjie, and then onwards to the country's capital - Podgorica. We decided to take a day and do some driving. The first adventure was making sure we found the famous switchback road, which we managed to find with a few adjustments, thanks to Google Maps. There are something like 25 switchbacks up a dramatic hillside. The road is narrow, and at the time we marveled how close we came to oncoming cars. We even marveled at how an enormous tour bus managed to make the turns. (Of course, we did not know what was yet to come...) If you decide to drive this, I would recommend you do it in the morning, before the traffic picks up.
The views of the bay, and the airport at Tivat were stunning. What wasn't so nice was evidence of casual dumping of trash. It's a pity, and one hopes that Montenegro would realize the value of getting its trash disposal under control. What is the point in have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and have it marred by trash?
At the top of the winding road, the views are quite spectacular.
There is even a restaurant at the top.
We then proceeded along the road towards Podgorica. We passed through rural villages, and small farms. This (below) is the small hamlet of Njegusi (NYEH-goo-shee.)
Cetinjie used to be the old capital, and Podgorica, capital city of modern Montenegro. It was quite a bit hotter in the capital city. We found a pay for parking site, and after parking the car we thought we would amble around the city. We were in a neighborhood of bars and restaurants, the streets were lined with plane trees- clearly where the "it" crowd were hanging out. We found a restaurant, called "Hugo" were we got a table. I am ashamed to say I ended up ordering a burger. So much for trying out local cuisine. Podgorica is definitely not a tourist city. But interesting nonetheless.
There was a large square with a fountain and administrative buildings. The guide books describe Podgorica as "drab." I don't disagree.
After lunch, and an amble we thought we would press on with our "loop" explore. There is an amazing photo spot we wanted to see whether we could find. The site is called Pavlova Strana. Again thanks to modern technology of GPS and Google Maps we were able to locate it. It really is an off the beaten track site, and I highly recommend it. The roads to the spot are quite narrow, and you gain in elevation.
At the overlook site there is the "Panorama Hotel-Gazivoda." It didn't look open. However, a friendly small dog did come out and wag her tail at us.
The views were spectacular.
These rivers empty out into Lake Skadar (not visible from this viewpoint.) We thought that the scenery was so beautiful and unexpected, that we really wanted to do a drive to Lake Skadar National Park. We resolved that we would leave the visit for the next day.
One thing that is simply lovely is early morning in Kotor. This is before the cruise ships empty their passengers into the old town. We wanted to hike up the hill to get a good view and some photos of Kotor. Kotor old town is quite small. There is an entrance fee to access the path/ walls up the hill behind Kotor. You are actually walking on top of the walls, as they zig zag up the hill. Luckily there are stone steps laid into them, which helps with balance. I certainly got my steps in that morning.
This photo (below) shows the steepness, and the stone steps zig zagging up the hill side.
A rock garden...
and a group of cats came out to inspect us...
The higher we got, the better the views. In the photo below, you can see a cruise ship coming into port. You can also see where the old town ends, and the modern city begins. We are in shadow because of the high mountains around us. As the sun rises, the shadowed city gets bathed in sunlight.
While we were hiking up the hillside, the bells of the cathedral tolled. On the way up there is a stone chapel - Church of Our Lady of Health. We opted only to go a little higher than the chapel, before we decided to turn back and head back down (we wanted to drive to Lake Skadar National Park and do some more exploring.)
This photo (below) is taken slightly above the chapel. The views are quite stunning.
Inside the Chapel...
As we headed down, we saw vendors getting set up for the day - there were religious trinket vendors, and those who were selling water.
After we got back down to our apartment, we grabbed our day packs, snacks and our cameras. It was time to head out in the car to go to Lake Skadar. Lake Skadar National Park contains the Balkans' largest lake. It's partly in Montenegro, and partly in Albania. We headed for Virpazar, a tiny town beside a river which is the main entrance into the park. This tiny town even has a fortress. We parked our car, and then after talking to a nice lady who shared a juicy plum with us, we ended up being talked into parting with 25 euros per person for a 2 hour boat ride. We had a little bit of a wait. So we ended up sitting on the terrace of Hotel Vir, drinking bitter lemon and nibbling on a plate of cheese. Hotel Vir is a depressing place - an ode to 1970 Communist era architecture, accompanied by art work in the dining room of workers glumly toiling in the fields. The restrooms are clean.
What we should have done, was follow our initial plan of actually finding a vendor recommended on Tripadvisor. Well you live and learn. We were not the only tourists on this boat. We had 2 other German couples. Our boat driver spoke no English, and no German. For 2 hours we chugged around an incredibly large body of water, through amazing lily pad fields with water birds. We saw fortress ruins in the distance, and even a chapel. All of this was undertaken in complete silence. The guide books talk about island monasteries, and the amazing bird life. Given what we paid for 2 hours, it would have been nice to have had some commentary. By the end of the trip, even the Germans had had enough. Don't get me wrong, I will certainly return to this magical stop. But next time, we will do it right. I think we will definitely stay there. I think spending a couple of nights so that you can take advantage of early morning light is a good idea. Also, actually spending the money on a recommended tour group is a better idea.
This is a photo of some of the views from our boat.
It was hot, and we were glad of the canopy so we had some shade.
The fields of lily pads are quite spectacular. And we saw quite a bit of bird life. This photo (below) shows a Cormorant in the foreground and a tour boat in the background. Note the amazing mountains in the distance. We saw coots, grebes, mergansers, herons, crows and what looked like some kind of hawk.
After our boat ride came to an end, we got back into our little car, and headed back to Kotor passing through Budva (very built up resort town - reminded me of Amanzimtoti, South Africa.) Then we decided instead of taking the short cut through the tunnel to Kotor, we would take the coastal road. The road got narrower and narrower. It was quite challenging when faced with oncoming cars.
We loved our time in Montenegro. The scenery is just gorgeous. We really needed to spend longer in this region. We will definitely be back!
After 5 nights in Montenegro it was time for us to head to our next stop - Dubrovnik, Croatia.