Our visit to Montenegro got off to a roaring start when we pulled in to campsite Rabrenović in the mountain village of Polja. The place itself was enormous, meticulously maintained and had it not been raining we are sure that the views were also spectacular.
The very best thing about the campsite was the owner, Goran. We had checked in at a shed at the bottom of the drive with a young chap who spoke perfect English so we weren’t sure who Goran was when he approached our campervan in his blue overalls and started fiddling with the electricity box. It soon transpired that he was the owner of the house as he began pointing enthusiastically at himself, the building behind him and at us saying: “you house my come beer”. We’d had a long day of driving and so we nodded politely, said “maybe later, thank you” repeatedly until Goran retreated smiling to the house. James disappeared off to investigate the facilities in a shed up the hill and Caro was alone when Goran materialised beside the van again with two very large, dodgy looking shots that he assured her were organic and reiterated his invite to join him in the house for “beer, coca cola, juice, food, big TV, football” and then rather ominously did a bit of a dad-dance and added “maybe party?”. Caro made non-committal noises and waved in James’s general direction implying that she intended to make this 100% his problem. Obviously, the only polite thing to do was to make James drink the homemade schnapps when he got back and pray that he didn’t go blind.
Goran appeared once more to offer us a top up, which we politely but forcefully declined, and to remind us that the football was on. After an excellent dinner of packet noodles, James felt that he really should head up to Goran’s house for a little bit to watch the football. So, armed with a beer he set off to investigate. Goran, or DJ Dragan as he is known to his friends, had set himself up with the ultimate man cave including a stage, DJ booth, enough speakers to host a small festival, disco lights, a massive flat screen, and a fully stocked bar with draught beer for which he refused to take any payment. All this in the village of Polja, population c. 1,500.
Caro was driven indoors by the fact that it was absolutely bloody freezing in the van and wandered up to join James, whose glass had not been below half full at any point. It turned out that we weren’t Goran’s only invitees and Caro was ushered in to a chair at the table and plied with food and drink. Given that we had only paid €10 for the night we have to assume that Goran made zero profit and most likely a loss by having us to stay. He was very disappointed that we wouldn’t be there to watch England play the following evening and we too were sorry to miss another chance to “maybe party” but the weather continued to be dire and our planned walks in the nearby Durmitor National Park were not going to happen so we decided to make for the coast and a bit of sunshine.
We drove down along the Tara River which was a lovely drive although sadly mired by surprising amounts of litter on the edges of the road. James had found a viewpoint on Lake Skadar and we made a detour to take it in. It was absolutely worth the trip along the narrow windy road purely to have 5 minutes standing and looking out at the view.
Caro had determined by looking at the map that there was definitely a shorter route down to the coast than maps.me thought, as it was trying to take us back the way we had come along the narrow windy road. Clearly, she was wrong. The road that we were on could have generously been described as a bicycle path and we crawled along at about 30kmph for a good hour before we managed to find anything remotely resembling a road. The views were still superb though.
Our efforts to reach the coast and sunshine were rewarded with more rain when we hit the beach just south of Ulcinj, with the added benefit that it was simultaneously humid. At least it was now warm and we braved the drizzle to explore the beach which was pleasant enough with its long stretch of dark sand.
The summer season hadn’t kicked off in earnest yet and it was raining so the beach was pleasantly quiet. Judging by the number of sun loungers it does get exceptionally busy in high season so if you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation this may not be the spot for you. Also, it seems that the area is subject to load-shedding as we experienced two fairly lengthy power cuts in the time that we were there and this was not an unusual occurrence. Final word of warning, there are a lot of stray dogs around and we happened to be there when there were also a large number of underfed puppies to be seen scampering in amongst the undergrowth. One chap on our campsite had found a puppy in a carpark and decided to adopt it as “I have 3 already so why not?” Caro simultaneously loved and was intensely jealous of this man.
The rain came down in torrents overnight and we were officially camped in a puddle, to the extent that we actually had to move the van when Caro got up to make the tea the next morning.
Fortunately, the weather lifted by mid-morning we went to explore the old town of Ucinj. The walled town is a short steep climb immediately above the harbour and these days largely consists of restaurants and guest houses. The ramparts remain largely intact and the views over the surrounding harbours is really very pretty and it is worth popping in for a short stroll.
What remains of the castle in the old town has been turned in to a beach resort and there is a rather ugly building project going on next door so don’t expect great things when you see the word “castle”.
The remainder of the town caters purely to tourists and we had a good time finding the ugliest presents that we could in the tat shops before hopping back in to Delaney and continuing our tour of the coast. The drive is extremely pretty with the crystal-clear water of the Adriatic twinkling below you. 55km North West lies the islet of Sveti Stefan, formerly a fortified island village and now a luxury resort connected to the mainland by a causeway. The views of the small island are striking from the road and we were eager to get down to the shoreline to explore.
Unfortunately, the fact that it is now a luxury resort means that access is restricted to resort guests, which was a huge shame for day trippers but we could see the appeal for those seeking an “exclusive” experience. We briefly considered sun loungers in the small cove on the mainland but at €50 a pair we immediately decided against it. We would recommend coming to take a look but the view from the road is as good as any and unless you are willing to part with significant sums of money there will be little to keep you there for long.
Our propensity to roar through activities meant that we had finished our day’s itinerary by lunch and were left at a bit of a loose end; we didn’t intend to travel any further up the coast for a couple of days and looking inland there was an ominous cloud hanging over the mountains that form the backdrop to the Montenegrin coastline. With our customary baseless optimism, we decided to head inland anyway because there was a chance that if we drove high enough we would emerge from the clouds.
By some miracle, this actually turned out to be the case and we drove through alpine countryside to reach the historic capital Cetinje. We liked it immediately. There was something appealing about the slightly rundown park that we made our way through to get to the centre of town, it epitomised the former grandeur of a town that was once the seat of power and is now a sleepy town, still on the tourist trail but by no means overrun with visitors.
There is a fair bit to see in Cetinje and we made the Biljarda our first stop as the Lonely Planet had promised us portraits with “outrageous moustaches”. It did not disappoint.
The house was built by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, a poet, philosopher and Prince Bishop who we learned is possibly the most famous person in Montenegrin history. The museum still holds a large number of his personal effects and the billiard table that he installed; it was the first in Montenegro and gave the house its name.
We enjoyed strolling around in relative ignorance of Montenegrin history and learned a good deal from our visit but we would advise doing a bit of reading in preparation to really get the most from your visit.
Immediately next door is the Monastery Cetinje which claims, as do many other places, to house the right hand of John the Baptist and a fragment of the True Cross. We weren’t appropriately dressed to go in but the outside is also nice.
There are three other museums in Cetinje and you can buy a combined ticket for all of them for a much-reduced price but given that we needed to head off again soon we satisfied ourselves with a walk around the town centre. The pedestrian area is really lovely with wide, clean stone paved streets, brightly painted houses and balconies bursting with flowers.
At the end of each street there were clear views of the rocky wilderness that surrounds the town.
Cetinje made for a truly lovely afternoon and with Lovćen National Park so close it would be easy to fill three or four days away from Montenegro’s busy coastline.