Looking for a European adventure with a difference? Naomi Dunbar details the best way to spend 72 hours in Montenegro for a weekend filled with adventure like no other…
Sometimes, we just don’t have the annual leave to dedicate to a full-blown adventure. I know, you yearn for the thrill of exploring somewhere new and you spend hours at your desk daydreaming about the possibilities out there. I feel you. Unfortunately, that’s just the way of life for most of us nine to fivers.
So, what can be done to satisfy those itchy feet of ours? How about 72 hours in Montenegro? Okay, hear me out. It might not be a two-week-deep wild escape, but it’ll be somewhere magnificent to keep you ticking over. Tempted?
Montenegro, set with rolling mountains, medieval villages and fine architecture, is a Balkan country nestled within Southeast Europe and on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Home to brown bears, wolves and wildcats, vast national parks and mountain trails, whether you’re an animal lover, passionate hiker or keen cyclist, you’ll be tantalised by the array of life this country can offer you.
It doesn’t matter if you take a long weekend or a quick three days from your precious annual leave, you can fly from London to Montenegro in under three hours and flights are usually a steal if you head to the likes of Skyscanner. In fact, as I’m writing this, it took me about a minute to find a return flight to the capital city of Podgorica in January for £51. Bargain.
But why 72 hours in Montenegro? Well, if you’re a traveller like me (and I’m sure you’ll know this by now) who likes to do their damn best to avoid other tourists, you’ll find Montenegro to be just as beautiful as the likes of Croatia but without the crowds to spoil the view. You’ll also find costs in the country to be a fraction of the price because of this. Ideal.
72 hours in Montenegro: What to do?
So, you’ve booked your flights and you’ve got three days to pump some serious thrill into your veins before you head back to the office on Monday morning. What to do? Luckily, this adventurous haven is simply brimming with activities and sights that’ll get you going. So, your trickiest task will be fitting as much of it into three days as you can. Here are some of my favourite things to do in this magnificent country to give you a head start – good luck.
1. Marvel at the wonders of Lake Skada
Contiguous to Albania and Montenegro, Lake Skadar (also known as Lake Shkodër) is the largest lake in Southern Europe and is named after the city of Shkodër in northern Albania. This freshwater paradise offers a vast range of different highlights – if you’re a sucker for a view with some serious bite, then head to Horseshoe Bend. This dramatic viewpoint meets a natural curve to the lake and its background is a textured tapestry of rich green hills and mountains. Make sure you have your camera ready for this one.
If you’re a bird lover, then you’ll not only be amazed by the lake’s offering of over 280 different bird species, but by some of Europe’s last pelicans – the Dalmatian pelican. Much to my disappointment, this was not a bird resembling the black and white spotted puppies of my childhood, but nonetheless, it’s an impressively big bird. In fact, they are some of the world’s largest freshwater birds. If the pelicans alone aren’t enough to have you fumbling for your binoculars, then the vast number of mallards, herons, eagles and other winged fellas certainly will.
2. A rewarding up-hill ride to Jezerski Vrh
For those who love life on two wheels, a cycle up Montenegro’s spectacular mountain pass, Jezerski Vrh, is one for the adrenaline seekers during an adventure-filled 72 hours in Montenegro. This steep, old road snakes and bends you through tree-lined corners, past butt-clenching cliff edges and is a test on the legs as you peddle to an elevation of 1,660m. You’ll not only be rewarded by the sheer achievement of it, but the soaring 360-degree views that this incredible peak has to offer are pretty slap-you-in-the-face good. If cycling isn’t your bag, then fear not, there are plenty of hiking routes to the top that will give you just as much, if not more, dramatic effect than cycling it does.
3. Hike to Montenegro’s highest peak
If you’re looking for eye-wateringly good views on your whirlwind 72 hours in Montenegro, then you’ll of course want to head to the highest point of the country. Measuring a lovely 2,523m high, Bobotov Kuk is the highest mountain in Montenegro and you can find it nestled within the majesty of Durmitor National Park. This particular national park is truly a sensational sight and offers the kind of drool-inducing scenery that every hiker seeks.
Four trails lead to this summit and they can be combined for different route options, but if you’re looking for a more challenging trail to get your teeth into, then start from Žabljak, passing Crno Jezero (Black Lake) and approach Bobotov Kuk from the northeast. This route will take you around five hours to reach the summit, but boy is it one heck of an exciting journey. The other three trails this peak offers begin from the south and west, all joining together at Zeleni Vir Lake and continuing as one route until they meet up with the Žabljak route on the Velika Privija Pass. All the trails on offer here are well marked out along the way.
The views at the top of Bobotov Kuk are so phenomenal, you’ll find yourself almost lost for words when you reach the top. You’ll feel the sensation of achy feet and strained legs slide away as you stand and marvel at the landscape – framed by dramatic clouds, a sweeping view of grey peaks and craggy rocks touched by an incredible carpet of greenery. After scraping your jaw off of the floor, it’ll make one heck of a spot to dig into your sarnies.
4. Meet the gravity defying Ostrog Monastery
If you like the quirky and interesting, and if you have a head for heights, then I recommend checking out the Ostrog Monastery. I love this place, it’s unlike any religious site I’ve ever visited – it’s built within the rugged body of a sheer cliff face. After the initial eye boggling, it’s fascinating to see how this incredible piece of architecture was crafted and it’s clear to see why it’s one of the most photographed spots in the country.
From afar, the Ostrog Monastery looks like it defies all rules of gravity. Towering 900m above the plains below, you can see the white of this stunning building shining like a beacon against the surrounding dark rock from miles and miles away.
Constructed in 1665 within two large caves, this monastery is the most important pilgrimage site in the country and, without a doubt, is the most dramatic of them all. The site was founded by Saint Basil and is dedicated to him. In fact, it is believed that his remains are still in the monastery to this day and, therefore, many people come to pray as they believe he can cure illnesses or ease the hardships of a difficult life
5. The historic town of Kotor
Set in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautiful historic town of Kotor was once the jewel of the Venetian Empire, so there’s an abundance of fascinating sites to visit. Dine in the charming restaurants of Kotor’s Stari Grad (Old Town), wander quaint medieval streets and marvel atimpressive fortifications.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs after all the excitement of history, then head up to St. John’s Hill for sunset. It’s a 500-metre climb to the top, but oh boy, the views are sublime (especially around the time of our good old friend the Golden Hour) and stretch out over the Bay of Kotor.
72 hours in Montenegro: What to eat?
With an array of different foods and drinks to try, you won’t be short on menu choices in Montenegro, but a few firm favourites of mine would be:
Buzara – If you’re heading to the coast and you find yourself partial to a seafood dish, then a bowl of Buzara is going to please that rumbling stomach of yours. With a sauce dubbed as a form of art, this dish is made with white (or sometimes red) wine, onions, tomatoes, herbs and spices, paired with the most deliciously fresh shellfish, prawns and shrimps.
Krempita – Oh boy! If you’re a total foody and dessert lover like me, then make sure you get your chops around a big slice of Krempita. Served in almost every café or cake shop, this dessert is made with thin pastry sandwiching a custard and cream filling of absolute goodness. As you can imagine, it’s a very popular choice amongst locals and visitors alike.
Moussaka – One of my favourite meals, ever. I thoroughly recommend you trying the Moussaka in Montenegro and, with it being a traditional dish, you can absolutely bet that they nail it – every single time. It’s made with potatoes here and is paired with minced beef, tomatoes and a generous amount of cheese. This rich dish is what’s needed after a day of adventure. Marry it up with a local red wine for maximum mouth-watering potential.
Rakija – Widely considered the national drink of Montenegro, Rakija is made out of pretty much any fruit going and has an alcohol content of anywhere from 40-80%. Good times are guaranteed when you’re knocking back this stuff. Not only this, but I like the story behind Rakija. Harvest time is a particularly communal time in Montenegro, and family and friends come together each season to gather the fruits needed to make it.
72 hours in Montenegro: How to get there?
Price-wise, we all know it’s the cheapest to fly from London, and if you don’t live too far away then this is a great option for setting off on your trip to Montenegro. As I said, flights from London to the capital, Podgorica, take just under three hours – so you won’t find the travel time eating away at too much of your adventuring time.
I usually use Skyscanner to find my best flight options, as you can search for the cheapest dates in a specific month, this feature is great if you’re not able to flash the cash around. Sites like Kayak are also a good option and, sometimes, I even head straight to the airlines’ websites such as Easyjet and Ryan Air to see if there are any sneaky sales on.
Car hire is always a good option when time is precious during a shorter trip, so I would recommend doing so if you’re planning on just spending 72 hours in Montenegro. I usually head to the likes of Travel Supermarket or Kayak to find the best deal. And always be vigilant when hiring cars in foreign countries, I always take lots of photos and videos of the car before I sign the contracts and drive away.