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Montenegro Drive: Adriatic Coast and Lake Skadar

We took a week off in May and booked flights to Montenegro, the small mountain country in the south of Europe. After some initial research we understood how much there was to see. Our holiday was going to be a Montenegro drive.

So we booked a car and started planning a week-long Montenegro road trip.

Rijeka Crnojevica old bridge, Lake Skadar National Park

 Montenegro drive: Rijeka Crnojevica, Lake Skadar 

We had to drive down the country’s Adriatic coast and around the Bay of Kotor. But that’s not all, we also needed to travel inland over the mountains. We had to see the country’s hidden wonder, Lake Skadar National Park.

Cetinje church, Montenegro

Montenegero drive: Cetinje

That was the plan and that’s what we did. In this post I will share our Montenegro drive. I will show the itinerary, to help others plan their trips to the mountain country.

Our Montenegro Drive on the Map

 

Our Montenegro itinerary

The map shows our Montenegro itinerary.

We started from Kotor, first to the old capital Cetinje at the edge of Lovcen National Park. From Cetinje it was a short drive to Rijeka Crnojevica where the next national park Lake Skadar begins.

The rest of our holiday we spent on Montenegro’s scenic Adriatic coast, first in Ulcinj and then in Budva after which it was time to return our car and jump on the plane.

As Montenegro is a small country  our road trip was less than 300 km in all – and I can tell almost every kilometer was scenic! Mountains, coastline, waterways, black forest.

Drive around the Bay of Kotor

This was our main Montenegro drive on which we spent five days. Before that we stayed in Kotor and made a trip around the bay. I wrote a separate post on the Bay of Kotor , this one: Driving around the Bay of Kotor

Montenegro, the Country

In the middle: Montenegro flag

Flags in a Montenegro town. Montenegro flag in the middle.

Montenegro means black mountain and the name comes from the country’s many black forests. The country is located between Albania, Serbia and Croatia and it got independent in 2006.

Montenegro really is a small country with only 600 000 people. There are different ethnic groups the biggest of which are Montenegrins and Serbs. The main language is Serbo-Croatian which is spelled both in the Latin and Cyrillic letters.

The currency is euro but the country doesn’t belong to the European Union.

Despite its young age Montenegro has a very old culture. The Greeks have been here and so have the Romans, Ottomans, Venetians and a whole lot of others. They have all left their traces in the mountain country but the nature is the country’s own:

Boat trip Perast to Our Lady of the Rock island

A typical view of Montenegro, Europe

The majestic mountains, the bays, rivers and the Adriatic sea, the bright sunshine and dark coulds.

Our Montenegro road trip started in Kotor:

The Walled City of Kotor

House corner in Kotor, Montenegro

Strolling in the old town of Kotor, Montenegro

The old town of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is a beautiful historic town between mountains and a long winding fjord, Kotor Bay. Its old town has massive stone walls around it, on three sides.

On the fourth side the wall climbs up above the city and forms a very special fortification, Fortress of St Ivan.

You can climb up to the fortress, it’s a pretty hard climb but up there you will get a postcard view of old town roofs, the Bay of Kotor and the mountains around. To get up you will have to climb 350 stone steps cut from the rock and you will also pass a small chapel, Our Lady of Salutation.

 

Kotor wall and  fortress

So Kotor old town is well protected from all sides and there are only three gates to let people in: one in the north, one in the south and a main gate in the middle.

A view from the bridge that you walk along to the north gate:

Kotor city wall and green water

Spending time in Kotor bayside park

On the shores of Kotor, Montenegro

For more about Kotor and the fjord check out my other post Driving around the Bay of Kotor. Now we have to head south.

From Kotor to Cetinje

Budva, Becici and Sveti Stefan from the hills

Budva, Becici and Sveti Stefan from the Cetinje road

To get from Kotor to Cetinje there are two alternative roads: a narrow zig zag road through Lovcen National Park and the coastal Budva road.

As we had been warned about Montenegro roads we took the Budva road which is a main road. The road turned out to be very good. So no problems at all driving in Montenegro so far!

 

Along the road from Kotor to Cetinje

Driving in Montenegro and Renting a Car

Driving from Budva to Cetinje

Driving in Montenegro: from Budva to Cetinje

In fact it was like that throughout our Montenegro road trip.  The main roads were good and traffic too was good, they were driving like in any country. So absolutely no worries driving in Montenegro. Just go ahead and rent a car!

A word of warning: we had booked online and taken full insurance coverage but our car rental company (Avis) very aggressively wanted to sell us their own insurance and almost refused to give us the car without that. They did that to all clients most of which finally gave up and bought it.

So be prepared for an aggressive negotiations. Of course it’s normal that car rental companies try to sell their insurance – but they normally stop as you tell them that you already have one.

Becici and Budva

One more stop before heading inland

In Budva the road turns inland and you start climbing, curve after curve. The Cetinje road is good and brand new and there are many places where you can stop for views. And we stopped, time after time…

Cetinje

Cetinje Monastery church

Cetinje Monastery buildings

A pretty church and a wall with towers

Cetinje was a surprise. It first looked a bit outdated but that was not the whole truth. Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro, turned out to be a jewel.

Leafy alleys, colored houses and a car-free center with a huge amount of street cafes to sit in. Cetinje also has an old monastery we had never even heard about and a whole collection of fantastic historic buildings around it.

 

Views of Cetinje, Montenegro

Cetinje Monastery and the museums around it are important national monuments and while Podgorica is the new capital Cetinje still keeps its place as the country’s historic center.

There were busloads of local visitors around with their own guided tours in the local language. We as the only tourists walked on our own – and found peaceful corners and green flower meadows.

Cetinje Monastery park

Montenegro drive: Cetinje black forest

Early summer in Cetinje, the historic capital of Montenegro

Lovcen National Park

If you look at one of the small photos above you can see two mountain peaks beyond the city. That’s the 1700 m twin peaks of Mt Lovcen which are the center of Lovcen National Park. One of the peaks has a famous mausoleum and both of them provide splendid views across the whole country of Montenegro.

As Lovcen is located between Kotor and Cetinje there’s access from both cities. I have seen fantastic nature photos from the top of the national park and would very much like to visit. This time we couldn’t as a thunder storm was approaching.  Lovcen is one of the rainiest areas of the country.

So we went on to Lake Skadar.

Cetinje to Lake Skadar

Road to Rijeka Crnojevica, Lake Skadar National Park

Road to Rijeka Crnojevica, Lake Skadar National Park

Again the road was very good – at least for a while. That was the main road from Cetinje to Podgorica. We however took a side road to the small village of Rijeka Crnojevica which is one of the gateways to Lake Skadar National Park.

 

The winding road from Cetinje to Rijeka Crnojevica 

The road down to Rijeka was narrow, beautiful, winding and mostly in a black forest. There were small vineyards and wine and farming products were sold on the roadside. Otherwise we were the only people around, there were just the birds, trees, flowers and us.

Rijeka Crnojevica, Montenegro

River boats in Rijeka Crnojevica, Montenegro

So we came down to Rijeka Crnojevica which is a very modest village. Hard to believe that this little village can have an impressive history as the king’s summer retreat.

Lake Skadar National Park

Rijeka Crnojevica old bridge, Lake Skadar National Park

Lake Skadar National Park water lilies

Rijeka Crnojevica, a village by a river with the same name

Lake Skadar is a 40 km long wetland area and one of Europe’s big lakes. Two thirds of the Skadar Lake belong to Montenegro while the rest is on the Albanian side.

The lake has a lot of fish and an incredibly rich bird life. As one of the biggest bird preserves in Europe it is a home to almost 300 bird species including the Dalmatian pelican and black ibis (both of which we saw, along with many others).

Lake Skadar is in a valley and fed by rivers from mountains on all sides. In addition there are 50 underground springs in the area that feed the lake with fantastic clear water.

The biggest river is Rijeka Crnojevica.  Rijeka Crnojevica has a magic green swimming-pool like water and you can clearly see all fish, underwater plants and the river bottom when boating on the lake.

 

Lake Skadar National Park seen from a boat

As we saw the Crnojevic river from the village we wanted to see more of it. Luckily there were men offering river boat trips.

Taking a Lake Skadar Boat Tour

Cruising in Skadar Lake National Park

Montenegro drive: boat trip on Lake Skadar

The trips are of different lengths, ranging from short EUR 25 river cruises to longer lake tours priced from 40 to 80 euros depending on how far they go.

The prices are per boat and fixed so you don’t have to negotiate. Good that every boatman has the same prices.

Here is a map of Lake Skadar, click on the map to see it in a bigger size. Rijeka Crnojevica where we started is marked on the left.

Skadar Lake map

Map of  Skadar Lake. Source: Lake Skadar National Park

We went to the lake with a man who presented himself as Radovan and spent two hours with him in the waterways. First in the sharp bends of the winding river, then out on the open lake and finally in between water plants in a marshland.

What did we see? Green river water changing to a blue lake, white and yellow water lilies covering whole bays – and hundreds of water birds.

And the Green Pyramid, a stunning pyramid shaped hill that fills a horseshoe bend of Rijeka Crnojevica.

The Green Pyramid of Lake Skadar

Rijeka Crnojevica viewpoint, Lake Skadar National Park

The Green Pyramid, one of the secrets of Montenegro 

Here the Green Pyramid is seen from the road from Rijeka Crnojevica to the next village Karuc. The place is the Pavlova Strana roadside lookout, an amazing place where you can see a long stretch on both sides of the river bend.

From the roadside you can see the river and the majestic pyramid from above and on a boat tour you will see it all at a close distance. We loved the boat tour which was very much worth the time and money we spent on it. As Radovan gave me his card I want to share his contact information in case you are going to the same place: [email protected]

Rijeka Crnojevica and the Green Pyramid, Lake Skadar

Rijeka Crnojevica horseshoe bend, Lake Skadar National Park

Rijeka Crnojevica river, Lake Skadar National Park

The canyon of Rijeka Crnovica from the Pavlova Strana lookout

So we left Lake Skadar National Park towards Podgorica, the capital. Podgorica in on a huge plateau between the Montenegrin and Albanian mountains and not far away from the Albanian border.

Compared to a recent national park visit Podgorica didn’t look inviting so we took the ring road south and before we noticed we were driving through the 10 km long Sozina tunnel that links Podgorica with the Adriatic coast.

We were on the way to Ulcinj, the southernmost town of Montenegro.

Ulcinj

Ulcinj old town

The old town of Ulcinj: a walled city on a rocky peninsula

Ulcinj is a seaside town in the far south of Montenegro. It’s on the Albanian border and has an Albanian population. Part of the city is on forested hills with a steep, rocky shoreline and the rest on a flat plain south of the hills.

Ulcinj has a very pretty and well preserved old town which is one of the oldest in the area.

Massive walls and entrance through only two gates have made Ulcinj old town practically impossible to attack: the worst attack during centuries has been by the 1979 earthquake.

Ulcinj in Photos:

 

Ulcinj and its old town in photos

One of the pictures shows a long 50 m wide sandy beach. That’s the 13 km long Velika Plaza, the great beach on the flatland south of the city. In summer the beach is full of tourists but in May it’s – empty.

We instead preferred this sandy cove right below the old town. Its clear water was just perfect for us.

Ulcinj beach

White wine in Ulcinj

A glass of white wine and Ulcnij beach

… and so was the local white wine in the old town – just perfect!

Our Hotel in Ulcinj

Enjoying the Apartments Eneida pool, Ulcinj

Where to stay in Ulcinj: Apartments Eneida

After the drive to Ulcinj we just wanted to take it easy . We had found a little hideaway at hotels.com. It really was a hideaway, the place was hard to find and driving there was an adventure. The road was steep, narrow and winding but we did it!

Apartments Eneida is a small family hotel clinging to the steep cliffs above the Adriatic. A private beach, a little pool and fantastic views across the bay to the old town was what we wanted and what we got. What’s best the old town was just a short 400 m stroll away.

 

Montenegro drive: our Ulcinj hotel

So we spent lazy days in this little piece of paradise and enjoyed the sun, sea, pool, the fantastic Mediterranean nature – and of course the pretty town of Budva. Our apartment was nice and clean, we had a big terrace towards the sea, and the family members were really friendly and helpful. The whole place is a gem, reasonably priced luxury.

We booked our Eneida apartment through Hotels.com.

Ulcinj rose

A red Ulcinj rose

Then it was time to leave Ulcinj and its roses. Ulcinj and our hotel garden had a lot of roses, big roses in all colors.

We headed back north, to Bar.

Bar

Stari grad Bar, Montenegro

One of the churches in the old town of Bar

Bar is a big harbor city with ferry connections to Italy. It’s also a tourist city with long beaches.

What we liked most in Bar was its old town. Bar’s old town is different from all others we saw in Montenegro. It’s located inland, on the hills and 4 km from the new town. And it’s not really an old town, it’s old ruins.

 

Montenegero drive: Bar old town

There have been two huge explosions that have damaged the city and there have been more than two earthquakes but each time they have restored Bar old town. Yet  it looks like all ruins and you have to imagine what there has been. Churches, a Turkish bath, a bishop’s palace, a monastery, stone walls, defense towers and an aqueduct.

But the old town is not dead, far from that. It draws a lot of visitors that rows of restaurants are catering for on the streets below. And there are wild flowers:

Bar old town flowers

Bar old town wild flowers

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan hotel island

Fishing village converted to hotel: Sveti Stefan

Further north comes Sveti Stefan, 50 years ago a fishing village, before that a pirates’ nest and now a luxury resort.

Fishing huts have been converted to luxury suites for the rich and the famous which have made Sveti Stefan their little hideaway. Even Charles and Diana spent their honeymoon on this tiny island.

 

Photos of Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

There’s a sandbar and a bridge linking the hotel resort to the mainland but only hotel guests are allowed in. As there are no beaches on the tiny island one side of the sandbar was made a private beach for the guests. The other side is public.

Sveti Stefan beach to the south of Budva

Sveti Stefan beach to the south of Budva

Budva

Harbor of Budva, Montenegro

Budva harbor and old town, highlights of our Montenegro drive

Then finally, the city of Budva with its wonderful location and fantastic beaches needs to be the final destination on our Montenegro drive.

Founded 2500 years ago by the Greeks, inhabited by the Romans, Venetians and many more nationalities the Budva of today is a favorite of local and international holidaymakers. Budva is Montenegro’s number one resort town where a lot is happening and tourist services never end.

Budva marina at the end of the main beach is a place to see and so is the old town next to it:

 

Montenegro drive: the old town of Budva

Budva old town looks so perfect and well preserved but most of it is not original. Budva, too, was destroyed in the 1979 earthquake but in Montenegro they always rebuilt what was destroyed.

The old town’s most visible building is the massive medieval fortress Citadel that today is a museum and art gallery.

Harbor restaurant, Budva

Budva’s tourist services are good and many

But where should you stay in Budva? There are hundreds of hotels to choose from.

Where to Stay in Budva

View from our Budva hotel room

Our hotel pool in Budva

Hotel Splendid in Becici, Budva

In Budva, too, we wanted some luxury, and this time even more. Budva was our last stop in Montenegro and we needed something special before going back home.

As even five star hotels are reasonably priced in Montenegro we tried one. It was the Montenegro Stars hotel Splendid in Becici, right south of Budva. What also attracted us was the huge Becici beach only separated from Budva by a rocky peninsula.

However you can’t choose the weather. We had cloudy days in Budva and it was not the right moment for sunbathing. What a luck we had booked this hotel! The pool area was warm and sheltered and we could swim there even when it was cloudy – and what was best there was an indoor pool and a spa! There we went, in the fantastic green waters – and had a good time in Budva!

 

Views of our hotel beach and pools in Budva, Montenegro

So our hotel’s name was Splendid and Hotel Splendid really was the right name for the place. A splendid room, splendid buffet breakfasts and dinners, and a splendid selection of pools, one for each need.

We really enjoyed everything and that’s why I want to show you the place. If you ever go to Budva, try this hotel, not bad!

Our Hotel Splendid room

Our hotel bed

Our Budva hotel room

More about our Budva hotel on the hotel’s own website: Hotel Splendid, Budva

End of our Montenegro Drive

Just the last photos and back to the airport. We had a splendid week in Montenegro, wish to be back one day!

Photograhing in the garden

Hotel Splendid flower garden, Budva

Montenegro drive: photographing flowers

I hope you enjoyed my article and found it useful. Maybe you are planning a trip to Montenegro? In that case you might also like my other Montenegro article Driving around the Bay of Kotor.

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