I had been to some places I had never heard of and knew nothing about. I had the even been to countries I knew nothing about, for example Djibouti and Albania but at least I had heard of them and knew they existed, but in all honesty I didn’t realise Montenegro was a country in its own right – so to sail there, check in and discover all about it was very intriguing. It has a tiny coastline of only 51nm as the crow flies but has some really interesting stops on the way up
We decided to check in at a place called Budva as we knew we could anchor safely in the bay to check in. We did enquire about the marina but at €123 (A$200) a night we declined and enjoyed our short stay on anchor. The first thing we noticed was that Montenegrins are very tall – towering over us as they stamped our paperwork. The second thing we noticed was the small amount of languages we recognised – a few English, French and German, but mainly visitors from the Balkan states, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. We felt quite alien as we wandered through the very clean and spacious town. Budva is extremely old- with the ‘old town’ perched on the edge of the town and the main part spreading up the hill and along the beach.
The Old Town is extraordinarily beautiful and we spent a couple of days soaking up the atmosphere, looking at the artwork and wandering around the streets stopping for a coffee or glass of wine and tourist watching. It’s late September and there are still heaps of tourists – goodness knows how busy this town must have been in August.
As I said before I knew nothing about Montenegro do so I did a bit of research and discovered that this small country had at one time been a Kingdom in 1910 but has also been under the rule of the Ottamans, the Serbians, the Italians, the French, the Hungarians, the Germans and others. it became part of Yugoslavia after WW2 and then joined forces with Serbia in the Bosnian war in 1992. After that they became part of the Serbian federation and it wasn’t until 2006 they finally gained independence and became Montenegro. They have only really been a country in their own right for 13 years.
Anyway back to Budva. After check in we spent a few days exploring the old city and the rather modern bland city (we much preferred the old city) and decided there was more to offer than Budva and so we set off for Tivat.
Tivat is another old town that has undergone a massive restoration since the invention of tourism. Its cute and semi-touristy and has had a lot of money spent on it. We anchored just outside the marina next to an Aussie boat and were delighted when they rocked up to say hello. Leeanne and Greg turned out to be full time liveaboards in Europe so we were as interested in their journey as they were in ours. We arranged a sundowner that night.
Ten minutes after they left, a super dooper tender turned up and offered us 2 complimentary nights at this flash new marina 5 nms away with an extra night at only €50. We asked if our new friends could also come and they said yes so later that evening over dinner we decided that both boats would take up this kind offer and head to Herceg Novi. A couple days later we both sailed into this brand new, ultra modern, swanky marina. They were just delightful- couldn’t be more helpful and even arranged a day trip to Dubrovnik the next day for us.
This new marina – Portonovo Montenegro- has everything from a dog basket in the restaurant to the best toilet/shower block we have ever seen but it is empty because it is new and it’s 7kms from the nearest town. After arriving we went for a long walk around the marina and local town, ending up having a few too many drinks with our friends from Blue Nomad on the jetty. With no one around it felt quite surreal in this magnificent marina but the sunset was gorgeous and the company brilliant.
Next day we took the bus to Dubrovnik. A gem of a town, albeit completely overrun by tourists. Dubrovnik has really suffered from various wars but it’s been rebuilt and now is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. Game Of Thrones was filmed here which has also increased its popularity and we noticed lots of ‘Genuine Game Of Thrones’ souvenir shops.
The Old town is surrounded by an ancient wall that we walked around- taking in all the beautiful views. This took a couple of hours but would have taken less had we not had to stop every five minutes for people who wanted selfies on the wall. We had lunch in one of the thousand restaurants, bought the obligatory ice cream, took photos and wandered around the labyrinth of small lanes. The only problem was that we have become so used to tourist free places we felt quite claustrophobic with the huge amount of people…
We loved Dubrovnik- it oozed character and was very pretty with it’s old character but for us the incredible amount of people left us feeling rather out of place, we are just not used to crowds like that so we hightailed it back to Portnovi Marina and the quiet of an empty marina.
Next day we took the dinghy and went to visit the old u-boat bunkers hidden in the hillside. The Germans built these bunkers to hide their u-boats in and the Yugoslavs used them for 50 years to hide in – they are about 150m long and are very well built with small side tunnels leading off them into the hillside. Incredible engineering – and there are heaps of them.
The rest of the morning was a typical boat day….. chores in the morning- cleaning the boat, laundry, small maintenance jobs – so I was happy when Leanne came by and said come to the beach for a lazy afternoon while the boys watch the Australian rugby semi final. We had a great afternoon swimming, sunbathing, drinking wine and putting the world to rights. On returning to the boats we found the guys and the drinking continued until we ended up on Indian Summer making pizzas. Another fantastic night in paradise with good friends.
We hired a car for a few days and explored inland. Montenegro is really beautiful. The name Montenegro means Black Mountain because the landscape is dominated by a range of low mountains that look black most of the time.
It is lush, hilly and dotted with lovely old buildings and just driving around was a great past time. We aimed to get up to the north to see the famous gorge, second only to the Grand Canyon but as we were out of season they were digging up the roads and we couldn’t get there. Instead we found ourselves in some delightful towns exploring the backstreets.
Sveti Stefan used to be the playground of such famous icons as Sophia Loren and Kirk Douglas but now is a privately owned resort which you can visit to enjoy and drink of two.
The next day we went hiking. We wanted to hike one of the mountains but I wasn’t sure how I would cope as I still have lots of muscle pain, so we ended up following some trails which were rather overgrown but on level ground. We ended up finding ourselves in a small village with lots of mills, none of which were still working. There were only a couple of houses that were still lived in and it was magical. We found old mills, bridges, lakes, tumble down houses, streams, waterfalls and lots of other country relics. It was so wet and green that it reminded me of childhood walks through the English countryside.
We wanted to do much more hiking but the weather let us down as it started bucketing with rain later on in the day so we had to head back to Kotor.
Kotor is absolutely stunning and is deservedly a UNESCO site. We spent a few days exploriing Kotor – a well preserved example of a complete walled city. I have been to many walled cities on this journey, but Kotor is I think, one of my favourites. Of course it was full of tourists, all on a two hour trip from their cruise ships, drinking wine or coffee at one of the hundred or so bars, but by 5pm we had the place to ourselves so we were able to explore in comfort. With its myriad of narrow lanes, small squares and churches, this medieval town needed at least 2 or 3 days to explore so we decided to stay.
We had decided to spend about a week here but the next morning heard that my mother in the UK was unwell – we were very lucky in that there was an airport only a few miles away in the next bay of Tivat, so we up anchored and took the boat round and I was able to grab a taxi to the airport and be on a plane within the day. Being far away from your family is always the hardest part of cruising, but with instant communication and online booking of flights, we can usually be back with family within 24 hours. After a tense few days, she rallied and after 10 days I felt able to return to Montenegro. We were meant to be in the Caribbean but due to our plans changing last year, luckily we ended up in the med which was much quicker to fly to London from.
Ian picked me up from the airport and we headed back to Tivat. We had loved Montenegro but it was time to move on – we dinghied round to a tiny little bay, walked 400m to the big supermarket, stocked up on meat and veg and prepared for the next leg. 8am on the day of departure we filled up the diesel tanks and jerry cans with duty free diesel, checked out and headed north to the romantic city of Venice.