We are driving the scenic road from Kosovo to Montenegro on our group tour of old Yugoslavia. This, the smallest Slavic state. is a country which is struggling economically. Unemployment is running at 43%. But it is truly gorgeous. It must be - Lord Byron said so. There are stunning mountain ranges (the name means Black Mountains) and parks, though they are high enough for it to be a trifle nippy at times.
We're straight into the mountains, to Biograd Lake, located in the heart of Biogradska Gora National Park, The lake is glacial and very blue. It’s a gentle afternoon perambulation around the shore, through trees that are more than 500 years old and 40-50 metres high.
Next up, the Tara River Gorge and another National Park - Durmitor . Our guide says that Tara River is the deepest canyon in Europe, at its greatest height. The more insane members of the group zip line across the gorge. I’m content to admire the drop, the bridge and the water. It’s also very blue.
We overnight at Zabljak, a small village near the Durmitor Massif, which lies at the very centre of the vast park. Zabljak is 1,456 metres above sea level and is the highest town in the Balkans, so it is definitely chilly. In the morning, another lake - this one's Black Lake, advertised as the premium tourist attraction of the Durmitor area. It is the largest and the best known of 18 glacial lakes on the mountain. The lake has a walking path all round it and is actually a Big lake and Little Lake, connected by a narrow strait that dries up during the summer. Durmitor's other claim to fame is the nation's highest peak, Bobotov Kuk (2523 metres).
We've skipped round the edge of Podgorica, the official capital of Montenegro, which takes up 10% of the landmass and 30 % of the population. Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro until World War I. It is still the honorary capital and the location of several national institutions, including the official residence of the president of Montenegro. Cetinje was founded in the fifteenth century and became a cradle of the culture of Montenegro and a Serbian Orthodox religious centre. This city doesn’t have a fortress, but it does have natural stone protection. There are churches and monasteries, naturally, and a palace museum to visit. Ivan Crnojević, the last ruler of the medieval country of Zeta, built a palace for himself here in 1482, as well as a church.
The traditional village of Njegusi is very much in contrast. It's located on the slopes of Mount Lovćen, within yet another national park, the Lovćen National Park. The village is famous for its food specialities: cow's cheese, smoked ham, dried goat cheese, honey and mead are produced. So, we eat lunch of ham, bread and cheese in a traditional inn.
Montenegro has 117 beaches on the Adriatic Coast. But, the highlight is the World Heritage Site of Kotor. The town is crammed with mediaeval and renaissance buildings and numerous churches, so two walking tours aren’t really sufficient. The streets are narrow alleys and the old walled city is traffic free. We can hang out of our windows and chat to people in the street below. We can also hear them partying at night. There are some very upmarket and elegant restaurants to sample as well. But they have prices to match and the food is too often disappointing.
Kotor is really famous, though for its scenic beauty. It clings to the edge of what looks like a fjord, but is deemed to be a drowned river valley by the geological purists. Whatever, the views, as we drop slowly into town down a narrow zig zag road are the best so far. And the water even more blue.
We drive along the edge of the ‘fjord’ in the morning on our way to Bosnia. It's over 60 metres deep - perfect for large boats to anchor - and cruise ships. There are red roofed villages, pointy steepled churches and a string of little islands floating in the water. Each has its own castle or monastery in the centre. Illustrations straight out of a book of fairy stories. According to legend, one islet with a church, Our Lady of the Rocks, was made over the centuries by local seamen. They were keeping an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on this rock in the sea. Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid another rock by its side. Over time, an islet gradually emerged from the sea.
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