I have heard a lot of different people say lots of different things about holidaying in Montenegro, ranging from “it was the best holiday ever” to something like “take my advice and never set foot in the place”
In the past holidaying in Montenegro could be more like going to a summer camp than spending time relaxing and being waited on, but times have changed enormously. The country has come on in leaps and bounds and now offers all you would expect – a well-cared for coastline, great public transport, easy access to museums and other attractions – the list goes on. One thing, though, remains unchanged; people don’t necessarily come here in search of top notch service or five-star hotels, but to enjoy stunning natural beauty. High mountains swoop down to meet bustling beaches, coniferous forests suddenly plunge into yawning canyons, twisting roads zigzag upwards towards mountain lakes and torrential rivers – all this within the confines of one small country in the Balkans.
Of course, to see Montenegro in all its diversity without compromising on comfort and budget, you need to get the basics right, the nuts and bolts of any holiday – transport, accommodation, food and beaches.
Transport: taxis, buses, hire cars
So as not to waste money on arrival at the airport, it’s better to pre-order a taxi before you leave home. Here are some services you might want to try: Taxi Montenegro, Taxi In Montenegro. You can also order a taxi by phone directly from the airport. The operators generally speak English, so no problem getting a car. These are some firms who pick up at the airport. In Tivat you can try Red Taxi and in Podgorica, ALO TAXI.
Another option is to book a transfer directly with the hotel. On the site zenhotels.com, each hotel page has a section marked “All Facilities and Services”, where you can see whether a transfer service is provided by that hotel. If it is available, please indicate this when making your booking and the hotel will send a car to the airport to meet you.
Travelling by bus in Montenegro is comfortable and safe. Buses serve destinations all over the country and will take you almost anywhere. One of the most useful websites with reliable information, including timetables, is http://busterminal.me/.
If you want to travel by train, visit http://www.zcg-prevoz.me/ You cannot buy rail tickets on line, you have to purchase them at the ticket office at the station on departure.
If you want to rent a car, you might try Myrentacar. In winter, cars in the budget or medium price ranges cost around 9-15 € per day but in the summer they are two to three times more expensive.
Accommodation: hotels and apartments
If you plan to visit in high season, be sure to book your accommodation well in advance, as the best deals sell out very quickly. I would suggest you stay out of central urban areas to be closer to uncrowded beaches and to stay away from the hustle and bustle.
I like the village of Bečići, 20 minutes’ drive from Budva. It’s much better to get your accommodation there and drive into Budva for the bars, restaurants and night life. Another good place to stay is Petrovac. This little town is surrounded by pine groves and olive trees and there is a large municipal beach 600m long and many smaller beaches in little bays. You can get to Budva, Kotor and Tivat in about an hour. Ulcinj is known for its sandy beaches, a rarity in Montenegro. Thanks to some geographical peculiarities, the sea here is a couple of degrees warmer than elsewhere. Ulcinj is a bit further away from Budva and Kotor, but there is still plenty see there such as the Old Town, the Oriental Bazaar, Balšiča Palace and the Palazzo Venezia.
Apartments are a particularly popular type of accommodation among visitors to Montenegro. You have more space at your disposal but you cook and clean up after yourself. There are also hotels which, along with the usual hotel rooms, also offer serviced apartments such as the Tara Hotel in Bečići or The Blue Horizont Apartments in Budva. Then there are apartment hotels where apartments are the main type of accommodation such as the Perper Aparthotel in Tivat. In both cases you get the full hotel service with housekeeping and meals. If you want to cook for yourself, just choose a price without lunch or dinner. On zenhotels.com, you can apply a special filter during the booking process which helps you to locate apartments in that region which has caught your eye and the level of service you would prefer.
As for hotels, perhaps the most luxurious are the Splendid Spa And Maestral Resort in Budva, the island-hotel Sveti Stefan, the Regent Porto Montenegro in Tivat and the Bianca Resort & Spa in Kolašin.
If you’re planning to spend most of your time outdoors and just need a roof over your head to get some shut-eye, then apartments would be your best option. If you want about service, housekeeping, entertainment and meals included, then you should opt for hotels or apartment hotels.
Local delicacies: Pršut, Kačamak, Trilece
Eating in Montenegro is a subject worthy of an entire article in itself. In almost all cafes and restaurants the fare is tasty and nourishing. They like to feed you as if it were your last meal and the portions are extremely generous to the extent that a normal person would probably have trouble finishing a single serving single-handedly. They love meat: steaks, soups, chops – even meat wrapped in meat.
Here are some dishes you must try.
- Pršut – smoked or dried pork ham. The home of this dish is the village of Njeguši on the slopes of Mount Lovćen. Don’t miss this if you are in the area.
- Negos Steak – a beef or pork chop wrapped in cheese and pršut.
- Popeci – meat rolls in batter with cheese.
- Teleća čorba – a hearty, thick veal soup.
- Trileche – possibly the most famous Montenegrin dessert. Delicate biscuit immersed in a mixture of cream, condensed milk and ordinary milk covered in a caramel sauce. Perhaps my favorite local delicacy, though I do not consider myself as having a sweet tooth.
And here are a few restaurants where you can try all these delicacies:
- Giardino On the way out to Budva in the town of Petrovac. The meat here is prepared in a utensil called a “sach”, a large metal frying pan with a dome-shaped lid over which a hoop containing hot coals is placed. Heat is distributed from top to bottom which leaves the meat really tender. Fish, seafood and soups are also prepared this way.
- Niagara In Podgorica on the banks of the river Cievna …and the Niagara Falls are nearby, hence the name of the restaurant! The portions here are huge, so consider sharing one dish between two. They also do that delicious dessert Trileche. I’ve lost count of the times I have ordered this dessert here and the chef comes to the table with a dreamy smile on his face and proudly shares the recipe with me.
- «Savardak» In Kolašin, designed as a yurt. Be sure to try the kačamak – potatoes baked with cheese, prepared according to a secret family recipe.
- «Alexander» In Rafailovič, located on the promenade, you can either sit on the terrace and admire the sea or you can ask for a table inside. This place also serves breakfast if you are nearby in the morning. Try the pancakes – they are magical here and, as usual, the portions are large. The menu also has some European dishes and a section dedicated to the national cuisine. A fine selection of wines and desserts is also available.
Language and mentality: “Причаш црногорский?» (Do you speak Montenegrin?)
Wherever you go in Montenegro, don’t expect everyone to be fluent in English. If you have any smattering of Russian or German, that might help.
Of course, in the main tourist destinations, English is pretty widely spoken but the further north you go, the less the locals speak any foreign language. It is better to ask immediately whether the person you’re speaking to understands English so that you can avoid the situation where you spend half an hour explaining to the receptionist that the air-conditioning in your room is not working and, having carefully listened to you, he replies “I do not understand”….in the local language.
As for the national character, the Montenegrin people are generally calm, friendly and sociable – and taxi drivers are especially chatty. If you are traveling with children, do not be surprised if every second Montenegrin comes up to you with a broad smile on their faces and exclaim the words “каква сладка беба!” (“what a sweet little one!”).
One downside is that everyone seems to smoke – and even the presence of those “sweet little ones” won’t put them off. They smoke everywhere – in cafes, on the beach, in the presence of children, under the “No Smoking” sign – sparking up is the norm here.
Beaches: the coast and the islands
Most of the beaches in Montenegro are covered in pebbles, but there are places where the shingle is much less – and even some where there’s none at all.
Kamenovo beach, not far from the resort of Rafailovič, is covered in very small pebbles, but it gets very stony as you go into the water so make sure you have a pair of rubber sandals to hand – sea urchins lurk among the stones at the waterline and an encounter with one of them will definitely end in tears. The beach in Budva is a 10-minute bus ride away and the bus runs frequently. If you take a car, parking costs €5.00.
Half an hour from Budva and 15 minutes from Tivat there is the sandy beach at Plavy Khorizonty. This is very popular with families with children and in the high season it becomes crowded. But if you come early in the morning or after five o’clock in the afternoon, it’s much less busy.
Two of the most popular beaches close to Budva are at Jaz and Ploče where you can hire sunbeds and beach umbrellas (€10) plus there are showers, changing rooms, cafes and shops. In summer, of course, it gets very busy, but these are big beaches, so you’ll can easily find somewhere to settle. In Budva itself there’s the picturesque Morgen beach. To get here you have to walk along the rocks, aiming for the hotel “Avala».
In the height of the season, secluded beaches away from noise or hustle and bustle are popular. One such beach is Perazica Do in Petrović. A paved road leads to it through a small forest and then to a tunnel. Continue past the abandoned hotel and you will soon see the clear blue waves of the Adriatic breaking against snow white rocks. The beach itself is small but sandy and well-appointed. It is not crowded here as it is less well known that other places.
You can also visit the nearby islands. Hawaii beach is on the island of St. Nicholas, reachable by boat from Budva. And on the island of St. Marco there are 4 km of wild beaches where you can be sure not to be disturbed. You can get there by boat from Tivat. Don’t forget your towels and rubber sandals. You can also take a boat to the Luštića peninsula from Tivat, where you will find the delightful Žanitsa beach.
There is also the Almara Beach Club with music, a bar, a restaurant and soft sun loungers. Sun beds and umbrellas are available on the beach for €20, but if you want to sunbathe on the premises of the club itself, it will cost you €30.
Essentials to remember when travelling to Montenegro
- Make sure you arrange transportation from the airport in advance for when you arrive: pre-order a taxi by phone or online. You can also book a transfer when booking your hotel.
- Decide what type of accommodation you need: If you want a carefree holiday with good service, then book hotels or apartment hotels. If you plan to do a lot of driving around, maybe you should choose an apartment.
- Make sure you get a city tax receipt (approx. €1) and that the hotel has entered you in the register.
- In Montenegro buses and trains are great ways to get around, and it is possible to rent a car – two-three times cheaper out of season than in high season.
- Try the national cuisine and remember that your eyes might be bigger than your tummy – the portions are extremely generous.
- Beaches in Montenegro are mostly pebbled, but there are a few sandy ones too. If you want to avoid the crowds, head for the islands of St. Nicholas or St. Michael. And do not forget to buy rubber slippers, the entrance to the water on the most beaches is very stony and stones in the sea mean sea urchins lurking.