It’s time for a new update about our travels. This time we’ll tell you about a new country (Montenegro), amazing views, a long hike down, two visits to a dentist and why we stay in apartments instead of using our tent.
Republika Srpska detour
The morning we shared our week 4 post we got into our car to drive from Croatia to Montenegro. As you may probably have figured out by now we’re not about direct routes and this time it was no different. There was still one place in Bosnia-Hercegovina we wanted to visit, Trebinje, that was just a short drive away from Dubrovnik.
After passing the haphazard looking border crossing (a real border station was under construction) we quickly entered the Republika Srpska, the Serb dominated part of Bosnia-Hercegovina we wrote about in week 3. That meant that Cyrillic was the preferred script on signs here (Latin script being totally absent sometimes).
The first reason to visit leafy Trebinje were the great photos we’d seen of the old city waterfront and an old Ottoman bridge being reflected in the water of the Trebišnjica river. Regretfully, with the wind blowing to hard there was hardly any reflection at all. Without it the view was just very mediocre. The city itself had not many other sights, but was very lively on Saturday and we saw a surprising amount of statues.
However, the detour was not completely wasted thanks to the Hercegovačka Gračanica monastery, a Serbian Orthodox monastery located on a hill just outside Trebinje. It was only built in 2000 and was not that big, but it had some magnificent frescoes inside.
Amazing scenery in Montenegro
Then we moved on to Montenegro, the fourth country of our road trip across the Balkans. We were immediately blown away by its mountain scenery as we crossed the border. We first stopped in Herceg Novi on the Bay of Kotor and had an amazing view across the bay from the Savina monastery.
Following the main road winding its way around the several arms of fjord-like Kotor Bay we drove to Kotor, the most visited town around the Unesco World Heritage listed bay. The next day we had a taxi drop us off at Krstac Pass, 940 meters above Kotor, and then did a downhill hike following an old mountain trail back to the old fortified town.
A downhill hike
The first hour the descent was steep, rocky and gravelly. Passing through forests there were no views, but after we got below the tree line we had spectacular panoramic views of Kotor and Kotor Bay that would not leave us until we got down again. Seeing a surprising number of hikers going up we felt really lazy only doing it the way down.
The trail has about 70 U-turns but we didn’t complete them all, switching to the stairs of the town walls a little over halfway down, to ascend the last stretch of the 1350 steps up to the fortifications overlooking the city.
After about five hours we were down in Kotor again where we explored the small old town. There was only one cruise ship berthed in the harbor but still it felt very touristy. But we didn’t mind as much anymore like earlier in Croatia. Apparently we’re getting used to it.
Next made a detour inland to visit Ostrog Monastery, passing the Venetian town of Perast along the way where we took a taxi boat to the picturesque Our-Lady-On-The-Rocks church-island. After driving through some stunning scenery again we visited the Ostrog Monastery, a seventeenth century Serbian Orthodox monastery built into a cliff 900 meters above the Zeta valley. To our regret the amazing frescoes inside could not be photographed.
Testing my driving skills
Getting to the monastery was as interesting as the destination itself, driving up a steep and narrow road with countless switchbacks, barely wide enough to let two cars pass each other and sometimes much narrower. At such moments it was important to anticipate oncoming traffic and look for spots that were a little bit wider to let each other pass and pray that it was not a touring car bus coming from the other side. A real test of driver’s skills.
We had read some hair-raising stories about the drive up, and Eugénie held on tight to her seatbelt the whole way up not enjoying the drive up at all, but luckily it was still early in the season and traffic on the mountain road was pretty light. The way down was much easier as most people had left the monastery by then and there were no new cars coming up.
After visiting the monastery and passing by the urban ugliness around Montenegro’s capital Podgorica, we had another scenic drive before arriving back at the Adriatic coast again where we’ve been staying for the past five nights just outside the holiday town of Petrovac, which was centrally located on the Montenegro coast for some day trips.
Apartments instead of camping
Here we found a nice apartment again. People who’ve been following us closely may remember that we brought our tent along to keep accommodation costs down. So why do we only mention staying in apartments all the time? The answer is simple: because it’s hardly more expensive than camping.
After camping for six days in the first week, we discovered that there were great last-minute deals to be had because until now it still is not the high season. By booking the day before we move on to our next destination, we’ve been able to score some great, spacious apartments (around 30 euros) that cost us just a few euros more than staying at campsites (averaging 25 euros).
So we either put up our tent each time, have cramped living quarters and shared facilities, must cook on gas burners and have no way of cooling food and drinks. Or we move our bags into an apartment which has free parking, its own bath room, kitchen, refrigerator, free laundry and (most of the times) air-conditioning and decent wifi. Hmmmm, tough choice.
The only negative we can find is that most apartments were hard to find due to the lack of a proper adress and no clear signage of the apartments name. Nine out of ten times our Garmin didn’t know the adress details given in the booking confirmation, so it was a real challenge to find some of our accommodation without a house number or a visible name. They’re all called apartman or apartmani. But which one?
Our well-kept 43 m2 studio-apartment at Villa Lazic just outside Petrovac has all these trimmings, including a balcony with sea view and very decent wifi, which is a scarce commodity in Montenegro. The only fault we can find is that it’s very close to the main coastal road. We can almost wave to the cars passing by. LOL.
To give you some other examples: our very big apartment near Dubrovnik was (much) cheaper than most campsites in that area, we stayed in a roomy apartment just 200 meters from the historic center of Sarajevo, had an apartment that could sleep five 10 minutes walk from the Old Bridge in Mostar and couldn’t believe how big and modern the apartment was that we’d booked near Split.
Some day trips
Petrovac was the perfect base for some day trips, like driving up 1749 meter high Mount Lovćen where we had some hazy views of the southern half of Montenegro, the old ruined town of Stari Bar, take in the view of Montenegro’s poster-child Sveti Stefan (now a resort accessible only to the very rich), see some impossibly scenically located monasteries and visit the old town of tourist hub Budva.
Although it’s the kind of town that will never be one of our favorites – think Spanish costa’s but with pretty average gritty-sand and pebbly beaches and mostly Russian sunbathers – we actually visited Budva twice. This is because Eugénie has been having some severe jaw pains in the past week. If it’s infected gums or some root canal issue is not really clear to us.
We made a trip to the dentist two times this week but even after taking x-rays of her teeth it still proved difficult to determine the problem. She had one molar opened up twice to put medicine in that should cure some infection inside. We hope it works. At least the nerve pains are gone for the moment. We’ll have to wait and see how it develops.
Although the dental office was located on the first floor of the luxury Tre Canne hotel the two visits only cost us 50 euros (including x-rays). Things seemed differently organized, though, from what we’re used to back home, with people walking in and out of the open doors to treatment rooms, dentists sometimes treating two patients at the same time and a basket of chocolates in the waiting room! Very tasty by the way!
Limited beach time
We’d also chosen to stay in Petrovac because it was supposed to have nice sandy beaches and was more quiet than tourist favorite Budva. From our apartment it was only ten minutes down to Lucice Beach, a smaller gritty-sand beach between two headlands. It looked picturesque in pics without people, but in reality the beach was completely hidden under beach chairs, towels and umbrellas.
We spent less time at the beach than anticipated. Three times we spent a few hours at the beach and we were surprised at how busy it was, almost as bad as Budva. We hate to think what it will be like in a few weeks’ time. We’ll never know, though, as tomorrow we’ll be going to country number 5 of our Balkan road trip, Albania. On the way we’ll be passing one of the most beautiful natural sceneries Montenegro has to offer.
By the way: later on we’ll be coming back to Montenegro to visit the Tara Canyon and Durmitor National Park. So it’s not goodbye to Montenegro yet.