21.01.2016

THE DALMATIAN SHORES OF MONTENEGRO

THE DALMATIAN SHORES OF MONTENEGRO, Alper Daçe | 21.01.2016

Four-and-a-half years ago during the summer months of 2011, the next stop of our Dalmatian shores tour after Croatia was Montenegro. Montenegro was then an obscure country that had just won its independence, while now it is considered to be the “Rising Star of the Balkans”. Turkish Airlines has trips between Istanbul and Podgorica, the capital, 6 days of the week.

We start our trip to Montenegro’s popular coast city of Budva with a bus trip from Dubrovnik, which lasts approximately 3 hours. We have no issues at the border when we are entering Montenegro from Croatia. On the trip, the bus first stops at Herceg Novi, which is located at the entrance to the southernmost fjord in Europe. From there we travel around the fjord and reach Montenegro’s most touristic city, Kotor. Our first impression of Kotor is that the city really looks beautiful. Most of the bus passengers get off here. After leaving Kotor we move away from the sea and we pass through a tunnel below the mountains, getting closer to Budva. When we meet the sea again we see the famous Jaz Beach below the road. This beach, which has concerts and festivals organized on it, is one of the longest and most beautiful beaches on the Montenegro shores. After going a little bit further we see the Sveta Nikola Island across from Budva, whose popular name is “Hawaii”. As we go down the hill we see Budva city center; in a few minutes we reach the bus terminal.

Budva is Montenegro’s favorite holiday destination. Domestic tourists in addition to Serbians, Russians and foreigners from Eastern Europe frequent this city... That is why most of the touristic signboards are in Russian and the local language, unlike the signboards in Croatia. Few people speak English. 

Our first order of business at the terminal is to buy a map that covers the other cities in the region as well. We plan to travel to the nearby cities and islands with daily tours during our stay in Budva.

After a ten-minute walk from the terminal we reach our hotel. The perspective map at the entrance to the hotel helps us better understand the area’s geography. After settling into the hotel we go out to discover Budva.

We have to fill our stomachs before we do anything else! We sit at Grill Relax (Mainski Put, 22), which is the first place we see as we go towards the shore, and we immediately order the meatballs with the local name of cevapi.  We are astounded by the portion sizes when the dishes arrive! There are 10 meatballs the width of our İnegöl meatballs and three times the length of them. The taste is also as good as our own. The local beer that comes with it, Niksicko, is ice cold. Seeing Yaprak Dökümü running on the TV is also surprising... We learn that our series are also popular in Montenegro. After the very filling and tasty meal we pay the check, which is very reasonable to us. We would definitely encourage you to eat some meatballs here!

After filling our stomachs we keep going towards the Budva shore on our discovery tour. It can be said that there is an irregular urbanization in the city that is caused by sudden development; we come to the conclusion that they didn’t have a policy as controlled and protective as in Croatia. The summer houses in the shape of apartments located in the center remind us of Kumburgaz or Çınarcık. There is a beach where you can swim in the sea besides the piers. The walking trail next to the beach is filled with souvenir shops, stands, food and beverage venues and bars. The environment isn’t very pleasant though. The luxury yachts at the marina confirm the information that says that Budva is a favorite holiday destination. Thinking that the very low walls wouldn’t be very protective, we pass through an old gate to enter the city. The view isn’t what we expected. The buildings with PVC windows and signboards that create visual pollution unfortunately mask the beauty of this historic area; we lament that the necessary protective measures aren’t in place.

We keep going further through the side streets and reach a square that has the St. Ivan Cathedral and the St Trojice Church right next to it. These structures are restored and the square looks more maintained compared to the side streets. 

After passing the square we go outside the walls again through a small gate. We stop by a temple named Santa Maria in Punta, which is inside the walls judging by the view from the beach. The reason for the temple’s Spanish name is hidden in its story. According to the stories, a galley full of long-haired and bearded men docked at Budva. These men came from the sacred area in Spain named “Black Mary” (probably today’s Montserrat). To learn whether Budva was Christian, they placed a “Mother of God” icon on the hills so that the people would notice. In that same place, this construction is built in 840 BC. 

There begins a walking trail along the beach parallel to the cliffs. The Dancing Girl statue a little bit further ahead on top of a rock is interesting. 

The view of the cliffs as you continue along the trail gets more and more interesting. As you continue along the trail, the path turns to the right, where the Old City disappears from view and the Mogren 2 beach appears. This beach, which is mainly filled with young people, has cliffs on its right side and has shade in the afternoon. When you pass under the cliffs at the end you reach the Mogren 1 beach. On this side there are a few businesses, sunbeds, bars, and of course loud music. Morgen 1 is also reachable by car beyond the cliffs. Even though the sea is nice I do not recommend the place. The Mogren 2 beach is calmer and has a wide area where you can spend your time without having to spend money, unlike at Mogren 1. As we walk around, the athletic bodies of the young people we see attract our attention. Physically, the people resemble Slavs and those from Old Eastern Bloc countries. Their alphabet generally uses Cyrillic letters.

On our way back, the Hemingway Bar attracts our attention. While sitting and drinking at the higher quality and better decorated venue, compared to Budva in general, we begin to discuss two things that we noticed and had trouble understanding: Why is it that almost all of the taxis are Mercedes cars? When life is expensive and there isn’t much industry in the country, why does everyone seem to be well off? Even though we discuss a few points on these topics, we can’t get to the bottom of it. 

After resting for a few hours at the hotel we go back down to the seaside. Some nightclubs and discos that were closed during the day are open now. Beautiful girls at the entrances are inviting people in. Most of them have Go-Go dancers dancing around poles; their clothes are very revealing. These aren’t places to go to with a family. We buy hamburgers wrapped in tortillas from a fast food place, located across from a disco which has a miniature Eiffel Tower inside it. The taste of the huge burger is unbelievable. You get to add any garnish that you want to it. You should definitely try one. 

As we continue walking around by the seaside, we get prices for the Novi-Kotor boat tour that we wish to take the next day from the tour operators. All the companies that have desks along the coast give us the same prices, as though they agreed upon it. You should decide on your tour company after asking where the boat goes to and how long they wait at those locations. 

We are ready at the pier next morning at 09:30. The payment for the tour is taken as you board the boat. The price doesn’t include food or beverages. They also ask for additional money for the sunbeds on the upper floor. We are naturally irritated by these hidden charges. 

After we start moving, we get the chance to see the Old City from the sea as well.

Our boat heads out to the west, passing the Morgen, Jaz, and Trsteno beaches in that order. The receptionist told us that Trsteno Beach is calmer and more beautiful compared to the famous Jaz Beach; however, it is impossible to reach without a vehicle.

As we pass the beaches, steep cliffs begin at the shores. The view makes you feel for a second that you are on Scandinavian or Scottish shores.

Then a mini chapel becomes visible on a very small rocky island. Montenegrin people have made it a custom to build a church or chapel on absolutely every bit of land they find.

As the boat comes closer to the entrance of Kotor Bay, Prevlaka, which is located on the Croatian side, becomes visible. The left side of the entrance to the bay is Croatian and the right side is Montenegrin soil. The small island that we see before the entrance is Mamula Island. The castle on the island was built by the order of Austro-Hungarian General Mamula and it was then used as a prison.

After passing the island there is a swimming break for an hour at Zanjica Beach, right across the island. We go in the sea and hang out at the beach. The sea is clear and warm. For those who wish, there is an additional tour to a place called “Blue Cave”, made with a smaller boat. Of course, this isn’t included in the price.

After our break is over we enter the bay. The city of Herceg Novi, which lies on the left as you enter the bay, is our second stop. Our allocated time to walk around is 1 hour and 15 minutes. As we get closer to the harbor we see the castle walls rising at the seaside. After getting on land, a walk of 10 to 15 minutes up the stairs gets you to the Old City. 

When you pass below the Clock tower, which is locally named Sat Kula, and enter the city walls you will see a square on your right side. There is a church and fountain at the square. Before entering the church we go towards the street heading upwards from the other side of the square. The signboard was marked Kanli Kula. We wonder whether this is the Bloody Tower that we know of, and soon we learn that it actually is exactly that. It seems that Herceg Novi was also under Ottoman rule for 200 years; we weren’t mistaken in our guesses. 

After sweating quite a bit due to the steep steps going up the stairs, we learn that the entrance there is also with a fee. After asking people coming down what they saw, and hearing “not much” as an answer, we decide to go back down after seeing that the stairs still keep going up. If you are up for it, you can go up there for the view.

After we get back down we sit at the Sport Caffe Bar to have lunch in our limited time; we order penne with curry and natural lemonade. The food isn’t bad here.

After getting on the boat again we keep going deeper into the bay. The strait, which gets narrower further ahead, has a ferryboat traveling between the two sides. It is useful not to have to drive all the way around the bay.  

After passing the strait, we see two small islands, where our next stop, Perast, is located. Firstly we see the Sveti Dorde Island (St. George) that is closest to us. The island, which has a natural shape to it, has a Benedictine Monastery and a cemetery from the 12th century. We really like that there are many trees filling this very small island.

As we pass this island we come towards the other island. This island, called Gospa od Skrpjela in the local language, is called Our Lady of the Rocks in English. The story of this island, which is man-made, is as follows: Seamen that found a picture of the Virgin Mary and the Christ-child here in 1943 laid a rock in this very space every time they came back from a hard voyage as a token of gratitude. The cliffs rose as the years went on, and became an island. This tradition is continued each year on July 22nd when people come with their rowboats to throw rocks at the shores of the island.

The church on the island was built in 1632. Because it was ordered by the Roman Catholic people, it is different from the other churches in the area with its domed minaret. You may visit the museum within the church, which houses many artifacts. After spending almost an hour here we are back on our way towards the end of the bay. Our destination is the city of Kotor, which shares its name with the bay itself.

The view of the steep mountains that appear as we get closer to Kotor is glorious. As we get closer to the city we begin to see the castle that lies alongside the steep cliffs up high. I had previously read an article about how some writers had climbed this place, and how the view was glorious from there. This isn’t too hard to imagine, looking at it from down below. However, we won’t have the time for such a thing.

As we come closer to the harbor we see a large cruise ship that we didn’t expect to see in a place like this. It seems that the cruise ships traveling the Dalmatian coast also stop here. We understand the reason much better when we get of the boat. This is the most impressive city that we have seen in Montenegro. This is evident from the fact that it is in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The tour guides tell us that our bus back to Budva will depart in 1 hour and 15 minutes. We immediately begin our visit.

The Old City of Kotor intrigues us upon first sight of it. The Skudra River flowing besides it and the gigantic walls are very impressive. We get inside the walls from the gate on the west side. On the first square there is a clock tower (Sahat Kula). When you continue, on the right you come to a square with a cathedral. Kotor Cathedral was restored in 2009. The previous church that was located on the same spot dated back to the year 809, and contained the body of St. Tryphon, to whom the cathedral was dedicated. It is also believed that this saint is also the city’s protector.

We continue parallel to the walls from here. The side streets and buildings are quite beautiful. The restorations were carried out properly and you feel the protective measures here. We reach the southern gate after a little while. We peek outside a little. The river must also be linked to here because there is a pond right in front of the gate.  

We go back inside and begin walking parallel to the city walls that run alongside the mountain. A little further ahead we see the gate that goes to the top of the walls and the castle. Because we know that going up and coming down takes about 3 hours we don’t bother going. 

We continue ahead to the northern gate that we didn’t see earlier. Outside the gate we see an old hydroelectric power plant on the upper part of the Skudra River. We understand from the abandoned building that it is now out of use. After getting back inside we head for the inner parts that we didn’t get to see earlier. There are nice cafés and restaurants around where the museum is located. We come to the first square after passing them and complete our tour. 

We notice that the time for the bus to depart has come. Because we really like the environment we decide to leave the tour and get back by ourselves later, then we can continue to spend time in Kotor. We come by the Pub Dock at the Od Kina Square as we are looking for a place to relieve ourselves from the heat and walking. The decoration and cool environment of the classical pub is just what we were looking for. The interior is empty at the moment but it’s fine. If you get exhausted in Kotor you should just throw yourselves in here and order the ice cold Nik beers.

After enjoying our time for a while we head back to the bus terminal to plan our trip back and we learn about the bus departure times. We can now head back to have dinner.

We go to the square with the museum and enter an establishment called Luna Rosata. The waiter speaks surprisingly good English. While we are surprised by this, he is also surprised to hear that we have come from Turkey. According to him there have been many Turkish tourists this year. We order grilled squid, salad, and fish pate. All of them are very tasty.

After the dinner we go back to Budva with a half-hour bus ride, but our minds are still left in Kotor. We even say that we should’ve stayed at Kotor.

We decide to take things a little slower after the fatigue of the whole vacation and because it is our last free day. We are heading for Hawaii Island (Sveti Nikola) in the afternoon by boat. The point where you set foot on the island seems a little bare and the construction isn’t too nice. There is an incline that seems like a ramp on the island. As you reach the other side of the island the view gets much better.

The small village beyond the cliffs on the other side pleases us; we get down there and settle ourselves on the sunbeds. The moment we get under the umbrella its brand catches our attention. Celal Birsen, which is a Turkish brand, produced a special umbrella for the local beer brand here. We did see some Turkish brands in the market earlier as well. We are proud of our brands. We hang out on the beach until towards the evening. The temperature is around 35°C. The sea is quite clear and enjoyable. The beach is calm and there is no music. We last until the evening with the fruits that we brought with us. In order to enjoy ourselves a little bit before the trip back we sit down at the tables below the trees and get some drinks. The prices are reasonable. We get back to the center by boat. As an alternative, you may prefer Jaz or Becici Beach in the east. We get back to our room in the evening to get ready for later on. Our goal is to get to Sveti Stefan in the evening.

Sveti Stefan is actually a small island whose link to the mainland was artificially created later on. It was founded as a Muslim village in the 15th century and then took its current name. Its walls provided a unique protection from the pirates of the Adriatic. As time went on the village was emptied and it became a hotspot for the jet set in the 60’s and the 80’s. As the island lost its splendor in the 90’s the place was rented to a foreign group in a government tender and regained its splendor.

We get on the bus at the stop in Jadranski Put to go to Sveti Stefan. We are truly impressed as we start to see Sveti Stefan beyond the trees.  We had heard that even though it serves as a hotel it was open to those wishing to visit (the hotel prices are between 600 and 2000 euros/night); however, the truth turned out to be different. The employees in front of the road that leads to the island don’t let us in. We don’t want to go the whole way back and not get to see the island so we decide to have a meal at the hotel’s restaurant. Luckily, we find a table. You should still make a reservation before heading out there.

The inside feels like an old city with narrow streets and stone buildings. Each room is a house that the villagers used to live in. We think that coming to stay here would be a unique experience. After getting out of the mixed roads we come to a square under the trees. There are at most ten tables in the square and five of them are full. Our waiter tells us that a family at one of the other tables is Turkish as well and that they are staying at the hotel. After receiving the menu we see that it isn’t overly expensive. The prices are the same as in venues that would be deemed expensive. We decide on trying appetizers and more tastes instead of ordering main dishes. The mashed peppers they bring, called ajvar, and the appetizers are all very tasty. After our dinner we watch the moonlight from the side of the island that faces the open seas.

I don’t think that we could find the quality here in any other place in Montenegro. We believe that it was worth every penny we spent because the experience we had here was very special. Thus we get back to our hotel after spending our last night in Montenegro in a beautiful fashion.

We reach the capital, Podgorica, with a 1.5-hour bus ride in the morning in order to get on the plane back to Istanbul. We leave Montenegro with the sadness of not having seen Skadar Lake, Lovcen National Park, Ulcinj and Ada Bojana, which are close to the Albanian border. Our plane starts its short trip back to Istanbul. Thus our Montenegro adventure comes to an end.

We arrived there without much information about Montenegro and got to learn about things there by seeing them. As we were traveling we compared Montenegro and Croatia on the first part of our route. Some characteristics of Montenegro that separated it from Croatia were surprising. While the Croatians were more under European or old Austro-Hungarian and Italian influence, Montenegro had the appearance of a Slavic or Old Eastern Bloc country.

It was also interesting to see the influence of the Turks in Montenegro. The fact that they had switched to the Euro before they entered the EU, and the cost were astounding. The beauty of their girls and their elegance were very eye-catching. Unlike the Croatian cuisine that is completely influenced by Italian cuisine with the exception of the seafood, Montenegro had tastes that were more Balkan and this appealed more to our tastes. However, the döner must be accredited to the Greeks again because it was sold with name Gyro. In short, the food was pretty good. The uncontrolled urbanization that fast development had caused was the main problem of the country. The service sector wasn't very developed, and the service quality was low. Still, the prices were high and the people’s purchasing power was high.

In conclusion, Montenegro is a place that should definitely be seen with its natural beauty and some of its cities like Kotor. If you wish to do so, you can plan a trip that covers the countries in the area like we did to visit Montenegro. I would advise those going to Kotor to stay overnight there. If the problems regarding service can be solved, it can be said that Montenegro has huge potential. We hope that you get to see Montenegro one day...

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