In the summer of 2017 we did about a 3 week road trip through some of the Balkan countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. This was the best trip of the year for us, we absolutely loved it and were totally in our happy places. We had been to Croatia before and were over the moon about it, so we knew we would enjoy that. The biggest surprise for us though was how much we loved Montenegro.
Montenegro is Croatia’s neighbor to the south. It is a tiny country…….We entered Montenegro from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our first stop was Kotor and before we even arrived, we were pressed up against the car windows oohing and ahhing over the scenery. Montenegro, meaning “Black Mountain,” has large mountains that seem to back right up to the coast. It is a dramatic scene with these beautiful walled coastal towns and towering mountains right behind them.
When we arrived to Kotor we were greeted by the surprise that cars were not allowed inside the city walls. We hadn’t realized that upon initial trip planning so we were a little caught off guard with trying to park, and pull in luggage. However, our friendly apartment host was there to assist and get us squared away. We had a wonderful family apartment in the old town. Our host went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable and taken care of. You can find the link here
We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering the town, checking things out, stopping for gelato…you know, the perfect European afternoon! If you are a photographer, you will love Kotor’s white stone buildings and green shutters. There is something beautiful and charming to photograph around every corner. We enjoyed wandering, exploring, and looking at all the city’s most famous residents…the cats!
Kotor is a popular cruise port and when there’s a ship (or 2) in port, you will definitely feel the crowds. To get a better experience, try to stay at least one night so you can see the town after the cruise crowds have all left.
Kotor City Walls
The next day we knew we wanted to hike the city’s walls or fortifications that wind up the mountain directly behind the town. The weather had been a bit overcast and raining on and off. So once there was a little window of sun, we decided to head up and see how far we could get with the kids and the weather cooperating. There is a small fee to enter the trail, and at the church midway up there are people selling waters, some snacks, and trinkets. My daughter really appreciated the shopping stop to break up the hike. She smiled and chatted with a lady selling stuff and the lady ended up gifting her a little princess hair clip. This happened to us multiple times in Kotor. People were so kind to the kids and kept gifting them sweets or little trinkets.
The views from the walls are phenomenal. We had some cloud cover restricting the full view of the Bay of Kotor, so I can only imagine how wonderful the view must be on a clear day. Next time, I would try to get up the trail early in the morning for 2 reasons:
1) less people
2) cooler temperatures
While not overcrowded, the trail did have quite a few people up there, and there was some waiting and jockeying for certain photo ops. It also was a little hot and sticky-the climb is all stairs and uphill. Add a toddler who doesn’t want to walk and now you’re carrying extra weight. Also, I totally get that you want to look cute in your photos with the amazing view, but be warned it’s a little tricky with loose rocks and hiking up a mountain. Decent shoes are recommended 🙂
From Kotor we drove south to Budva. Our original plan was to stay here a few nights but upon the recommendation of someone who had lived in the Balkans for years, we opted to change our reservation to stay in Sveti Stefan instead. However, we still wanted to see Budva, so we just stopped there for the day. Budva is also a walled city right on the ocean. Unlike Kotor, it also had a couple beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
The best thing we did in Budva was walk a path along the rocky coast to the right of the main beach. It gave us great views of the old city, and led to a more secluded Mogren beach. If we had more time to spend, we definitely would’ve camped on that beach all day!
Our final stop on the trip was possibly our favorite. Although it’s hard for me to pick between Sveti Stefan and Kotor. Sveti Stefan has a tiny little peninsula that jets out from the mainland. This little patch of land is completely private and can only be accessed if you are staying at the resort or one of the rentals on it. It is very exclusive, and very expensive. But not to worry, if that’s not quite in your budget, there are plenty other hotels and apartments you can stay at where you can enjoy the magical view of the peninsula. Our apartment had a gorgeous view, the link to book is here.
The beach in Sveti Stefan was rocky (like most other European beaches) but the water was warm and clear. There’s plenty of chairs to rent, also little paddle boats if you wanted to paddle out on the ocean for a bit. There is a restaurant called Olive not far from the beach, and there is a playground outside. Always nice to have the kids get some playtime before asking them to sit nicely at a restaurant for dinner.
Our first night there also happened to be our son’s 2nd birthday. The restaurant was very sweet and brought him a chocolate cake and sang to him. It was unexpected but very appreciated!
Sveti Stefan was a nice relaxing oasis. We didn’t tour around, no hiking, no sight seeing. We just hung out on the beach and enjoyed relaxing and the beautiful views! It is a welcome respite after enduring the crowds of Dubrovnik.
I’m the first one to say that I absolutely love Croatia. I love the gorgeous blue water, the warm summer air, the beautiful architecture of the old cities. But just as I love it, so do a lot of other people! There was a very noticeable increase in tourists from our first visit in 2014. Montenegro is still a little bit under the radar, though I’m sure it will quickly catch up. So go there quick, before everyone else figures out how wonderful it is! We found it to be less crowded and less expensive than Croatia.
Kotor is an easy day trip from Dubrovnik, but Montenegro is really deserving of a dedicated vacation. Besides the three coastal towns we visited, there are many more. There are also some expansive national parks inland that have great hiking and kayaking opportunities.
We had a rental car and found the driving to be relatively easy, but there are winding mountain roads. Be sure to check with your car rental agency if you will be driving from another country because sometimes there are country restrictions on where they will allow you to take the car, or you may need special documentation.
If you’ve been to Montenegro, I’d love to hear your experiences! Or if you have questions please feel free to reach out!