City escapes ~ Montenegro, Part 3

We arrived in Montenegro mid-June when the temperature was climbing up to 30 degrees. As the leisurely days went on we became experts in ways to cool down, taking regular dips in the crystal clear sea, seeking shelter in the shade at lunch, enjoying a little bit of cloud whilst we were out and about. There’s so much to do in Montenegro that, as long as there’s not a torrential downpour, you’ll be guaranteed to find something no matter what the weather is doing. So in the last post I’m going to share a few more places to add to your visit list.

After a long stint of glorious sunshine, we were caught unexpectedly by a rainy morning which meant that we had to revise our plans. We decided to drive to the Old Royal Capital, Cetinje, as it was only 45 minutes by car from Budva. I hadn’t read a lot about it so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

We parked up and approached the colourful streets, assuming that in a small country we’d eventually find the main town centre.

Cetinje---Montenegro

And we weren’t wrong as we quickly discovered the main town square and the former capital’s regal buildings.

The heavens opened just as we approached the Biljarda, so we bought a ticket that gained access to four buildings for just €10. The Biljarda is the former residence of Petar II Petrovic Njegoš, “a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, poet and philosopher whose works are widely considered some of the most important in Montenegrin and Serbian literature.” (wikipedia). The building was built in 1838 and is now a museum open to the public.

Biljarda---Montenegro

It was certainly an interesting to explore, providing a hint of the Montenegro’s culture and history, but as there was little explanation on the displays I struggled to bring it all together and understand exactly what we were looking at.

The Cetinje Monastery sits just behind the Biljarda and whilst you can’t enter the main building as it is still in use, it was an insight into a practising religion.
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The Cipur Church was nearby, originally the court church it became the Mausoleum for the last Montenegrin King, King Nicholas, and his wife Queen Milena.

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We only popped our head as it is very small and locals and visitors arrived in a steady stream, but you can see from the steps how ornately it has been decorated.

We moved on to King Nicholas’ Palace. Built between 1863 to 1867, the original purpose of the building was to accommodate the widow and daughter of Prince Danilo but it later attracted members of the royal family who moved from the Biljarda to the new “palace”.

King-Nicholas Palace

We just missed a guided tour which I think would have been really useful to find out more about the building.

We visited one more museum which housed a history of traditional Montenegrin garments and then decided that we had absorbed enough information for the day.

We had lunch in a random cafe just as the clouds were clearing, bringing the colourful streets to life.

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If you’re interested in history and culture I would definitely recommend the trip to Cetinje. But if you’re just looking to take in the sights and I would prioritise other places first.

As we returned to the coast the skies had cleared for us to enjoy another stunning horizon. We pulled over to a little cafe to enjoy a freshly squeezed orange juice with the view.

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Clearing the way for the following sunny day on loungers in front of Budva Old Town.

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We managed an afternoon scuba diving session but as it was really a refresher for me (my last trip was in 2011!) I sadly don’t have much to report back or any pictures :(. But it felt good to get back into it and I’m desperate to do more on my next trip.

As our holiday was drawing to its end, I was desperate to finally see a sunset by the sea. My friend Lyn recommended  Giardino, a simple restaurant perched on a cliff top with this stunning view.

Budva-Riviera-sunset

I haven’t talked a lot about Montenegrin food in these posts. This is partly because there is so much to share on the activity front that including restaurants would make for some marathon posts, and partly because we only really found a couple of gems. A lot of the food is meat-based with grilled chicken, kebabs, and steak (a little like Turkish and Croatian dishes). There’s also a lot of sea food options and I have it on good authority that you can find some great dishes. In the day time you should definitely make sure you try some of the cured meats for lunch.

For our final full day in Montenegro we had two missions on our hands, visiting a vineyard and taking a dip in Lake Skadar.

On our first holiday together in Sardinia last year, James and I visited a vineyard, so when I heard Montenegro had its own wine region I was keen to establish a tradition! Tours can be tricky to organise last-minute as they don’t seem to be widely available, but Active Montenegro were very helpful via Twitter.

As we couldn’t get on a tour when we wanted to, after some helpful advice, we decided to head to Vinarija Mašanović on our own. We called them the day before we wanted to visit, booked ourselves in and then got our hotel to arrange a taxi up to Virpazar. It was probably one of the best experiences of the trip.

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Vinarija Mašanović is a small family run vineyard that you’ll find in the wine region which borders Lake Skadar. It produces award-winning fine red wine which is largely sold to hotels like the one at Sveti Stefan. We were the only ones booked in to visit so the tour and tasting was pretty much a one-to-one experience.

They welcomed us into their beautiful cellar where the tables and chairs are made from refurbished wine barrels.

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And encouraged us to try as much liqueur as we could manage, which they also produce on site.

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We sat down and talked about their vineyard and its history before they took us down to where all of the grapes were grown. It was literally off the beaten track, in the middle of a mountainous valley.

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We were allowed to wander among the vines.

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I’ve had many wine tastings but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get this close to the grapes, it really was fascinating.

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They also have an orchard  where they grow fruit to flavour their liqueur and add to their own dishes. Many of the fruits had ripened so they encouraged us to explore and pick what we wanted. The plums were delicious!

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I loved seeing all the trees weighed down by pretty pears and it was such a novelty to be able to pull them down and eat straight away.

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They don’t use any pesticides here so it was totally safe to enjoy them right from the branches.

After we’d soaked up the vineyard we were thirsty for a good drink and returned to their wine cellar to enjoy more of their produce.

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Forgive me but a month after enjoying many glasses of wine I can’t remember enough information about the wine itself to share, other than the fact that it was possibly some of the best I’ve ever had! We tried three different types and it was interesting to see how much lighter (and dangerously drinkable) their finest wine was to drink.

Alongside the wine we were presented with fresh-from-the-oven savoury donuts made by Grandma, homemade cheese created by our host, local cured meat and honey made from a hive in the vineyard.

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You can’t get much more local than that! It was delicious!

Our hosts were so welcoming and open to answering any questions, which really made it a great part of the trip. It was only €25pp and worth every Euro.

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Whilst we were offered as much wine as we liked we had to squeeze in a trip on the Lake Skadar so we tipsily said goodbye.

Lake Skadar is a National Park and another UNESCO World Heritage site. You fly over it when you approach Podgorica and can drive past it on your way to Perast or Budva. If you want to get out on the water you can turn up to Virpazar and jump on one of the many tours there. We took a two hour trip as it meant we had time for a dip.

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It was beautiful and so peaceful.

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Lilypads as far as the eye can see, narrow down into corridors lined with fishermen.

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The main sound you’ll hear is the abundance of birds who have made the lake their home.

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Once we got to the widest part of the tour we were allowed to jump in.

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We quickly realised it was a fresh water lake after furiously paddling to keep our head above water.

And before too long we were making our way back to Virpazar.

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We finished our trip by spending one final morning on a tiny beach that we found on the route back to Podgorica.

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Where we soaked up the sunshine and those views for the rest of summer.

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(And I finally got a sea shot worth sharing that I’d been working on all holiday.)

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Truly one of the best holidays I’ve been on.

I’ve rambled on a lot about this city escape, even more so than other trips! So I’ll finish with my final tips:

  • Hire a car so you can see as much as possible (although you could do enough through tours booked in advance).
  • Consider being willing to move about rather than stay in one hotel or apartment. If done again we would have done a loop and headed into the mountains first so we could cover more of that area.
  • Book as much of your activities in advance and plan what you want to see (there’s SO much).

So, would you think about a trip to Montenegro?

(Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.)

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