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The Leaving Journal

Montenegro's "Wild Beauty"

MONTENEGRO | Saturday, 7 November 2015 | Views [342]

The tourism organization in Montenegro uses the tag line "Wild Beauty." After living in Colorful Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, and traveling in New Zealand, I consider that a tough title for a speck of a country like Montenegro to live up to. But on our first day in the country, we winded through scrubby forest, up and over green mountains to a sunset view of the dynamic, rocky coastline, the red roofs of Budva tucked into valley, and I had a feeling these people might know what they were talking about.

Sunset over Budva

We moved on to the serpentine, pebbled beaches of Kotor Bay, then up another winding road to the forested Lovcen National Park at the peak of fall color and inland to the massive and marshy Lake Skadar dotted with forested islands. It wasn't all "wow" moments, but a subtle growth of affection and reverence for the rocky landscape of high cliffs and low beaches.

Each city in Montenegro has a Stari Grad, or old town, of which it is very proud. These tend to all look the same after a while - narrow, cobbled streets, an ancient church on every block, high walls encircling the crowded stone buildings. We stayed inside of these walls for three nights in the namesake town of Kotor Bay, a historically contested stretch of land and sea. Our apartment overlooked a plaza with a cafe - another common scene in Montenegro - and was situated next to a bell tower that sang the soundtrack of our vacation every half hour, with the occasional flurry of twangs for no apparent reason.

Perast, Kotor Bay
Sveti Dorde (St. George) and Gospa od Skrpjela (Our-Lady-of-the-Rocks) off the shore of Perast
Kotor Bay as seen from the Kotor-Lovcen Road

As we drove up and out of the bay - rapidly, on a very steep set of switchbacks - we left behind the sunny bustle of a port town for the cloudy stillness of Montenegro's second highest peak, Jezerski Vrh. It is here that one of the country's greatest heros is laid to rest. The Njegos Mausoleum enshrines the poet and leader Petar II Petrovic Njegos with a towering marble statue depicting Njegos embraced by an eagle underneath a vaulted ceiling of gold tile. Rolling hills, alight with the reds and browns of October, spread wide around us on a platform behind the tomb. I'll say this for the people of Montenegro: they do right by their heros.

Marching up to the Njegos Mausoleum, at the top of the park's second highest peak, Jezerski VrhMarching up to the Njegos Mausoleum, at the top of the park's second highest peak, Jezerski Vrh
Fall colors in Lovcen National ParkFall colors in Lovcen National Park
Viewing platform behind the Njegos Mausoleum (who dat little guy?)
Lovcen National Park

The fall color dissipated to make way for lush greenery in Lake Skadar National Park, home to the Montenegrin portion of the Balkan's largest lake (the head of dolphin-shaped Lake Skadar crosses the border into Albania). The ramshackle village of Virpazar, with its very own aggressive boat tour salesmen as a greeter, acts as the gateway to the park. After a precarious crossing of a creaky wooden bridge, we spent a few hours hugging the coast and taking in the expanse of the lake and its islands, many housing a monastery or church.

Lake Skadar National ParkLake Skadar National Park
Lake Skadar National Park
Lake Skadar National Park

We wrapped up our trip at a cliffside apartment in Ulcinj, an otherwise derelict city with a gorgeous stretch of Adriatic coastline: dramatic, steep rocks, a stretch of sandy beach and perfectly clear water.

Ulcinje

We munched on oranges fresh from the tree outside of our apartment every day
Apartments Eneida, Ulcinje

Tags: beaches, fortresses, montenegro, old towns, road trip

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