This is a long-overdue writing on one of my most memorable travels to less explored part of Europe in 2010.
Why Montenegro and Puglia?
Have you seen the “best” ever made James Bond’s movie, Casino Royale? Supposedly most of the plot took place in Montenegro (although later I found out, most of the film shootings were done around Lake Como, Italy). I was swept away by the beautiful background of the movie and since then promised myself to visit Montenegro. I googled “Montenegro” on the internet and was convinced it is a great country to visit, less explored, the home of a few UNESCO heritage sites and has a vast outdoor potentials.
Puglia – no particular reasons aside that it is a convenient place to connect from Montenegro. And…I was intrigued by one particular eco-friendly b&b which we finally did stay at.
The travel crew
The second part of the work after convincing myself to go (which is not difficult) is to get some travel partners. Montenegro is definitely not a common place for Indonesians to go to, not even a country which Indonesians are aware of. A friendly stewardess asked us where we are heading to, and after hearing our answer, she said “Oh, that is a nice resort place with a nice casino!” Hmm, are you confusing it with Montecarlo?
Anyway, at the end I managed to convince my sister, C and her tomboyish friend, A to join this trip. I promised them a mixed of historical excursion and outdoor adventures, ended with a great gastronomic experience.
The journey – part one – Kotor, Montenegro
Without much hassles, we landed at Podgorica airport safely and timely. It was a quiet and organized airport with friendly immigration officers. We got our rented car and started driving to our first stop, the historical seaside town of Kotor.
But before getting there, we used the opportunity to check out another seaside town, Budva. As one of Montenegro’s beach destination, Budva attracts young tourists and has a bustling nightlife for Montenegro standard. It hosted world-class concerts like Rolling Stones and Madonna before. Standing for 2,500 years, it is one of the oldest towns in Adriatic coast. It has a lovely old Venetian citywall along its coastal side and some trendy establishments in the old town center. The old town itself has much influence from the Venetian architecture. We chose a quiet outdoor spot at one of the local restaurants for our lunch stop, after passing by what looked like white-walled residential area. We heard that most of the walls were taken directly from the Adriatic Sea. If you like a beach-type destination, Budva offers some really lovely beaches. Its nearby island, Sveti Stefan is the location of one of Aman resorts – think secluded, thoughtful services, and of course expensive!
After 30-minutes lovely drive from Budva along the coast of Montenegro, we arrived at the ancient walled town of Kotor, which is declared as UNESCO heritage site. Aside from a few other travel experiences (like Koya-san in Japan), arriving in Kotor made me feel like I was transported back to a place a few hundred years back, in a good way. We liked the fact that we were the only Asian tourists that traveled outside of a tour/cruise group there. But people were still really trying hard to be accommodating and friendly although they rarely encountered Asians before.
Kotor is a nice town to wander around, for a day! But it presents a few alternative destinations nearby. One of the must-do things in Kotor is to walk up its city wall which will lead you to its ancient fortress of St John (St Ivan in Montenegrin). But the best part of the hike was getting the chance to see the amazing view of Bay of Kotor from above (see my pictures below). It is an easy-moderate walk that will take you around an hour-to-two to do.
Wandering around the ancient town itself was an experience on its own. Especially close to night-time when the city illuminates its wall. True that it is not as grand as other European cities like Venice or Paris, true that it is not as well-kept either, but the rusticity and the smallness of the ancient town make it a unique destination. Four years ago, the level of tourism was still bearable to enjoy, I do not know how it is currently though.
From Kotor, we made some day-trips, driving to nearby towns. One of the most memorable one was a visit to another coastal town of Perast. Walking around the coast at night where you would find some nice eateries was just so relaxing and enjoyable.
Herzeg Novi was another destination that you can go to, we went there for a lunch and a leisurely afternoon. But a great lunch stop from Kotor is the restaurant Stari Mlini in Ljuta, just 7km away, a 300-year restaurant, serving great fish dishes in a comfortable outdoor location by the bay.
In short, Kotor is a great base for a different-kind of relaxing coastal vacation in Europe where you can find calm and quiet.
Journey side note – a stop at Ostrog Monastery
I have to mention also our excursion to Ostrog Monastery (a meandering drive but really worth it). In short, if you have the time, do not miss it. It is a Serbian Orthodox church which was carved into a rocky mountain, 900m above sea level. It is a cave-like church, built in 17th century dedicated to Saint Basil. If this description does not convince you, some of these pictures might. The Asian comparison of this will be the Hanging Monastery Xuankong in Datong, Shanxi, China.
The journey continued – part two – Durmitor, Montenegro
As I promised my travel buddies that the trip would consist some outdoor adventures, after Kotor, we headed to the northern part of Montenegro, to Durmitor National Park (which is also designated as one of UNESCO Heritage sites). Zabljak is the gateway to Durmitor and the meeting place with our guide from montenegrohiking.com.
We were meeting our guide at the local restaurant Zlatni Papagaj, which turned out to be “the” place to be in town. Our guide came with his girlfriend and with excitement we listened to our adventure plan.
The next day, we were driven to the deep valley of Durmitor to stay overnight at a friendly cottage with an attached farm of “Jugoslavija” owned and operated by a charming and friendly family guy. The road to the cottage is long and windy but worth every pictures. Our beds were bunkbeds which was quite fun as we got to toss coins to see who got the top spot. Please note that you should not expect warm dinner served at night since A got really dissapointed that we only got some potato salad, cold cuts, and bread for the dinnner. I assume since we did not do any substantial activities other than sitting our butts in the car the whole day, they thought we did not need too much calories intake.
The next day our main activity is to raft the river in Tara Canyon. Not many people know that at 78km Tara Canyon is actually the second longest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. It also has the deepest gorge in Europe. We had to hike a little bit from our cottage to get to the start of our rafting trip. The hike was leisurely, flat and downhill and along the way, we befriended a curious and active beagle. See in the pictures how he was following us.
The moment we saw the crystal-clear river, our first instinct was to jump into the water. Beware, it is frozen cold, even in August. But it worthed the try though as you will get warm right away wearing your bodysuit and paddling the raft.
I think we rafted for around 3 hours with a stop at a small waterfall where we were braced again for another brave dips in the frozen but beautiful water. The raft was quite leisurely as the rapid was not at its highest in September. The best part was enjoying the view of the crystal blue water of Tara Canyon.
Fortunately, the following lunch at the cottage was hot and substantial, adding a warm feeling while we bid goodbye to the charming lodge.
Prutas – Second highest mountain in Durmitor
The next day, we increased our activities’ fitness challenge by one level. Our aim was to hike Prutas Peak (sound a bit like “puncak teratas” in Indonesian isn’t it? :-)), which is at 2,393m is the 9th highest peak in Durmitor. The highest peak of Durmitor is Bobotov Kuv, which is at 2,523m. It should be a moderate hike that could be done in 2-3hours. But C decided to increase the challenge by wearing her brandnew Vibram five fingers shoes for the first time ever. The combination of the non-existence sole with the rocky path had definitely left a lasting impression on her. After that trip, she had never worn the shoes again.
I think for this activity, our pictures speak more than my writing. Please see below.
To celebrate our climbing achievement, we partied the night away at the trendy Zlatni Papagaj with our new Montenegrin friends.
The next day, when we thought our adventure in Montenegro had come to an end. We had ceremoniously missed our flight to Bari, just because we could not find the airport sign and spent too much leisure time at lunch. Since the next flight is two days after, I was prepared with a back-up plan. We decided to take the overnight 9 hours ferry to cross the Adriatic Sea from Bar, Montenegro to Bari, Italy.
The ferry trip was an experience on its own. Since all the cabins were taken, we had to make ourselves comfortable sleeping on the ferry chairs, which were all very old and unkept. Armed with an iPad (which was just newly released that year – an attraction for other passengers), we spent the night staging an Angry Bird tournament among ourselves, a very mature and sophisticated activity.
Last part of the journey – charming Puglia
Arriving in Bari, we quickly got our rental car and drove to our long-awaited destination, Masseria Il Frantoio, which is an old olive oil mill turned into a charming bed and breakfast. The establishment is located in a 70ha field near Ostuni (the white city). It is a 16th-century building that has not only its own olive oil mill but also produces its own fruits and vegetables. These produces were the stars of the 10-courses dinner held there every other evening, which we fortunately took part as well.
So it is quite easy to say that one of the highlights of our Puglia visit was actually the long dinner at Masseria Il Frantoio, where they not only served produces from their field and local markets but also paired them with the local wine. The setting itself could not be more beautiful. Outdoor among the olive trees under the Italian sky, we could not have a better place to fill our stomach with delectable food and dizzy our head with unending pours of wine.
One of the most memorable town visits in Puglia was to Lecce, a historic baroque town filled with magnificent buildings. It is often called as the “Florence of Baroque”. Cars are not allowed inside the old city center, which is a blessing, so after parking our car near the city wall, we had the choice to either walk or ride in one of the modern rickshaws. The city itself is very easy to navigate, starting from the center, Piazza Sant d’Orozzo, you can walk to St Croce church and any other churches around which was filled with baroque wonders. One of our favorite was the St Irene church, a small yet mesmerizing architectural wonder.
Great food, amazing coffees, friendly people, beautiful small towns, we were really happy to end our vacation in Puglia.
Used to be part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro is a one of the youngest countries in the world.
Best time to travel: April to September. Montenegro has two weather patterns – the coastal side which follows the Mediteranian climate and the mountain side. The coastal cities like Kotor and Budva are popular stops for summer cruises and tourists, thus July and August can be overwhelmingly crowded.
Visa: for Indonesians, we can stay in Montenegro for up to 7 days if we have a valid visa to the United States, United Kingdom, or the European Union. If we plan to stay longer, we need to apply for a Montenegrin visa. Please note that this does not apply to Croatia (Dubrovnik is a short drive away from Kotor). We tried to cross the border and were politely rejected by the Croatian immigration officers.
Our trip’s length: 7 days in Montenegro and 3 days in Puglia
- Currency : Euro
- Language : Montenegrin
- Popular destinations : Coastal – Budva, Sveti Stefan, Kotor, Herzeg Novi; Inland – Durmitor National Park
- Popular activities : Hiking and rafting in Durmitor, beach vacations in coastal area
- Interesting fact : Immediate citizenship will be awarded to foreigner who invest as little as Euro 500,000 in Montenegro
- How to get there : Flight via Rome by Montenegro Airlines or Air Italia
- Getting around : Best way to get around is by renting a car which is not too expensive. Train is not very safe (thefts) and bus can be very slow
- Nearby destinations : Croatia, Serbia, and Italy