On the Road to Kotor
Travelling from the mountains surrounding the Skadarsko Lake, down to the Kotor Bay, at the coast, was an adventure in itself in Montenegro. We got to see the landscape of this magnificent country transition from dominating peaks in the interior to the wide open vistas of the coast – along the way, we also visited many attractions, both natural and historical that you should take the time to visit.
One of these attractions is the Lipa Cave. I enjoy visiting caves and journeying into a world that is often hidden from us – one that is so different from the world we are exposed to in our everyday lives.
The Lipa Cave is one of the largest in Montenegro, and no doubt, the most accessible. It has about 2.5 km of passages underneath, although not all of it is accessible to the general public. When we visited, we opted for the standard tour, which is around 60 minutes, and walks you through the largest halls within the cave.
However, for adrenaline junkies, another tour is available. One that takes you into the cave via its “roof”, where you descend on a rope. With this tour, you get to go to the parts of the cave that are not as easily accessible without the help of special equipment. It sounded like fun, and we might do it the next time we visit Montenegro.
The tour itself was very informative, and I enjoyed marvelling at all the strange geological formations in the cave. The best thing about the visit though was the shot of rakija served at the cave temperature at the end of the visit, in their very own underground bar.
Cetinje is a wonderful gem of a place located high up on a hill. There’s something all cities built at a high altitude share, I feel. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it’s brought on by the relaxed vibe and clear air.
There is one thing you have to see in Cetinje, and that is the relief map of Montenegro, created by the Austrians in 1917. The detail of this map is incredible – Montenegro’s canyons, valleys and mountains are all depicted with amazing accuracy. Looking at this overview of the geography of the country shows you really how mountainous this part of the Balkans is.
The other thing I love about Cetinje is the mountain outpost feel you get from the town. Its bustling with activity in its cafés and squares, but everyone, locals and tourists alike are never in a hurry.
Lovćen – Mausoleum of Njegoš
The Mausoleum of Njegoš, an impressive architectural work, stands atop the summit of Jezerski, one of the peaks of the Lovćen Mountain. This place is as close to the Mines of Moria as I’ve ever seen. To get there, you need to drive up to the entrance and ascend on foot past the main gate. Thereafter, there are a series of stairs – 461 to be exact – that lead you to the mausoleum. To enter, you need to pass the two imposing granite statues that guard the site.
Once past, you have access to a long walkway that feels like it spans across the ceiling of the world, leading you to a circular platform that gives a 360-degree view of most of Montenegro. From here, you can see the Bay of Kotor, Lake Skadar and Podgorica. Looking further, you may also see the borders of Albania and Croatia.
The mausoleum was built to keep the body of Peter II Petrović Njegoš. To give some perspective, Njegoš is to the Montenegrins what Napoleon was to the French. Njegoš was not only a much loved ruler, but also a Bishop and a poet. When you hear Montenegrins speak about him, you truly feel he is a towering and positive figure in their history.
The mausoleum was designed and built by Ivan Meštrović, one of the most accomplished sculptors of the 20th Century. In line with most of Meštrović’s style, the mausoleum is both monumental and poetic. It is elegance on a grand scale, combining facets of futurism with hints of orientalism – I felt it masterfully referenced the simplicity and scale of Egyptian pyramids.
The Mausoleum is an architectural wonder and a very lovely place to visit for a breathtaking view of the country.
Njeguš is famous for its pršut, which is the Balkan version of the Italian prosciutto. It’s also famous for its cheese and to be honest, I can’t decide which I like better, the cheese or the ham. We visited this area for the sole purpose of sampling the food, along with some Montenegrin wine, and we were not disappointed.
Our guide, Vanja, took us to the place where the pršut is still cured in an old fashion way, an unassuming shack on the side of the road, manned by only one guy. We were taken in and shown around the place, which smelled wonderfully of salty, cured meat. It was quite an experience visiting this place, with hundreds of legs and shoulders of ham hanging from the racks and rafters of the curing house.
I can happily say that the finest of this Balkan pršut is as good as any Italian prosciutto or Spanish jamon serrano. In fact, I thought it was some of the best cured pork I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling.
Road Down to the Bay of Kotor
The drive from the tops of the mountains into the Bay of Kotor can indeed be quite something. There’s one particular road worth taking simply for the experience that consists of multiple sharp bends – slightly over 20 turns, if I remember correctly. This is not the most comfortable route, but it certainly is the most scenic, as it gives you full view of the bay all the way down!
Along the way, we stopped by an abandoned fortress that had been around since World War One or so.
We were the only ones there, and it was quite exciting to walk through its narrow passageways and climb onto the “roof”, imagining the sort of activities that went on there by the people who used to patrol and man it.
It’s a short stop and worth a visit for some quiet contemplation. Abandoned places always have that ability to instil deep thought and tranquillity, and this place felt particularly poignant as we walked across its grassy roof, the afternoon sun and dry heat beating down upon us.
They say time expands with the number of memories you create. It certainly felt so on this journey. In a day, we had visited so many places, and the landscape had transformed so dramatically it felt more a week than a day. Although the journey was long, it was most certainly very interesting and an adventure in its own right.