Montenegro: Land of the Black Mountains

Montenegro: Land of the Black Mountains
Although only the size of Connecticut, the breakaway republic of Montenegro has it all for tourism  -  beaches and mountains, lakes and canyons. Thankfully, most of the tourists haven't caught on yet.

Mount Lovcen

There's a saying in Montenegro: "To be able to understand the Land of the Black Mountains, you must have stood on Mt. Lovcen." The summit of the mountain ridge, one of Montenegro's most visible landmarks, is the resting place of Petar Petrovic Njegos (1813 - 1851). As secular ruler, church leader and the country's most important poet he shaped the country more than anyone else.

My wife, Sanja, is from Montenegro and she wanted to return there with me on my Honda Africa Twin. So we scheduled two weeks in May, perhaps the best month for the trip: a lot of sunshine and few tourists. We start out in Budva, the famous seaside resort. From there, the road leads up to the mountaintop at 1660 meters altitude, a very comfortable cruise.

Hemmed in by mountains, the Montenegrin shore is only a narrow strip. So, after leaving Budva we immediately climb the formidable ridge that forms the mountainous barrier along the coast. We also get our first lesson in Montenegrin driving behavior. They're maniacs we endeavor to avoid by proceeding carefully. After a while, we reach Cetinje, Montenegro's capital in the nineteenth century. Today it's a sleepy place, one of the reasons we decide to move on. The next 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the mountain top are a real pleasure: left, right, left, right, one bend after another on a road that is in very good condition.

But to actually reach the top we have to sweat a bit. From the parking area, we have to climb 461 steep steps in order to reach the mausoleum. Once on the terrace, we have a stunning view: To the west we can see Mt. Stirovnik (1748 meters/5735 ft), the highest mountain of the Lovcen Ridge; at the same time, the view extends downward into the sunny Bay of Kotor, only a few kilometers away; and behind us, in the hinterlands, we see some snow-covered mountains. It's no surprise that Njegos chose to be buried here. Almost all the land he ruled is visible.

Since Sanja and I are the only visitors, Lazo, the talkative souvenir seller, has a lot of time to fill us in on where to go and what to see. Despite the midday heat, we each accept a sip of the schnapps he offers. Hospitality means a lot in Montenegro and it would be rude to refuse.

On the way back to the coast, we travel the old Austrian military road built in the nineteenth century around the southwestern side of the mountain  -  the way to go for a series of tremendous views down to the coast.

Tivat Bay is still lying in broad afternoon sun, but daylight is fading fast in the shadows of the high mountains that surround the Bay of Kotor. Dozens of the Austrian serpentines lead us down into Kotor, and we feel we could touch the city although we are still about a thousand meters above it.

Finally, we return to the coast, rolling down the last kilometers to Budva. Only an hour after leaving the mountaintop, we're enjoying the sun and sea again. Mountains in the morning, beaches in the afternoon  -  that's no problem in Montenegro, all the distances are short.

In the evening we walk about exploring the old city of Budva. With all the little shops and restaurants, it's a nice place to wander.