Montenegro,
 a world all its own

Final stage before the 461 steps leading to the monument to Prince Petar II Petrovic Njegos, on Mount Lovcen.

On the edge of Durmitor National Park, in the north of the country.

The Tara River, which runs for nearly 150 km through Montenegro.

Olga, who lives on the edge of Cetinje.

Primeval forest in Biogradska Gora National Park.

Ivana, a nurse in Cetinje, the former royal capital of Montenegro.

Zoran, owner of Savardak, a restaurant in Kolasin.

Katun, typical shepherd’s huts in northern Montenegro.

The Bay of Kotor

Viewpoint on the Serpentine Road.

Unsung Montenegro cultivates the spectacular. Its rugged landscape, dotted with steep mountains and lapped by the Adriatic Sea, offers a chaotic panoply of wild vistas.

Escarpment

Escarpment Dense, dark green forests carpet the slopes of the mountains towering over the small town of Zabljak, the skiing capital of Montenegro, perched at an altitude of 1,456 meters. It’s also the gateway to Durmitor National Park, named for the country’s highest massif, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980.

Nearly two-thirds of the territory rises above 1,000 meters, with some 50 peaks taller than 2,000 meters. The landscape bristles with this jagged range of bare summits stretching as far as the eye can see. Venetian mariners sailing along the Adriatic coast in the 15th century used them as landmarks, and called this land monte negro, black mountain. The name stuck. In Montenegrin, crna gora is the literal translation of Montenegro. An apt name: steep slopes and rocky peaks form a rugged relief, which has forged the national identity. Throughout its history, Montenegro has always been able to fend off its covetous neighbors. Even the Ottoman Empire was unable to master this land, and with good reason: with every invasion, the people withdrew to the country’s most inaccessible areas.

It’s therefore no surprise that most of the rivers flow through impressive gorges that transcend the usual scale of Europe. The Tara River Canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In places, it reaches a dizzying 1,300-meters deep. Rafting here will give thrill-seekers what they’re looking for, and more. The Moraca River is equally breathtaking. The road follows its path. Multiple panoramic viewpoints have been created along the road.

On the coastline, particularly in the Bay of Kotor, the mountain drops straight into the sea. Nestled in coves, the towns cling to the hillsides. The steep streets gradually give way to a few steps, then turn into staircases. The city walls of Kotor grow straight out of the mountainside. Above the rooftops, they form a ribbon of stone, dotted with bastions.

Leaving Kotor, the Serpentine Road heads into the backcountry, zigzagging wildly up the sheer slope, with no fewer than 25 switchbacks in less than 17 kilometers. Below is the awe-inspiring sight of the Bay of Kotor, but drivers beware: keep your eyes on the road, as hairpin turns crop up every few seconds.

Purity

One of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests is flourishing in Biogradska Gora National Park. Thanks to an initiative by Prince Nicholas I of Montenegro, it has been protected since 1878, remaining untouched by human exploitation. The monarch wanted to celebrate recognition of the country’s independence with this symbol of peace. Maple, beech and pine trees jostle for space. Their leaves and needles are mirrored in the waters of a lake set in the heart of this majestic nature. The deciduous trees grow on the slopes above the conifers, due, it’s said, to the downdraft of cold air that reverses the usual growing patterns.

The Crnojevica River forms serpentine loops before flowing into Lake Skadar, where reeds and water lilies dot the landscape. Seen from the road, it looks like a Surrealist painting. The lake (with its own natural park) is so big it looks like the sea. In springtime, it covers nearly 600 square kilometers, shrinking to half this size in summer. The northern shore, edged by wetlands, is barely accessible. It is home to nesting heron and cormorant colonies, along with a few rare pelicans. It’s possible to catch a glimpse of them by drawing silently near by boat, at dawn.

Solitude

Covered with thick undergrowth, Mount Lovcen holds a special place in the heart of Montenegrins. Standing atop the highest peak is a shrine to Prince Petar II Petrovic Njegos (1813-1851), author of the epic poem Gorski Vjienac (The Mountain Wreath). Everyone here knows these verses by heart, having learned them at school. A staircase, 461 steps in all, climbs steeply through a tunnel, at the end of which a stone atrium suddenly appears in broad daylight. A pair of caryatids seems to nearly touch the clouds. In clear weather, the deep blue sea shimmers on the horizon. The jagged Montenegrin coastline forms a string of bays and peninsulas, covered with pine forests and fringed with secret coves. Supposedly inaccessible, their pristine beauty is conserved intact. The village of Sveti Stefan has occupied a small islet since the 15th century. Other islands lie farther out. Many of them are uninhabited, while others feature the silhouette of a bell tower, circled by cypress trees, as in the town of Perast.

Timeless

The traditional specialty of Njegusi, at the foot of Mount Lovcen, is an artisanal dry-cured ham called njeguski prsut. Most of the farms still have a susara, a small outbuilding where the hams are suspended from the ceiling and left to dry for many months (the entire process takes a full year, and at this point is still described as mladi, or “young”). Impromptu tastings are organized in courtyards. A signpost marks the spot. Or, sometimes, there’s no sign at all, you just have to push open the gate. Homemade goods (honey, jam, oil, cheese) are also on sale, in a casual manner. It’s less about business and more about hospitality, a legacy from the past. Often, the price isn’t even marked. Guests pay what they want, and so what if it all seems a bit anachronistic?

Cetinje, the former royal capital of Montenegro, sits at the foot of Mount Lovcen and has a style all its own. In 1918, it suddenly lost its status as capital with the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which united all the Slavic regions. But it made the best of the situation, and converted its former chancelleries, one by one. The Art Nouveau French Embassy became a library, that of Great Britain, a music academy, and the Austrian-Hungarian one, an art school. As for the Bulgarian Embassy, it now houses a trendy café, known as the Gradska Kafana (the “town café”). The elegant Blue Palace, built in 1894 to house the crown prince, is now home to the president of the Montenegrin Republic. The two guards stationed in front of the door wear sumptuous gold and red uniforms. Hergé, Tintin’s creator, must surely have drawn his inspiration from Cetinje for his King Ottokar’s Scepter.

In the coastal towns, sculptures of winged lions attest to the dominance of the Republic of Venice over this region. Everywhere, you’ll encounter a Mediterranean lifestyle. A peace of mind, as well, in among the lights and shadows that speckle the narrow streets, happily oblivious to hectic days and the tyranny of time.

Aman Sveti Stefan

Tile-roofed homes cling to a rocky outcrop, joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Opposite, a majestic villa stands proudly over a closely cropped lawn. In the 1930s, this was the summer residence of the Yugoslavian royal family. The Aman group combined the tiny fishing village and the elegant vacation home into a single estate, with three magnificent beaches. The most private of them is the Queen’s Beach, encircled by a pine forest and facing the neighboring bay. A gorgeous spa is hidden among the agapanthus and bay laurels.

Aman Sveti Stefan

Tél. +382 33 420 000.

www.aman.com

Hotel Monte Rosa

This tall hotel stands in the heart of the national park that stretches out from the foot of Mount Lovcen. The facade combines glass, wood and stone in a bold contemporary take on local mountain architecture. A few recently restored old homes are scattered around it. They form the village of Ivanova Korita, located at 1,240 meters. All its residents had left, but since 2015 and the opening of the Monte Rosa, the place is coming back to life. Some of the houses were converted into restaurants, others into shops where guests can buy traditional Montenegrin cured ham and cheese.

hotel Monte Rosa

Ivanova Korita, Lovcen. Tél. +382 69 300 600.

www.hotelmonterosa.me
Hotel Monte Rosa

Casa del Mare Amfora

Completely renovated in 2017, this hotel sits on the shores of a quiet bay, halfway between Perast and Kotor. The restaurant occupies a terrace overlooking a secret pebble beach. The best rooms, complete with balconies, have sea views, while those at the back look onto the dense vegetation of the hills. Decorated in soft shades of blue, gray and beige, all are cozy and comfortableand spacious, the trademark of Casa del Mare, a new Montenegrin hotel chain that has four other establishments in the Bay of Kotor, also true to the boutique hotel ethos.

Casa Del Mare Amfora

Orahovac. Tél. +382 32 305 852.

www.casadelmare.me
Casa del Mare Amfora

Next

Chamber music

Carnet d’adresses

Aman Sveti Stefan

Tél. +382 33 420 000.

www.aman.com

hotel Monte Rosa

Ivanova Korita, Lovcen. Tél. +382 69 300 600.

www.hotelmonterosa.me

Casa Del Mare Amfora

Orahovac. Tél. +382 32 305 852.

www.casadelmare.me

Restaurants

Savardak

Shepherds in the Montenegrin mountains used to shelter in thatched huts called savardak, . Zoran Scepanovic has replicated the design for his restaurant. Decorated with old tools, it looks like an ethnographic museum. Traditional hearty dishes are the mainstay. Kacamak , polenta served with potatoes and cheese, steals the show from the cicvara , also made from corn flour. Biocinovici, Kolasin. Tél. +382 69 051 264.

Poslednja Luka

A few restaurants have set up terraces along the Crnojevica. Poslednja Luka stands slightly on its own. Clinging to the hillside, it overlooks the glinting river and offers a lovely view of the surrounding fields. Specialties on the menu include trout, carp and eel, along with cheese and the dry-cured Njegusi ham. Potpocivalo, Rijeka Crnojevica. Tél. +382 41 239 527.

Catovica Mlini

Mlini This former mill on a small stream, some 100 meters from the Adriatic coast, was converted into a restaurant. Once famed for its olive oil, Catovica Mlini’s success now comes from the beautiful site. The manicured garden stretches in all directions. Guests can settle in by the water or under the mill’s stone arches to enjoy the fish and seafood specialties. The homemade bread alone is worth the visit. Morinj, bouches de Kotor. Tél. +382 32 373 030.

Address Book
Vidéo

243

Going There

www.airfrance.com

Flight Frequency

Transavia has 2 weekly flights from Paris-Orly to Tivat.

Arrival Airport

Aéroport de Tivat.
À 4 km de la ville. Tél. +382 32 671 337.

Air France KLM Offices

Aux aéroports.

Bookings

— Depuis la France : tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz, à l'aéroport.

www.airfrance.com/cars

Tourist office

www.montenegro.travel

Further reading

Monténégro
Lonely Planet.

Monténégro Michelin
coll. Guides verts.

Monténégro et Dubrovnik Hachette,
coll. Guides Évasion.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Map illustration for purpose only