Montenegro, you may ask? It’s a small Mediterranean country in the Balkans region of Europe, just south of Croatia. It is best known for being home of the Kotor fjord (Europe’s most southern), visited by thousands of cruise ship visitors every year.
Somehow, we managed to drive next to the Kotor fjord without even realising it. This was only the start of our mishaps and unexpected experiences in Montenegro! Read on to discover the mistakes we made and how to avoid them on your own Europe road trip.
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Lost in translation – learning the local language in Montenegro
Our guidebooks (plural!) had advised us that while Montenegrin was the official language in Montenegro, it was pretty similar to Croatian. Even our Eastern European phrasebook referred us to the Serbian or Croatian chapters.
There was no mention anywhere however that the most common alphabet used in Montenegro is of the Serbian Cyrillic variety. The Latin Alphabet road map we had made navigation using Cyrillic letters pretty impossible.
It was for this reason that we ended up driving around Kotor fjord (i.e. Montenegro’s most famous tourist attraction) without really understanding where we were. I know, I’m so embarrassed.
How to avoid this mishap yourself: Download the local maps on Google Maps in advance for offline use. Not keen on navigating with your mobile? Try and buy a Cyrillic map of Montenegro before arriving or, at the very least, as soon as you cross the border.
We did, however, stop at the Roman mosaics in Risan, at the edge of Kotor Bay. Montenegro was part of the Roman province of Dalmatia which also included parts of Albania, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.
Our first ancient ruins on the road trip so far, we were pretty excited. Only problem was, the mosaic centre did not have a car park (that we could find anyway) so we parked just off the road next to it and ended up getting blocked in by the local residents. Oops!
How to avoid this mishap yourself: Needless to say, be very careful where you park in Montenegro. Be sure you are not blocking access to anything (a building, rock or even a track) with your vehicle.
Close encounters on the road
Thinking of vehicles, it was around Kotor Bay when we started to notice the craziness of Montenegrin drivers. We seemingly never had a vehicle behind us since they would always overtake, not even waiting for a clear path to do so.
The amount of near missed we saw in our short time in Montenegro was almost unbelievable. Well, until we got to Albania anyway! Every surface near every road in Montenegro was scrawled with the words ‘Auto Slep,’ which I now know means towing service. Well, that makes sense.
After finally purchasing a Cyrillic map, we set our sights to our second of our three must-sees in Montenegro – Ostrog Monastery.
Knowing that campgrounds weren’t common in Montenegro we started looking for a place to sleep early and left the main road to find a nice quiet sideroad to park on. With few trees and narrow streets, we didn’t have much luck.
How to avoid this mishap yourself: Get ready to drive defensively when travelling around Montenegro. Be prepared for vehicles to almost constantly overtake you. Stay calm!
Meeting the locals
Spotting a building that looked like a local shop, JR went in to ask for advice. It turned out to be a bar. JR exited around twenty minutes later with a fairly merry gentleman who had apparently OK’d the idea of us parking in his garden for the night as long as we drove him home.
He had been planning to walk home, so apparently, this idea worked well for him as well. How this was all worked out, I’m not really sure. The man didn’t speak any English.
The walk the man was planning to take turned out to be quite a long way. Pleased to be home so soon, he introduced us to his friend and showed us around the grounds of his house.
The ‘garden’ turned out to be a rudimentary vineyard in front of a small house. Continuing on the merry atmosphere, the evening was spent sitting outside the house, drinking Turkish coffee (brewed on the outside cooker) and eating grapes from the vines with our new friends.
A night in a vineyard in Montenegro
We didn’t have a common language with our hosts but somehow, it worked. They complained about Canadians buying up local property and we complained about the crazy drivers. Following the advice of our phrasebook, we tried some Croatian and Serbian phrases but that didn’t go down too well.
Russian, however, was received better. Explaining to our new friends our plans for the next day, they pointed out the lit-up monastery high up in the hills. Somehow, we had found a camping spot directly underneath our next destination.
Our time in Ostrog Monastery was interesting, to say the least; nothing we could have ever have anticipated and more. More on that elsewhere on the site.
How to avoid this mishap yourself: Offering one of the most interesting experiences we’ve ever had while travelling, you may not want to avoid this one but rather try and meet local Montenegrins yourself.
The most expensive beach in the world?
The final must-see of our Montenegro experience was the peninsula at Sveti Stefan. The beautiful island hotel resort (formerly a royal residence and playground for the rich and famous) was picture-perfect as I had imagined.
I didn’t expect however to have to pay 50 Euros to use the beach directly in front of it. Ouch. The nearby beaches proved to be a fine alternative.
Vineyard camping, auto-slepping, 50 euro beaches and ancient ruins. – our time in Montenegro was definitely memorable, and we didn’t even have the famed Kotor fjord experience!
How to avoid this mishap yourself: Get your euros ready if you want the full experience of the Sveti Stefan peninsula beach. I hear the price has increased further since our visit. Alternatively, just enjoy the local beaches that are almost as beautiful and completely free!
Planning a stay in Sveti Stefan?
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Villa Mia – Seaviews and a private pool