PRIDE OF THE ADRIATIC
From the warm Adriatic Coast to the snow covered peaks of Durmitor & Prokletije National Parks, Skadar lake to Tara canyon, there is miles of unspoilt beauty and stunning landscapes. Cetinje, Kotor, Budva & Pljevlja offer a glimpse into Montenegro’s past. The countryside’s rustic charm, quaint villages and friendly people add up to make it a wholesome travel destination.
Montenegro – the name was derived from the dark mountain forests that cover the land. The glacial lakes, wild natural beauty and enchanting towns make this country the Pride of the Adriatic (that is what Montenegro should be called!). A relatively small country, its wonders do not cease to amaze! The famous poet Lord Byron described Montenegro as the most beautiful merging of land and sea.
While there for ‘work’, the striking beauty of the country often made me forget the purpose of my visit. Must be in the air….after all, isn’t there a Montenegrin proverb which says – If you have the urge to work, sit down, wait and in due course it will pass. Whoever said this forgot to add, ‘drink Rakija while you wait’! You can’t be in Montenegro and not drink Rakija (local fruit brandy), with all that delicious food you get to eat there! So now I was all ready to explore this beautiful land and learn more about the sustainable tourism project that our hosts there are members of. The Innovative Tourism Cluster project aims to support small and medium enterprises, through tourism. It is an excellent initiative, especially in a land where people take a lot of pride in their heritage and traditions and want to keep it alive. The families live on their farms, grow their own vegetables and fruits, maintain their own bee colonies to produce honey, prepare jams, cheese, butter, oil, wines, brandy and of course Rakija. What really struck me was how satisfied and content they were with their lives. The big cities and corporate jobs failed to lure their children and grandchildren and they are all living a happier and better quality of life in the country.
We left the capital city Podgorica, (once called Titograd, after the then leader Josip Broz Tito) and started our journey north, stopping en route to visit the very charming little town of Cetinje, the former royal capital of the country, before making our way to Kotor, driving via the breathtaking Kotor Bay, also known as Boka. In the haze created by the overhead afternoon sun, the mountains looked suspended in the air! It was dark by the time we reached Izlazak Ethno Village for our overnight stay. We had no idea what was waiting for us the next morning!
As the day dawned, the most magical views greeted our eyes. From our cottages perched atop a hill, we had the most fabulous views of the Piva lake. After a quick but hearty Montenegrin breakfast (believe me, it makes the full English look frugal!), we headed off for a short cruise on Lake Piva. Next came Camp Grab, one of the best places for rafting on the Tara river. The more adventurous can try zip lining over the river. The Tara River Canyon is the second longest in the world, after the Grand Canyon. We had barely finished soaking in the beauty of the place when it was time to move on, via the panoramic “Durmitorski prsten” route towards Žabljak . The mountains dotted with snow and crystal clear lakes were a sight to behold! The last scenic stop of the day was Crno Jezero (Black Lake), the largest lake in the Durmitor area.
Next, we headed to the north east of the country, driving over the Đurđevića Tara Bridge, a 365 meter high, concrete arch bridge over Tara river, built between 1937-40. The town of Pljevlja with the Holy Trinity Monastery and Husein Pasha’s mosque is well worth a visit. Those interested in archaeology can visit the museum and the site of an ancient Roman settlement nearby. We continued to a small village not too far from Pljevlja. A short walk from the village took us to the edge of the mountain, where we were treated to another spectacular sight, that of Meandra Ćehotina (the meandering river). A few photographs later we drove on towards the town of Bijelo Polje, driving via the Vraneška Valley, listening to the love story of the local legends, Ahmet and Pava.
Bijelo Polje is a beautiful town with a lively vibe. The following day was for meetings with other members of the Tourism Cluster from Albania and Italy. As the day progressed, the venue moved from the conference room to the market square (who says work cannot be fun!)
All too soon it was time to return to Podgorica. The drive via the Prokletije region reaffirmed the fact that Montenegro is truly the real gem of the Adriatic. It was time to say goodbye to the snow covered mountains as we drove along lake Skadar (a major part of the lake is in Montenegro and the other in Albania. The lake is well known as the best habitat for birds in Europe).
I had gained so much in my few days there…greater knowledge, memories to be cherished, wonderful new friends and a few extra kilos of weight!