A lot of people still associate the Western Balkan states with the Yugoslav Wars that led to their creation, an all-too-recent memory which casts a dark shadow over the region in the minds of Westerners. While the scars of war remain, these freshly divided countries in Southeastern Europe are waiting to discovered. Today we’ll take you to the nation of Montenegro, where one of the most rugged landscapes in Europe meets the Adriatic Sea‘s coolest coastline.
Montenegro is a baby as far as countries go, having only officially declared independence in 2006 during its split from Serbia. However, the area has a rich history with Roman, Ottoman, and Slavic ties that are still visible today. Geographically speaking, Montenegro — which is only about the size of the state of Connecticut — holds everything from towering mountains to deep green valleys, with lakes known for extreme biodiversity to stretches of beach known for tanning tourists. The heavily forested region in the northeast portion of the country should not be missed (Biogradska Gora National Park especially, as it holds one of the last European rainforests in existence), but as we’re right on the cusp of the winter solstice, let’s soak up the sun for a while on the Adriatic.
Nearby Croatia has become known for its broad swath of coastline, but the azure waters continue down along the southwestern side of Montenegro. In the northernmost section of the Montenegrin coast you’ll find the Bay of Kotor, said to be the most beautiful bay in Europe with its ripe green hills that plunge deep into the sea below. Surrounding the bay are some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations like the cities of Kotor, Perast, and Herceg Novi, all of which boast several beaches as well as numerous historic monuments all worthy of their UNESCO recognition. While touring the bay be sure to spot Our Lady of the Rocks, an Orthodox church perched on a manmade island. If you happen to be in Perast on July 22, join the locals at sunset for the festival of fašinada when they take their boats into the bay to throw rocks in the water surrounding the island — a tradition dating back to 1452.
Further down the coast is the Budva Riviera, a popular area with 7.8 miles of beaches to take advantage of. If you’re looking for a unique hotel experience, try to get a room on the island of Sveti Stefan, a luxury resort which was originally a fortified Muslim village and later a safe haven for Adriatic pirates. To explore more Balkan history (and a new slew of beaches) head to the southern city of Bar, where Roman, medieval, and even prehistoric ruins await discovery. Bar is also close to Skadar Lake (the biggest lake in the Balkans) which is lined with an important wetland ecosystem that several rare plants and animals call home, and a national park there gives you the opportunity to get close to the natural action.
Already popular with Europeans, tourism in Montenegro is growing among travel freaks outside of the region — just very, very slowly. So if the above description hasn’t made you crazy with jealousy for those who have had the pleasure to visit this Balkan Beauty, perhaps this gallery will get you to book a hotel room and get out of town.