From green lakes to the blue Adriatic coast to massive mountains in the north, Montenegro’s has a definite wow factor.
People come here looking for untouched nature and to escape the crowds and, apart from certain spots along the coast, this is easy to do. On Lake Skadar, one of the largest lakes in southern Europe, is the village of Virpazar, with plenty of boat trips available. But if you just drive along its south-western shore with an inflatable kayak, you can paddle out into a vast expanse of water and it feels like there is no one else there.
Further north, the Durmitor mountains and Biogradska Gora national park offer hiking in dramatic landscapes with only a handful of other walkers. The reward is epic views and the sense of stillness and majesty that I don’t think can be matched in many other places.
In the north-west wetlands is Rijeka Crnojevića, a town and a beautiful river, and the heartland of old Montenegro. The former royal capital was in Cetinje. I love the palace of the last king of Montenegro, now the King Nikola Museum. You get a good sense of the aristocratic, refined but still very Montenegrin and Slavic way in which the family lived.
Kotor town, on the bay of the same name, is Unesco-protected, and for a reason. It has incredible historic architecture, and it’s in a dramatic location, with vertiginous mountains on either side of what’s often referred to as a fjord but is actually a sunken riverbed. The walk up to the fortress of St John offers outstanding views.
Further north, towards the Bosnian border, the town of Plužine sits by Lake Piva, one of the biggest artificial lakes in the former Yugoslavia. Its bright blue waters and craggy grey mountains wouldn’t look out of place in Canada or New Zealand.
In the far south, the ancient seaport of Ulcinj, with its walled old town, has an amazing history, as it was on the Silk Road. It’s been part of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and its population is mainly Albanian: it has a very different feel and identity from the rest of Montenegro.
My favourite is Jaz beach, north of Budva: it’s one of the longest beaches in Montenegro and hosts summer concerts and festivals. Another personal favourite, except in July and August, is Buljarica, a little further south. It’s a large sandy bay backed by wetlands, and a beautiful place to watch the sun go down.
In between is Perazića Do, which is marred by a huge unfinished hotel, but as long as you look away from the building site, the beach is gorgeous.
Velika Plaža, in the south beyond Ulcinj, is a very long sandy beach. There’s a choice of kitesurfing clubs along the sands, and not far away are the Ulcinj saltpans, visited by a range of migratory birds, including a huge flock of flamingos.
One of my favourite restaurants is Konoba Galija (+3 823-346-1717, no website) at Buljarica. There’s always fresh seafood, delivered by their little fishing boat, which ties up on the beach.
Konoba Badanj in Virpazar is where I usually eat, and it’s great for a breakfast of priganice (little doughnuts with cheese and honey), before going kayaking or taking a boat trip on the lake.
In Kolašin, on the way to the Bjelasica mountains, Savardak restaurant always has a fire burning and serves meat cooked ispod sača (under a cast-iron bell), for maximum flavour and juiciness. This is an essential eating experience in Montenegro.
Adrenaline addicts will love the zipline in Plužine, and right beside it is restaurant and guesthouse Zvono. You can whoosh along the zipline and have a strong drink afterwards: it does typically hearty Montenegrin fare – excellent trout and meat dishes.
Montenegrin wine is fantastic, plentiful and part of the culture. Most families make their own, and there are about 60 professional wineries – Lake Skadar is home to some of the best. I recently discovered Lipovac, between Virpazar and Cetinje, which is in smart contemporary buildings but makes wine in traditional clay amphorae.
In Stari Bar, Stara Čaršija is a classy new hotel with a spa and restaurant (doubles from €61 B&NS). It’s newly built but blends in with the Ottoman surroundings. Hotel Conte in Perast (doubles from €75 B&NS), has a restaurant right on the waters of Kotor Bay, where you can eat fresh fish by candlelight.