Montenegro lies towards the southern finish of the sun drenched Adriatic, a succession of superbly preserved old coastal towns which give manner inland to hovering, convoluted mountains.
Within a surface space of less than 14,000 sq km (5,405 sq miles) – that’s just two thirds the size of Wales – it incorporates a huge quantity that’s worth seeing, from fantastically preserved medieval towns to dizzying mountains. And despite only having gained its independence in 2006, its history is fantastically rich, with Montenegro lying on a fault line between east and west and having been washed over by some two and a half millennia of successive empires and invaders – from Greeks and Romans to Venetians, Ottomans and Austrians, to name just a few.
Montenegro’s Adriatic coast is dotted with a succession of magnificent heritage sites – nowhere more so than the stunningly lovely Bay of Kotor, a steep-sided inlet surrounded by mountains, its mouth so narrow that it was as soon as spanned by a huge chain. At one end of this bay, the walled, medieval city of Kotor is a Unesco World Heritage Site, an interesting warren of streets and alleys, its defensive walls more than twice the length of those at Dubrovnik. Additional around the Bay of Kotor, tiny jewel-like islands stand offshore, one in all them created artificially by locals dropping rocks into the ocean to create a platform on which to build a church – to which one night a year they still are available a ritual procession, aboard brightly decorated fishing boats.
Further south alongside the coast, the old towns of Budva and Ulcinj cling to rocky promontories, their fortified walls rising out of the crashing waves, while the diminutive cluster of houses that is Sveti Stefan has been developed from a humble fishing village into one of the crucial unique resorts on the Adriatic. Exquisite Roman mosaic flooring can be seen in Risan. Each on the coast and inland, there are some stunning monasteries – among them the Morača Monastery with its distinctive frescoes in the Raška Model, and Ostrog, its white façade seeming to emerge from a sheer cliff. Glorious vineyards carpet the hills west of Lake Skadar and historical olive bushes scatter the landscape round Stari Bar of their hundreds, a few of them older than the time of Christ, having outlived all and any of the empires which have adopted since.
Montenegro has two Unesco World Heritage Sites: the beautifully well-preserved, walled medieval city of Kotor and its surroundings on the Bay of Kotor; and inland, the magnificent, unspoiled wilderness of Durmitor and the Tara Canyon. Several different properties have been submitted to the list, together with Stari Bar, the historic core of Cetinje and Biogradska Gora National Park. Watch this space.
River deep, mountain high
Whatever the great thing about its coast, it is the wildly untamed and dramatic panorama of its hinterland – its spectacular mountains, stupendously deep canyons, huge lakes and jewel-like mountain tarns, which are arguably Montenegro’s greatest, most unforgettable asset – from the unspoiled virgin forest of Biogradska Gora and the massive mountain plateau of Durmitor to the sprawling watery wilderness of Lake Skadar, and the spectacular and remote mountains of the Albanian border.
This panorama makes Montenegro a improbable vacation spot for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and white water rafting – perhaps nowhere more so than in its five national parks, Durmitor, Biogradska Gora, Lake Skadar, Prokletije and Lovćen. All have distinctive features. Throughout the sting of the Durmitor plateau, the river Tara has carved a phenomenally deep canyon – at 1,300 metres (four,265ft), the deepest in Europe. Lake Skadar is the largest lake within the Balkans, taking a look at instances like a slightly less vertiginous model of China’s Guilin. The summit of Mt Lovćen is topped with the mausoleum of Montenegro’s great nineteenth century ruler poet, Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. Prokletije (meaning the ‘accursed mountains’) is Montenegro’s most newly created national park, a panoramic succession of peaks alongside the border with Albania. Montenegro is a karst landscape, and halfway alongside the shore of the Bay of Kotor, the biggest submarine spring on the Adriatic coast bursts out of a sheer cliff by the roadside and shoots down into the sea.
Montenegro’s wild and rugged panorama and nationwide parks are house to a rare wealth of wildlife and plants. Brown bear and wolves inhabit remote mountain areas, though in small numbers they usually’re extremely wary of permitting themselves to be seen by people (who are likely to shoot them). More widespread mammals embrace the red and roe deer, fox and wild boar, while the country is house to a complete host of reptiles and amphibians, including the Balkan green lizard, nostril-horned viper and four-lined snake. The number of butterflies is astonishing. Birdlife is at its richest on Lake Skadar (a Ramsar site) and Ulcinj Saltpans, where you possibly can see Dalmatian pelicans, pygmy cormorants, nice crested grebes and little egrets, together with many other species. Plant life is equally rich, from tall stands of black mountain pine alongside the Tara Canyon to a plethora of flowers, lots of them rare or endemic.
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