Barely 100km from tip to toe, and with a population of just 600,000, the tiny nation of Crna Gora (better known under its Italian name, Montenegro – "Black Mountain”) has more than a hint of the fairy tale about it. Crystal clear sapphire beaches on an extraordinary Adriatic coastline, ancient walled towns clinging to rocks and dipping into the sea, dramatic jagged peaks piercing cobalt skies, stony paths disappearing into primeval forests (maybe with a gingerbread house at the centre?), a church in a cave, an island built on the hulks of invading ships – all magically stitched together to form a rich tapestry of a turbulent past.   Since the schism of the Roman Empire over 1600 years ago, Montenegro has straddled the border between east and west. Ruled over and fought over by Illyrians and Romans, by feuding Slavic tribes, Huns and Goths, by warring Venetians and Ottomans (not to mention the legacy of 50 years as a communist state, independent of both the West and the Eastern Bloc), its wealth of cultural history is reflected in the mosaic floors of Roman villas, dazzlingly ornate Orthodox monasteries, opulent Catholic churches, the soaring grace of minarets and the many solid fortresses dotting the countryside.   Intrepid travellers can easily avoid the sun-seeking tourist masses by taking to the rugged mountains of Durmitor and Prokletije, the thick forest of Biogradska Gora or the many small towns and villages scattered around the countryside. Hike, bike or canoe yourself to somewhere remote and chances are adventure will be just around the corner. This is, after all, a country where wolves and bears still prowl in deep, dark places…
     

People  

It’s a delicious irony that such a Lilliputian land should be populated by giants - Montenegrins are arguably the tallest people in the world (the average height for men is 186 cm and for women 171 cm). Largely of Slavic ethnicity, they have been a tribal society for centuries, with traditional culture revolving around the many different clans (you’ll often hear from locals that their particular clan played a special role in Montenegrin history, and they’ll then proceed to tell you all about their ancestors). Laid back, generous and hospitable, Montenegrins enjoy doing nothing, sitting for hours in a café and indulging in that favourite of all Montenegrin pastimes – long conversations over small cups of coffee. Many things have changed in Montenegro in the previous decades, but Western individualism still hasn’t found its way into the society. Just as it ever was, the whole country seems interconnected and almost everyone knows everyone else…like one big family.
       

Places  

You could easily drive clear across the country in a day – or spend a month and be left wanting more. The public transport is pretty pricey, so if there are two or more of you, renting a car will work out at much the same cost - with added freedom! But train, bus or automobile, here are four places you absolutely must see:

Kotor
Wedged between mountain and sea and paved in marble, the walled town of Kotor was a Venetian naval stronghold from the 15th to the 18th centuries, and still reflects the atmosphere of its mother city. Ancient sandstone buildings glow softly in the sunlight, steps and alleyways beckon alluringly, conversation and laughter echo round palazzo-fringed squares and there are no cars. Stalls in the market offer air-dried ham from the countryside, olives mixed with fresh mountain rosemary, and garlands of dried figs bound together by bay leaves. Above them, a 17th-century clock tower with two faces, one running slightly behind the other, rather charmingly strikes the hour twice.  

Budva
At first sight, visitors may be put off by the somewhat bleak scenery just outside Budva. Don’t be. Founded by the Greeks in the fourth century BC, and fortified during the Middle Ages, the town forms the heart of the “Budva Riviera” and, with its atmospheric Stari Grad (Old Town) and many beaches, has much to offer. Start the day by stepping through an arch in a medieval wall straight on to the beach. Lined by cafés, tables and sofas, this is where elegant locals come for coffee and gossip. For more secluded bathing, catch a taxi-boat from the seafront promenade and head to the small island of Sveti Nikola (known locally as Hawaii). Covered by fragrant pine forests (complete with deer), it has three bigger beaches, numerous small beaches and a restaurant.  If you’re feeling active, you can also rent a kayak and paddle around to the south side to explore the isolated coves.  

Durmitor National Park
Whatever else you do, don’t leave Montenegro without visiting UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Durmitor National Park. Situated in the northwest of the country, the word ‘magnificent’ simply does not do the area justice. Set within canyons, plateaux and mountains, it’s a place where Mediterranean and Alpine microclimates blend, resulting in a unique range of flora and fauna. Where brown bears, wolves, and wild cats roam. Where ice and water have etched out extraordinary landscapes from the limestone rock. Where, like a looking-glass, glacier lakes reflect soaring snow-covered mountains,. And where you can raft through Europe’s grandest canyon, the Tara River Canyon.  

Ostrog Monastery
Have faith…a slightly worrisome drive up winding mountain roads with vertigo-inducing drops truly is worth it. Boasting a spectacular view of the Bjelopavlici plain, Ostrog Monastery is carved into the almost vertical mountain cliff of Ostroska Greda at 900m above sea level, and is, after the tomb of Jesus Christ and Mount Athos, the third most visited shrine in the Christian world. Founded in the 17th century, by Vasilije, the Metropolitan Bishop of Herzegovina (canonised as St Basil of Ostrog after his death in 1671) many people walk barefoot up the mountain to receive a blessing and visit his enshrined body in the burial-vault dedicated to the Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple.          

Pleasures  

Once the playground of the rich and famous, (Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and assorted royals would hold court at Sveti Stefan, an almost-island of former fishing cottages), Montenegrins still take great pleasure in the hedonistic lifestyle. They love food, they love drink, they love to party and they certainly know how to do all three to the max.  
You’ll find that cuisine varies greatly from one region to region. As you’d expect, along the coast, fresh fish and seafood predominate, while meat and cheese are more popular inland. Many meals begin with a platter of thinly sliced pršut (smoked ham, similar to Italian prosciutto), roasted meats and cevapi sausages or delicious ovčji sir (sheep’s cheese) or kožji sir(goat's cheese). Be warned, though, the platters are enormous and it’s only too easy to stuff yourself into a near coma before the rest of the meal arrives. Other much-loved local specialities include Salata od hobotnice (octopus salad), Riblja čorba (fish soup) and Crni rižot (Black risotto made with cuttlefish ink).  
If beer’s your tipple of choice, you’re in luck. Nikšićkopivo, a truly excellent lager brewed in Nikšić is found in most bars and cafes and, given its high quality, is exceptionally good value for money.  
If wine’s your thing, you’re also in luck. Montenegro was once the centre of Yugoslavia's wine industry, and it still produces wine that, in truth, is worth its very own article. Watch out for Vranac, an gloriously deep, smooth red, and Krstac, a deliciously dry white. Oh, and really watch out for Rakija: This highly potent spirit made from distilled grapes, occasionally flavoured with herbs or fruit, is often served before a meal as an appetiser and could have you under the table before you know it.  
When it comes to partying, Budva is the buzziest place on the coast. It’s where the super-rich moor their multimillion-mega yachts in the town’s privately guarded marina and where by night, you’ll be accosted by scantily clad young women attempting to lure you into the beachside bars. So if you’re in the mood to party, this is definitely the place to be.         

Do  

Be prepared to drink shots of their homemade grappa (lozza, rakija) no matter what time of day if you’re invited to a local’s house.  
Make an effort to speak a few words or phrases of the local language: Molim (please), Hvala lepo (thank you very much) Jedno pivo molim (a beer, please!) will put a smile on a local’s face!  
Tip at restaurants. Smaller places will expect to keep small change, and more upscale establishments up to ten percent of the bill.  
Dress modestly when visiting religious buildings.  
Expect meat, meat, and more meat. Bring your own food if you’re vegan!        

Don’t

Bother looking for a McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, etc..They don't exist in Montenegro  
Ever refer to the country as ‘the former Yugoslavia’  
Ask personal questions about marital status or income  
Expect a wave or nod of thanks from another road user when you’re being courteous. If you're lucky, you might get a toot of the horn. Reply with another toot if you want to say "you're welcome"  
Wait for small change in shops or supermarkets -  you’ll definitely look like a tourist!         

Best time to go  

The best time to go to Montenegro visit is between April and September. The coast has typically Mediterranean weather, with very warm summers (temperatures can reach the upper thirties) and mild winters. The interior, however, boasts a sub-alpine climate, with warm summers and bitterly cold winters (temperatures can drop to as low as minus twenty) and occasional heavy rainfall and snow. Be aware that the coast can get rather crowded in July and August; in addition, accommodation is at its most expensive during this period, with rates almost doubling in some places. Hence June and September are the optimum months for a visit, when the weather is still reliably hot and there are far fewer tourists.        

Best way to go

With one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines to explore, one of the best ways to travel Montenegro has to be by boat. Moor in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kotor and take your time drinking in the beauty of the stunning Bay of Kotor and its ancient town. Next, cruise down the Adriatic coast to take in Budva or perhaps the lively holiday town of Herceg Novi on the Croatian border, or Ulcinj in the south, with its famous sandy beaches. Maybe you’d prefer to make your way overland to whichever new destination you choose? Your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, meaning your trip is completely customisable. Of course, as well as visiting beautiful towns and villages, there’s plenty of activity on offer for the adventurous, with fishing, kayaking, snorkelling and hiking all available. 
Choose from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant cabin cruiser, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.        
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