Monday, August 22, 2011

Montenegro: Budva, Kotor Bay, and Cavtat (in Croatia)

By Melissa at 10:31 AM
July 25 - August 1

From the inland city of Sarajevo in Bosnia, we traveled by bus to the seaside town of Budva, Montenegro. The nine-hour journey took us through the plains of the Republika Srbska and over the mountains adjacent to Durmitor National Park in Montenegro. Thankfully we had a very nice and careful minibus driver who safely navigated through the windy mountain roads, most of which were just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past each other.

We didn't know quite what to expect from Budva, despite the fact that everyone we talked to in the former Yugoslav countries had given us exactly the same warning. "Oh Budva has wonderful beaches, but it is very busy during the summer and there are a lot of Russians there so you know...". No one would ever finish that sentence and we didn't really want to get into a conversation about negative stereotypes, so we just nodded politely, smiled and decided we would wait and see what all the fuss was about. We thought maybe we would witness some unique cultural differences and have something interesting to write about, but we did not, and so the story ends anticlimactically. To us, the Russian tourists were indistinguishable from the other Slavic tourists in Budva, who as far as we could tell from the license plates of cars parked in front of the guest houses, were mostly Serbian, Montenegrin or Croatian. Then of course there was your usual smattering of Australians, French and Germans, but those groups are easily distinguished from those speaking Slavic languages. I guess perhaps it is interesting in the sense that some cultural differences so pronounced to one group are invisible to another. I'm sure many people scratch their heads in confusion when we Americans talk about how different Canadian or British people are.

Budva Beach
From Budva, Montenegro
Street in old town Budva
From Budva, Montenegro
Budva itself is nothing special and the beaches are indeed very crowded, but it was a cheap base from which we could explore towns in the surrounding coastal areas. We rented a car for a day and drove first to the town of Kotor on the spectacularly beautiful Bay of Kotor. The town of Kotor, is an old walled city at the base of Mt. Lovcen. Similar to Dubrovnik and Split, the town is a series of cute alleyways and charming plazas filled with restaurants and gift shops.

Saint Tryphon Cathedral in Kotor
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Water pump in the walled town of Kotor
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Moat outside of Kotor city wall
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Kotor from above
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Next we made a quick stop in the one-road town of Perast, which was the site of one of the best naval academies in Europe in the 17th century. In the bay are two small islands with churches located on them. There are no beaches to speak of, just stone platforms with steps leading into the water, but the clear, turquoise water is incredibly inviting and the backdrop of the fjords all around is lovely.

Brian on Kotor Bay near Perast
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Perast and its marina
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Perast
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
After leaving Perast we drove up the winding road that leads to the top of Mt. Lovcen, traversing 30 or so switchbacks on the way up. The car we rented this time was a Fiat and we quickly developed a new appreciation for even the worst American car brands. We miraculously made it up the mountain so I can't completely bash it, but I probably could have done a better job of shifting at the right time than the Fiat's "automatic" transmission even though I have only driven a stick shift about four times in my life.
Our Fiat Punto
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Kotor bay from the road on Mt. Lovcen
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Kotor bay from the road on Mt. Lovcen
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Shortly after reaching the peak of the mountain we entered a mountain-top valley with the intriguing town of Njeguški. They have what has got to be one of the best tourist attractions I have ever seen--Njeguški is the home of "ham trails". You follow little signs with pictures of a ham legs on them to different farms that make pršute (pronounced pruh-shoot), the Balkan version of prosciutto, in the traditional way. The town's climate is supposedly perfect for the drying and curing process.  They also smoke the ham before drying it and I have to say, it's even better than Italian prosciutto. The farms and roadside stands also have delicious farmers cheese and the very friendly locals ply you with large samples of everything. Our final stop in Montenegro was the town of Centinje, which has definitely seen better days, but it had a few interesting old embassies, each built in the style of the country it represented.
Njeguški Ham Trail Map
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Cured ham from Njeguški
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Njeguški
From Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Montenegro was yet another location we were sad to be leaving, but we were looking forward to heading to Rome where we are spending three weeks relaxing and recuperating from all of our travels. The closest airport to costal Montenegro is actually the Dubrovnik airport in Croatia, so we took a bus back to Croatia and spent two nights in Cavtat, a town south of Dubrovnik and only a few miles from the airport.

Cavtat is one of our favorite cities that we've visited so far. Had we known it was so charming, we would have stayed here instead of Dubrovnik and just taken day trips. It is a little town on a rocky outcropping and despite the limited sandy beaches, the water is just amazing and it's quite fun climbing up and down the rocks. I also discovered that lying on the rocks is actually just as comfortable as lying in a beach chair. It seems to be a popular destination for very wealthy individuals as there were several huge yachts docked in the harbor, including Lakshmi Mittal's 262-foot Amevi yacht. Next time we come to Croatia, Cavtat will definitely be on the itinerary. But we're in Rome now and loving it, so stay tuned for our next post on our lazy weeks in Rome. It will probably just consist of a lot of pictures of gelato.
Melissa relaxing on the "beach" in Cavtat
From Cavtat, Croatia
The "beach" in Cavtat
From Cavtat, Croatia
Cavtat Marina
From Cavtat, Croatia
Sunset in Cavtat
From Cavtat, Croatia

More photos of Budva, Kotor Bay, and Cavtat.