Looking to experience Middle Earth, but New Zealand’s too far away? Fortunately for us, three hours by plane and car would take us from Amsterdam to Kotor, a charming ancient coastal town in the mountainous, beautiful country of Montenegro. In this beautiful country, you can get a taste of Middle-Earth in Europe.
I’ve been to New Zealand, and it’s stunning. The size of the UK, with a fraction of its population, its natural environment is pristine and geographically varied. Although much smaller, Montenegro also has a lot to offer, from the mountains to the coast – there is an entire world packed in this country. From the mist covered peaks of Durmitor to the sun drenched bays around Kotor, we experienced much in fourteen days.
We have Vanja, from Montenegro Mountain Guide, to thank for the fantastic time we had. We’ve had lots of great guides on our travels, and he truly stands out. He knows his country, its parks and mountains, inside out, yet shared our sense of discovery when we saw them for the first time. I felt he had an understanding of what we wanted and the way we liked to travel, and tailored his tour as he got to know us and our mountaineering abilities. Although I’m a bit of a beginner, we were still able to access some of the best views and our experience was not hindered by my hiking ability. For the more advanced mountaineer however, he would be able to take you to much greater heights.
Our tour began along one of the many bays that dotted the coast of Montenegro. From the border with Croatia, we began driving along the winding coastal road that led into the mountains of Durmitor. The landscape changed dramatically, from blasting heat to rainy fog. Hardy Mediterranean shrubs gave way to lush pine forests, fig trees petered out to be replaced by verdant blackberry brambles.
Vanja was taking us to the hamlet of Podgora, a short distance north from the main town, Žabljak, which catered to the people living and touring the Durmitor mountain range. In 2007, it was proclaimed as the first eco-village in the country. There, we would stay with a lady called Cane and her family. “I’ve never stayed there myself, so we’ll see how it turns out. I’ve heard only great things about it”, Vanja told us. I was certainly intrigued at the prospect of staying in someone’s home, especially since it would give us a deeper insight into the culture of the country.
Along the way, we passed by the canyon Nevidio, through which runs the river Komarnica, which feeds into the mighty Tara river that cuts through the Durmitor range. We had planned to go canyoning here, but unfortunately, Danijel’s frozen shoulder did not permit us to undertake this activity. Nevertheless, we did manage some breathtaking views from the bridge that spanned the river. The cliffs reach out high from the riverbed, and after the river wound into the thick of the canyon, there was no seeing it. At points, the width along the trail can go down to half a meter, and the sky above reduced to nothing but a crack.
After we had settled into our accommodation, we drove to the start of the trail leading to Petrov Vidikovac, or Peter’s Lookout Point. Funnily enough, there’s also a “Peter’s Lookout Point” in New Zealand, which gives you a view of Mount Cook. I’ve been there, although I don’t remember much, probably because I didn’t have to work for the view. We only got out of a car to make some photos of the mountain, off the highway. Petrov Vidikovac is different. You have to walk for a good half hour over rocky pastureland before scrambling down what felt like tens of metres to get to the lookout point.
The lookout point itself is pretty surreal, a few pieces of wood making up a flimsy railing between the platform and the eternal fall to the bottom of the canyon, a bench and a metal box with a guestbook. I didn’t think lookout points had guestbooks – well this one did. It also has it’s own Facebook page. We also had a furry friend, some farmer’s dog, join us for the entire journey, which made it even more memorable. He was absolutely adorable.
Our tour covered the most beautiful places in Montenegro, and boy, are some of these places mind-blowing. Starting off in Durmitor National Park, we headed further north to the border with Bosnia for rafting on the rapids of the Tara river before driving down to the popular ski destination of Kolašin and stopping briefly at Komovi. After, we drove down to Plav lake and the Prokletije mountain range, finishing our tour near the coast, on Skadarsko lake.
Throughout this time, we visited mountains, lakes, charming towns and villages and were hosted by some of the most warmhearted, sincere people we’d had the fortune to meet on our travels. Although Montenegro’s primary industry is tourism, it caters to a different type of tourist, and will continue to offer a genuine, authentic experience quite unlike any other.