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Top Destinations for 2016: Montenegro

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This mountainous, young Balkans nation is a real hidden European gem, with many mysteries to unravel. Even the translation of Montenegro’s name sounds mysterious: Black Mountain.

MontenegroEnchanting - with diverse natural wonders, old coastal cities and shepherds’ cottages in the high-rising, mystical mountains that literally spill into the dramatic coastline - it is a destination not yet fully tainted by tourism.

Diversity and richness are the words that define almost everything in Montenegro. This country is a living geography textbook – you can see fiords and virgin forests, marshes and glacier lakes, seas of rocks, deep canyons, eternal snow, and miles long caves.

Even though Montenegro belongs to the Mediterranean climate zone, some of its parts have their own specific climate. The capital Podgorica is one of the warmest cities in Europe.

Montenegro has a long and interesting history that informs everything about the nation, even in its modern day guise. The Slavic people struggled for centuries to keep their independence while preserving their own culture, which absorbed influences from the West and the East and developed its own authenticity.

You will be amazed by this small country at the heart of the Mediterranean. You can reach it by plane (airports in Podgorica, Tivat, and Dubrovnik), by boat, or by train from Belgrade (Serbia). Those who have time and who want to learn more about Central Europe and the Balkans can go by car, motorbike, or bicycle.

Flights directly into Montenegro are infrequent and can be expensive, but the Croatian city of Dubrovnik is just 17 kilometres from the border. With frequent and reasonable flights to Dubrovnik this is the perfect portal to a Montenegro trip.

On any stay in Dubrovnik it is also an option to take one of the many day trips to Montenegro, hopping the border for a taste of the neighbouring nation.

Where to go

The main surprise of this tiny nation is the sheer diversity of its different regions, offering everything from untouched sandy beaches and ski resorts to historic walled cities and great coastal night spots.

These are the areas you should head to in Montenegro:

The Bay of Kotor and the Town of Kotor

The walled-city of Kotor is the jewel in the crown of one of the most stunningly beautiful bays on the planet. It is also ranked the top city to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet.

An ancient town surrounded by huge fortifications, it is a city that deserves to be visited at least once in a lifetime. Its charm lies not only in the way it co-exists with its natural surroundings but also the wonder of its labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and irregularly shaped squares. The cities walls offer breathtaking views of the bay.

Better still cruise ships have yet to add Kotor to their route so it is not overwhelmed by day tourists. This is why it is worth a visit now!

The city is also a good base to take boat trips to explore other parts of the mountain encircled, fjord-like bay.

Lustica Peninsula

Forming the southern headland of the Bay of Kotor, the gorgeous Lustica Peninsula is still relatively untouched, but you better get in quick. The first section of the peninsula is already quite developed and the plans are moving further south.

You’ll find idyllic villages and secluded, clean beaches amongst the olive groves. The area is easily reachable by taxi boat from Herceg Novi across the bay. Driving in the more exciting parts of the peninsula is a hair-raising experience with narrow roads, sheer drops and drivers who don’t really care that you are new to the area. But the exploration is worth it to uncover the regions gems and get some awe-inspiring roadside views of the Bay of Kotor.

Coastal Montenegro

Montenegro’s coast can hold its own with the most spectacular in the world. The clear and transparent water of the warm Adriatic Sea, long sandy beaches, many small, hidden wild beaches and islands such as St. Stefan with palm trees, olive trees and flowers, romantic sunsets, particularly those at the island of Ada Bojana, fish restaurants make this a must-visit.

Podgorica, Lake Skadar

This region has been attracting people since ancient times and it is easy to see why.

This is where Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, is located. Much like the rest of Montenegro, the city can hardly be called the most ‘happening’ in Europe but it is a lovely little city packed with restaurants, bars, cafes, and green spaces.

It is an ideal starting point for further exploration. It takes less than an hour from Podgorica to the coast or to the mountain region. It takes less than half an hour to Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans. It is recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty and a bird paradise, banked by beaches and fortresses and monasteries. Each visit can offer new experiences. Boat trips are available from numerous towns along its banks.

If you go for a walk, a cruise on the lake, bird watching expedition, sailing or kayaking, you should end your tour with fabulous cuisine of that region and fantastic wine from the area near the lake called Crmnica.

High-rising Mountains and plateaus

As much as 60% of Montenegro towers to more than 1,000 metres above sea level. On Durmitor, Prokletije, Komovi and other mountains, in addition to breath-taking views, you can also witness the centuries-long life of shepherds in their mountain retreats.

Wild rivers have carved magnificent canyons, renowned for their beauty and size. The Tara River Canyon is the deepest canyon in Europe. It contains areas that nobody has ever set foot on.

The mountains are full of hidden treasures. The many peaks at 2,000m above sea level are a challenge for hikers and alpinists. The meadows are a haven for botanists. In the virgin forests surrounding the glacial lakes, it may seem like fairies or other forest creatures could pop up at any point. The towns of Kolašin and Žabljak are the main starting points for mountain adventures.

What to do

While neighbouring Croatia is almost collapsing under the weight of the number of festivals each summer, Montenegro is not really a festival destination on UK travellers lips – but with a run of young events that could all be about to change.

Sea Dance Festival, held on the awesome Jaz Beach, near Budva (Montenegro’s party town) started in 2014 is already a firm favourite with the festival crowd, bagging ‘Best Medium Sized Festival’ at the European Festival Awards last year. 2015 boasted a dance line-up that included The Prodigy, Rudimental, Sigma and Bondax.

Hot on its heels are the Nikšić Lake Fest and the Southern Soul Festival in Ulcinj. Be sure to check out the dates of these events.

Renowned DJs are now also becoming frequent visitors to the nation’s clubs and many beach bars, so the coast is worth checking out for your next party trip!

In the summer the nation’s squares, streets, forts and medieval towns turn into stages for theatre plays, concerts, exhibitions, carnivals and traditional festivities.

After intense nights spent on the coast, you can relax and enjoy the freshness of mountains or take part inadrenaline-filled challenges: rock climbing, kite surfing, paragliding, rafting, canyoning, competing in the adventure park on Lovćen, a demanding hiking or biking tour, or perhaps a relaxing daily panoramic route.

Rafting on the Tara River is a life-changing experience, and one-day trips are affordable.

For the boldest of the bold, in the past couple of years base-jumping off the bridge in ĐurÄ‘evića Tara has become a popular thrill. There’s loads more to do, including jeep and photo safaris, horse riding, fly fishing, snowshoeing or off-piste skiing in the winter.

Ostrog Monastery is not exactly easy to reach, but the arduous journey is soon worth it. Set in the rock this most holy of Christian monasteries is not just stunning in its own regard but offers exceptional views.

The country is also drenched in history with museums, old monasteries and mosques worth visiting nationwide.

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