After two days of rest in Dubrovnik in Croatia, under a splendid sun, we left for Montenegro, on December 21, 2020.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Covid & Timing
In these uncertain times, timing is key. Many cultures have access to a kind of calendar based on astrology. Basically, the location of the planets can influence humans. Usually, I don’t even bother to consult this calendar but due to the uncertain events of the last few months, many eclipses, Blood Moon, alignment of planets in abundance, I have to calculate the exact arrival in Montenegro to avoid border closures or too strict restrictions, which could totally spoil our Christmas vacations.
So I chose to arrive in Montenegro on December 21, 2020, an important date because Jupiter and Saturn are
aligned with the Earth tonight. are very close to each other.
Another important date is planned in a few months and I want to be in a stable situation on that day so Montenegro isn’t chosen at random: we can stay there for 3 months, so until 22/03/2021 without any problem, while waiting for everything to become a little more normal.
We were still at the beginning of December when I took this decision and we were obviously not aware of the restrictions of movement between the Croatian regions, imposed from December 22nd, 2020, nor the discovery of the Covid mutation and the reinforced restrictions everywhere in Europe from December 20th, nor the obligation of a negative PCR test under 72 hours to enter Montenegro from December 24th, 2020.
Basically, we fell through the cracks when we left on 12/21, we aren’t affected by Croatian restrictions, nor by Montenegrin restrictions, and we arrived in Montenegro in a way that life is beautiful.
Dubrovnik – Tivat
Herceg Novi is right next to the Croatian border but we choose to go to Tivat because there are advantageous car rental rates with Hertz in Tivat : 10€/day, no credit card or insurance obligation + a (temporary) 30€ cashback offer with American Express. As we are in low season (+ Covid), there is no bus between Croatia and Montenegro, we have to pay a private transfer to get there. 90€ for two people from Dubrovnik.
If the first part of the trip is super nice (sea view), the second part is bof bof, you can only see the trees. The customs officers ask a lot of questions to our driver who fortunately answers in our place. He says that this border isn’t so smooth to pass notably in private transfer because it is a crossing point for drug traffickers coming from Albania. In high season, this very busy border can take you 2 hours!
You will see signs “Crna Gora”, it is the name of the country which means “black mountain”. Monte negro, which comes from Italian, also means “black mountain”.
As soon as we arrive in Herceg Novi, we are shocked to see so many ugly concrete buildings that remind us that the former Yugoslavia was a communist country. After the architectural harmony in Dubrovnik, it’s hard! Fortunately, as soon as we see the mouths of Kotor (that I often take for a lake, but it isn’t a lake), we are reassured by our decision.
We take a ferry to cross the narrowest part of the mouths of Kotor (to get to Tivat faster, the crossing takes only 5mn – and costs 4,5€/crossing, it is included in the transfer price).
We are dropped off at Tivat airport. While we are looking for the offices in Hertz, a lady kindly asks us if we need help in perfect English. She even calls Hertz to ask where they are (it was badly geolocated on Google Maps). It’s always a good sign when the first contact with a local is so nice.
As there is the alignment of the planets tonight, we opt for a super quiet spot, a bit high up so that I can observe the stars (and the planets) with the naked eye. The villages around the mouths of Kotor are ideal for that. With spectacular reliefs, the result of extraordinary tectonic forces, where the African and European plates meet. Moreover, who says tectonic plates says earthquakes. The one of 1979, of magnitude 7, is at the origin of many damages (and explains in (mini) part of the concrete constructions replacing the old stone constructions). The human toll is 90 dead, miraculous because a first small tremor led the inhabitants to evacuate all the buildings that then collapsed.
Here is the view from our guest room (22€/night, with balcony, link Booking)
We didn’t know it, but without the curfew at night, we could have gone to restaurants or cafes at altitude. Many are equipped with telescopes ! Think about it if you go there in August.
In any case, the weather is beautiful and we are delighted to enjoy the sun rays that give incredible shades of blue on the mouths of Kotor but also on the mountains around. Kotor is a bit like a huge lake, which communicates with the Adriatic Sea a few kilometers away.
There are several rivers and springs that discharge here, but the water remains salty, hence many mussel and oyster farms. The oysters here are riquiqui and some farms sell them at 4€ each. We have spotted a farm that sells between 1,5€ and 2€ and that serves (cooked) mussels, we will keep you informed.
For our first restaurant in Montenegro (yes, the restaurants are open every day until 7pm), our B&B recommends a very classy and famous restaurant, in a magical environment: Stari Mlini. It’s an old mill, on the waterfront, serving fresh seafood. The fish are sold by weight and when JB opts for the “catch of the day”, he is presented with two super fresh fish, which he has to choose 😀 As for me, I opt for a dish with squid ink “à la dalmate”, served with a kind of semolina. It isn’t transcendental but it is edible. The service is impeccable: the waiter prepares the fish by removing the bones for JB
The water is hyper transparent, it seems to me that it is harder to fish when the water is so beautiful because the fish see us (we see them superbly too, without needing to snorkel). But that does not discourage the fishermen, we saw a lot of them on their boat. Here are some photos taken from the restaurant:
We discover some trees that we didn’t know, including one with fruit so juicy that it looks like pieces of jam. It gives too much desire to eat! But we say to ourselves that if even the birds do not touch it, it is perhaps not edible 😀
We barely have time for shopping, driving along the mouths of Kotor… and it is already dark. The sunset is around 4:20 pm.
At 5 pm, it looks like it’s already 11 pm. After having spent several winters in Asia and South America, we forgot how winter goes in Europe lol
We stop at a restaurant on the way and order take-out (restaurants close at 7pm at the moment so it’s best to buy take-out), including a seafood paella (which they call seafood risotto here). Unfortunately, I had food poisoning that night and it will discourage me during several days from eating seafood, which is the specialty of the area.
The good news is that we reserved this accommodation for 2 nights, so I have time to recover (changing accommodation the day after a food poisoning would have killed me).
The Christmas Star
Our B&B is located on a mountainside, like most of the houses here. We all have the view on the mouths of Kotor, without facing each other, it’s great. In spite of the clouds, I manage to observe the approach between Jupiter and Saturn, it’s funny because it seems that we see double.
Unfortunately at the moment when they are aligned, the clouds arrive and hide them. As usual, I never manage to observe correctly the stars or planets. On the Internet, they say that the Star of Bethlehem is probably due to another conjunction, formed by the coming together of Jupiter and Regulus. While others claim that the Star of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth was a comet. Who to believe?
Note: finally, after looking at the pictures taken all over the world, the planets still kept a distance from each other. What I had seen with the naked eye was the conjunction, before the clouds arrived. Because these planets were not aligned with the Earth. You didn’t see the Christmas star but a double star. For once, I managed to observe an important astronomical phenomenon
Because of food poisoning, I only get up at noon. We only have 4h30 of sunshine left. We have just enough time to visit the historical city center of Kotor, which is so beautiful. The streets go in all directions (so that the enemies get lost in the city in case of attack).
There is a path leading to the city walls, then a church, then a fortress on the mountainside. Typically the style of construction that I like: it’s so “Lord of the Rings”. Ohlala! Magnificent! I want to go up there so badly. But it’s only accessible on foot, we’ll come back another day, when I feel better.
The view from the port of Kotor isn’t the most beautiful, but it is nice anyway
In the meantime, we have a quick lunch… before taking the mountain road to the top of Mount Lovcen.
This road was created in 18xx to connect Kotor and Cetinje (former capital of Montenegro). There are 25 hairpin turns over 17km. Fortunately (1) JB is confident driving in the mountains (2) there is nobody (3) our small car is very handy (4) the turns are large enough so that even a bus can pass. If the road isn’t very wide, there is room to avoid the cars coming in the opposite direction. Contrary to Croatians, Montenegrins are a little more careful.
There are so many viewpoints that we are tempted to stop every 2 minutes.
The first viewpoint is this one
The second one is this one (Google Maps coordinates). In high season, there must be a souvenir shop but today it is closed.
The other part of the mouths of Kotor can be seen better from here
The third one is this one (Google Maps coordinates). What a surprise! The high altitude café (Horizontal Cafe) is open (one tea = 1,5€). With WC in addition. The man speaks a few French words and lent us binoculars to observe the houses around the mouths of Kotor. We see absolutely everything, even the pedestrians kilometers away! It is also equipped with telescope (which did not work when we were there).
Anecdote: The coffee’s electricity comes from a generator connected to the engine of the owner’s car. When he has to prepare something like our teas, he starts the car 😀 I thought I was bugging when I saw that the car was registered in Brittany (France). He explains that he likes to do business, that he flew to Paris to buy the car and brought it back by road!
We have time to enjoy the view before the mist covers everything and completely hides the landscape. Great timing!
Well, there’s no point in going all the way to the top. We’ll come back another day. We must take the same road to go down. To take the other road would have added us 1h30 more. So it is set out again for 25 tight bends 😀
On the menu tonight for dinner: dishes purchased from the caterer at the Aroma supermarket. Everything is cheap in Montenegro, it feels good after several months of big expenses in France and Italy.
There are travel restrictions on December 24, 25, 26, 27 (we can’t change regions) so today (23/12) is our last chance to change regions . We are booking a 5 star hotel to spend Christmas in warmth and luxury in the Budva region. There is fog this morning and we admire the view from our guest room (link Booking). I will never get tired of it.
But before that, we’ll visit Perast, a small and cute town by the water.
While we are struggling to find a parking space, a gentleman shows us a place… before revealing his commercial intentions: he has a boat and can take us to the island opposite to visit Notre-Dame-du-Rocher. It is the only church open at the moment because there was a flood yesterday and the cleaning lady came to clean today, hence the exceptional opening of the church (that’s what he tells us anyway). OK
We discover while walking that there are other parking spaces much more accessible at the end of the village ahahha so his “help” wasn’t that innocent. We will visit the island later because we stay in Montenegro 3 months. In any case, the announced rate is 10-15€ per person AR in low season. The church in question is on the island on the left.
At the moment, only two restaurants are open and they both have tables with a 5-star view on the mouths of Kotor. One of them has a daily menu at 5€!
This village is so beautiful that many B&Bs and Airbnb on the opposite bank put “view of Perast” in the title to attract tourists ahaha. Another gastronomic restaurant with view on Perast is Verige 65. There are always people in front of this restaurant, either to take a picture or to have a drink, the view is so breathtaking.
I think the village has a lot of charm because it is one of the few to be made of stone (many others are made of concrete). Unfortunately the houses are all bought by Russians, so the village becomes a ghost village in low season.
Bathing at the mouths of Kotor?
It’s a good idea, but you have to know that there is no infrastructure and the beaches are small and full of pebbles. The water is transparent on the other hand, there are no waves.
We hurry to Herceg Novi to correct our first impression of the city’s concrete buildings. It has a quite charming old town but we start with a vegan café/restaurant on the waterfront Peters Pie & Coffee (the quiche costs 3,6€, the lemonade is to die for). Parking is difficult. It’s better to opt right away for private parking (1€/h) instead of trying to find a place on the street (0,4€/h).
OMG, they still make souvenirs like in Vietnam 20 years ago! Even Vietnam understood that it was kitsch 😀
Then, to visit the old town of Herceg Novi, you have to be really motivated because there are a lot of stairs to climb. If we climb up to the fortresses, it will kill me, so I just content myself with its Bellavista square, which is not a viewpoint contrary to its name.
The small Orthodox church in the middle of the square is so cute. Next to it, there is a spring. The water is cold unfortunately (I would preferred a hot spring) but many people come here to fill their water bottles (or drink directly from the village fountain, there are taps).
We only have 1h before the sunset and we must already go to our hotel close to Budva. On the way, the sunset on the Adriatic Sea is a magic moment, unfortunately not captured in photo because we couldn’t find a place to park on the sinuous road with only 2 lanes
In any case, sunset in Montenegro is always a good idea
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Private transfer :
- Dubrovnik – Herceg Novi : 45€/car for 2-3 people
- Dubrovnik – Tivat airport: 90€/car for 2-3 persons
- You can do part of our program in one day from Dubrovnik for 56€/person (Civitatis link)
- Car rental (Hertz Tivat) : 10€/day
- From time to time, we have offers with American Express (more info here) on hotels or car rentals
- Guest room: 22€/night for 2 to 3 people, view on the mouths of Kotor, balcony (Booking link)
For your requests for excursions or guided tours in Kotor and surroundings, please consult the offers of Civitatis or Viator (a Tripadvisor company)