also published @Rediff:
We went to Montenegro during the Easter holidays in April 2011. For the uninitiated, Montenegro is probably best known as the Casino location in the Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). This is not surprising considering Montenegro was formed in 2006. Prior to that it was a part of the now erstwhile Yugoslavia.
Montenegro is a beautiful country in Southeastern Europe. The Montenegrian tourism board promotes it as the 'Land of Wild Beauty'. This is an apt title considering the long winding Adriatic Sea coast on one side and the rugged mountainous terrains of the Balkan Peninsula on the other. Being a small and moderately developed country, it still retains the old world charms of friendly people, home cooked food included in most excursions, among others.
The most well-connected airport is the capital Podgorica. It takes approx. couple of hours by flight from most European cities, e.g. Frankfurt.
For tourists of course, the preferred destination is the small maritime city of Budva with its lush beaches and vibrant nightlife. The easiest way to reach Budva from Podgorica is to take a taxi: costs around 50Euros and takes slightly more than an hour. There are buses as well which are much cheaper (around 6Euros), however they are not so frequent and it is difficult to get information about their schedules from the website. The road from Podgorica to Budva is actually very scenic with the sightseeing destinations such as Sveti Stefan and Skadar Lake falling on the way. Hotels are a plenty in Budva but it also gets a bit crowded during peak season (May-September), so an early booking is recommended. Hotel prices range from 50-200 Euros per night. We stayed at Avala Resorts which ones of the more upscale ones at a price of 150Euros per night including breakfast and dinner.
During morning, it is a modern city with its many shops and hotels. At night, however it gets transformed into a beautiful beach-side resort town with people relaxing in the many outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars, or simply walking along the beach holding hands.
If you ever wanted to stay in a villa on an island, Sveti Stefan is the place to be. Close to Budva, it is a fortress transformed into 20 or so fully furnished and modern villas on the island. While the prices ($1000+ for a night) may deter the average tourist from staying there, it is still a sight to behold from the outskirts.
Tara River Canyon: Rafting, Bungee Jumping, Skiing
While Budva is in the southern part of Montenegro, we set out to explore the northern part on the 2ndday. The northern part is not as developed as the southern, which becomes evident from the state of the roads and decrease in the number of people understanding English as you go northwards. We booked a car for the day long tour (cost around 250Euros with tourist guide).
The Tara river canyon is the longest in Montenegro and deepest in Europe. The road from Budva to Tara river canyon takes you up via beautiful mountainous terrains with small chapels and waterfalls on the way.
Popular activities here include a 3 hour rafting tour over an 18km route from Brstnovica to Sćepan Polje. For the more adventurous, there is also a bungee jumping spot 150m above the river into the Tara gorge. It is the 7thhighest point in the world, but the most scenic according to our tourist guide. On the way, we had lunch in the Ski resort town of Kolasin at a very lovely Russian restaurant recommended by our tour guide. As evident, skiing is only possible during the winter months as is rafting only during the summer months.
The 3rdday started with a cruise on Skadar Lake. Skadar Lake is the largest lake in Balkan Peninsula, two-thirds of which is in Montenegro (and the rest in Albania). Due to its bio-diversity, a large part of the lake has been converted into a National Park. The park is also famous as a bird reserve, with the mot famous bird citizen here being Pelicans. A boat cruise on the lake costs around 40Euros, takes around an hour and includes some delicious home cooked snacks provided by the boatmen.
Bay of Kotor
The final stop in our itinerary was the the coastal city of Kotor. Kotor is an hour drive from Budva. A bus ride costs 3Euros and by taxi around 20Euros.
The Bay of Kotor is a UNESCO protected site and is known as Europe's southernmost fjord. The main attraction of the city is however its old fortress with its narrow roads, with cafes, chapels and small shops selling all kinds of souvenirs, local handicrafts.
Ideal trip duration: Montenegro is a small country and 3-4 days is enough to explore most of it. There are longer and more adventurous tours available as well. For train lovers, there is also a train that travels over mountainous terrains to Albania, but the view is well worth the lack of speed.
Food: People looking for Indian veg. food may have some problems. We say mostly European restaurants, French, German, Italian, you name it; and some Chinese and Thai as well but no Indian restaurants as such.
Tourist friendliness: The tourism here is still developing, though on a priority basis. However it is still difficult to find touristic information including booking tours, excursions on the Internet. The tourist agency we relied on during our trip and one we can definitely recommend is Jamb Travels http://www.jamb-travel.com.
Final Trivia: Casino Royale was actually never shot in Montenegro but the on sets in Czech Republic :)