Like all the now-independent countries in the Balkan region, Montenegro has a long history of rule by numerous conquerors, notably the Roman Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Ottoman Empire and, just before World War One, Austria-Hungary.
Since 1918, however, and the post-war formation of Yugoslavia, Montenegro has, at various times, been closely (if not always comfortably) linked with Serbia. When the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia broke up after the death of President Tito, for example, Serbia and Montenegro joined forces in an attempt to establish themselves as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Their coalition during the terrible bloodshed of the 1990s Yugoslav Wars soon led to a U.N. embargo against them, however, after allegations of ethnically motivated war crimes—and in 2006 Montenegro declared itself an independent state.
So it should come as no surprise that the second leg of our April 2017 Beautiful Balkans tour is devoted to an exploration of some of the more edifying and enjoyable areas of Montenegro. Or that getting there is as simple as driving across the border from the ancient mosques and Orthodox churches of Serbia’s Novi Pazar to the 17th-century Turkish fortress settlement of Kolasin.
Following a busy morning of exploration in Novi Pazar, we’ll spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure in Kolasin. Once the site of bloody battles for independence from the Ottomans, it’s now a peaceful and picturesque mountain town known for its skiing and for its beautiful surrounding forests, lakes and rivers.
After breakfast in Kolasin, we’ll drive to the nearby Christian Orthodox Moraca Monastery, built in 1252. The monastery itself is a fine example of medieval architecture, but it is best known for the frescoes in its interior, painted between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Next, we’ll drive on to the Adriatic Coast and the 2,500-year-old town of Budva. The entire town is surrounded by stone walls, complete with towers, embrasures, a citadel and fortified city gates. The most popular tourist destination in Montenegro, Budva is famed for its well-preserved old town and its Venetian architecture, featuring an assortment of medieval churches. But it’s equally well known for its collection of beautiful beaches, collectively known as the Budva Riviera. After a tour of the old town, the evening and the entire following day will be devoted to free time, providing ample opportunity to enjoy a beach day, nightclubbing, gambling in one of the casinos operated by resort hotels, or extreme sports including paragliding, bungee jumping and rafting on the River Tara, through the world’s second-deepest canyon.
For our final day in Montenegro, we’ll drive north along the coast to the walled medieval city of Kotor. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the picturesque old city was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and featuring a wealth of Middle Ages architecture and monuments. We’ll visit the early 17th-century Clock Tower in the main square and the nearby pyramid that once supported the town’s pillory. Then we’ll weave our way through the twisting, turning streets to for a visit to the 11th-century St. Triphun’s Cathedral. We’ll have optional free time for lunch, which you might choose to enjoy in one of Kotor’s many charming cafes, restaurants and pubs. Or if you’re feeling frisky, consider climbing the 1,350 steps leading to the top of the mountain the city is built on for a stunning panorama of the Bay of Kotor and a bird’s-eye view of the maze-like town you’ve just explored.