We’ve died and gone to… Montenegro

With expiring Croatian tourist visas, our time came to head south across the dotted line on the ocean into neighbouring Montenegro. Purchasing a week long cruising permit and with a glorious, calm high pressure system forecast, it was the perfect time to arrive. For those not familiar with the geography of this region – Croatia lucked out with 1,200+ islands and islets falling within its borders. With restored peace and tourism growth following recent civil wars, it is now largely considered the top yachting grounds in the Mediterranean. Though Croatia’s island fortune left next to nil in the way of islands or protected anchorages for both Montenegro and Albania further south.  Several of our anchorages that week were off very exposed beaches. Yet thanks to mostly glassed out conditions, we were able to freely explore the country in its best possible light and sleep comfortably at anchor.

Entering through Boka Kotorska to the famous Bay of Kotor saw us officially crossing the border into Montenegro. Quickly and easily clearing customs in Zelenika we cruised the full length of southern Europe’s longest fjord with dramatic, jaw-dropping scenery growing with every turn. Located at the far southeastern end of the fjord and surrounded by 1,700m high mountains, historic old town Kotor was the main destination for visitors to the area.

We’ve now visited many cobblestone laneways and treasured old towns in Croatia, though Kotor had a distinctly different feel. Kotor was rougher around the edges, slightly unkempt with influences of both Ottoman and Venetian rule, and with a fraction of the tourists.  Cats lounged in squares slowed by the stifling heat; giant fans sprayed a watery mist over customers seeking relief and treasure-trove antique stores to impress any hipster Sydney-sider appeared around every second corner.

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With plug in power at our quayside mooring and the hottest, windless weather we’d experienced thus far, we were thrilled at the first opportunity to hook up the air conditioning, iron out a few cobwebs in the system, close all the doors and hatches, then relish in our personal refrigeration in the middle of steamy, mountain-locked Kotor. Dad is now sold on the ‘to install’ or ‘not to install’ air-conditioning on your boat debate – thankfully his Lagoon already came with the installation.

Apart from getting lost in old town Stari Grad’s maze of streets, the highlight of Kotor was its medieval fortified walls. Built progressively between the 9th and 19th centuries, the fortification climbs steeply up the mountainside. The walls are dotted with small places of worship and lookout points enroute, offering a breather stop when hiking up the relentless zigzagging stairs.

Departing on 7:30 am when the gates opened, we all started out on the hike. An early start was essential before the searing sun could appear above the mountain, so the entire climb was still bathed in shade. Mum and I turned around at various levels along the hike (she’s a trooper and joining us on most things these days) whilst the guys powered to the very top, only to turn around a run the entire way down, several steps at a time. Slowed only by Mike’s thongs (flip flops) that he insists on wearing everywhere regardless of their unsuitability for the conditions!

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After two nights berthed in Kotor, we took advantage of the uber calm weather with a number of nights anchored off various popular swimming beaches further south along the coast. We anchored out far enough so as not to be offensive nor to obstruct the busy path of watersports boats or jet ski operators. Whilst the familiar sight of old towns, green mountains and clear waters continued down the coast from Croatia to Montenegro – the most noticeable difference since crossing the border were Montenegro’s long, often sandy beaches. Croatia had very few beaches, other than rocky bays or cement platform slabs laid for sunbathing.

Russians and Ukrainians overrun this small stretch of Montenegro’s Adriatic coast in the peak summer months. To make the most of this laze-all-day-at-the-beach crowd and so to squeeze in as many bodies as humanly possible, the umbrella and deckchair hire business is rampant.  And in wanting to distinguish from thy neighbour, each vendor sports a different brightly coloured umbrella sequence from the next, which makes for a fun, colourful splash for often hundreds of meters along each beach.

Budva’s old town was appealing and particularly atmospheric were the external old walls lined with bars and candlelight by night. Though what we found most intriguing was strolling the pedestrianised promenade running parallel behind the main beach. Lined with takeout food stalls, endless tacky souvenir hawkers, sideshow games and gaudy open-air nightclubs, it was like stepping back in a time warp and the way holidaying here in coastal Eastern Europe has perhaps remained unchanged for decades. Though the fashions and hairstyles made us smile and brought back memories of growing up in the 80s, it’s refreshing to know places like this still exist with their own character and pace; and oblivious to the rest of the modern-day world.

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Next we motored just an hour south to the highly photographed peninsular of Sveti Stefan. Again anchored yet off a quieter beach, the tiny island connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, was built in the 15th century as a fishing village. Now closed to the public, today it operates as an exclusive resort. A dinghy ride around to the cute village of Przno was a pleasant lunch spot, but otherwise lilo lounging, snorkelling and plenty of swimming to beat the heat was the order of the day.

Saying farewell to Montenegro after a short visit – these scenic images will be long burnt into our memories.

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 And a little closer now… there we are anchored top left. Bliss…

We’d heard many mixed reviews about taking the boat to Albania – though mostly negative due to the tedious checking in and out procedures and fees of each port. So we eventually decided we’d skip right over the 200km+ Albanian coastline, which required making our first overnight passage down to Greece. We cleared Montenegro customs at the last available exit port of Bar – where we were forced to pay for the use of a private marina berth as there was no customs clearance jetty – or we were shooed away by police from the only wharf that looked official. Glad we were at the start of our passage and not the weary end, as it was both frustrating and amusing that they offered us nowhere formal to land for clearing out of (or into) the country. Wonder why so much effort is invested in airport security and customs procedures when their water-based counterparts are sometimes so slap-dash.

I’ve no doubt dad and Mike would’ve preferred a little more sailing wind through the passage. We did get a chance to sail (the foresail, gennaker and parasailor each got lifted through the trip) it’s just the wind and direction was largely inconsistent. Though considering the area was exposed with often-turbulent weather – and upon hearing of some very uncomfortable passage stories from others – for our first overnighter, sharing four-hour shifts between each couple and with a near full super moon to light the way, we had it pretty easy. For first timers, that suited mum and I just fine. Exactly 24 hours and 20 minutes after departing customs in Bar we were dropping anchor alongside our friends Frank and Viv on Dominos in Gouvia, Corfu Island, Greece.  And so begins our Greek rendezvous – and if the first week is anything to go by – we’ll have sailing practice galore in this friendly, windy nation!

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