It was a country I had never seen before and the trip took me back through Albania which borders this small but beautiful land. Before I get into the details of this leg of my trip, I must say that travelling by bus through the Balkans is a great way to get from place to place in this region. The bus is nice, it’s easy and best of all it’s relatively cheap.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH MONTENEGRO
During my visit to Montenegro, I had planned two stops. The first was Ulcinj, a little town on the southern coast of the country and Kotor which was famous for its very old-world atmosphere.
In Ulcinj I’d booked an Airbnb titled ‘New Cozy Apartment with Perfect Sea View’ and it did not disappoint. It did have an incredible view and was just perfect for my needs. I’ve included a few pictures on TheRadioVagabond.com.
I rented the apartment from Marko, a 24-year old student at the University of Tourism and Hospitality. He even went the extra mile and had his father pick me up at the bus station. I think he’s going to do quite well in the hospitality industry.
MORE ABOUT ULCINJ
Ulcinj has an urban population of just over 10,000 people with the vast majority of them being Albanian. It is the centre of the Albanian community in Montenegro. Incredibly it is one of the oldest settlements along the Adriatic coast. Founded in 5th century BC, it had been part of the Roman Empire at one point. During the Middle Ages, it was under Southern Slavic rule for a few centuries and it has also been part of the Republic of Venice as well as the Ottoman Empire. As you can imagine this place is just steeped in history.
Today it is a popular destination for tourists because of its 13km long beach (called Long Beach), Lake Šas, Ada Bojana Island and for its two-millennia-old Ulcinj Castle, which was exactly the place I was heading as soon as I settled in.
MONTENEGRO NICE TO KNOWS
Before I continue on with my story about my adventures in Montenegro, I’d like to share a few more details about this lovely country. It’s situated on the Adriatic coast in South-eastern Europe. As I’ve mentioned it is a small country, home to only 622,000 people and it is only about 14,000 square kilometres in size. That’s about the size of Connecticut in the US and is even smaller than my own tiny home country of Denmark.
The landscape is diverse with rugged mountains, a narrow strip of beaches, azure water and picturesque coastal plains. Montenegro has a Mediterranean climate, winters are relatively mild and wet while summers are long, warm and dry. In the mountains of Montenegro, you’ll find alpine conditions throughout the year.
ULCINJ CASTLE AND OLD TOWN
Seeing Ulcinj Castle or “Kalaja” is a sight to behold. It’s also known as Ulcinj Old Town and the ancient castle and its surrounding neighbourhood is what makes this place very special. Interestingly, the castle and old town were built on a small peninsula to the right of the Rana Gulf, which is part of the Adriatic Sea. The rest of the city which is more modern was built outside the castle and its fortress.
Ulcinj’s Old Town is actually one of the oldest urban architectural complexes on the Adriatic Sea. It’s been said that some people feel that the castle resembles a stranded ship with its arresting narrow and curved streets which were very typical in medieval times. I found myself marvelling at what a fascinating place this was to walk around as the sun set on the coastline. Two and three-story stone houses are packed closely together and are decorated with elements of the both the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It is in fact, considered one of the most unique representations of medieval architecture in Montenegro.
As the sun goes down on an interesting day, I find myself sitting at a lovely restaurant sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun disappear into the Adriatic Sea. This is the good life…
A FEW OF THE LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT MONTENEGRO
- Despite being known as a stunning summer destination because of its sun-drenched beaches, Montenegro’s nickname is derived from its epic mountains. The name comes from the Italian ‘monte’ means mountain and ‘negro’ means black. So, Montenegro is the land of the Black Mountain.
- Speaking of beaches, Montenegro has 117 of them along 293 kilometres of coastline and they come in all manner of terrain. You’ll find everything from rocky ones to sandy ones, tiny hidden ones and glorious pink pebble ones.
- Montenegrins are known to be very relaxed and don’t take life too seriously. In fact, they’ve developed their own set of commandments to live by. Among them are: “Love thy bed as you love thyself”; “If you see someone resting, help him”; and “If you have the urge to work, sit down, wait and you’ll see it will pass.” This is a culture I can truly get behind 🙂
- Now I’m fairly certain that for those 007 fans out there when I mentioned Montenegro, you probably conjured the scenes out of Casino Royale where Bond and Vesper Lynd were sipping champagne on a train, gambling in Hotel Splendid’s casino and recuperating in a stunning seaside hospital in Montenegro. These scenes put Montenegro on the map with thousands of people booking their next vacation there as soon as the film hit the cinemas. Well, I have some bad news…it wasn’t actually filmed in Montenegro. Not even a second of it. Montenegro’s rail doesn’t serve champagne, the casino was filmed in the Czech Republic and the hospital scenes in Italy. BUT that doesn’t mean that this country isn’t still one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to.
- On the topic of movies and films, one thing I’m not sure you would know is that in 1988 The Dark Side of the Sun, Brad Pitt’s debut as a leading man was filmed in Kotor in Montenegro. He was paid a grand total of $1,523 for seven weeks of work.
- Even though he was paid very little, the experience must have been a memorable one because in 2010 when he was still married to Angelina Jolie, Pitt brought her to Montenegro to show off the absolute beauty that this country has to offer.
ON MY WAY TO KOTOR
The next stop on my journey was where Brad Pitt filmed his first leading role, Kotor. So, after two splendid days in Ulcinj, I hopped on another bus and found myself mesmerized by the stunning coastline. I absolutely couldn’t wait to get settled so I could go out and start exploring Kotor. But, upon arrival, I had a really strange surprise at the hostel I had booked. I had missed something on the fine print on the booking site. Who even reads that stuff?
Anyway, I found myself standing in the reception of the hostel where I had booked accommodation and was told that I was not allowed to stay there because I was too old!!! Their policy stated that only patrons between the ages of 18 and 40 would be allowed to stay. The worst part was they didn’t even look at my passport to see how old I was.
Devastated, realising I could no longer pass for 40, I made my way down the narrow streets to another hostel that was apparently for ‘old people’. I was only marginally comforted by the fact that Brad Pitt would’ve also been turned away as he is a year older than me.
I was pleased when I walked into the new hostel, explaining my circumstances to hear the receptionist say, “We don’t care about your age!” and he and I chuckled at my passing comment that I couldn’t hide that I was over 40.
I was actually not the only gentleman over 40 that felt offended by this ageist policy, a 70-year-old man I had a chat with said he’d been arguing with the same hostel for ages. He had even challenged the guy at the front desk to a foot race to the top of a hill with the terms that if he won, he would be allowed to stay there. Unfortunately for both of us, they didn’t take the bait.
WHAT A QUAINT LITTLE TOWN
Once I checked into my new hostel in the old town of Kotor, I was ready to go exploring. The town was wonderful, narrow cobblestone streets with no cars and very old houses. I decided to stop off at a restaurant that sat opposite an incredible cathedral which was built in 1166.
Behind it, I could see a huge mountain that perfectly framed this little town. It was almost as if I had been transported to the middle ages myself. I hadn’t eaten yet and it was already 4:30 in the afternoon and I was starving. Happily, I was treated to a very late lunch and an ice-cold beer. Heaven!
The following morning, I went exploring to find a neat little breakfast spot. And, yes, I did get breakfast instead of starting the day with a beer, even though my breakfast hunt the day before happened in the afternoon, I wouldn’t recommend drinking on an empty stomach 😉
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the perfect sunny morning I had hoped for but there were still a lot of people in town because a huge cruise ship had just arrived in town. I was surprised that such a big ship could make it there. As you can see from the map it is a very unique coastline where ships have to pass through very narrow straits to get to the Kotor harbour.
As I made my way through the old town of Kotor I was struck by how very Game of Throne-ish it felt. I found myself on a free walking tour where I was treated to the rich history of this town.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP
After the tour and a bit of food, I went back to the hostel to speak to the hostel owner Philip. We had another chuckle about my ageist experience the day before and my dismay at not being able to pass for 40 anymore.
We spoke a little about the cruise industry and Philip told me that the largest cruise ship to ever dock in their harbour was an incredible 330 metres long. (insane!)
I also marvelled at how much I felt like I was on the set of Game of Thrones and Philip had this to say:
“It’s very interesting, about the history of the city, nobody actually knows how old it is, but we all think it’s about 15 or 16 centuries-old…which means it was built in approximately the 5th century”
He added that the old cathedral I visited the day before was actually older than the ill-fated Notre dame Cathedral in Paris.
Philip has the most incredible knowledge around the history of this old land but a relatively new country which only won its independence in 2006. We continued to talk about all the wonderful sights in Montenegro and Philip recommended that you spend at least a week in Montenegro to see the full country.
I do urge you to visit Philip and his hostel, Montenegro Hostel B&B, which you can book on Hotels25.com. When you go please remember to say hello from me!
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