Hailed as the most beautiful country in the Balkans, Montenegro is a relatively undiscovered gem on the Adriatic Sea. Bordering five other countries (Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina) it is the perfect place to go for scenic walks and fresh air. It’s easy on the wallet, too! Here are nine reasons this Balkan treasure should be at the top of your list for 2017.
1/9 The lakes
Montenegro is home to some stunning lakes, dotted like buried sapphires in the hillsides. Lake Skadar on the border of Albania is a popular destination for visitors seeking activity holidays, with kayaking and mountain biking both popular options. If you’d rather leave the sailing to someone else, jump on one of the cultural boat tours and learn about the history of the area.
At 44km long and 14km wide, Skadar is the largest lake in Southern Europe; something to tick off the bucket list! Alternatively, visit Black Lake in the North to take in its glacial beauty and admire the thick pine forests that line its shore. It’s a great place to try local delicacies at the lakeside restaurants and go on a picturesque family hike.
2/9 The cost of living
For most families, booking a holiday abroad means some reshuffling of budgets and a few months of saving. Montenegro is one of the most affordable family destinations and with scenery rivalling Italy it is a great way to soak up natural beauty without the hefty price tag. The usual price of a cappuccino averages out at just over a pound, a beer around £1.20 and lunch at a mid-range restaurant approximately £8.
Even international fast food chains don’t hike up the prices here, with a McDonald’s meal working out at about £3. The accommodation is also very reasonable, with a family room in a good hotel starting at £40. The lower cost of living means that the whole family can relax and parents can enjoy saying ‘yes’ to more trips and ice creams throughout the holiday.
3/9 The beaches
With crystal clear turquoise water, the coastline of Montenegro is really something to write home about. Choose from quiet rocky coves reminiscent of Greek ‘Mamma Mia’ island coast, or huge sandy beaches like vast swathes of golden silk at the shoreline. For a proper seaside day out try Velika Plaza (‘Big Beach’) in Ulcinj; at 13km long there is more than enough space for kids to run about and burn off energy.
Queen’s beach in Budva is a little quieter, with just 200m of soft sand romantically overhung with cypress and olive trees. Only accessible by boat, it is the ideal place for a secluded picnic. If you want something a bit more upbeat, visit the famous Jaz beach on the Budva Riviera. Stars including Madonna and The Rolling Stones have wowed their fans with open air concerts here and there are plenty of watersports to keep adrenaline junkies happy. It’s also near Budva Old Town, great for a spot of shopping and relaxing with a traditional Turkish coffee.
4/9 The Bay of Kotor
If there is one attraction which draws visitors flocking to Montenegro, it is the breathtaking Bay of Kotor. Scattered with villages that have called the Bay home since medieval times, the curve at the south-west of the country is a tapestry of aqua water, emerald-green hillsides and ancient houses. A snaking road weaves through tiny towns and creates a spectacular coastal drive for those who don’t mind a slightly hair-raising journey of twists and turns.
Stop along the way and visit the famous Konoba Catovica Mlini, known as one of Montenegro’s best restaurants, as well as the intricate Roman mosaics of Risan and the baroque architecture of Perast. Eventually you will reach the walled town of the Bay’s namesake, which is a fantastic opportunity for a family history lesson. Dropping down to the water’s edge, take a boat tour and sail around the basin as you breathe in fresh sea air and the scent of pines that fringe the shore.
5/9 The architecture
It is little surprise that a country with as diverse an ethnic heritage as Montenegro has a wealth of architecture inspired by different influences and time periods. Those who have travelled to Italy will appreciate the similarities between the countries with a visit to some of the spectacular Venetian buildings in the towns of Kotor and Perast, also known as ‘Venetian Montenegro’.
With Kotor named on the UNESCO World Heritage list, its buildings boast the trademark lightness and style of the design period. Byzantine, Ottoman and pre-Roman ruins and buildings are also a popular attraction for visitors interested in architecture; why not hire a tour guide and head to the ruined fortress city of Stari Bar for an in-depth insight into the fascinating history of Montenegro?
6/9 The people
One of the things that make Montenegro a fantastic family holiday destination is the standard of customer service. The economy of the country is in need of visitors after a drop in tourism in the 1990s, and those who work in the industry know that the standard of service needs to be high to attract people back again and again. Montenegrins are naturally a wonderfully warm and welcoming people; one of the many benefits of having such a diverse melting pot of cultures and ethnicities in a single country.
People will happily go out of their way to help you and families in particular are highly treasured guests. Traditional Montenegrin culture is very family-focused, with large families and multi-generational living the norm in less developed areas, making this an ideal place to come with children.
7/9 Tara River Canyon
Every country has a hidden gem, and the Tara River Canyon is Montenegro’s. Known as the Montenegrin Colorado, Tara is one of the world’s deepest river canyons at 82 km long and up to 4,300 feet deep. The Canyon offers a multitude of activities for everyone from the youngest member of the family to the oldest.
Bring a camera and capture the amazing patchwork of blues and greens, go river rafting or even face your fears and try canyoning. You can also camp in the National Park to really immerse yourself and the family in the beautiful nature that the country has to offer.
8/9 The food
If you’re more up for a tour with your tastebuds than your legs, Montenegrin cuisine has much to offer. The food tells the culinary story of the country’s history and geography and has a few surprises for even the most well-travelled visitor. For breakfast you can expect a polenta-like porridge of cornmeal, cream and bacon (with all the beautiful hiking spots you will need the energy!) as well as savoury pastries and the rustic peasant dish of steamed bread-and-milk.
Lunches are often started with a wholesome broth of lamb or beef, although you will also find soups of black onion or even nettles and cheese. Traditional main courses for lunch or dinner consist of meat stews, smoked fish and potato dishes alongside seasonal vegetables and pickled items such a sauerkraut. The traditional sweets of the region are possibly the highlight, with sticky baklava and pomegranate syrup often making an appearance at teatime.
9/9 The drinks
Travelling gastronomers will be pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety of the beverages available from a country that has experienced significant economic suffering. If mineral water bores you to tears, try an iced cherry syrup cordial or one of the popular grape or pomegranate varieties.
For the particularly adventurous, sampling the unusual drink of ‘Mezgra’ will at least make for a good travel story; the ‘beech cream’ is actually the juice scraped from the inner bark of trees! Local tipples such as grape brandy, Niksicko beer and honey mead are available alongside excellent wines from Montenegrin vineyards in the North of the country. Traditional hot drinks include famous Turkish coffee served thick in small cups, and of course Italian espressos.