So after being cooped up in our small Belgrade apartment for 2 months we decided to rent a car and drive through Montenegro for Thanksgiving week. We heard the landscapes were beautiful, but had no idea just how beautiful. This was to date the most beautiful location we have been to on our trip!
We made four stops on our trip coming from Belgrade: Zabljak for 2 days, Kotor for 2 days, Podgorica for one night and Bijelo Polje for 2 days.
While we loved our trip I would make a few changes to this specific route if I was attempting this again. I prefer beautiful landscapes to cities so I would stay in the northern destinations. The Bay of Kotor is well worth the drive, but for such a short trip I wish I had booked Zabljak for 4 days, Bijelo Polje for 3 days and just drove home after that.
Podgorica I would skip entirely. We found the city to be boring, dirty and WAY too crowded. though we did get to see the gushing tree which was a crazy sight in person.
There are a few things we wish we had learned before our trip regardless of destination however, so here are some things you need to know if you're looking to drive through Montenegro in the near future:
1. The terrain can be treacherous
While we expected the terrain to be mountainous in Montenegro we didn't realize just how quickly you can go from highway to 'where the heck are we?'. At one point we diverted from a main highway because of construction, following another car doing the same, just to drive through an extremely narrow dirt path about 100 feet above what I can only describe as a boggy swamp. This road then took us down an even narrower mountain path and miraculously back to the highway. We joked often that google maps must have had us "hard mode". Pad your time, stay the course and zoom out on google maps to find alternative routes yourself.
2. Mountain drivers are BOLD
Driver's all over Montenegro aren't shy with their horn, but we were surprised at how many passed us and other drivers ahead of us over blind curves at high speeds. Thankfully we didn't witness any crashes, but it wouldn't surprise us if we did. There several gasps from my side of the car. 18-wheelers and other large vehicles tend to drive very safely so we actually worried about those a lot less. Just be aware if someone is driving up behind you at a fast speed they are likely going to try and pass you regardless of where you're at on the mountaintop. Take your time and pull off to let folks pass if you need to.
3. Check your border crossing and route
Our first border crossing at Granični prijelaz Ranče was the first time we thought we might have to go back and find an alternative route. It was up a very narrow winding road that felt it was straight up a mountain. This was likely another 'google on hard mode' issue and we could have found an alternative route, but it was hard to tell until it was too late. Strangely, even though it was a very empty border crossing somehow took the longest of the two. Now Border Crossing Gostun was much easier and more strongly staffed so I do recommend using that one if you are able.
4. Bring supplies (read: food)
Given our love for food I have to mention the food scene in Montenegro was exceptionally bleak with a few outliers and likely not where you'd expect. We packed a few pantry items for this case, but we actually had to do another grocery run during our trip because we ran out of stock. Bring ramen, oatmeal and other pre-packed goods (including coffee!) if you're a foodie because you likely be a tad disappointed by the food options. There were a couple places that offered some relief however. In Kotor's old city we found Atrium to have an amazing mushroom risotto and on the side of the road between Zabljak and Kotor we lucked out in finding Vidikovac, a great Vienna-themed resto for some hearty food during a long drive.
5. Google is wrong
As we all know by now, I am a huge fan of planning out every detail of a trip so Google is my best friend. The problem is it is incredibly unreliable in this instance. While it was very useful for mapping out and finding alternative routes in a pinch, the details around the businesses that are nearby, which ones are open and even exact locations, forget about it. We've all traveled to a small town at one time or another and been annoyed at the lack of accuracy, just be prepared to feel that throughout ALL of Montenegro.
Despite the learning curve of Montenegro we still had an absolutely amazing trip and it has increased our desire to go down to Albania, though perhaps with a better idea of what to expect.