The Path Less Ridden

Montenegro

The border crossing from Albania to Montenegro was perhaps the easiest of the whole trip. After pulling in behind a line of cars, the officials waved us forward to ride through the pedestrian passage. It’s a shared border post between both countries, so the Albanian official stamped us out, passed our passports over his shoulder to his Montenegrin counterpart, who duplicated it then sent us on our way – we spent more time 50 metres down the road confirming to ourselves that there was no second checkpoint than we did at the frontier itself!

 

The countryside was lush and green despite the winter chill, with tiny one-and-a-half lane wide back roads forming one of the main routes between the two countries. We pushed on to the coast and stopped to enjoy a long-missed European style coffee on the beach.

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This part of the world is the southernmost extremity of the Dalmatian coast, where the Dinarides Mountains plunge into the Adriatic Sea. There’s a rich history here, starting from Roman times through to the trade wars between Venice and the Ottomans – tiny churches sit perched atop every ridge. The coast road winds its way through some gorgeous motorcycling roads – just a pity we’re on heavily loaded, rather tired old dirt bikes instead of a sports model!

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The island of St Stefan was once a tiny fishing village, but has since been renovated and turned into a luxury hotel.

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We arrived in the ancient walled city of Kotor just before dark. For centuries, it was an independent trading port, then allied itself to Venice to avoid Ottoman overlordship. The whole city is a World Heritage site, as it’s amazingly complete. The walls and gates are a legacy from Venetian rule:

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Inside, the whole town is preserved and feels a little like a museum – especially with the lack of tourists due to the season.

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For a tiny town, there are multiple churches – both Catholic and Orthodox. Both the large Cathedral of St Tryphon and the tiny St Luke’s Church (originally Catholic, but converted to Orthodox in the 17th Century) date back to the 12th Century, while the more modern Serbian Orthodox church of St Nicholas was built in 1909.

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On the steep hillside above the town are a series of defensive walls, culminating in a fort at the top. It’s a tiring climb, but well worth it for the spectacular views back over the town, and the exploration of the crumbling old structures.

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On the hillside behind the fort is an old, abandoned Byzantine church, which made eerily gorgeous spot for a breather.

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Trudging back down a path of endless hairpins let us see the extent of the fortifications from the outside.

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The next morning, although we were due to leave Montenegro for Croatia, we decided to take a detour to see a little more. We took the old winding pass that used to be the only land access to the town (there’s a tunnel now) up the mountain behind Kotor. We had to ride slowly, as it was cold enough for there to be patches of ice in the shadows.

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The hinterland was a rocky, jagged landscape, filled with tiny villages.

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Our destination was the old capital of Cetinje, founded in the 15th Century and one of the most important bulwarks of the west against the Ottoman Turks. It’s full of old embassies and governmental buildings from that era.

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The oldest building in town is the Vlaska church, built in 1450. One notable feature is the fence made out of the barrels of captured Ottoman rifles.

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The other major feature in town is the monastery, still in operation – there was a line of baptisms happening when we arrived.

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Leaving Cetinje, we took the national park road over Mount Lovcen, the “Black Mountain” for which Montenegro is named.

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This brought us to a lookout back over the whole area – the bay, the township of Kotor, and the mountains all around. Literally breathtaking.

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Descending back along the twenty-something hairpins of the mountain road, we hit the coast and followed the coastline all the way around the Bay of Kotor, back to the Mediterranean and north to the border with Croatia. Inside the bay, the water was so still and reflective as to be a mirror. We found making progress hard, as we wanted to stop every 500 metres to take more photos!

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Right in the centre of the bay are two tiny islands, with an old church and monastery taking up the entire space. The light wasn’t quite right to capture them, but we tried.

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We crossed another easy border into Croatia and followed the highway north to Dubrovnik.

 

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