A recent visit to Europe’s newest nation turned into a series of rather unexpected adventures. Montenegro is a really beautiful country with a pleasant temperate climate, lovely coastline and some important historic sites. It also has numerous quirks and eccentricities, if my experience is anything to go by. I recently headed to Kotor Bay, where, between admiring the historic buildings and tasty cuisine, there were some more…unusual experiences on offer.
Some of the issues were of my own doing. Spotting a fortress above the town that did not look particularly far away, I naїvely set off in ballet pumps during a rainstorm, clutching a broken umbrella, a copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire
, and a Mulberry handbag weighted down with foreign coins and other leaden detritus. On what turned out to be an epic two kilometre hike, I continually shook my head at some mule drivers who offered me a ride to the top. I didn’t think that the mules looked that well-treated and anyway, no harm in some exercise, right?
Reaching the ruined castle was satisfying, though exhausting. Sadly, a torrential downpour commenced just in time for my descent, leaving me to slide and cuss my way back down again. The mules and their drivers stalked me every faltering step of the way, whistling and tongue-clicking as I slithered over vertiginous gravel falls and sheer drops.
Perspiring and panicked, I eventually reached the base of the mountain again, and once safely back within the confines of the town walls, a friendly chap exposed himself to me behind a buttress. I had several experiences of flashers during my trip to Croatia ten years ago, and was interested to note that a regional enthusiasm for the activity remains. He seemed to grasp the universal language of “woman giggling with derision” and slunk off.
I picked the first bar in sight to retreat to for solace, and what a bar it was. Scorpio Bar has an attractive indoor/outdoor arrangement and beautiful views of the old Serbian church. More importantly, it is run by Ivica Bogdanovic, an awesome Serbian heavy metal enthusiast. Everyone passing through Kotor should visit to enjoy his stories, on local politics and history, tourists and turbulent times. Going since 1987, Scorpio serves a good selection of steak, seafood, soups, salads and a wide range of drinks including regional wines, cocktails and, significantly, entirely lethal local liqueurs in peach, raspberry and pear. When a barman troubles to email you the next day to ask you if you have a headache, you’ve got a problem.
Through the throbbing agony of my hangover the next morning, a trip to the nearby tourist town of Perast seemed in order. Well, it might be packed in August but on a Sunday out of season, it was so quiet that I spotted a group of teenagers literally walking around checking the contents of parked cars. They weren’t checking them with a view to looting or stealing, it was just all that they could find to do
. Why do I have this Neighbourhood Watch insight? Because Perast is heartbreakingly pretty but you might end up spending rather more time there than you anticipated.
I was stranded there for nearly two hours waiting for a bus, taxi, mule or any other transportation mode, with just one very confused Chinese tourist and some chickens for company. Eventually a tiny restaurant creaked open, and after insisting on giving both of us boiled eggs, apparently related to a local religious festival, the restaurateur procured a car back to Kotor.
The sanity levels deteriorated further on my return taxi journey to the airport. What had seemed like a rugged and scenic experience on the sunny drive down from Podgorica to Kotor Bay felt more like a Bond car chase on the rain-soaked route back. My utterly mad taxi driver insisted on talking ten to the dozen either to me or to a cast of characters on his mobile whilst negotiating slippery mountain passes at 70mph. Even swerving to avoid a minibus, that had been overturned by a rockslide, didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for anecdote and constantly glancing over his shoulder to grinningly seek approval.
He did have one killer story though. A local entrepreneur, who runs one of the smartest hotels on the coast, had the brilliant idea of contacting the Bond movie producers to suggest that they described one of Casino Royale
’s key locations as Montenegro. Untroubled by the fact that it was filmed somewhere else entirely, the producers went along with it, and the region still enjoys a certain amount of reflected shine off the back of this PR stunt. Setting this bit of chutzpah aside, there are plenty of genuine reasons to adore this small, strange and lovely place. Just remember to take any mules and boiled eggs that are offered to you.