Before going on a cruise I knew roughly where Montenegro was, but not exactly. Maps are all well and good, but there’s nothing quite like visiting, even for a day. The southern coast of Montenegro in the Mediterranean Sea has a stunning vista, so when our cruise ship called for the day we were astounded that it managed to find a gap between steep hills, and find the passage through to an enchanting place called Kotor. Even some of the larger ships manage to avoid the rocky shores, but they have to dock offshore and tender in the passengers to appreciate the town’s delights. Medium to smaller size cruise ships dock very close to the town, no shuttle bus is necessary.
We were on a cruise ship that includes shore excursions, but decided to do our own thing. There is a passage under the road outside the terminal so you can stroll easily into the adjacent old town, and there we found our guide for the next few hours. It was a late Saturday morning in early November, we were only the fifth cruise ship to call that year because of the pandemic, with no more anticipated until the following spring. Pretty fallow for an area that relies on tourism, and a country of only 660,000 in total population. Fortunately a lot of people who live only a few hours away are frequent visitors, but still not that many outside the tourist season. Three local men were standing, waiting to sell their sight-seeing tours to us. The one we stopped at, Nef, is a registered guide, a taxi driver, and an excellent English speaker. We agreed a fee, as well as how long we would be out together. We left the rest to him, itinerary, route, he guided us to his waiting Mercedes 500.
This was a 10 year old model, immaculate inside and out, Pam sat in the front, I was in the back. We had a good drive round the town, lots of local knowledge, he had become a father recently, worked for an agency that provided the car, and was going to have a lie-in when the ship arrived. We drove for about half an hour round the headland to the even older town of Budva. There was not a lot of commerce on the road, factories appeared derelict, not that many potholes. The standard of driving was quite high, they were mainly very courteous. He parked close to the old town walls and then found us a café. This was where the locals went, very cheap, less than 4 euros for three coffees. There was a terrace section, as well as inside, but the weather was lovely so we enjoyed outside. There was quite a variety of patrons, from couples, to families, to groups of retired men, who obviously regularly met to discuss and rectify world affairs.
Nef suggested we had a stroll inside the old town walls, so many shops were shut, you just felt for the proprietors who were suffering the lack of visitors. Some cafes were open, patrons few and far between, it was an old town so full of history you wanted to wave a magic wand to make tourists arrive. We purchased an obligatory tea towel and oven gloves, very reasonable prices, then it was back in the car. The coastal route is spectacular, with views overlooking the bay with our cruise ship a small toy in the far distance. We stopped for photos, a convenient lay-by, but the traffic was pretty sparse. There is a particular section of about 5ks where an annual downhill (or was it uphill), car time trial occurs. The bends are pretty sharp, a test of driving skills, the crowd arrive in their thousands in anticipation of spectacular misjudgements. Tow trucks parked at convenient intervals for the unwary.
Nef dropped us off adjacent to the old town walls of Kotor. More shops were open, but the jewellery ones were particularly desperate for trade. After the cruise ship left a lot were going to close for the winter. We stopped for lunch in a café serving local delicacies. We both had slices of cake, the portions were more than even we could cope with after days of excessive high-seas indulgence, but we gave it a good try. The prices were very sensible., the coffee excellent.
This was somewhere we could easily return to. A lot of the locals speak English, the hotels seemed reasonable quality, there was a lot to see and do, with scenery crying out for the visit of a camera. There is a local airport with flights to the UK as well as a lot of Europe, they are geared for tourism of a better quality than provided by some of the Spanish resorts. It made us want to return, and when we spoke to friends on our return those who had been all spoke very highly of their visit.