Above a deserted sidewalk overgrown with a jungle in a stone village, Godinje, a sticky cloud of the hot morning is hovering. At the end of the sidewalk leading to the garden is a blackboard with a handwritten inscription – Organic wine and food. We enter the unknown, where we are the only guests.The plants thrive on every inch of it, and only a lone man stands in the distance. Dušan, as we will later learn his name, hides a brown tanned face from the intense sun under a straw hat. He holds a trimmer in his hands and removes wild bushes; as soon as he sees us, he immediately mutes the sound of the mower. He offers us house wine from his nearby vineyards. Sweat stains on his faded T-shirt reveal the original purple color of the fabric, which is the same as the wine he pours us, and our thirst quenches immediately. But it is the travel experience that dazes us.
I set out, together with my longtime friend, on my own, to discover an initially unknown land of my imagination. Still, after every kilometer I traveled, my relationship with this country and its people deepened and became close to me.
We crossed the area south of the Sava and the Lower Danube, a miniature landscape of the mountainous Balkan Peninsula, Montenegro. Land of white limestones, calm surface of “crne oči,” black eyes – a Montenegrin expression for clear lakes – and a silent struggle between the remaining wilderness and growing human demands.
A country that has lost everything it has gained several times. It disappeared from the political world’s map to become the youngest country in Europe. The land that resisted the relentless struggle to stand the steadfast pursuit of her freedom – from the Roman Empire to the civil war in Yugoslavia. A country inhabited by people with typical Mediterranean love of life.
This journey was more of a pilgrimage. As foreigners in an unknown country searching for what they cannot find at home, we have rediscovered pleasant fatigue thanks to the endless kilometers and several kilograms of weight on our backs, representing our home during the long days of our journey. It was a reward for strenuous physical tension outdoor. Not the exhaustion we know when we stressed out in the office, but the satisfying, sluggish evening fatigue we experienced as little kids after a whole day of playing outside.
A rich history is a way to fall in love with the country. It’s the first contact, a way to connect with times and understand the deep story it tells. Every Montenegrin can proudly talk for hours about his history and his ancestors.
As we walked from the coast towards Nikšić – a town known for the production of the iconic Nikšičko beer – the road wound under a rocky cliff, into which a bright white monastery, Ostrog Monastery, was carved at an altitude of 900 meters. “Every Montenegrin visits this holy place at least once in a lifetime. It’s our Mecca. A symbol of our freedom,” says Milojea, pointing his right hand at a white dot in an almost straight rock face while driving his white Touran. Miloje was born in the capital, but he regularly travels to more developed Italy. For a job as a banker. “I walked barefoot three kilometers from the lower monastery to the upper one to thank for our past and pray for the future.” Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims, one million pilgrims each year, visit Ostrog as one of the most respected religious places in the former Yugoslavia.
When you are in this country, in coastal areas, or mountainous locations, you may feel the time is relative. It is a reflection of the seaside love of life, felt primarily in the immediate way of life. For me, coming from Central European culture, where everything is framed, it was a release. Life here is slow; it doesn’t spin with the hour hand.
A three-hour bumpy journey by public transport awaited us from the capital, Podgorica, to the base camp in Durmitor National Park. The bus arrived, as it does in this part of the world, with a delay. After more than an hour, an older minibus arrived at the blazing parking lot; before leaving, the driver walked through the bus’s narrow aisle several times, hastily picking up tickets from the passengers as if competing with their patience. It was not a competition. He gave each of us a quick smile and a wish for a pleasant journey; there was something emotional about it. Something human.
No matter where we are born, we share common human expressions – kindness, generosity, gratitude – that are part of the universal language. And so, for the moment our eyes met, we shared smiles.
The bus stopped at an altitude of 1456 meters above sea level. In the small town of Žabljak, the highest city in the Balkans, we entered Durmitor. Žabljak is the center of mountain tourism in Montenegro. Once an important city with historic buildings destroyed by the Balkan War. Today, simple houses – built in a traditional architectural style – predominate here and along with the main road cross old travel vans from Western Europe and luxury Russian limousines.
The traditional way of life and cultural practices are rapidly disappearing to pursue a modernized lifestyle and less strenuous job opportunities. However, what has been forgotten in the modern West for a long time, still survives in this place. You can feel sincere hospitality from the native inhabitants. It is an effort to restore the generosity of the fertile land on which they live that drives their kindness.
From a small wooden booth with the sign “Information,” cigarette smoke penetrated through the window. A wrinkled woman with her gray hair – perfectly smoothed into a braid wrapped a burnt cigarette between her fingers. Her cracked lips stroked a white cloud of smoke disappearing into the wooden ceiling. Years of breathing cigarette smoke deepened her voice into low-pitched tones. It was rough and harsh. Friendly and sincere enough to trust her recommendations to stay in her old friend’s camp at “Camp Mlinski Potok.”Cigarettes are part of the daily life of Montenegrins, a fiber of their culture. It doesn’t matter if the cigarette burns in the hands of a young girl, an older woman, a bus driver, or a waiter in a restaurant. The pleasure of the smell is allowed in any place.
In Montenegro, you will find two contrasting dimensions closely linked to culture and geography. Majestic and peaceful nature. In the south of the country, where the rugged mountains fall below the calm sea level, the Mediterranean zest for life is growing. As if soothing predictability in the rhythms of the tides carries away the mundaneness of the days.
Montenegro is generally a very mountainous country. You can only see the hills from each side. Only when you ascend to their tops will you see for many kilometers – nothing that would get in your way. You will see the dark canyons alternating with light pastures with scattered wooden houses at the foothills of the mountains, inhabited by shepherds. However, there are only a few Montenegrins traditional shepherds today. They give way to a new economy and growing tourism; Montenegrins accept increasing tourism because it is advantageous for them.
“All this is the land of my grandfather, my father founded a camp here, and I want to continue with family tradition after school,” says young Novica. He shows us where foreign visitors camp here. They come from all over Europe to experience not trampled hiking and biking trails. The tents in his camp poke chaotically out among the old fruit trees and empty wooden barns. Living in his camp means being part of his home. Share electricity, water, and friendship. One evening, when Novica joined our tent, as usual, he pointed the finger at the setting sun-lit peak in the background of the campsite, with the sleeve of a T-shirt rolled up, hiding a tattoo under the other, for which he is ashamed. He willingly drew, with his finger in the air, the path to Durmitor’s highest peak.
As we walked to Bobot’s Cook the following day, the path we had drawn in our minds clearly – was brighter. Much longer than Novica said – silence rising from the wooded valleys, the raw beauty of the exposed rock layers urged us to stop at any moment. From the most impressive lake, called Crne Lake, with its turquoise blue surface and the peak known as Medjed (Bear), we climbed the winding mountain path that we shared with the mules. They supply beer and Coca-Cola to a small mountain hut by the dried Lokvice lake.
At the end of the same day, a few people gathered around the sheep farm as the light dimmed. They talked about the experiences they had and the places they saw.
And as the light of day descended and the sun sank below the horizon, night revealed new vistas. Thanks to the stars, we saw the silhouettes of massive peaks; when viewed from the valley, they reach up to the sky and obscure the smooth stellar background.
Evening fatigue prompted us to exchange the exciting night scene for a wooden bed in a small shelter – the only one in the middle of a flock of sheep. The wooden boards on which we lay – were alarm clocks every time one of the lodgers looked for a new location. And every time, the wind changed direction. If I had a watch, I would check it a thousand times. If I pulled out my cell phone, the display light would drive away from the thick darkness gathered behind the closed log cabin door. My body begged for sleep. But my mind could not wait to escape the limitations of this bed, set my aching muscles in motion again, and look around a mile away from Durmitor’s highest mountain.Bobotov Kuk is precisely one of those mountains when viewed from which nothing prevents you from looking. As if you were floating through this space. It seems like your gaze was reflected in the distance and returned to you. This impression forces you to stay and wait, just for nothing.
As we were far from our base camp in Žabljak, and the sun was rising higher and higher to the horizon, shedding more and more light on everything and everyone who was touched – it was time to go back down. Going to the valley before lunch is the only way to escape the fading midday sun.
In a country as small as Montenegro, it might seem that everything will develop as you expect. But there may be such a slight circumstance that can not control the plans. Usually, when things don’t go according to plan, then the situation is the most exciting.
We planned to move gradually from the north, from the Durmitor National Park, inland to visit the Ostrog Monastery, and finally to the coast. But for some spontaneous reason, we have allowed a firm grip on such vague plans so that we can accept what is to come. When we left Žabljak, a private minibus of one of the travel agencies stopped at the curb. After the driver brought a few tourists to Žabljak, he was on his way back to the coastal Kotor. He stopped by us to share his lonely ride. The idea of the rhythm of a rugged coast tempted us.
We found ourselves on a long, unexpected journey to reach a port city full of the medieval past – a captivating presence filled with busy events, passionate artists, and curious tourists. In the primary summer season, the narrow marble streets of Kotor leading to Venetian palaces and fragrant cafés are too thin a walk for tourists. And to find available accommodation for us, arriving without notice – it is almost impossible.
The liveliness of Kotor is captivating, but we decided to exchange it for a quieter place.
Above the city, endless serpentines leading to the Lovcén National Park are carved into the steep walls – forming this lively maze. As we climbed higher and higher to the first village of Njeguši, the twilight covered everything we left behind. The magnificent illuminated walls of Kotor shone as calmly as the sea level brightened by the full moon. It was one of the most impressive scenes.
There is something magical and fascinating about this place. Strength and spiritual energy rooted in the past – it is an empowering experience.
From Njeguši, the territory of smoked prosciutto, we passed through the strategic town of Cetinje, the old royal capital hidden in the arid mountains of sage-gray color, to a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Skadar.
Virpazar smells of grilled trout and overgrown swamps. It is difficult to identify where the waters meet the coast, with the surface dotted with an endless meadow of water lilies. It tempts for a gentle walk. But we have found a better way to soak up the true grandeur of the lake and enjoy exploring it. We borrowed a kayak from one of the vendors standing on the shore of the bay, which we powered with paddles, for the whole day. We found an exciting adventure and peaceful solitude.The whole body of water seemed to have no life. The only movement came from the sun’s rays dancing in the quarry below the surface. But below us, beyond the limits of visibility, all the hustle and bustle of which we were part took place. Until the lake retained the colors of the evening sky on its surface.
We did not plan any specific trip across this country. With this type of travel – only with a heavy backpack on our backs – unforeseen circumstances, there is a shift in perspective. Nothing that would develop as you first imagined. In retrospect, all unexpected situations and moments turn out to be perfect.These unexpected moments brought us rich and beautiful gifts. One of them, in particular, was very generous.
When we set out from Lake Skadar to one of the deserted stone villages rising the steep slopes of the green valley, we saw the upper part of Godinje somewhere in the distance. It was a hot day. The rays of the sun were melting on everything they touched. Only the last drops of water in my bottle were left – just enough to moisten its bottom. We haven’t had a warm dinner for a few days. We dreamed of delicious food, and if we weren’t sick, we would be drooling in our mouths. Our imagination was interrupted by the sound of a trimmer coming from the garden. Suddenly the sound stopped. A man in a straw hat offered us one of those beautiful, unexpected gifts. A refreshing Vranač wine.