Montenegro - must try harder!

Thursday 16 May 2013
Our friend Annie, who we are on our way to see, writes a great blog about her life since moving back to Bodrum in Turkey and how it has changed over the years. She wrote a comment on my last post about Montenegro saying…. “I don't think Montenegro will be asking you to write their brochure next year” .

She is quite right as the abiding memory of our first full day driving along the coast is the mass of huge advertising signs for mile upon mile almost obliterating the beautiful views of the Adriatic, the overfull litter bins with scavenging cats and dogs and the piles of rubbish left in lay-by's that are somehow going to magically disappear. If we had to sum up our 5 days here in an 'end of term school report' format I think we would say “Montenegro - must try harder”.
Excuse the glare from the map - get the picture?
It has the mountains, the gorges, the wooded valleys, the beaches, the ruins, the old towns etc…but so do many of the other countries we have travelled through. It is trying to attract up-market tourism by bigging up its attractions, inflating its prices compared to its former fellow Yugoslavian neighbours and selling itself as an ecological country…… whatever that means!
Montenegro meaning Black Mountains 
(even more so on an overcast day)
We ticked off most of the must-see sights on their official tourism website and have clocked up about 350 miles in our short stay here. That same website describes the Bay of Kotor as ‘one of the most beautiful bays in the world’, between us we have cruised into many bays in our time and believe me it really isn’t!
Kotor Bay with fishing nets in foreground
It also describes Tara River canyon as ‘one of the most beautiful in the world’ and also ‘the second largest in the world after Colorado’ – it isn’t on either count! Having only just driven through Romania and Bosnia & Herzegovina we know they have some beautiful gorges (apparently interchangeable with canyon!) and Wikipedia says Tara is the largest in Europe but there are a whole host of other canyons laying claim to the world titles – it really depends how you measure your canyon!
Head for heights? River Tara - 150m below the bridge
They also seem to have forgotten that tourists have a choice as to whether they visit the country, what they do when they are here and whether they stay or return. One campsite owner wanted €10 for a shabby overgrown pitch with disgusting showers and toilets, we said ‘No thanks’ and left him scratching his head presumably wondering why we were being so fussy! We were asked to pay €3 each and another €3 to park the van for a 10 minute walk down a path to see Black Lake in the Durmitor National Park – we’ve seen plenty of glacial lakes for free so we passed on that one, €9 gives us 50 miles worth of diesel and plenty of passing scenery and sights. A beer and a coke set us back €4 in quite a basic café – we haven’t paid that much since the snazzy seafront bars in Italy. And this afternoon we had high hopes of finding ourselves  a great campsite for our last night in Montenegro having followed those huge advertising boards on our route towards Rozaje, near the Serbian border. Pulling in off the main road we cautiously approached a small green gate and were beckoned in by the owner who asked for €10 to effectively park in his front garden – he appears to have built over the campsite. We shook our heads and started to reverse away when he quickly reduced the price to €5. So having negotiated the very narrow gate, the fruit trees and picnic tables to squeeze the van in we are hoping no-one else arrives!
Look closely - Dave's in the wooden hut by the cartwheel!
All that aside what had the wow factor for us in Montenegro …..

Stari Bar
Against all the odds at this beautiful site, nestled inland beneath huge hills, you can still get a sense of the magnificent town it once was. Partly destroyed by extensive shelling in 1878, by munitions explosions in 1881 and 1912 and then a massive earthquake in 1979 enough of it defiantly stands waiting for the funds and expertise to rebuild it.
Ruins at Stari Bar
Hope for the future - the reconstructed church

Velika Plaza beach
Between two river mouths lies a beautiful 13km stretch of golden sandy beach. On one end is Ada Bojana and on the other the town of Ulcinj, both rivers are lined with fish restaurants and traditional nets suspended by rickety old booms. On our third attempt to find a beach side campsite we struck lucky and stayed 2 nights at the beautifully located Camping Safari Beach listening to the waves lapping the shore.
Fish restaurants at Ada Bojana
Traditional fishing methods at Ulcinj
Sunset at Safari Beach Campsite

Skadar Lake
Leaving the coast behind we headed inland and up into the mountains. Crossing over a ridge on a very narrow road that clung to the hillside we were staggered by the size of this beautiful lake which straddles the border with Albania. With snow-capped mountains in the distance, swampy bays and small islands it is very picturesque. We didn’t see the rare curly pelican associated with the area (named so because of its nape feathers not a strangely shaped bill!!), but we did see lots of snakes and two tortoises!
Skadar Lake
Thankfully we didn't meet any other campers on this road
Islands in the middle of the lake
Managed to snap the tortoise but the snakes were too quick for me!

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