Montenegro is a tiny European country found in central Europe. It is a country that is jammed pack with coastline, rivers, lakes and mountains. Most Europeans go in the summer to sit on the beach and enjoy its natural beauty and delicious fresh food. This is certainly as good a reason as any to visit Montenegro. However, when myself, husband and two daughters (21 and 13 years old) were there a few weeks ago, we couldn’t sit still. We spent 4 days exploring as much of Montenegro as we could. This included a relaxing day trip from Kotor to Lake Skadar National Park. The sights we saw were well worth giving up a day lounging by the Adriatic Sea.
Our home base for our stay was Kotor old town found on the Bay of Kotor. It is an ancient town that was first mentioned in 168 BC. Kotor was originally settled by the Ancient Romans and was fortified in 535 AD. However, from 1420 to 1797, Kotor was under Venetian control and transformed into how it looks today. The architecture is distinctly Venetian and it’s one of the most well-preserved medieval old towns on the Adriatic. It is a World Unesco site.
We stayed at the Hotel Vardar in Kotor old town. We loved spending our nights exploring the winding cobblestone paths, eating at many wonderful restaurants, and of course, people watching while sipping cocktails on outdoor patios. It was a great location for our other day trips – exploring the Bay of Kotor by boat and starting our road trip to the north.
If you are interested in reading more about these experiences, please click on the links below.
Journey to Lake Skadar
It is 65 km from Kotor to Virpazar, a small fisherman’s town on the shores of Lake Skadar. This would suggest an easy and quick drive from one to the other. It is relatively easy but not necessarily quick. The route between Kotor and Budva (a very popular coastal town along the way) is a two lane road with heavy traffic. Although it is only 22 km between the two, it can take up to 1 1/2 hours to travel between the towns depending on the time of day. There is far less traffic once you pass through Budva. The day that we travelled between Kotor and Virpazar, it took a little over 2 hours.
Self Driving or Hire a Driver?
We decided to hire a car and driver/guide to take us, rather than rent a car ourself. Why?
- We only had one day and wanted to make sure that we saw everything that we should.
- We also wanted to enjoy the drive. I don’t find it particularly relaxing to either drive or navigate when I don’t know where I am going. Besides, I wanted to look out and savour the scenery.
- Lastly, the cost to hire a guide with a car was only 180 euros for the day. In my experience, this is a very inexpensive price for a full day private tour with a car and guide. Our hotel booked this excursion with a local guide named Adreas Fofilos. He had a large Mercedes sedan that fit the four of us very comfortably. He had excellent English and an easy going style. It was a pleasure spending the day with him. If you want to hire Andreas directly, here is his website – Kotor-Tours-me.
Having said that, there is nothing that I saw that should deter you from self driving. For sure, there were lots of traffic between Kotor and Budva. However, the roads were good and the driving was unremarkable.
Like every other hour that we spent in Montenegro, we spent the whole drive with our eyes glued to the scenery. It was simply breathtaking. Most of the drive hugged the side of a mountain with panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea, beach towns or endless valleys. I had to stop myself from asking Andreas to pull over for yet another photo at least a dozen times. I absolutely loved our time at Lake Skadar, but quite frankly, it could have been massively disappointing and I would still recommend the drive!
Lake Skadar National Park
At Virpazar, we picked up our private boat and captain that we had booked through Kormoran. We spent one hour touring Lake Skadar and it wasn’t nearly enough time.
Lake Skadar is a lake shared by Montenegro and Albania. It is the largest lake in Southern Europe with the largest bird reserve in Europe. Lake Skadar and the area around it in Montenegro are within a national park – Lake Skadar National Park.
Lake Skadar and Lake Skadar National Park are stunningly beautiful. On our one hour cruise, we glided through thousands of lily pads by islands and strips of land that were largely untouched, barely seeing another soul. Occasionally, we spotted ruins or a monastery. Apparently, there are 20 monasteries, churches, villages, fortresses and sacred monuments all around Lake Skadar, some of which are over 1000 years old.
Lunch was included as part of our cruise package. Once we returned to Virapazar, we walked 3 minutes to a local restaurant. We were served platters and platters of delicious food – different kinds of fish caught in the lake, salads, fries, boiled potatoes, and baskets of crusty bread. The servings were huge and the food was amazing.
All told, the cruise was around 40 euros for the hour (total), and lunch was 10 euros a piece.
I would highly recommend spending much more time than we did at Lake Skadar. While we cruised, I was dying to get off the boat, go for hike on one of the stunningly beautiful islands or paths that we saw surrounding the lake. You can rent kayaks and other boats, go biking and swimming. It was definitely a place that without time constraints, I would have spent a few days enjoying.
After lunch, we drove to Cetinje, a city about an hour away from Lake Skadar. Cetinje is the Old Royal Capital of Montenegro. It is also the historic and the secondary capital of Montenegro, where the official residence of the President of Montenegro is located. Prior to WWII, it was the capital of Montengro. It is located inland around 671 m (2200 ft) above sea level on a plain surrounded by limestone mountains, including Mount Lovćen. It was noticeably cooler than Lake Skadar and the coast which made for a lovely hour of walking and exploring.
Cetinje was a beautiful quiet city with lots of pretty parks, children playgrounds and an appealing walking zone with restaurants and local shops. Scattered throughout are beautiful buildings built in the 19th Century that are reminiscence of old world charm like Paris, but on a much smaller scale. The architecture and layout of the city was much more sophisticated than any other spot that we visited over our 4 days in Montenegro.
Cetinje boasts numerous political and historical sights like the King Nikola Museum, the Cetinje Monastery and Court Church which is nestled on the ruins of the Old Monastery. There are several former European embassies that currently host libraries and other artistic institutions. Cetinje is sometimes called ‘the open-air museum’, as you can just walk the streets and see historical buildings or cultural institution at almost every corner.
The Crazy Drive Back To Kotor
Cetinje to Njegusi
The drive back to Kotor from Cetinje was pretty much unlike any drive that I have done before…and that is saying a lot!
We drove from Cetinje into the mountains for around 30 minutes to a gorgeous little town called Njegusi. Njegusi is known for the birthplace of the Petrovic dynasty which ruled Montenegro for over 200 years. It is also well known for its folk architecture, cheese and prosciutto.
This part of the drive was breathtakingly beautiful and calm. The roads were either switchbacks or curvy with spectacular views of deep green valleys, little settlements, and majestic mountains. The roads were not particularly wide but felt safe as most of them were either against the mountain or next to a gentle slope.
Njegusi to Bay of Kotor
It was after we left Njegusi and headed back to Kotor that the drive became absolutely nuts. It was only 24 km back to Kotor, but we had to descend from the top of the mountain back to the coast. That translated into a drive along a serpentine road with 25 switchbacks, a death drop over the side, and barely a guardrail in site. The road was hardly larger than a one lane road but with two way traffic. Several times, we had to pull over and or reverse to allow larger vehicles (even busses) coming in the opposite direction to pass.
But, what views!!!! Oh my gosh, they were awe inspiring. We also had the good fortune of driving down while the sun was setting. It was remarkable.
If you have any fear of heights, mountain roads, twisty turns or danger, this is not the drive for you. We absolutely loved it and would tell anyone that this is a “must do” activity in Montenegro. However, it is scary in parts.
I would absolutely NOT recommend self driving this road!
I loved this day trip. All day long, the views were simply astonishing. Our time at Lake Skadar National Park was incredible. I wish that we could have spent more time on a boat exploring other parts of Lake Skadar or hiking on one of the pristine trails around it. Cetinje was a very interesting place to visit. The “old world” architecture and layout of the town were completely different from any other place that we had already visited in Montenegro. Finally, the drive down from Njegusi back to the Bay of Kotor was astonishing and the perfect way to end our day.
If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on the “Save” button on the photo below.