Despite any health situation we might find ourselves in at any given time, nothing will stop Israelis from visiting foreign countries and learning firsthand about other cultures. Anyone who has traveled out of Ben-Gurion Airport recently has surely noticed that they are not alone in their desire to once again explore places overseas. I, too, was one of these people last week, when I given the opportunity to visit Montenegro.
Just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Israel, Montenegro is located on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea in the western part of the Balkans, surrounded by Serbia, Bosnia and Albania. Montenegro is a relatively young country compared with most of Europe, as it seceded from the union of Yugoslavia only in 2006.
Despite its youth, Montenegro offers tremendous touristic opportunities for travelers. Visitors can stay at one of the many resorts on its beaches and port cities, set out on a trek across its nature reserves, which are full of streams, lakes, mountains, ancient cities and ski slopes (in the wintertime). And all this at reasonable prices, which is a big draw for Israeli tourists.
Every day there are flights from Tel Aviv to Tivat, one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations, located in the southwestern part of the country. Tivat overlooks the Bay of Kotor, and has dozens of beaches and small islands to explore. It’s also a great starting point, due to its proximity to the city of Kotor and Herceg Novi, a small fishing town that has been turned into a luxury resort area.
If you love visiting cities with lots of architectural remains left over from previous generations, you’ll appreciate meandering through the streets of Kotor, which was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in the late 1970s. You’ll see structures that were built in the 12th century, including the wall that was built around the city’s perimeter by the Venetians, the ruling power at the time.
There are three separate entry gates that lead into the old city; the largest one is the Sea Gate. Just inside this entrance, you’ll come upon buildings from the Middle Ages, an ancient cathedral, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops.
One option is to hire a guide to take you around and offer explanations about the city, including stories about the earthquake and numerous invasions the city experienced.
Alternatively, it is also fascinating to wander around the city on your own and enjoy the experience.
Just down the coast from Kotor, you’ll find another beautiful beach town called Perast, where you’ll see cruise ships from all over the world docked, as they wait for their passengers to disembark or return to the ship.
In addition, there is a ferry that costs €20 per person on which you can travel to the nearby island, Our Lady of the Rocks. In Perast, you will find ancient palaces and churches, cafés and restaurants.
One of the best restaurants there is Conte, which offers fantastic fresh seafood options.
3. Our Lady of the Rocks
Our Lady of the Rocks is one of the islands just off the coast of Perast. It is an artificial island created from rocks and old sunken and seized ships that were loaded with rocks. This relatively small island is home to a Roman Catholic church, with a nearby museum and gift shop.
According to local legend, the island was created by sailors who, upon returning from each voyage, would throw a rock into the bay in a spot where they found the icon of the Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea. Every year on July 22, residents take part in a local tradition called fasinada in which everyone takes their boats out and throws a rock into the sea to widen the island.
4. Porto Montenegro and Portonovi
In general, holiday rental prices in Montenegro are much lower than in Israel, but there are also a number of luxury vacation spots that are frequented by wealthy European and Russian tourists. Two of these areas, not far from Tivat, are Porto Montenegro and Portonovi.
Porto Montenegro is located in Boka Bay, a designated UNESCO site that has one of the largest marinas in the country. The marina was built 10 years ago on top of an old military base and abandoned factories. The marina is full of fancy yachts, upscale cafés, boutiques and the upscale Regent Hotel, which boasts an infinity pool overlooking the bay.
Just at the entrance of the bay, you’ll find Portonovi, home to one of the country’s fanciest hotels, where an overnight stay costs €450. This may not be cheap, but it will certainly buy you a phenomenally luxurious beachside vacation.
The Budva Riviera, the coastal region surrounding the city Budva, is just a 30-minute drive from the airport. There is a huge stretch of gorgeous coastal area here, and if you prefer staying in an Airbnb, this is a great place to find accommodation. In addition, there are also hotels, such as Blue Mediterranean.
On the banks of the Crmnica River, you’ll find Virpazar, a picturesque village that nature lovers will fall in love with. This is a popular starting point for many treks into nearby nature reserves that will take you around Skadar Lake and into ancient villages up in the hills from which you’ll have gorgeous views of the valley.
In summer, you can go rafting on the river and sailing on the lake. When you get hungry, you’ll enjoy a traditional meal at Demidzana, and enjoy a taste of local beers as you sit overlooking the lake.
The capital of Montenegro is Podgorica, located a little more inland. Though it may not have the same vacation-friendly vibe of the beach towns, it is still worth visiting. Situated in a valley, it is home to Montenegro’s second airport, and has many malls that are great for finding deals on clothing and gifts, since prices are much lower than in Israel. If you’d like to stay overnight, I recommend CUE Hotel, which was built in a modern, eclectic style.
If you’re a ski fanatic, you’ll definitely want to come here in the winter to spend some time in this small town in the northern part of Montenegro. There are two well-known ski options: Kolasin 1450 and Kolasin 1600. Obviously, you won’t see any snow here in the summer, but there are also plenty of hiking paths you can enjoy in the clear mountain air, or join a jeep tour.
9. Vranjak Eco Katun
If you’re already in the region, you definitely don’t want to miss Vranjak Eco Katun, a small village that sits at 1,800 m. above sea level. This is a great place to stop for a hot meal in the wintertime, or to stay in one of the cabins in the summertime. Visitors can try their hand at milking goats in a local dairy where they make their own cheese.
10. Lake Biograd
One of the most popular activities in this region is walking the 3 km.-long path that circumvents Lake Biograd.
11. Jela Natural Resort
One of the nicest resorts in northern Montenegro is Jela Natural Resort, where you can stay in a wood cabin and enjoy meals at either of two restaurants. The cabins are plain, but clean and organized well.
There are lots of walking trails in the area, as well as horseback riding. This is the perfect place to vacation with kids, and the price is only €40 a night.
Price: A four-night trip to Montenegro in August, including flights, hotels and transfers, is $799 per person on Eshet Tours.
The writer was a guest of the Montenegro Tourism Ministry and Eshet Tours.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.