Montenegro Stories and Tips

Just Follow The Brown Signs: Driving Crna Gora

Moraca Monastery Photo, Montenegro, Europe

The drive from Rozaje to the Mediterranean coast is perhaps one of the most beautiful drives in all of Europe, certainly in the Balkans. It is also one of the more frustrating. On the map it looks no longer than 100 miles, but in reality it takes much longer than expected. The whole way the road is a narrow two lanes and wends its way up and down the towering mountains for which Montenegro gets its name. All in all it took me nearly 6 hours. 6 hours of stop and go, getting stuck behind lumbering lorries, and risking death on a few blind corners, but the pure beauty of the drive, and some of the excellent stopping points made it all the more worthwhile.

Montenegro is starting to wake up to its full tourist potential and although these outer areas of the country are still protected from the cruise ship hordes, don't expect them to be for much longer. The Montenegrin government is launching a full-on advertising assault. The good part of this is that it is investing plenty of money into its tourist infrastructure, which means that all the roads are dotted with convenient brown signs marking every possible sight of interest. Everything from the smallest church to the best Roman bridge is marked by those standard brown signs that denote tourist spots. For now most of these spots are left almost un-visited, which was fine by me. I was in no rush to get anywhere, so I made a pact with myself to stop at basically every brown sign I saw on my way down to the coast. Some weren't worth it, and some were, but isn't that the fun of traveling?

Descending into the crumbling industrial town of Berane, I noticed a brown sign pointing the direction to the Pillars of St. George, so I thought I'd give it a go. The road soon turned into a narrow dirt path that took me into the outskirts of the town, past an abandoned military airport, through a few backyards and then finally to the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stopovi, which dates back to the 13th century. Sadly it was closed. From the outside it looked impressive, but after repeated knocks on the door with no avail, I had to pack it in. Strike one.

Leaving the smokestacks of Berane in the distance, the road joins up with the major road that enters Montenegro on its way from Belgrade. Now, this is the main artery of Montenegro, its lone connection to Serbia, its partner in government and trade, so you'd think that this would have to be a main highway. Well, you'd be wrong. The road is just as narrow and winding as any other road in the region. Driving along, through seemingly hand carved tunnels, you can see just why Montenegro has never really been "conquered" by any invaders. Getting into the country is nearly impossible. The Montegrins seem to like their relative isolation, and when you live in a country this beautiful, I don't blame them.

Along the road from Berane to the coast, I happened to notice another brown sign, one for the Moraca Monastery. After my last monastery experience, I was a bit doubtful, but when I pulled up and saw a parking lot full of cars, I felt a bit better. The Monastery is a popular one with Montenegrin and Serbian tourists who stop on their way to/from the coast, and I could immediately see why. It's located on the edge of a large canyon, surrounded by towering mountains and beautiful gardens. I couldn't find much information on the monastery, as the guide-book said nothing and all pamphlets were in Montenegrin, but it didn't matter much. The small compound, with its white walls and budding roses said enough. Inside, the church had lovely frescoes and icons that were easy enough to admire. As the sun was shining, I decided to linger for a while and get a break from the car. The quiet and the smell of late spring provided a nice break and rejuvenated me for the rest of the drive.

From the monastery, the road pushes on through the less-than-stellar capital of Podgorica before it finally crests the last hill and the whole of the Mediterranean appears in front of you. Here you have to be careful, the initial view is so amazing that you might just drive yourself off a cliff admiring it. Luckily the road is dotted with plenty of view points so you can pull over safely and peer down a good 1000 meters at the town of Budva and the Mediterranean. I've personally never seen anything like it.

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