Heading into Montenegro after two weeks in Croatia - visiting the amazing Kotor Fjord, going up to Cetinje and then continuing towards Albania.
29.11.2008 - 01.12.2008 16 °C
After two days in Dubrovnik, I continued cycling through the last bit of Croatia, going uphill along the coast with beautiful views back on the old town of Dubrovnik, then passing Dubrovnik Airport before crossing the border to Crna Gora a.k.a. Montenegro (both meaning as much as black mountain - good idea to go cycling there?). Montenegro only gained independence from Serbia in 2006 and is the "youngest" member of the United Nations. What I didn't know is that it has also adopted the Euro as official currency, even though it is not (yet) member of the European Union - actually already in 2002, after splitting up from the Serbian Dinar and used the Deutsche Mark since 1999. The country seems to be undergoing major rebuilding work supported by international funds, with signs of the "European Union Agency for Reconstruction" already at the border crossing from Croatia. The fast economical development shows for example in the cars, with many brand new upper middle class cars (preferrably German ones) alongside the typical small Eastern European cars from 20 years or so ago. I also noticed soon that everything got significantly more expensive in the last two years - many prices listed in my travel guide (which is from 2006) have doubled or tripled in the meantime, raising them to pretty much standard Western European level... seems that the economy has made a big step in this short time!
Church in Herceg Novi
Coming in from Croatia, the first town on the way is Herceg Novi, a neat small town at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor (or Kotor Fjord). From there, the road follows all the way around the winding fjord towards Kotor. Apart from the great view over the fjord and the surrounding high mountains, there are a couple of interesting things on the way. First what might be the shortest river in the world (I think it's called Sopot spring) - an underground river rushing out of a big hole in the karst mountain, passing under a bridge under the road, and then pouring over a waterfall into the fjord, after only 20 meters or so from where it first came out. Then there are two "floating churches" built on two small islands, of which one is natural and one artificial - apparently built during centuries by throwing out stones over an underwater rock every year on 22 July, and helped by descending some captured or old boats filled with rocks. Accordingly the church on the artificial island is called Gospa od Škrpjela, meaning "Our Lady of the Rocks". Near the two islands, there's also a nice small town called Perast.
Perast and the Kotor Fjord
Kotor itself has a very beautiful old town, with an amazing fortress built on the hill behind it. The fortress walls start down in the old town next to the fjord, and go up on the mountain behind the old town up to 280m above sea level, with fortifications, walls and castles all over. They basically transformed the entire mountain into a fortress - most of it built about 500 years ago! The first settlements in Kotor go back to the Ancient Roman time, and the Kotor Bay was always a very important strategic area since then. Apart from the Kotor fortress, there are also quite a large number of old forts and ruins of castles from other times scattered around the mountains surrounding the bay.
Kotor - View over fjord, old town and fortress.
After a day of visiting the old town and the fortress, the weather forecast looked bad for the next day. Because my planned route was going up through the mountains towards Cetinje and I didn't want to do that in heavy rain and possible thunderstorms, I just stayed for another day. Thinking about what would be the most out of place thing to do during a bicycle tour, I rented a car for a day and went exploring some other nearby forts from the Austro-Hungarian time, including a quite mad one which used to have a huge steerable gun overlooking both the outer and the inner part of the bay, and with lots of underground tunnels, bunkers and outlooks, connected through speaking tubes to guide the gun aimers. I also almost got caught in a thunderstorm up somewhere on one of the mountains - glad I wasn't on the bicycle on this day!
Kotor - Old church high up behind the fortress walls
On the next day, the weather was better, so I continued on a road going up on the steep mountain behind Kotor, over a 1100m pass to Cetinje, with spectacular views over Kotor and the fjord on the way. The road actually goes up part of the Lovćen mountain and National Park with its highest peak at 1750m, which apparently gave the name to the country because it's covered in dark pine trees and can look, depending on the weather, quite black. The road up is actually not all that bad - it goes high up but due to the way it's built, it's never very steep. The road winds up in 25 serpentine turns to a first 900m pass, and a couple more turns to the main pass. The distance "as the crow flies" (Luftlinie) from Kotor to Cetinje is only about 13km, but the road stretches it out to over 45km, making the gradients not too hard even for cycling with luggage. And the views on the way up are simply amazing!
Then a great downhill, perfect for cycling (small road with almost no traffic, lots of turns but good overview of the road ahead from above) before reaching Cetinje, the historical capital of Montenegro (which is still at around 600m altiude). There's not extremely much to see in Cetinje, maybe the most interesting feature is a large 3d relief map of entire Montenegro. Unfortunately it was closed for access, but I could get a glimpse (and a picture) from outside through the window...
Some more pictures from the Kotor Bay area (more in the gallery):
"Floating" Churches (in the Fjord near Perast)
Kotor - Inside the Old Town (Stari Grad)
Kotor - Town wall at night
Kotor - Fortress built on high rocks
Kotor - Steep view down on Stari Grad (Old Town)