Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Montenegro, Holiday destination with wonderful people, dramatic scenery and fabulous food and wine

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The former because the food portions are so generous that even if you go out like Twiggy, you’ll come back like a sumo wrestler. And the second because the country is so mountainous that the streets to your apartment or hotel will invariably be two inches wide and so upsy and downsy that they’ll make the Big One rollercoaster in Blackpool look like the M25.

Still, it was worth it. For various reasons, it was our first proper holiday for years, and we loved every minute of the people, the dramatic scenery, the food and the fabulous Plantaze wine, from €3.50 a bottle.

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Rather wonderfully, it’s produced in caves in a mountain which were used as hangars for fighter jets in the 478th or so Balkan war, until Nato bombed it and the locals decided very wisely to turn it into a winery.

We flew from Dublin to Dubrovnik in Croatia, rented a hire car, and from there it was only an hour across the border into Montenegro to our first stop for two nights: Herceg Novi.

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Mind you, since free data roaming decided to stop working once we crossed the border and I didn’t fancy paying a fortune, we spent a good hour driving around the town’s one-way system before finally finding the apartment we’d booked.

Thankfully, it was only 30 metres from a lovely little beach bar which became our local for a swim followed by a lovely cold Nikšicko beer.

In the evening, the beachfront walk is lined with lovely little restaurants for fabulous seafood and hearty meat dishes.

After two nights there, we stopped for lunch in Perast, a sleepy seaside village where you can take a boat out to the ancient church on an island in the bay, then on to the equally ancient walled town of Kotor.

The drive there around the Bay of Kotor is stunning, with a dramatic coastline and little settlements hacked out of the mountains which rise from the sea.

Kotor’s winding streets are lined with bars, restaurants and shops selling everything from designer jewellery to local arts and crafts.

Down the coast is the smaller walled town of Budva, although unlike Kotor, most of the action takes place in the more modern developments which have grown up along the seafront.

From there, we struck inland, up in the mountains to Cetinje, which is now a sleepy town but until 1916 was the royal capital and the home of palaces, mansions and the British, German, French, Bulgarian and Russian embassies.

The old royal palace and government building are now really interesting museums for an insight into the turbulent history of the country, like everywhere in the Balkans.

As for the former embassies, the British one is a nice villa, the German looks like a rundown B&B, the French was hugely pompous, we never found the Russian, and the Bulgarian is now a fish and chip shop.

From there it was the Pelikan Hotel beside Lake Skadar, where the owner Oskar grabbed us as we got out of the car, and before I knew it had us booked in for two nights and a boat tour of the lake leaving in 10 minutes.

The huge lake, replete with water lilies and pelicans, borders Albania, where the people were formerly ruled by King Zog and now live in fear of Liam Neeson, as in the Taken movies in which he kills several of them, although he would have been better killing his really annoying daughter, not to mention his even more annoying son in Love Actually.

There, I feel better now, thanks for asking.

Sadly, Cate didn’t, for when we arrived back from the boat trip, we discovered that the hotel room was a bit poky with no balcony. And it was her birthday the next day.

“I’m not spending it here,” she announced, so it was back on to find what looked like a lovely apartment in Ulcinj, near the border with Albania.

The next day we set for the Plantaze winery at Sipcanik; the drive from Lake Skadar should have taken 36 minutes, but took three hours due to a nervous breakdown by Google Maps, followed by the navigator.

After we’d passed the same cow 15 times, the farmer took pity on us and put us right. After the winery tour and tasting, the heavens opened, resulting in a horrendous two-hour drive down the mountains and east along the coast which felt like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

And although by now I thought I’d got used to rollercoaster Montenegrin streets, the last stretch to the apartment in Ulcinj was the worst yet.

At every impossible summit and turn, I just prayed there was nothing coming the other way.

As a result, we arrived late and knackered, so just had dinner in the on-site restaurant after Cate had opened her birthday presents.

The next night, the hotel recommended the Higo restaurant, a 10-minute taxi ride away along the coast. It was superb, with a terrace overlooking the crashing waves on the rocks below, great food and wine and an excellent waiter who was doing a master’s in business management, as waiters do.

And then it was back to Herceg Novi for our last two days in the same apartment where we had started, for swimming, cold beer by the beach and a sad farewell to a great country, Irish News writes.

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