7 highlights of Montenegro's glistening coast
It's the most mountainous country in Europe and packed full of dramatic landscapes, but Montenegro's coastline, bays, coves and fjord-like river canyons easily hold their own.
When you take a cruise in this southern Balkan country, you discover a compelling mix of historic towns, buzzing beach resorts and some truly astounding scenery.
Montenegro's long and complicated history means you'll see the legacies left behind by the Venetians and Austrians, particularly in coastal resorts. Here's what you can expect when you take a cruise to Montenegro*.
Getting to Montenegro: cruise right to the coast for less when you book a Mediterranean itinerary with Marella Cruises*.
Bay of Kotor
When you cruise into the Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska in Montenegrin), you soon enter a deep river canyon that's rather like a fjord.
At its southernmost end is a patchwork of terracotta rooftops heralding Kotor's beautifully preserved medieval old town, one of the dreamiest in the Balkans.
Here against a backdrop of soaring scrub-covered mountains is what looks like a miniature Dubrovnik, with marble alleyways and tiny squares filled with green-shuttered stone houses.
Along the harbour, look out for the 16th-century Sea Gate (Vrata od Mora) beside the daily food market.
Once inside the car-free old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, you'll see charming squares, the 12th-century St Tryphon's Cathedral, the tiny 12th-century St Luke's Church, not to the mention Kotor's countless cats, who are as much a part of this town as its landmarks.
If you have a couple of hours to spare, take a hike up the ramparts to St John's Fortress. The views will sustain you as you trek uphill for the 4.5 km walk; you'll be captivated by views of the town, the bay and the mountains.
There's more than a touch of the fairytale about Perast, whose Venetian architecture you'll spot when you cruise past it on the way to Kotor.
Renaissance and Baroque palaces mingle with several churches, including the 17th-century Church of St Nicholas and its distinctive belfry (which you can climb to get some fantastic views).
Discover the town's illustrious history as the home of the region's greatest seafarers when you visit the Perast Town Museum housed in a 17th-century palace.
One of Perast's highlights is Our Lady of the Rock Island, which you can reach by water taxi. Legend has it that two sailors had found an icon of the Virgin Mary on the rock back in the 15th century, which led to the construction of a church on the island.
Have a look at its handsome Baroque interior (which includes the icon), a 300-year-old Murano chandelier and adjoining museum.
Lovćen National Park
From Kotor, there's a road leading to Lovćen National Park that gives a whole new meaning to the word zigzagging.
Once you make your crazily serpentine way to Mount Lovćen, stopping every now and then to take in some heavenly views, you can hike to the mausoleum of Petar Petrović II Njegoš.
Here, you'll see the extraordinary sculpture created by Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović in honour of the 19th-century Montenegrin prince-bishop and poet.
Petar was born in the nearby village of Njeguši, which is home to some of Montenegro's finest ham and cheese - and worth a visit for a tasting.
Even though government buildings are in the capital, Podgorica, the president has his official residence in Cetinje.
There's a cluster of museums in Njegoševa Street worth visiting, including the National Museum of Montenegro, the Montenegrin Royal Theatre, the Ethnographic Museum of Montenegro and Cetinje's 18th-century monastery.
Montenegro's busiest coastal resort forms part of a series of beaches, the Budva Riviera, which stretches for 35km as far south as Petrovac.
In contrast to Budva's modern resorts, Budva's Old Town harks back to the days of the Venetian empire; all marble squares and alleyways, stone houses and terracotta rooftops set within medieval ramparts.
You wouldn't know it had been almost entirely rebuilt after the 1979 earthquake that devastated Montenegro.
Wander through the cobbled lanes towards its churches, town museum and ruins of a Roman necropolis, and head up to the top of Budva's citadel for lovely views of the town.
From the old town you can take a water taxi to Sveti Nikola Island (locally known as Školj), where you can relax on the beach and go for a swim under wooded cliffs.
Bar is Montenegro's main seaport and transport hub, where you can get ferries to Italy and the train to Belgrade.
There's a series of beaches easily reached from the port, and the elegant 19th-century King Nikola's Palace is now a small history museum with a delightful garden.
Just outside the town is one of the world's oldest olive trees, which is thought to be at least 2,000 years old. There's a nominal charge to visit it up close, or just catch a glimpse of it from the road.
If you fancy a swim but not the beach, near the olive tree are the Bazeni Bartula, an attractive collection of outdoor pools with sun loungers and a children's play area.
One of Bar's must-see sights is the old town, Stari Bar, a short bus ride away from the port.
Stari Bar's history goes back to 800 BCE and since then, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks have all been and gone - as has much of the town itself, destroyed in the 1979 earthquake.
But what remains is fascinating, and some ruins have been restored including a clocktower, a couple of churches, Turkish baths and a viaduct.
Among the atmospheric ruins you can explore is an open-air stage and the old citadel. Ottoman-style restaurants and bars line the cobbled lanes leading to the ruins, making it one of the prettiest sights in the area.
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