Montenegro wasn’t part of our original plan, but this is Screw the Itinerary after all, so here we are.
Way back in Berlin we went on a pub crawl and befriended a Finnish couple who, in between chain-smoking a truly horrifying number of cigarettes, told us enthusiastically that we had to go to Montenegro. Since we’d have to pass through on our way from Albania to Croatia anyway, we figured why the hell not. So we found a bus from Tirana to Budva, which was as easy as walking to a travel agency and asking for tickets (but make sure they specify which bus station to go to, because there are 5 or 6 scattered across the city and as I've mentioned, they're not so much ‘stations’ as groups of buses in a parking lot). The entire bus ride was along winding coastal highways and the view was absolutely stunning.
Montenegro is lovely. I can totally see why our Finnish friends loved it here: for such a tiny country, it’s jam packed full of awesome sights and stuff to do. There are mountain ranges, lakes, canyons, beaches, and islands, all in a compact little package on the Mediterranean coast. And maybe it’s just because we’re coming from Albania, where tourist infrastructure is effectively nonexistent, but in Montenegro it’s incredibly easy to get around sans car - and you probably don’t want one, because the drivers here seem to have taken lessons from their neighbors to the south.
Budva is a coastal town in southern Montenegro and is one of the most touristed parts of the country. For reasons we don’t totally understand, it’s wildly popular with Russian tourists, to the point that one of our hostel mates in Sarande warned us that they’ve ruined the place. Perhaps it’s because we got here so late in the season, but we didn’t notice any crazy swarms of vodka-pounding Russians making a ruckus. Still, there were tons of travel companies catering to Russians and all menus were printed in Montenegrin/English/Cyrillic so we assume their presence is not being overblown. But despite what our hostel-mate may claim, Budva is not being ruined by Russians or by anyone else for that matter. It is 100 percent worth visiting if you’re planning a trip to Montenegro.
Budva has a small quaint old town within the old city walls, with those classic orange roofs you see in places like Prague and Dubrovnik and all throughout Italy. The streets are tiny and windy and it’s ridiculously easy to get lost, but you’ll feel charmed as hell as you struggle to find your way out of nine different dead ends on your way to dinner. There are accommodations in that part of town, but we opted to stay further south, in a lovely guesthouse run by a kind family a short ways uphill from the bustling beach promenade. We actually didn’t spend all that much time in the old town - lots of tourist shops and the food prices there seemed to be higher (and the quality lower) than the area of town we stayed in, but the whole of Budva is so small you can explore the old town decently well in a day.
The main attraction here is, of course, the beach. You can rent beach chairs (we paid 10 Euro for two chairs and an umbrella - half the price of Mykonos) or lay your towel, but the beaches are more pebbly than sandy which sadly is just kind of normal in this part of Europe. The water is ridiculously clear - probably the clearest water I've ever seen. You could just float around and look down at the bottom without needing goggles or anything. It wasn’t quite the electric blue shade we’d seen in Albania, but it was undeniably beautiful and worth seeing.
Because the water had us in awe, we didn’t hesitate when we found out that our hostel could arrange a boat tour for us, especially after how incredible our similar experience in Sarande was (a boat is rarely a bad idea). We went out with our hostel owner’s two sons and their uncle (the skipper) along with 3 fellow hostel-mates. Beers in hand, we set off for a few hours of exploring the coast near Budva. We visited caves and tiny remote beaches and cruised past stunning luxury resorts, stopping to swim and occasionally to jump off some cliffs. Turns out the older son, who couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12, is a total beast when it comes to cliff jumping, and took us out to some pretty crazy jumps. The five of us, all in our 20s and no stranger to the ocean, hesitated with each jump but this kid never so much as batted an eyelash. It was really impressive. We came home bruised and salty and exhilarated and wish we could have gone out again the next day.
When we weren’t whiling away the hours near (or in) the ocean we spent most of our time eating and drinking, because let’s be honest, that’s pretty much all we do. Montenegro has some truly exceptional wines, and while they might not be up to the quality of some of the Hungarian reds we tried, we’re happy to report that the trend we observed in Greece and Albania of restaurants having cheap and really delicious house wines is very much a thing here, too. Montenegro also has some interesting twists on Balkan cuisine. There were amazing bakeries on every corner selling all kinds of treats from jam-filled pastries and sticky-sweet buns to breads and rolls in every shape and size. Luckily, Montenegrins are also big on the vegetables and it seemed like every dish we ordered came with a heaping plate of seasonal grilled veggies, so we were being totally healthy and I definitely wouldn’t worry about our waistlines if I were you.
We’ve definitely been loving our time on the Mediterranean, and Budva was no exception. I think we can declare this spontaneous adventure a success.