Montenegro, Crna Gora, Black Mountain: the very name conjures up images of romance and drama – and this fascinating land doesn't disappoint on either front.
Why I Love Montenegro
By Peter Dragičević, Author
I still remember the sheer thrill I felt when confronted with the extraordinary beauty of the Bay of Kotor for the first time – and each time I visit, that thrill returns. For me, Montenegro is at its most magical on long summer evenings when the streets fill up with people, young and old, heading out for a slow, social stroll – a scene that's repeated in every city, town and village throughout the country. Sit me somewhere with a glass of local wine, a plate of grilled squid and a view of the passing parade, and I'm in heaven.
Where Land & Sea Embrace
There's not a lot of it – barely 100km from tip to toe – but Montenegro's coast is quite extraordinary. Mountains jut sharply from crystal-clear waters in such a way that the word 'looming' is unavoidable. As if that wasn't picturesque enough, ancient walled towns cling to the rocks and dip their feet in the water like they're the ones on holiday. In summer the whole scene is bathed in the scent of wild herbs, conifers and Mediterranean blossoms. The word 'magical' is similarly impossible to avoid.
When the beaches fill up with Eastern European sunseekers, intrepid travellers can easily sidestep the hordes in the rugged mountains of Durmitor and Prokletije, the primeval forest of Biogradska Gora or in the many towns and villages where ordinary Montenegrins go about their daily lives. Hike, mountain bike or kayak yourself to somewhere obscure and chances are you'll have it all to yourself. This is, after all, a country where wolves and bears still lurk in forgotten corners.
Living on the Edge
Ever since the Roman Empire split in two 1600 years ago, this land has sat on the borderline between east and west – and it's all the more interesting for its turbulent past. The richness of its cultural history can be seen in the mosaic floors of Roman villas, flamboyantly painted Orthodox monasteries, ornate Catholic churches, the elegant minarets of mosques, and the sturdy fortresses built by the numerous powers that have fought over these lands. Then there's the legacy of 50 years as a communist state, independent of both the Eastern Block and the West. For those with even a passing interest in European history, it's a fascinating place.
Small But Perfectly Formed
Imagine a place with sapphire beaches as spectacular as Croatia's, rugged peaks as dramatic as Switzerland's, canyons nearly as deep as Colorado's, palazzos as elegant as Venice's and towns as old as Greece's and then wrap it up in a Mediterranean climate and squish it into an area two-thirds of the size of Wales and you start to get a picture of Montenegro. You could easily drive clear across the country in a day – or spend a month and be left wanting more. Ironically, this tiny place is populated by giants – arguably the tallest people in the world.
Top 10 countries that didn't exist 20 years ago
Turbo boost your passport by venturing to these recently minted destinations, as highlighted in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011. It's also a good chance to increase your collection of miniature national flags...
Need to know
The Mediterranean without the crowds
Even before the Romans laid claim to Mare Nostrum ('our sea'), the eyes of the world have looked greedily at the Mediterranean in summer and swooned...