Montenegro – Perast

Our main destination in Montenegro was the Bay of Kotor, a huge bay in the Adriatic, surrounded by mountains, making it look a bit like a warmer version of the Norwegian Fjords.

One part of the massive bay of Kotor

I didn’t fancy the recently fashionable Budva (known as a ‘party town’) or the resorts of Kotor itself, so decided to book an Airbnb in Perast, a small village on the bay. This was a good decision, especially as we have been in a lot of cities recently and were craving a slightly slower pace. It did, however, take two buses after the overnight train to get here, but we agreed we would rather have a monster travel day and then relax rather than do the journey over a couple of days. One thing I am beginning to realise is that even if things are a bit rough around the edges in the Balkans, things do work and are fairly reliable, so you can plan to catch a bus the same day as arriving somewhere.

The front at Perast

The bus dropped us in Perast, or rather, on the road that runs round the cliff high above Perast, and we had to navigate a way down the incredibly steep sides of the cliff to the village. I could see a church spire some way below us, and knew the apartment was close to the church, so I sent Lauren on ahead to see if what looked like steps turned into a viable route down the cliff. This wasn’t me being mean, I just had two bags to carry. She reported back that the steps ‘seemed to go somewhere’ which was hardly a ringing endorsement but in the absence of any other potential route down, we set off. In actual fact the steps eventually after a few zig zags, led us all the way down to the church, and the front.

There was no beach, but plenty of boats tied up and a number of restaurants along the front. The front was too narrow in most places for two cars to pass, which led to lots of backing up, but no visible irritation by the drivers, even when one woman stopped for a chat while 2 cars waited behind her. At times we had to squeeze ourselves and our luggage into small cut-outs of the sea wall, or at other times, balance precariously on the edge of the pavement with the sea right below, to allow cars to pass us. Lauren took great delight in pretending to fall in. Repeatedly.

We found the accommodation easily enough, although there was no answer when we rang the bell. Having been assured by neighbours that we were in the right place, we pushed the gate, which was open, and called out for the owner. Nothing. Lauren was now writhing about needing the toilet, so eventually I tried a couple of doors, found an apartment that looked like the vague memory of the rapidly-viewed Airbnb I’d booked, and decided to make ourselves at home. We were both in the shower when the owner turned up, not at all apologetic or concerned that we had let ourselves in.

We nipped to the tiny minimarket for groceries, and then went for an early dinner (more correctly lunner, as Lauren pointed out, as we had missed lunch). We were both pretty tired after the overnight train and two buses, plus the cliff adventure, not to mention the psychological trauma of a missed lunch, so we were both asleep by 9.

The next day was a lazy one. You need down days when travelling so much. Lauren did some schoolwork, and I did all the clothes washing.

Helping with chores while I correct her maths.

We then made a picnic and went in search of the so-called ‘north beach’. We knew it was north of the village, logically enough, so we simply walked along the front, past the odd beach bar and mooring place, expecting to get to a beach at some point. Once we reached the ‘leaving Perast’ sign I suppose we should have started to worry, but it was a beautiful day and the views over the bay were amazing, so we kept walking, expecting at any minute to find one of the legendary Montenegrin beaches… when we got to the sign welcoming us to the next village, we realised we must have somehow missed the beach, so turned around and wandered back.

We hadn’t missed it so much as not recognised it as a beach.

The ‘beach’ turned out to be a less than 1m wide, 10m long strip of pebbles at the end of the front.  It did have a nice wooden jetty so we sat there and ate our sandwich, enjoying the sound of the bay lapping at our feet. There were lots of fish in the bay, and Lauren shared some of her sandwich with them, delighted as they came up to the surface just long enough to grab a bite and dive down again. After lunch, Lauren (who had brought her swimsuit) took a dip in the sea, even though she was quite apprehensive about this (something to do with not being able to see what’s in there) and I was super proud of how she conquered her fear. I was also proud of myself for being encouraging rather than just telling her to stop being a wuss and get in, which would have been my first instinct! She swam out a good way, thoroughly and deservedly proud of herself, and then played with a small Russian boy for a while.


In the evening we cooked a simple meal of pasta and vegetables (we have no imminent train journeys) and had another early night.

On our second full day in Perast, we visited one of the islands in the bay, on which there is a church.


Neither of us listened much to the history (something to do with a fisherman hundreds of years ago thinking he saw an image of the virgin mary and so building a church…) but we enjoyed the boat trip and wandering around, soaking up the views, and yet another picnic at a far end of the island the tourists didn’t seem to find.


More fish feeding was great fun, as was watching some small sea birds who would disappear under water for over a minute – we had great fun predicting where they would appear when they bobbed back up. There were also a number of cool looking catamarans and sail boats dotted around the bay, and we whiled away the time imagining a life where we could afford that kind of luxury.


After all that excitement, an afternoon at the ‘beach’ was called for. This time I had brought my swimsuit, and while the water was hardly tropical, it was pleasant to swim out into the bay then dry off in the sun with my kindle while Lauren came up with complicated forms of categorizing seaweed.

This is a lovely place. I feel like I actually started to relax here. It probably doesn’t make for exciting reading, but it was just a lovely, pleasant interlude where we chilled out and enjoyed being together in a beautiful place.

The village is tiny, with one minimarket and no bank, but it attracts a good few tourists, including one bunch of cruise passengers on a shore tour from Kotor. Despite the throngs at times, it’s still got local residents hanging out their underpants on the main street to dry, and communal tables in the various squares where locals of all ages seem to sit most of the day nattering, and plastic chairs left on the various mini-terraces built out over the water. By the second day here people were greeting us with recognition. Or perhaps horror in the case of the lady who runs the minimarket, after an unfortunate incident with a jar of chilli pesto….

There are downsides to the ‘local character’ of the place though – rubbish disposal has clearly not been a priority, and its distressing to see plastic bags and polystyrene amongst the fish, and cigarette ends just about everywhere.  People smoke all the time including while talking to you or cleaning up outside your accommodation, and make no effort to blow the smoke away from you.

All in all though, I am sorry to leave Perast. There wasn’t a great deal to do, I didn’t even bother to do much reading about the main tourist attraction of the church in the bay, but we both had a lovely time and enjoyed the slower pace and sunshine.


Next up – Croatia.

Belgrade to Bar

I guess people may be getting a little sick of my train stories by now. But bear with me, because this one was spectacular.

The train was as expected – very old, smelling of cigarettes, creaky and rattly and with loos best avoided. The best way to travel on Balkan trains is constipated and I am cutting out all vegetables for the duration.

Again, we were lucky enough to get a compartment of 6 to ourselves, but this time I allowed Lauren to sleep on the middle bunk rather than the bottom one she had been allocated. This was a compromise, as she wanted to be on the top. Of course I still spent half the night worried she’d fall off, and jerking awake as soon as she muttered something in her sleep (she does mutter!) or the train braked particularly hard.

Needless to say she slept wonderfully.


But the whole point of this journey on the ‘Balkan Express’ (ha ha) was because a number of people had said that it had spectacular scenery. We weren’t disappointed. Even Lauren put down her tablet and gazed in awe at the views.

The first part of the journey was across south west Serbia, overnight in the dark. I woke at dawn to views of spectacular hills, soon followed by the evocative sound of bells ringing out from a tiny church as the mist rolled up the valley.

Just before the border, a guy I will never forgive came down the carriage offering coffee. I eagerly requested a black coffee (he was offering cappuccinos too but I thought that might be a step too far) and he said he’d be back in a few minutes and that it would be a euro. He never returned, and that hopeful 1 euro coin sat on the table waiting for him the whole way to the coast.

Once we crossed into Montenegro, the scenery just got better and better, travelling really high up around and through the mountains (the route has 435 bridges and 254 tunnels).

We then descended fairly steeply to the capital Podgorica (which looked tiny) before passing the stunning Lake Skadar and reaching the coast.

Lake Skadar

Suddenly we were travelling alongside beach resorts and shops selling inflatable toys, which somehow felt slightly unreal after a morning of stunning views mainly devoid of human impact.

First glimpse of the sea.

Next: Kotor Bay, Montenegro.