Bar, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sunny skies and warmer temperatures led us away from the beach at Montenegro toward Dubrovnik on Bus Croatia. A twisting turning drive reminiscent of our very own Great Ocean Road but with larger, more rugged mountains and olive groves dotting the landscape in sections between the road and sea. Apartment blocks of varying vintages lined the way into and out of each village, from 3 story traditional type beach homes to enormous modern hotels and holiday apartments; a number of massive homes could be spotted jutting out over the sea like modern day castles. As always a few gum trees have made their way into the landscape, making us feel at home. We were surprised to find that most of the beaches appeared to be sand rather than stone, surely making this an attractive holiday destination for Europe. Our bus driver appeared to think that he was auditioning as an F1 driver and took every turn as though he was late for a very important date, leading us to think that it was just as well we were on the right hand side of the road, lessening the chance of ending up in the Adriatic. We had decided to stay in Bar for a couple of nights as it was easy after the train arrived but with a bit more research we could and should have stayed further up the coast in one of the many villages hidden in the coves. Who knows, we may be back to Montenegro one day. If so, a village between Bar and Budva will most certainly be on the agenda, although it must be crawling with crowds in summer, so best we pencil in Spring. A note to self, Budva appears to be the commercial capital of the area, one to avoid.
If you love to drive around tight corners, large sweeping bends and enjoy picturesque views over turquoise waters surrounded by craggy outcrops and mountains, put this in your diary, as with the aforementioned road at home you could drive this in a day, or you could take a week and experience it slowly. Truly it is a delight which is obviously known to some European tourists. It is not yet overrun with English or American tourists.
After Budva the road takes a turn inland through rustic, agricultural areas with orchards, grapevines, market gardens, a few cows and more olive groves for a while before heading into the scrubby foothills and mountains, the highest peaks still lightly dusted in snow. Whilst not as beautiful at this time of year, as the trees, vines and gardens are sparse it must be quite pretty and green during the warmer months.
As with other regions in Europe most of the houses are white with terracotta tiled roofs interspersed with ochre, rose, peppermint and pale blue making a beautiful palette whether set against grey mountain sides or aquamarine waters.
The town of Kotor should not be missed; we popped out of a long tunnel into a valley ringed with giant peaks, beautiful old buildings, ancient walls, monasteries set high on the mountains and what appeared to be a huge blue lake shining in the sun like blue glass. However this is no lake but the Bay of Kotor, apparently the pride of Montenegro and judging by the size of the yachts in the harbour a very wealthy part too. Cath could certainly see herself swanning around on the deck of one or two of those. As if it wasn't enough to be a 360 degree view of absolute beauty, as the road snaked its way around the bay right on the waters edge, (not that there was a choice as the mountains were no more than half an arms length from the side of the road) and yes Mr. F1 was still driving, there are islands in the bay with ancient churches and what appear to be holiday rentals?
Pencil this one into the future trip planner, right now! Actually no don't, don't tell any of your friends, Cath wants it first! Might have to be soon because surely the secret will be out before long.
It is lucky that it was so beautiful because we didn't have time to consider that the road really wasn't wide enough for 2 cars let alone a big bus! There were a number of moments where someone had built on both sides of the road, god only knows how on the waterside, but had failed to consider the future size of buses. To be fair to the builder it was long before the invention of the combustion engine, one suspects. The driver however just ploughed on as though it were open highway.
As we left the bay glancing back over our shoulders we caught the last glimpses of old Kotor overshadowed by a massive peak covered in snow glinting in the late afternoon sun, what a picture!
And then through a tunnel and up, up, up we went and down, down, down through valleys where pencil pines made an appearance on the slopes creating patches of dark green amongst the mauve scrub and grey green olive groves, creating a painting like a vista in the late afternoon light.
And before we knew it passport control, a short delay and onward into Croatia where a wide open valley filled with grapevines, pastures, cows and villages dotted along the mountain sides greeted us. We wound our way back up the hills and as the sun set over the islands we approached beautiful Dubrovnik.