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Nestled along the Adriatic coast, Montenegro beckons families with its captivating, storied towns, striking beaches and plenty of access to nature. This gem only became an independent country in 2006 and may be recognizable to parents as the area formerly known as Yugoslavia.
Montenegro has recently gained a devoted following on the European travel scene while retaining its charm and remaining largely uncrowded. Families will benefit from its membership in the EU and the fact that money stretches farther here than it does in countries like France and Italy.
While July and August can get quite hot, anytime from May through October is prime for a Montenegro vacation. The winter months also offer plenty of enticing ski holiday options in the north of the country amid its eponymous Black Mountains.
For warm-weather holidays, we recommend families base themselves around the Bay of Kotor for easy access to the coast, the old Venetian walled town of Kotor and a variety of fantastic day trip options. Getting around Montenegro is easiest by car, but leave plenty of time to allow for stress-free travel due to narrow and winding roads.
Kotor has a fabulous medieval walled old town, which translates into car-free (and carefree) roaming within its walls. Don’t miss the spectacle in the evening when the town walls are lit up. Families will quickly notice the many cats roaming through town that have become a quirky symbol of Kotor. There is even a cat museum for feline fans and entry fees go toward the care of the creatures.
One of the best ways to capture the spirit of Kotor is to climb up the town walls. This activity is best suited for older children and teens, as the hike can take about two hours and there are a lot of steps (about 1,350!) as well as rough cobblestones. The effort is worth it for the amazing views over the old town and bay. Note, it is best to go very early in the day to beat the heat and avoid crowds. Also, make sure to take plenty of water and sunscreen. The hike to Kotor Fortress is another option for plucky families.
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Back toward shore, you can relax and cool off at one of the many small beaches in and around Kotor Bay. Morinj, Bajova Kula and Orahovac are popular pebble beaches. Consider packing water shoes! Local sand beaches include Trsteno, Bigova and Plavi Horizonti.
A spot of note in the Bay of Kotor is the Blue Grotto on the Lustica peninsula. This Insta-famous rock cave is known for its iridescent blue water and is only accessible by boat. It’s very popular and can get crowded, so we suggest going early in the day on one of the boats that depart from Herceg Novi marina. This area also makes a good spot for snorkeling and diving.
Families will appreciate the many options for unforgettable day trips from Kotor to areas including Perast, Budva, Sveti Stefan and landlocked Cetinje.
Perast is a quick 15-minute trip from Kotor along the north side of the bay. This pint-size destination makes for an enjoyable day out, thanks to its quaint ambiance as well as picturesque churches and villas. Perast is also known for Our Lady of the Rocks church. Legend goes that in the 1400s sailors saw an image of the Virgin Mary in the water off the shore, then started tossing rocks at the spot after a safe return from a voyage; one day an island emerged made up of all of those rocks.
Budva is a larger town about 30 minutes from Kotor and is known for its swath of surrounding beaches along the Adriatic, dubbed the Budva Riviera. Mogren Beach is a firm favorite. Budva’s old town offers another walled city to explore, this one a bit more sizable than Kotor. Kids of all ages will enjoy a break from historic sites with a visit to nearby Aquapark Budva for its many pools and water slides.
Along the Budva Riviera lies Sveti Stefan, a scenic spot connected to the mainland by an isthmus. Inhabited since the 15th century, it became trendy in the 1950s when movie stars like Marilyn Monroe visited. It has two pebble beaches that are open to the public, but the original village is only open to guests staying at the luxurious Aman Sveti Stefan resort. CB’s Family Travel Advisors can book this for you, often with exclusive perks and amenities.
Mount Lovcen, east of Kotor, provided the inspiration for Montenegro’s name. It’s the pride of the area and the centerpiece of its mountainous national park. The platform at the top requires dedication and stamina to reach, but the payoff is spectacular views over the Bay of Kotor.
The village of Cetinje, on the eastern side of Lovcen National Park, is a 15th-century town that served as the capital prior to World War II. The embassies that were located here have all been turned into museums that sit around the main square. Built in 1701, the Cetinje Monastery also draws many people to this enclave. Families will be transported by the natural beauty of nearby Lipa Cave and the intricate passages carved by dripping water over thousands of years.
Lake Skadar is about an hour and a half from Kotor on Montenegro’s southern border as you head into Albania. Home to a stunning array of bird life, it’s also rich in outdoor pursuits such as kayaking, boating, swimming, fishing and hiking. The largest dot on the lake is the quaint fishing town of Virpazar. Besac Castle, which towers over it, was originally built by the Turks in the 1400s and was used as a prison by the occupying Italians during World War II. Adventurous families will want to seek out Pavlova Strana, also known as Horseshoe Bend, to take pictures at this postcard-worthy spot where the Crnojevic River hugs the curving land below.
Farther south of Lake Skodar you’ll arrive at the coastal town of Ulcinj, which borders Albania at the southern tip. Ulcinj was once a famous pirate port and has a largely Muslim population today. It is known for its beaches, laid-back vibe and coffee shop culture. The biggest beach in the country, aptly named Velika Plaza (Big Beach), draws people from all over the world for its kite-surfing. There is also plenty of shallow water, making it a good choice for little ones.
Adventurous families might head for Durmitor National Park, three hours due north of Kotor in a protected area that is part of the Dinaric Alps. The park is home to 18 glacial lakes and Tara Canyon, the world’s second-deepest canyon. Wildlife abounds here, including boars, bears and a variety of birds; outdoor thrills include whitewater rafting or ziplining across the canyon. For a less heart-pounding approach, simply enjoy the view from the stunning arched Durdevica Tara Bridge, which was rebuilt after being blown up during WWII as part of the successful effort to stop the Italian invasion.
An unusual stop along the way to Durmitor is Ostrog Monastery. This spectacular spot, literally carved into the face of the cliffside, is not soon forgotten. It was built in the 17th century to provide refuge against Ottoman invaders and today, visitors can explore two cave churches complete with original frescoes.
Families looking to enjoy ski-focused holidays in Montenegro will want to base themselves in the north of the country in one of the two main ski resorts areas set amid the mountains of Durmitor National Park and Bjelasica. They are Kolasin 1450 (and the newly opened Kolasin 2600) as well as Savin Kuk.
Kolasin lies close to Biogradska Gora Park, one of Europe’s last primeval forests, and offers several ski lifts, a ski school, night skiing and about 25km of skiable terrain. Savin Kuk is located within Durmitor National Park. At an altitude of approximately 2,000 meters (roughly 6,500 feet), this smaller resort offers cable cars, lifts, night skiing and about 5km of ski slopes.
Montenegro hits above its weight for its locale, culture, beaches and parks, making it an alluring family destination any time of year. For a country of its size, it affords visitors an appealing array of coastal holiday options as well as being an enviable winter escape.
TIP: For planning purposes, many families choose to combine Montenegro with a trip to neighboring Croatia.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.