10 countries in 10 days in a Dacia Logan – 4/10: Montenegro
Our faithful Dacia Logan posing in front of the Sveti Stefan island in Montenegro. Picture by Adam Taloni.
This is Part 4 of our swift adventure with the Dacia Logan, you can see Part 1: Romania, Part 2: Serbia here and Part 3: Bosnia & Herzegovina here. After having inadvertently explored some of the world’s most dangerous roads crossing through dozens of dark tunnels in the Bosnian mountains surrounding Sarajevo, we long for a more peaceful inroad into the next country which we had planned to be Croatia for a quick dip into Dubrovnik. However given the time of the year we attempted this adventure at (mid-August) and the nightmarish traffic associated with the popularity of this destination over summer we decide to skip Dubrovnik and Croatia to get straight to Montenegro, our fourth country of this adventure.
Flag of Montenegro Our path through the southwestern part of Montenegro.
Montenegro is a tiny country with an area of 13.812 square kilometres and a population of 678.000, most of whom are Orthodox Christians like in Serbia but as opposed to a majority of Muslims in neighbouring Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Roman Catholics in Croatia to the west. The capital of the country, Podgorica, is located inland and was known as Titograd between 1946 and 1992 – unfortunately we won’t have time to visit it on this trip. Originating as the Principality of Zeta in the 14th century, the name Montenegro started being used for the country as early as 1498. It is derived from Venetian language and translates to “Black Mountain”, based on the appearance of Mount Lovćen when covered in dense evergreen forests. Montenegro was integrated into Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1990, when the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro together established a federation known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was renamed State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. Montenegro peacefully declared independence in 2006 on the basis of a referendum. This relatively easy accession to independence is in stark contrast to that of neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina as we saw in the previous Part of this series.
The arrival into Montenegro is spectacular.
We arrive into the country from the west on a mountain gravel road alongside the Bileča Lake and then reach the Adriatic Sea coast for the first time on this trip at the town of Milinj in the Bay of Kotor. The landscapes are spectacular straight away, perhaps some of the most spectacular seaside sceneries in the whole of Europe with mountains jutting sharply from crystal-clear waters in a manner reminiscent to the country of Monaco. It is a complete change of scenery from the mountainous countryside landscapes we have traversed since leaving Bucharest in Romania and across Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The weather is glorious, the air smells like pine trees, sunscreen and heat: it does feel like a holiday now as we hit the first truly touristic spot of our adventure.
The islets of Sveti Juraj and Gospa od Škrpjel facing Perast.
We don’t have much time to spare as this is Day 5 and it’s only country #4, so we get straight to one of the main attractions of this country: Perast. And what a gem this is. The history of Perast can be traced back all the way to the 10th century when it was an autonomous city of the Byzantine Empire before becoming an independent republic from 1395 to 1420. It then successively came under Venetian, Hungarian, French and Austrian rule. The city has an astounding sixteen Baroque palaces, seventeen Catholic churches and two Orthodox churches, but no defensive wall, instead it has nine defensive towers. But what instantly catches the eye when approaching Perast on the Bay of Kotor road are the islets of Sveti Juraj (St. George) and Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks), to the left and right on the pictures directly above and below. Each has a picturesque chapel, but Gospa od Škrpjela is particularly interesting as it is the only artificially-built island in the Adriatic, with an area of 3,030 m². It was built upon a rock after two Venetian sailors from Perast found a picture of the Virgin Mary on it in 1452.
Perast truly is a gem in one of the most spectacular settings there is.
Visitors aren’t allowed to drive into town so all cars must be parked outside and the line goes all the way onto the bay-hugging road. Perast is located at the apex of the inner Bay of Kotor, looking straight down the narrow channel to the outer section. The village is basically one stretch of elegant baroque palaces and churches alongside the water, just beautiful and oh so picturesque. You can rent a small boat and get to the one island that is open to the public, Our Lady of the Rocks, and explore the sky blue domed church filled with offerings left by grateful sailors. The short trip is the pinnacle of laid back hospitality and the regular back and forth of boats between Perast and the island is indeed reminiscent of Venice which once ruled the town. There was a wedding when we visited the island, and I have to admit this is probably one of the best spots in the world to organise your wedding if you were ever looking for one. There, I said it.
Top 2: Kotor, Bottom 1: Our Dacia Logan parked in front of our Budva hotel.
After being bewitched by Perast we move onto Kotor, whose Old Town, a sort of miniature Dubrovnik, has a moated wall, shadowy lanes and stone churches on every square. It’s a maze where you willingly and deliciously get lost in, discovering tiny shops and details in every nook and cranny. But it’s probably the sheer cliffs that loom above town that make its visit a foreboding experience. We call it a night in Budva, a lot more touristic than anywhere we’ve slept in before, but not in an aggressive way. Communication is easier as our hotel staff are fluent in English, and as pictured above the hotel sign says “Rooms” in English, German, Russian, Italian and Albanian giving a clear indication of the tourists’ nationality here. As a matter of fact the cars parked next to us in Kotor had Austrian, Russian and Spanish licence plates. It’s definitely a different vibe from the previous countries we crossed (Romania, Serbia and Bosnia). Apart from the language spoken, this could well be any small coastal town in the hustle and bustle of the height of Summer in the south of France, Italy, Croatia or Greece. The next day, we leave towards Albania and stop in Sveti Stefan, one of the iconic pictures of Montenegro. In what felt like a flashback from my 2002 trip to Croatia, this part of the country is a nightmare to drive in, jammed packed to the gills with cars, no parking spaces and one way streets galore… The only way to take the hero picture at the head of this article was to just stop in the middle of the road and run out of the car for 20 seconds…
The VW Golf 2 and 3 rule in the Montenegrin countryside.
First impressions as far as the Montenegro car landscape are very similar to the country we just left: Bosnia & Herzegovina. Perhaps not as heavily though, 30+ year-old generations of VW Golf are omnipresent as illustrated above, with the 1983 Gen II and 1990 Gen II the most popular versions. However the proportion of new cars in the park is a lot higher than in Serbia or Bosnia, an observation that confirms the wealthier status of this country.
It’s a Skoda Fabia onslaught in the city of Perast.
When new cars are concerned, my observations were biased by the fact that we visited very touristic spots in the country and didn’t get to see the capital Podgorica, which means there were a disproportionately high ratio of rental cars in the park I observed. In this context, the Skoda Fabia should still be the runaway leader in Montenegro for 2018 based on an actual flood of them around the country, and I estimate it is followed by the Dacia Sandero and VW Golf. As a reminder the latest (and only) official sales figures we had access to had the Dacia Sandero leading the Montenegrin market in 2014 ahead of the VW Golf and Skoda Octavia, so a pretty similar outlook four years later. Renault is also strong with the Megane and Clio, as well as Citroen with the C-Elysee and Peugeot with the 301. The Fiat 500L produced in neighbouring Serbia seems to be a success with rental car companies in Montenegro.
New Dacia Dusters are already part of the Montenegrin car landcsape.
How about our faithful Dacia? The Logan is powering through the crowded streets of Montenegro and its rear view camera with direction lines linked to the wheels enables easy parking in any situation, a luxury I honestly didn’t think I would have access to in a Dacia. Visibility is excellent and one very close call was handled masterfully thanks to generous rear view mirrors and the absence of blind spots. One element that is starting to show now that we are in full summer heat mode is that the stop start system also cuts the air con off when at a red light, which can quickly turn into a melting experience when fully exposed to the burning sun. But apart from that I am still very happy with the car and the absence of any serious trouble so far. What of Dacia’s success in Montenegro? Apart from the Sandero estimated to be in 2nd place overall this year, strikingly as this wasn’t the case in Serbia or Bosnia, the new Dacia Duster is already well and part of the car landscape here, notably as a police car.
Car landscape in Montenegro
This was Montenegro. The sheer beauty of the islet of Our Lady of the Rocks and its blue domed church facing Perast and surrounded by looming rocky mountains and crystal clear water pushes this country to the top of the ladder so far on this trip. Tomorrow, we’ll try and hit two countries in one day to catch up on lost time: Albania and the Republic of Macedonia, which has since become North Macedonia. Stay tuned!