An independent country established as the Republic of Montenegro in 2006, this nation boasts natural beauty and pristine beaches amongst its finest attributes. Extending out over a 184-mile narrow strip of coastline, you wouldn't believe the treats this Balkan beauty has in store - beaches to rival the best of the Med, hillside monasteries to satisfy the hike-hungry and seaside villages for ardent lovers of all things medieval.Bay of Kotor
Still widely free from the ugly hotels and bustling crowds of mass tourism, Montenegro throws up constant surprises along the entire length of its sea shore. Arguably the most splendid of these is the Bay of Kotor, often described as the Mediterranean's only fjord and included on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Retreating 28km into the coastline, the cliffs drop dramatically into the sea whilst tiny villages perch on the perilous edges. Perast, Risan, Prcanj; all offer incredible views and a seafood selection to match.Luxury and antiquity
The indisputable star of the Adriatic coast is the old fishing village of Sveti Stefan, sat atop a tiny rock and linked to the coast by a small sliver of sand. Still surrounded by its ancient fortifications, the island was noticed by then Yugoslavian dictator Josif Broz Tito and transformed into a resort for some of Europe's most distinguished clientele. It is now home to the Aman Sveti Stefan hotel and boasts one of the most luxurious stays in Europe.Coast-hopping
Further on along the coast towards Albania, you'll stumble across endless charming seaside towns. Petrovac is a stunning example, with its beach encircled by a Venetian fortress, or Ulcinj, only a few kilometres from the border and holding three centuries-worth of Ottoman influence. Otherwise, head inland to the enchanted town of Stari Bar, which still lies partially abandoned after an earthquake in 1979.The Monte Carlo of the Adriatic
A trip to Budva will reveal Montenegro's most animated seaside resort. The Monte Carlo of the Adriatic if you will, the town attracts 70 percent of the country's foreign tourists along with their luxury yachts and, with more regularity, their beach towels. Here you'll find packed beaches in summer, crumbling ramparts next to obnoxiously large hotels and a riotous nightlife to please party-minded visitors.Leave the sea behind
There's plenty to discover once you've exhausted the Montenegrin coast and venture into the mountains. Take the twisting road from Budva and you'll find yourself in the charming town of Cetinje, ancient capital of a short-lived kingdom and full of walking opportunities in Lovcen national park. Or why not try the beautiful lake at Skadar, gloriously blue and circled by perfectly formed green peaks and waterside villages.An adventurer's itinerary
But if it's activity that you love above all things, the Tara Canyon - Europe's deepest river canyon - is far and away the best place to start. Towering mountains flanking either shore, rapids that will blow your mind and a course that covers over 60 miles of river, this is one of the primary spots for rafting in Europe. Or if heights are your passion, head up into the mountains surrounding the Bjelopavli?i plain to find the ancient Ostrog Monastery - a meeting place for Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims and one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites in the Balkans.
Montenegro is a destination to visit sooner rather than later. The country has preserved its traditions and customs extremely well, including in coastal villages where mass tourism has yet to spread its tentacles. But already, certain resorts are succumbing to the standardisation experienced by so many Adriatic resorts.
For easy access to the coast, the airport at Tivat is extremely useful and situated close to the Bay of Kotor, whilst Podgorica airport is better for those wanting to explore the mountains and national parks further inland. It's also an easy journey from Dubrovnik in Croatia, with buses making the 45-minute trip to the Montenegrin border.
The ascent up to St. John's Fortress, 280 metres above the city of Kotor is an absolute must. Take your time climbing the 1,426 steps up to the citadel, with a break mid-way at the chapel built by survivors of a plague that occurred here in 1572. It should take an hour or so to reach the top with the right footwear and plenty of water! At the summit, the view of Kotor and its bay is breath-taking...
If you are planning an excursion to the Croatian town of Dubrovnik, it's useful to know that you will have to pay an eco-tax of around £8 on the return leg of your trip. Keep in mind that the Euro is not accepted in Croatia, unlike Montenegro.
Montenegrin identity is a fascinating mix of past European rulers and invaders. Romans and Ottomans, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians have all left their mark here and can still be felt today in the strong medieval traditions followed by contemporary Montenegrins. Poetry, theatre, music and dance all play a large role in Montenegrin culture, with regular festivals for saints and shepherds to name just two.
One of the grandest moments in the Montenegrin calendar is the annual carnavale, probably most magnificently celebrated in Kotor with mascarades and bonfires along the promenade. The festival ends with an enormous masked ball, exhibiting some of the most beautiful masks of the year.
Montenegrin cuisine is an amalgam of many regional influences. It consists of fresh fish on the coast and smoked ham and cheeses in the mountains. Tradition has it that visitors are presented with a slatko (sweet fruit preserve) as a welcome gift. In general it consists of figs and grape pomace (lozovaca). You will be able to try many specialities roasted on the spit just about everywhere, from suckling pig (prasetina) to lamb (janjetina) to mutton (ovcetina).
Then there's cevapcici, a dish made with meatballs prepared with several types of grilled minced meat. Dishes are served with cornbread (proja). Zito is a dessert made with wheat, walnuts, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and a hint of rum. Skakavica is a cured sea or lakewater fish served with white cabbage, olive oil and lemon juice. Domaca kobasica na zaru is a dish of homemade sausages, grilled over a wood fire. You will be able to try different types of plum liqueurs, including the famous Loza, an eau de vie made with grapes. The most famous wine is Vranac.
Local artisanal products consist of woven rugs, the composition of which is so original and harmonious in terms of the choice of colours that they are true works of art.
In Montenegro, carved wooden objects such as boxes and goblets are very common items. In general, the shops are open from Monday to Saturday from 7:00am to 12:00pm and from 4:00pm to 8:00pm.