We had another busy day planned today and quite a long drive so we woke early and after breakfast set off in the car towards the National Park of Lovcen with a plan to go from there to the coast and visit Sveti Stefan and Budva.
This time, to reduce the journey time we took the short ten-minute ferry ride from Kamaria across the narrowest part of the Bay, the Verige strait and once back on dry land we choose the slower but more scenic coast road to Kotor. This was very picturesque but as the driver I couldn’t fully appreciate it because the road was so awful and the drivers so bad that I had to keep my wits about me at all times.
The best description I can find for Montenegrin drivers is frightening, terrifying even, because they are completely reckless and crazy. Seat belts are rarely worn and speed limits are almost always ignored, thirty means fifty, forty means sixty and so on. ‘No Overtaking’ signs mean leave it until the last moment and take a risk, ‘Give Way’ means keep going and ‘Stop’ means ‘It’s up to you!’
Eventually we reached the southern outskirts of Kotor and drove through the blighted parts of the city well away from the main tourist centre and then took a sharp turn to the right to leave the main highway and join the mountain road to the country’s old capital of Cetinje. At first the road climbed slowly and swayed through the trees at the first stages of the climb and it wasn’t especially attractive either, as we drove through a succession of gypsy camps, rubbish tips and abandoned clutter in the lay-bys. As we climbed it began to improve however and the road became more exciting and hazardous as it lunged like a roller-coaster through hair-pin bends that became more frequent and progressively tighter as we went up. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of traffic to deal with because this road was not wide enough for two cars and it was certain that a Montenegrin motorist would not have given way.
Along the way we stopped as often as we could to admire the great views which although it was hazy and the sunshine was gently diffused were still stunning. From this height we could see that the bay is composed of several smaller broad bays, linked together by narrower channels, which forms one of the finest natural deep water harbours in Europe. Spread out below us was the Bay of Tivat and a small naval port, currently being transformed into a state of the art Super Yacht Marina called Porto Montenegro and beyond that the Bay of Herceg Novi, which guards the main entrance to the Bay of Kotor. The inner bays that we had driven around yesterday are the Bay of Risan to the northwest and the Bay of Kotor to the southeast. Directly below us, on the landward side, the long walls running from the fortified old town of Kotor to the castle of Saint John were now as far below our feet as they were above our heads the day before.
Once again there were a number of road signs that had been used for target practice and in places the drive seemed remote and edgy and I had visions of being held up at gunpoint by bandits but I didn’t share this scaremongering piece of information. I did regret not bringing a mobile phone out between us however.
When we reached the top we were at nearly one thousand seven hundred metres (three hundred metres higher than Ben Nevis) and the road flattened out as we entered the Lovcen National Park and drove across a green plateau criss-crossed with limestone fissures and craggy rocks and wild meadows full of flowers and dancing butterflies. It didn’t occur to me that the roads could get any worse but sure enough they did as they became narrower and more pot holed and sometimes with great areas of the tarmac missing altogether. This didn’t slow the Montenegrins down at all and they still continued to speed around and I became convinced that some of them simply pointed their cars at us, closed their eyes and accelerated.
At a confusing cross roads there were local people selling the local delicacies of smoked ham and sir cheese and I had to stop for directions. We were close to our destination now, Njeguši, the origins of the Montenegrin royal family of Petrović and as we climbed the final stretch we passed winter snow now in its final rapid thaw. Thousands of people make a National pilgrimage here to the Mausoleum of Njegoš and most of them were here today because parking was a nightmare. We eventually found a spot and then climbed the four hundred and forty steps to the top for more stunning views. We didn’t pay the €3 to go in however because we suspected that there might not be an awful lot to see and the guidebook confirmed later that this was a good decision.
On the way back down the mountain the roads were filling up with local people driving out for a picnic and at one blind bend a death wish driver in a white Volvo almost took us out but somehow managed to avoid us at the very last second so this necessitated a short stop for a drink to steady the nerves and an underpants check!