Originally there was the idea to go to the beautiful Bay of Kotor and visit the town of the same name. But time is running out and given the long waiting times at the border posts between Albania and Montenegro near the sea, we don’t want to risk any big experiments. After all, we have been successfully following the two irrefutable travel rules for five years now:
- rule: no stress
- rule: no stress
Coming from the Albanian valley of Vermosh we decide to take a relaxed tour around Lake Skadar, one of the largest lakes in Europe. In the north of the lake there is a large marshland surrounded by many settlements whose roads lead to the capital Podgorica. However, we did not want to visit this city, but devote ourselves to nature. However, we are disappointed in that we don’t get to see much of the north shore of the lake. The villages are dreary, the weather is hazy and the vastness of the marshland only gives a glimpse of the shore in the distance.
So we decide to take a relaxed tour around Lake Skadar, one of the largest lakes in Europe. In the north of the lake there is a large marshland surrounded by many settlements whose roads lead to the capital Podgorica. However, we did not want to visit this city, but devote ourselves to nature. However, we are disappointed in that we don’t get to see much of the north shore of the lake. The villages are dreary, the weather is hazy, and the vastness of the marshland only gives a glimpse of the shore in the distance.
The long bridge ends on the next bank in a town called Virpazar. We are hungry and the day is drawing to a close. But in this place some tourist buses seem to have been left open. Lots of young people scurrying around the streets and we see lots of crowded tourist bars. That’s too much for us and we decide to take a small coastal road along the mountains. This is not marked on the map as a “scenic route”, but rather as an inconspicuous side road, but it turns out to be a pleasant surprise and welcomes us with a breathtaking panorama over the lake.
The road is extremely narrow and of course there are no demarcations to the deep abyss towards Lake Skadar. The first place we reach is called Godinje. There an old tradition of our past road trips comes alive, namely finding accommodation. There are a few guesthouses in this town and we take turns knocking and asking for a room for us. But the place seems to be very popular with tourists and accordingly fully booked.
After further driving along the curves of the mountain we reach the stone ruins of an old village, in which someone seems to take the trouble to renovate individual parts. In the back area of the ghost village, next to a construction site and some beautifully prepared Mediterranean houses, we find a small terrace. There are two tables set up for tourists to watch small culinary works of art while a man tells them about the wine in front of them.
I apologized for the disturbance and asked for a place to stay. The man introduces himself as the owner of the tiny place and regrets that he already has guests in his only room for tonight. But he refers me to a local friend who might have some free time. I say thank you and we drive back down the serpentines into the valley to find the friend there.
We find the house quickly according to the description, but nobody is to be found in the unlocked building. I walk around the house and call out hoping for an answer. Movement can be seen from the neighboring property and a bald man with a frown comes up to me and asks me what I’m up to. It turns out that he is the one he is looking for. His rooms are occupied too, but his cousin on the property he’s just come from has two rooms left in a separate little cottage. The price, rooms and location are perfect; we couldn’t have found it better.
After we have unloaded our stuff in our laboriously worked out accommodation, we ask our host for a possibility to eat something in the village. The two options are to return to the hectic little town of Virpazar and its crowded tourist spots, or to return to the ruins of Osgliliath – it looks like a legendary ruined city from The Lord of the Rings – from “Konoba-Godinje”, the cousin’s friend to revisit our host. We liked it there from the start, so we happily drive back up the hairpin bends, say hello to the friendly man and say hello to his friend’s cousin.
There is no real menu but three small appetizers to order with a wine, prepared by the husband and wife in a tiny kitchen with an open window. While an impressive number of cats caress our legs, we admire the beautiful scenery, the walls made of flat stones, the carefully planted flowers and the vines that grow up the posts of the terrace.
The owner tells us that his family has lived in this village for fourteen generations. Although he now has his own main residence in the nearby capital Podgorica, it is he who wants to rebuild the old village. He puts a lot of energy and money into this and hopes to be able to bring his project to an end at some point with the help of tourists. In any case, the beginning can be seen.
We are served their own wine, which comes from the vineyard behind the buildings, with the bread with homemade pesto and the marinated aubergines. After the first sip of the red, Uwe and I look at each other and everyone thinks exactly the same thing – we’ve never drunk a better wine in our lives.
We also got to know the guests who prevented us from spending the night here ourselves. They turned out to be a very friendly family from Alsace who also spoke German very well. We recommend the wine and return to our accommodation on the black night.
While Uwe, as usual, can snore in a separate room if possible, I look for Chris after my shower in the morning, who seems to have already left the room. I find him grinning outside in the garden with our host and a glass of clear rakis in hand celebrating the warm morning and sunrise. The man doesn’t speak a word of English, but he rushes off to get me a glass too and pour me a decent amount of what he apparently has made himself.
Now Chris and I are both grinning like snow kings before eight o’clock in the morning and every breakfast in the garden and have to giggle a little evilly at the thought that poor Uwe won’t be drinking anything, but will have to drive the car that day. We numb our guilty conscience with the feeling of our concern for Uwe’s health and a few more glasses of the excellent rakya.
Grumbling, Uwe drives us up the narrow road on the south side of Lake Skadar. Chris and I not only have a seat now, we also have a really fantastic view over the lake today. The previous day’s smoke has cleared and the sun is shining brightly.
We can make out numerous small islands with small monasteries and churches, which seem to be popular retreats for monks. In the haze of the horizon we recognize the shore of Albania on the other side.
We are now driving to the coast in the town of Ulcinj to get to know Mediterranean Montenegro there. The place promises a great stay with beautiful pictures of beaches and an impressive cliff-top fortress. However, these images have also been seen by thousands of other sunbathers, which is why the city is packed with people.
The beaches resemble thriving seal colonies, the streets are riddled with traffic and the eateries cater to tourists in at least seven languages. The scenery and the fortress are undoubtedly beautiful, but our hearts are left in solitude and nature, so we cannot enjoy the beauty of the city.
Uwe is finally allowed to drink a glass of wine, too, since I’ll relieve him at the car again. But that’s no compensation, because the wine tastes awful – we can’t tell whether it’s not good or whether it doesn’t stand up to the comparison to the taste explosion of the previous evening.
The prices can also be compared with the French part of the Mediterranean coast. Like Kosovo, Montenegro doesn’t give a damn about monetary union and also uses the euro itself, so that goods and services are no cheaper than in Italy, for example. Where the Montenegrins get the money to pay the prices is a mystery to us. It is not unlikely that some Montenegrins can no longer afford their own land.
We still have plans to spend a night at the beach and hope we can make it this time. Not far from here there is a thirteen-kilometer-long beach that we want to drive and use the most remote corner of it for ourselves. But our naivety is shown to us again.
If you can’t believe how you can fill thirteen kilometers of beach with people all the time, you have to see this stretch of the Mediterranean for yourself. No sign of idyll. So we change our plan, quickly booked cheap accommodation in the middle of the city in Shkodra, Albania, over the internet and hit the road.