The drive between the Montenegrin ski-resort of Kolašin and the coastal town Ulcinj, was said to be 155km and 3 hours without stops.
The road hugged the cliff on one side and had a steep ravine with a river flowing through it on the other. Sharp bends and heavy traffic made it very dangerous and our driver, Bata, pointed out a spot where a bus carrying Romanian tourists had crashed through a barrier. Fortunately, a tree had prevented it falling into the canyon. We heard how a new road is being built, by the Chinese, between Kolašin and the capital, Podgorica.
Our first stop was Morača Monastery in a spectacular location surrounded by mountains. At 9.30am, it was still relatively quiet and all we had to contend with was a dog who trailed us along the path to the Monastery wanting his tummy tickled. We walked across a bridge over a small river and heard the Svetiigora or Holy Mountain Waterfall, although views were limited by vegetation. A crate of beer dangled in the stream to cool it down. On the right was a small chapel with 17th century frescoes on the walls (no photos), a group of colourful striped beehives, a set of bells and beautiful gardens including a vegetable patch, chicken run and flowers. The monastery dates to 1252 and was where people had fled to escape the Ottomans. There was also a large church (no photos), and a long row of stone accommodation for the priests was surrounded by beautiful gardens – our guidebook said originally you could stay at the monastery, but this was no longer possible. Just as we’d finished, coach parties began arriving. There was a café, gift shop and toilets.
Back on the road we drove through several tunnels before stopping for views of the Morača Canyon. Just as we were leaving, a bus pulled in and disgorged its passengers as I was having the rear door of the black Mercedes opened for me by Bata – I felt like the Queen.
Bata suggested that as we had to drive past the capital, Podgorica (formerly called Titograd), we could have a quick detour. We were more than happy with this as it had not been included in our tour on the advice of our travel agent. As we approached the city, we saw a huge bridge being built as part of the new road and also the blue-roofed accommodation for the Chinese workers.
Podgorica is Bata’s native city and we saw the flats he’d lived in as a child and his school across the road. The city was bombed many times during World War 2 and extensively damaged, but we saw parts of the old town’s narrow lanes and high walls dating back to Ottoman times. Then we drove through the newer part of town and saw the British and US Embassies, sports stadium and other large buildings. Flags flew everywhere to celebrate 13 years of independence from Serbia. Thankfully this had been a bloodless parting. We also saw areas with distinctive 70s and 80s communist era housing blocks, some surrounding the Serbian Orthodox cathedral, built 5 or 6 years ago. Despite Bata not approving of the expense, he said the vivid frescos and gold which covered every inch of wall and ceiling should be seen.
We next stopped at the lovely small fishing town of Virpazar for photographs and saw the many varied boat trips being offered on the lake.
By now it was nearing lunch time, and having known us for nearly a week, Bata suggested we might enjoy an optional extra – wine tasting (€10 each).
We followed a brown tourist sign for Boljevici and on the drive noticed many of the houses had vines in their gardens. We stopped at Vinarija Tomo Uksanovic and met Tatjana. Having looked at their vines, cherry and plum trees, Tatjana led us into an arched stone cellar with oak barrels and a display of their products. The long table was beautifully laid with olives, two types of home-made prosciutto and a cow’s cheese, a basket of bread and lots of glasses. We started with rakija made from grapes (45% proof) before moving on to quince and kiwi flavours. The food was delicious, and we tried the Tatjana Rosé (named after her), red Vranac followed by a sweet red wine – they don’t make white wine. During our visit Tatjana’s son arrived and in his excellent English told us about their family wine making business and the two new apartments they have built for tourists. It was then the turn of the liqueurs, cherry and walnut, before we were offered a final drink of our choice – the rosé and walnut liqueur.
Not surprisingly, when we eventually set off again, we slept for the final hour of the journey, although we remember going through a 4.5km tunnel which took us to the coast.