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To Montenegro, and then back again…

Ramble Worldwide | Fri 22 Jan 2016

Rambler, skier and photographer Richard Hobday loved the southern Europe’s Fjordland so much that he followed up his October 2014 trip to the spectacular Bay of Kotor (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with an exploration of Montenegro’s Peaks and Ridges this Spring. Here’s his daily diary.

It's early summer 2014. I'm wondering where to go in the Autumn. Check the Ramblers Worldwide Website – there's a trip to Montenegro, centred on the Bay of Kotor, graded D/D+. Probably manage that.

Day 1 Early October 2014. At Dubrovnik Airport, the group assembles with our leader Dave Rowe and we set off for Montenegro. Across the border, leaving the EU. A stamp in the passport – not seen one of those for a long time in Europe.

The twin hotels Galia and Bokeljski Dvori lie a little back from the shore with stupendous views of the bay and the surrounding mountains. Our home for the week, and with the friendly staff it soon seems just like that. Here were are welcomed by our local guide, Danijela and the drivers Igor and Marco, who will shuttle us around throughout the week.

Time to relax and take a short walk around the village, then a briefing meeting, a pleasant meal and early to bed before the week's exertions.

Day 2 Next day we set off to explore Kotor, an ascent of the town walls and a cruise around the Bay. Danijela explains the route for the morning. We are going to climb the city walls to the Fortress above, climb through a hole in the wall and descend again by an old road. Time now to explore Kotor, and then off across the Bay to visit the church of Gospa od Škrepla on its island and the town of Perast.

Day 3 An early start as we head of to Brajici for the walk to Sveti Stefan. An early coffee break as we wait for the rain to abate; it doesn’t, so we set off into the clouds, walking along wooded tracks with occasional glimpses of the Aegean Sea below us. At lunch we meet a monk and some nuns at a little convent in the hills. Downhill now to the very private island of Sveti Stefan, and then off to explore the Old Town of Budva.

Day 4 On to the hill behind the hotel. This is Vrmac, a long ridge walk with spectacular views, which we reach by ascending an old Austria-Hungarian military road built to access the fort at the top. The views from the path are superb, the climb constant and seemingly never-ending. At the top there is an old fort to explore and views down to Tivat. Butterflies abound here as we set off towards the far end of the ridge, and then back down to the coast near Tivat.

Day 5 Our free day. We opt for a trip to the Skadar Lake close to the Albanian border. Arriving at the lake, a short walk takes us to Godinje, where we indulge ourselves with ham, cheese and wine in a local wine cellar. Now it’s time for lunch, so back to Virpazar and then out on to the lake for a trip to see the bird life and more spectacular views of the mountains that surround us.

Day 6 A new day and a new hill to climb. We are off to Njegusi via the tortuous road that climbs above Kotor to the Lov?en National Park. A visit to a dried ham centre, samples of ham and cheese to fortify us before we climb to the summit of Jezerski vhr and the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovi? Njegoš. Then a brief visit to the old Montenegrin capital of Cetinje and home for supper.

Day 7 Walking today at the other end of the Vrmac ridge. We ascend on wooded paths via the almost abandoned village of Gornji Stoliv to the plateau at Gornji Lastva and climb to a high promontory for lunch. We are entertained by a praying mantis, enjoying the late summer sun. The views are superb, the weather clear and we can see across to the Orijen mountains to the north. (Another trip, another time …)

Day 8 An early start, across the ferry at Lepetane and on to Dubrovnik for the flight home.

And then back again …

It’s November 2014. Check the Ramblers Worldwide Website, there's another trip to Montenegro – Montenegro Peaks and Ridges. Grade C – can I still walk at that level? Only one way to find out.

Day 1 May 2015. At Dubrovnik Airport, the group assembles to meet our leader John Lade and we set off for Montenegro. Another stamp in the passport – getting to be a habit.

Around the Bay for the picturesque drive to Kotor and our hotels at Pr?anj. The welcome is as friendly as before and once again it seems like home. We meet our local guide and leader Bilja and are briefed on the week’s planned activities.

Six days of walking, a couple of walks I will have done before, but most are into the mountains and certainly longer and higher than before. This will be interesting. I am not the oldest in the group, which is a comfort, but I am impressed to find that the oldest member is only a month shy of 80, and can set a cracking pace.

Day 2 Today we are walking from the village of Njegusi to the summit of Jezerski vhr and the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovi? Njegoš, then back down the mountain to Krstac high above Kotor. 22 km (14 miles); 6 hours; ascent / descent 950m

We walk through fields of early spring flowers and on gently rising wooded paths into the forest that covers the approach to the summit of the mountain. Now the path is covered with soft wet snow and it’s going up quite steeply. Trudging determinedly on, we reach the 400 steps that lead to the Mausoleum. The café bar is open, quite a surprise as the road is closed by snow. Time for a coffee and a packed lunch. Then on up the steps to the top where the views are as fantastic, as ever. Back down the steps to regain the footpath through the woods and now downhill to complete the circuit back to the bar at Krstac. Time for a quick beer and then the minibus is there to take us back to Pr?anj and a well-earned evening meal.

Day 3 Dobrota to Krstac and back to Kotor, via Mali Zalazi. 20km (12 ½ miles); 7 hrs; ascent / descent 1100m.

A challenging climb from just outside Kotor town to an abandoned village high above the coast. 850 metres of steep climbing on an old path used by the villagers and their mules. The views are wonderful, the path a little tenuous in places – there’s great satisfaction in reaching the top. Now on a scant path gently climbing across the hillside, we climb to about 950 metres above the sea below and then down to Krstac and the bar. It's lunchtime. Kotor is below us now and we have to walk down this time. The old mule track from Cetnije to Kotor is our route now, it descends the hill in wide and relatively gentle zigzags down to the level of the Fortress above the town. The group climb through a hole in the city wall to enter the Fortress and then descend the steps to enter Kotor Old Town.

Day 4 Now we are off to the high mountains. The plan is to walk to Orijen Mountain Hut and if possible to the summit of Orijen above. 10 miles ; 5 ½ hrs : ascent 635m / descent 620m.

We start from the village of Vrbanj at the end of a long and tortuous road from the coast. Walking first through farmland then woods, we climb up to a point where we meet both the old mountain road and the snow. The Orijen hut is above, us the road covered by snow, but there’s a footpath leading up across the slopes to get to the hut. It's lunchtime, there's a storm brewing and the summit is not on the agenda. After some discussion we are advised that the storm is possibly coming our way. Time to descend. The path follows the old road back down to village, the rain is heavy and there is a thunderstorm somewhere above us. We are wet, the path is long, but as we get back to village the sun comes out. Time to go home after an adventurous day enjoyed by all.

Day 5 Brajici to Sveti Stefan and on to Budva. Done this before, but this time it’s in glorious sunshine. Spring flowers, orchids everywhere. Lunch at the convent at the same bench under the tree, but no monks or nuns. Down to the bus at the coastal road and back to Budva. This old walled town was seriously damaged by earthquakes but has now been completely restored and is an interesting place to wander around for an hour or so.

Day 6 This walk takes us high above the town of Herceg-Novi. We begin the walk at from Motel Borici at 820m and end at the Subra summit at 1679m. 14.5km (9 miles); 6 hrs; ascent / descent 950m.

A steep and rough path takes us up to the Za Vratio Refuge for an early coffee stop and then we climb through classic Karst scenery, open meadows, beech woods and onto a massive limestone pavement to reach the final scrambling ascent to the summit of Subra. Again the views are extensive and look out over Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. We descend by the same route and the drive back to the hotel. A very worthwhile day’s walking.

Day 7 It’s Vrmac Ridge again. 15km (10 miles); 5 ½ hrs; ascent 605m / descent 670m.

Again the long climb up the old Austrian road to the ridge and then along to a high point above the narrowest part of the Bay of Kotor. We lunch and enjoy the views before descending the 'Green Steps' back to the coast and a ramble along the road to the hotel.

The final evening meal was an opportunity to thank our local guide Bilja and our drivers Igor and Marko for all their hard work and support. Danijela, the local guide who had been with us on my first trip, also came along to join us for the meal.

My thanks to the Ramblers Worldwide holiday leaders David Rowe and John Lade who co-ordinated the trips so effectively.

There are many more photos of Montenegro to see on my website along with pictures from other Ramblers Worldwide Holidays

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