21 July 2012

Montenegro's Best Beaches

In seaside Montenegro, it's rare to find a place where swimsuits aren't appropriate attire.  In restaurants, bars, at crosswalks and in cars, in supermarkets and boutiques, everyone wears them.  Budva is a city where the bikini is the default dresscode, where people walk on the sidewalk in trunks, carrying their shopping.  One half expects to see lifeguards set out as traffic police.
Montenegro might seem like a beach lover's paradise - it has the blue water of the Adriatic, dramatic coves, lots of sun, bountiful seafood and throngs of young people.  But, to tell the truth, it can be a little difficult finding a good spot to lie down by the shore.  Most of the coast is too rocky and cliffy, a lot of the best beaches are overdeveloped and over-packed.  To find a perfect idyl takes some time and patience.
We traveled much of the short seashore, but obviously didn't make it to every stretch of sand - here, though, are our favorite Montenegrin beaches.
Sveti Stefan is one of Montenegro's most iconic sights, a little protrusion of red tile and white stone jutting out into the warm water.  The beach here is sandy, protected and kept very clean - apparently.  We never set foot on it, though we passed it every day for nearly a week. It's impossible not to include, though, because of how pretty it is, and how majestic is the setting.
Unfortunately, the parking situation is a nightmare and we were deterred by both the other drivers and the extremely hazardous turnoff.
For a few days, we bought our milk and yogurt in Petrovac, at a grocery store full of sunburned families in flip flops.  It's a family resort, with a promenade full of strollers and more sunblock than tanning lotion.  Petrovac also has one of the most scenic town beaches, with rocky isles just beyond the bay and high-sided bluffs set on either side.  The sand is reddish and fine, there are lots of appetizing cafes the water is clear.
A very foreign concept to most Americans is the idea of renting a beach umbrella and loungers - but it's the default way for European sun seekers to set up camp by the shore.  At home, we either bring an umbrella or go without shade, and tend to lie on towels.  Here in Montenegro it's possible to lie by yourself, but it's seen as somehow cheating.  Most people pay the few euros for shelter and comfort.
Down beneath rows of kebab stands and backed by minarets, Ulcinj's Mala Plaza has a distinctly Albanian feel.  This close to the border the music changes to more warbled tones, the language landscape shifts and the visitors are almost all from Kosovo and Albania.  Ulcinj has its own energy, a cultural hedonism mixing Islam and bikinis, halal and beer.  The remains of an old castle buttress one side of the beach, the sand is pleasant, the vibe is more boisterous than other Montenegrin beaches.
Tiny, beautiful Rose (pronounced like the wine) is at the remote tip of the Luštica peninsula, jutting out into glass-clear waters and more in touch with the sea.  We stayed the night here, eating great seafood at a waterside konoba and smelling the fresh wind off the open water.  In the country, it's known as a somewhat glamorous locale, but it's not big enough to get overrun.  Diving from the pier into the water is like finding a pocket of heavy, cold atmosphere - the light from the surface dances on the deep rocks, one can see fish darting in the depths.
The only problem is that there's no real "beach."  People lie and swim from the concrete platforms, in a way that reminded us of nearby Croatia.  Tanning on concrete feels like a more extreme form of intake, as though the sun is hardened as it strikes and ricochets from the plane. Where there's no sand or pebbly wash, this is what one has to make do with.
Far away from the sea, in water much calmer and environs less visited, the beach at Murici, on Lake Skadar, felt like a refuge.  Fishermen docked their boats there and the pace was as slow as the days were long.  The light faded gradually from the sky in the evening, leaving us feeling drained and peacefully silent.  Sleeping here is limited to camping or bungalows, the resorts of the coast feel like a different concept of "waterside."
We loved the beach, though it's gravel (to be truthful) and the water is shallow for a very long ways.  It's a sliver of hospitable shore in a landscape dominated by cliff and rock, algae and weeds.  The freshwater swims we took felt luxurious after so much Mediterranean salt.
The most prototypically "perfect" beach in Montenegro is almost certainly Przno beach - not the oiled up, hyper-touristy strip in Budva with the same name, but a different Przno.  Tucked away in the last, wild bay before the Gulf of Kotor, it's visited mostly by Montenegrins in the know and adventurous tourists with their own car.
Here, the water is very shallow for a long way, but the powdery, white sand and calm ripples make it worth the effort spent wading.  Because the beach is so sheltered and the water is so easygoing, it's a popular place for families with young children.  There are picnic tables in the woods around, and a shady, open-air restaurant tucked into the fig trees behind.  Przno is the kind of tropical beach that would be loved anywhere, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific - the shallow, aquamarine water and soft sand feel familiar in a postcard way, the view is of gentle lines, the umbrellas are (at least) well spaced.
Swimming at Drobni Pijesak, looking back towards the mountains and scrub, one can truly feel that they are somewhere remote.  It's one of the few nice beaches in Montenegro that doesn't yet have a forest of condominiums behind it, and it's hard enough to get to that it remains mostly uncrowded.
With white pebbles and a verdant frame, Drobni Pijesak is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful on the coast, but there is very limited parking nearby the water, so most have to walk a precipitous path down from the main road.  It's a trek steep and long enough - about twenty minutes - to keep away the crowds, and there's a nice little cafe tucked into one corner.
Down a long walkway that begins amid stone walls, passes through thick oleanders and then weaves under pine boughs, our favorite beach was also the harshest textured.  The little strip of rock and pebble hidden below Rijeka Rezevici isn't perfect to lie on, but it is a wonderful place to sit, swim and eat.
The water here is full of boulders that hide schools of minnows, quick bream and mullet.  There are hundreds of sea urchins, too, and an altogether wild feel that makes this little cove feel exciting.  It's the world of shipwrecks and skinned knees, of a secret pocket of Adriatic life.  The water is wavy and redolent of salt, there are rarely more than twenty people.
At Balun restaurant, tucked just above Rijeka Rezevici's beach, we ate expertly cooked meals of fresh seafood and fresher vegetables.  Approaching the restaurant, the trail through the woods enters Balun's vegetable garden: vines hung with tomatoes and dusky peppers, rows of lettuces, stone-edged plots of roots.  Our affable waiter told us that they employ one man solely to haul all of the rest of their ingredients (and alcohol) down to the water every evening - and to trudge back up with the trash.  It's a steep, fifteen-minute hike.  "Strong legs," the waiter said.
We ate silky cuttlefish risotto one night and a melange of grilled squid, octopus and carrot during another sunset.  The tables are painted wood, set out under the stars.  There are paintings hung on trees.  The sun's last blazes are especially vibrant here.  The clientele is always excited - it feels magical to have found this place, this beach.  It's so isolated and thrilling, a piece of the Adriatic where the breeze and the bobbing boats inspire energy instead of sloth.  

17 comments:

  1. Great article. Can you please point to the GPS coordinates or directions to the Przno beach near Kotor mentioned above. I can find the one near Budva on the map but not the one neat Kotor.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just came back from Montenegro and we found Przno beach near Kotor- it's called Plavi Horizonti located in Radovici, here are the gps coordonates: 42.386001, 18.682361 . Make sure you bring snorkeling gear, lots of fish to be seen. Thanks for the great article, would have never found this beach otherwise.

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  4. Plavi Horizonti is not what you would call a quiet beach... it is so packed with people that i ran away 😃

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