I first came to Montenegro back in 2001, as part of a 9-month backpacking adventure from Oxfordshire to South Africa. I knew nothing about the country, except that it had been part of former Yugoslavia. In fact, from memory, it still was, although the Yugoslavia of 2001 consisted only of Serbia and Montenegro. It was an eye-opening trip, and my two main memories were of Kotor and Rozaje The old town of Kotor was one of the most spectacular sights I had seen on my travels and I walked its majestic walls in took in the views. This was a hidden gem indeed! In the evening, things got even more interesting, as a pro-independence rally was held in the town. My visit to Rozaje was even more memorable, as the road to the Kosovo border was blocked by a broken-down truck and I ended up having to walk towards the border 8km away through heavy snow as midnight approached. I attach the extract from my first book, Lebanese Nuns Don't Ski, at the bottom of this article for anyone interested.
My impression of Montenegro back in 2001 was the official tourism slogan of today - Wild Beauty. My impressions were reinforced as I moved permanently to Croatia in 2003 and dabbled in Montenegrin property during the madness of 2004 and 2005. Lustica Peninsula, in particular, was arresting. I have driven through the country en route to Albania perhaps 60 times in the last ten years, always stopping for my favourite kebab in Budva, and a business meeting or two at the legendary Vuk petrol station between Budva and Tivat. And while I watched the rapid expansion of some destinations such as Budva with little planning, I also noticed that something was happening in Montenegro that was not in Croatia - foreigners were investing serious money and starting to build projects of real quality and luxury. Porto Montenegro set the standard, of course, but there have been several others. The notion that Montenegro was a playground of rich Russians and its coast was overbuilt had a ring of truth to it, but it was only part of the story.
A few weeks ago, I started researching the English and Russian information websites about Montenegro. Encouraged by their paucity, I decided to visit for a few days to see how Montenegro looked close up in 2018. I was fortunate to have been able to stay in Lustica Bay, a project which blew my mind after years of reporting on the inertia of Croatian property investment. What I discovered during my few days there and talking to the main tourism players from Montenegro at the recent Belgrade Tourism Fair was that there is a real need for a quality news and tourism portal in English and in Russian about Montenegro. Montenegro is SO much more than the stereotypes associated with it internationally, with so many things to discover, secrets to learn, and personality to get to know.
So we have decided to have a go.
Welcome to Total Montenegro News, a new website for Montenegro in English covering the latest in news, politics, business, travel, sport and lifestyle.
It is the latest portal from the Total Croatia project, which started in October 2011, and which now has destinations sites for Hvar, Split, Inland Dalmatia, Zagreb and Dubrovnik, dedicated sites for Croatian wine, cycling and sailing, as well as our flagship site, Total Croatia News. We also launched Total Slovenia News three months ago.
If the site goes well, we will offer Total Montenegro News in Russian before the summer.
We are starting with a small team of writers, who are all based in Montenegro or have strong links to the country, to try and give as much diversity as the budget allows. Our initial team is a mix of local, expat and diaspora based in Toronto, Varazdin, Tivat, Budva, Podgorica, Split and Tbilisi. The team has come together very quickly, starting less than a week ago, and I have been greatly encouraged at the cohesive unit they have become, despite not knowing each other and being scattered across several countries.
If you would like to work with us to promote your business in Montenegro, please get in touch.
We will be happy to expand the writing team to cover even more if it makes financial sense to do so. We are also very grateful to both CDM and Vijesti for their support of Total Montenegro News. We will be bringing some translations from both portals each day, as well as one from CDM's English-language section. We are also very grateful for the very strong initial support from various opstine, tourist offices, big developments and private businesses. If we can all work together, I believe we can build something very special for Montenegro and start showing the world the true Montenegro beyond the stereotypes.
We are very open to constructive criticism. Running a portal in Croatia as a foreigner attracts plenty of trolls, a sad modern reality, but we are keen to take on board suggestions and constructive criticism to offer an even better service.
We hope you enjoy the site - it has been a lot of fun putting it together - and we look forward to hearing from you soon. Why not follow Total Montenegro News on Facebook?
Extract from Lebanese Nuns Don't Ski - Walking through the snow to the border with Kosovo (2011)
In order to reach the town of Gjakova, I had to travel through Montenegro, a mountainous republic of Yugoslavia. Bus connections were not reliable and I doubted whether I would be able to reach Kosovo on the same day, but I was fortunate (as I thought at the time) to arrive in the capital, Podgorica, just as the bus to Rozhaye was pulling out. I jumped on and reached the border town with Kosovo by 8.30.
I had done well and was even contemplating making the end of the party that Ghada had mentioned. I negotiated a taxi across the border and we set off, curving round mountain passes in darkness, dodging the many potholes. I began to relax. The driver spoke broken English and explained that the road had been closed for four days due to snow. I was sitting in the back, looking at the snow-covered mountains. The road was reasonable, despite the potholes, but it was cold even inside the taxi.
As we rounded a corner, the road narrowed to a single lane. We were descending and a truck was coming up the hill. We stopped to let him through, a gesture I was to rue for the rest of the night for, just as the truck occupied the single lane, it promptly broke down. We waited for a few minutes and my driver went to investigate. There was no way through and a backlog of trucks quickly assembled behind. The taxi driver did not want to hang around and explained that the border was downhill and ‘about a kilometre.’
My options were limited. I suppose I could have returned to Rozhaye, but I was almost at the border. It was only a short walk and I would be able to find a truck crossing who would take me into the next town. At least it would have been a short walk if it had been ‘about a kilometre.’
A German trucker in the queue stopped me and asked what the delay was and then what the hell was I doing? Did I not know that the border was ten kilometres away? Needless to say, the taxi was long gone. I looked at my options, which did not take long and continued to walk. Hitch-hiking would not be possible as no cars could get through. This was going to be a lonely night. It was icy underfoot, but there was sufficient light from the trucks.
Until I reached the end of the line. I fished out my pocket torch and, for the first time, was exposed to the elements. The wind was fierce and my bare ears bore the full brunt, to say nothing of my backside, as I was wearing the pants with a tear in my crotch. The only noise apart from the wind was the sound of my feet crunching the snow underfoot. After a minute or two, I relaxed - it was so tranquil, detached and peaceful. Just me in the snow, romantically heading for a border. Then I remembered that the border was Kosovo.
A momentary panic set in as I recalled the words of the British Consul in Dubrovnik, who informed me that I could not go to Montenegro, Kosovo or Macedonia because they were all too dangerous. I thought of Barbara, an American living in Belgrade and with over twenty-five years experience of the region, who almost fainted when I had told her that I had done this same journey by bus a month before. She had seen all things in Bosnia, experienced death, danger and destruction, but she was shocked that I had chosen such a dangerous route, infamous for banditry, by bus. And here I was walking.
And as I walked, the doubts set in. I wished I had watched more wildlife programmes so that I would know which wild animals were lurking. I thought of my last diary entry - this is what people would read to see my state of mind before I died. And I thought of Polar explorers who had died in the intense cold. I felt empathy.
In the distance, I detected lights approaching, a car from the border. It roared past, slowed, stopped and reversed towards me. A couple of locals looked at me incredulously and, after hearing my plight in broken Serbian, invited me into the car. I had no idea what they had planned for me, but I was too cold and tired to argue, so I hopped in.
They took me to within twenty metres of the border, an act for which I am eternally grateful - Montenegrins became my new favourite people. There were many trucks at the border and I knew I would be able to negotiate a lift with little difficulty. I walked to the Italian KFOR (UN implementing force) checkpoint, past a small kiosk on my left, which I scarcely noticed as there were no lights.
The two Italians inside had not noticed me either and, taken by surprise, jumped out and pointed a weapon at me. I was shaken and wanted to beg them not to shoot, but my Italian extends as far as ‘Chianti’ and ‘Barolo.’ One spoke French and, after we all calmed down, they looked at me as if I was mad. I looked at them as though they were mad and Italian. One pushed his head back slightly and ran his index finger right across his neck: “Bandits.”