Montenegro is one of Europe's most scenic spots; a little slice of the former Yugoslavia blessed with stunning coastline. It's one of Europe's smallest countries, but well worth a visit for photographers.
It was a playground of the rich and famous during the 1950s and 60s but suffered a huge slump because of the civil war of the 1990s. Only since its independence in 2006 has the country’s tourism industry really got into gear.
Montenegro is a photographer’s paradise. There’s rugged coastline – including fjords that wouldn’t look out of place in Norway – next to the crumbling ruins of old Venetian fortresses, and lush green forests leading it imposing mountain ranges. The island of Sveti Stefan, which was once a fishing village, is now a high-end resort. Whether you’re shooting film or digital, you’ll be hard-pressed to capture all of what this country has to offer.
I’ve been to Montenegro twice – once in 2010 for a quick visit while staying just over the border in Dubrovnik – and last July, when I spent a week exploring at the start of the summer season.
Montenegro in the summer is hot – baking hot. Though the coastline gets a bit of breeze to cool things down a little, it’s not uncommon for the mercury to top 40 C during the summer months. If you plan to be put and about taking pics, you need to either be up and about super early or be prepared for the very hard summer sun.
The country’s tourism industry is geared massively towards the coastline – and it’s not hard to see why. From the UNESCO-approved likes of Herceg Novi and Kotor through to the Albanian flavour of the beach resort of Ulcinj, tourists flock to the beaches and bars. In Budva, a beautifully restored old town sits surrounded by beaches and promenades packed with stalls and raucous beach bards; the vast majority of holidaymakers here are from Russia, and the nightlife is hedonistic.
The narrow old town streets in towns such as Kotor and Budva are perfect places to escape the heat and provide plenty of photo opportunities; a steady stream of tourists gives street photographers plenty to shoot; dogs lying in patches of sunlight and semi-stray cats patrolling the passageways; the contrast between archaic buildings and the trappings of a tourist town.
Hit the night-time strips and you could be in Magaluf; though one with a strong Russian accent. It is a chaos of beach bars and tourist tat, aimed at a crowd who party hard. The background is beautiful, the nightlife is far from glitzy. This, however, means a week’s holidaying can be had for a fraction of the price of the Croatian resorts a few hours up the coast.
One of the smallest countries in Europe, Montenegro still packs in an enormous amount of scenic contrast. The increasingly modern capital Podgorica is never going to rival Rome or Paris as a photographic destination, but between here and the coast is the old capital Cetinje, the former royal capital. It’s a sleepy yet picturesque place, full of beautifully restored old villas that now serve as museums but were once embassies. The concept of Montenegrin identity comes from this valley – while the other parts of modern-day Montenegro were subsumed, the identity of the nation lived on in one town.
Nearby is Rijeka Crnojevića, a sleepy settlement on the banks of a slow-flowing river. Only half an hour’s drive from the coast, even as the tourist season began, this felt almost forgotten, a clutch of ruined houses in a valley that would be prime real estate anywhere else. The contrast between these places and the hustle and bustle of the coast couldn’t be more pronounced.
There are few photographic locations in the country that are world famous yet – save for Sveti Stefan and a few other spots around Budva and Kotor – but there are many that deserve to be. But for a country with a population smaller than most European capitals, Montenegro offers incredible variety. Check it out.