Lustica – the Hidden Secret of Kotor Bay, Montenegro

At the very end of Kotor Bay, Montenegro where the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic Sea wash the foothills of the vertically rising mountains of Lovcen National Park sits Lustica Peninsula. Guarding the entrance to the Bay of Kotor and only 30 min drive from the tourist hotspots of Kotor, Budva and Tivat, Lustica is a world away from all the hustle and bustle of busy Montenegrin summers, yet it is full of natural and cultural sights and unique land and water experiences. The locals say there are less than 500 people living on Lustica year round and while the population rises to 5000 in the heat of the season, it feels as if there is barely anyone around when you verge off the beaten path to tiny villages with old stone churches, overgrown hiking trails, hidden swimming coves, secluded (read: nude) beaches, abandoned Austro Hungarian forts, submarine channels with crystal clear blue waters and the most stunning sunset watching spots on Boka Bay!

A few things to know about Montenegro before we dive deep (literally) into outdoor adventures:

  1. Montenegro uses the Euro as their official currency, prices are half of those in Croatia, nature is equally stunning if not ever more so. It is NOT AS CHEAP as Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria but I would say the touristy places in Montenegro are around the prices in mainland Greece and the non touristy places are half that.
  2. Situated on the Balkans, right under Croatia, above Albania and bordering Bosnia and Serbia on the east, Montenegro is neither part of the EU nor of the Schengen Zone, hence it is a safe haven for digital nomads, remote workers and overseas travelers looking to exit the EU for a few months but remain in Europe.
  3. Montenegro was spared from the Covid-19 madness by closing their borders very early and announcing total lockdown for many months. Open to visitors from Europe now, the country has ~300 cases and less than 10 deaths total.

Before you take a sneak peak into all the hidden spots of Lustica and plan your trip to this slice of heaven between the Adriatic Sea and the Bay of Kotor, keep in mind 2 things:

  • rent a car and plan to drive it on windy country one-lane roads with two directional traffic. Basically rent a good car and have a good driver with you, the inclines you will go up and down are no joke for the average traveler.
  • to enjoy Lustica you must enjoy nature in all its shapes and sizes – from wild olive groves and overgrown hiking paths, to nude beaches and local fishermen’s restaurants, cicadas singing during the day, jackals howling at night, turtles crossing the road, hedgehogs in the garden, and the neighbors’ puppy running free.

Now that we’ve covered Montenegro basics, let’s start our exploration of Lustica with the ultimate summer hot spot – the beaches – 3 famous beaches facing the Adriatic Sea (vs. Bay of Kotor) are Plavi Horizonti, Zanjic and Mirista. I recommend going early in the morning to avoid the summer heat (and the crowds). For a more upscale beach experience, get a day pass to La Perla Resort, go for a swim in their incredible infinity pool and enjoy a chaise-side beach cocktail. La Perla is the perfect place to indulge in the calm waters of Kotor Bay and take insta-worthy pictures that will make everyone jealous.

Continuing with my favorite spot on Lustica – Rose. The most romantic, little fishermen’s village at the end of Boka Bay. Situated right across from Herceg Novi, Rose is SO worth a day trip by boat across Kotor Bay or an adventure tour by e-bike. A true gem at the very end of Lustica, I call Rose the “ruby in the crown” in terms of sights, sunsets, and seafood.  Speaking of seafood “at the end of the world”, spend an hour (or two :-)) at Adriatic Rose – delicious seafood and a great place to watch the sun set over the mountains. Forte Rose is an old fortress turned into a luxury resort and another spot in the area worth a tour.

More water adventures await at Camp Uvala Veslo – you can visit on a day pass and enjoy  cliff jumping, snorkeling, tanning for the all around Adriatic experience. It is also the starting point of the Blue Cave Kayak Tour. If there is ONE outdoor adventure that you will do in Montenegro, let it be the Blue Cave Kayak Tour. After the end of your tour while you are still in the area (and hopefully hungry) stop by Ribarsko Selo Restaurant for the best seafood around (also the priciest, but well worth it!) Porto Bjelila is another good sunset watching spot and poor man’s seafood option (not THAT poor though :-))

Bigova is a tiny fishermen’s village with 1 restaurant and 1 cafe in the whole “town”. The wall across the harbor is great for swimming, I have never seen such crystal clear blue water! Park by the side of the road on the way to the abandoned fortress on top of the hill. Once upon a time there used to be camping there and some of the facilities are still standing (no, there are no bathrooms or changing rooms). If you are thinking of trying paddle boarding on the open sea (vs in the protected Bay of Kotor) Bigova and Traste Bay is a great place to start. Go with Montenegro+ Epic Outdoor Adventures and request Igor as your head guide, exploring is always better with a local!

If you prefer to paddle on calm waters while exploring Kotor Bay from a different perspective, head over to Tivat and take a SUP Tour of Tivat Bay. You’ll visit the uninhabited Sveti Marko Island, you’ll stop by Gospa Od Milosti – a stone church built on a rock outcropping in the middle of Kotor Bay where you’ll meet the 2 guardian dogs and you’ll pass by Solila Natural Reserve and an old ship wreck in a calm bay. The start and end place of the tour is a pebbled beach and a great sunset watching spot with a cocktail in hand. I would trust David with my life, tell him Maria sent you 🙂

The highlight of your water adventures in Lustica Bay is a visit to the former Yugoslavian and now abandoned submarine channels. Cut into the rock at the entrance of Boka Bay and last used during WWII, the submarine channels are part of a couple of private tour itineraries – the E-Bike Lustica Exploration Tour with Montenegro+ or the Abandoned Forts of Lustica Tour with Fabian and his Landrover Defender (see below for more info on both tours). If you choose to visit them on your own, ask me for GPS coordinates and be ready to drive down a sketchy dirt road. The channels are an incredible sight – 2 submarines long and 6 meters deep – and an even more incredible swimming spot. Jump in fearlessly (there is an easy way out), dive, snorkel, explore the underwater world – it is perfectly safe, we frequented them weekly, just wear water shoes 🙂

Fort Lustica is another former military complex now in ruins. An Austro Hungarian fortification from the late 1800s that once guarded the entrance to Kotor Bay, Fort Lustica is totally unguarded and free to explore but be careful with your step since it is falling apart (and I hope you are not afraid of bats – because they are afraid of you :-). For a very adventurous take on Lustica (keyword is VERY) take the unique Abandoned Forts of Lustica Tour with Fabian and his Landrover Defender. He claims the gun turret has the best views of Lustica Bay – climb up and tell me if you agree!

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And LAST but most definitely NOT LEAST – my favorite e-bike tour of the perimeter of Lustica on brand new Giant E-Bikes with Montenegro+. Bike for 40 kms around the peninsula on an E-Bike which makes going uphill all the fun and 0 effort while enjoying panoramic views of Kotor Bay and the Adriatic Sea. The bike tour stop by Fort Lustica (short history and exploration of the ruins) as well as the submarine channels (with plenty of swimming time) and finishes at my favorite village of Rose where you can get a drink or a bite to eat at Adriatic Rose.

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Have I missed something hidden worth exploring on Lustica? Go visit and tell me so! I know it will be a weird summer travel season and I hope the world will soon return to normal. The Balkans were spared the majority of the pandemic craziness, so if you can explore internationally this summer, visit this hidden corner of Europe while it is still safe, cheap and not crowded. I plan on a road trip along the coast of Greece, the Ionian Islands, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and finishing with a hut to hut hiking trip in the Dolomites. If there is work this summer that is 😦 #wishmeluck

A note on swimming in the Adriatic Sea around Kotor – yes, you can swim in every spot you see along the coast as long as you can climb back up on the rocks you jump from (find your exit route first!). And buy yourself a pair of water shoes to avoid getting stung by the sea urchins who have made the sunny shallows their home. They say sea urchins ONLY live in very clean warm waters, there goes your solace…

 

 

 

 

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