Rediscovering our wandering spirits in Montenegro
A trip to sharpen our love of cycling
After many years where cycling was our job, we are doing our best to break out of that mindset, to get back to the roots of why we fell in love with cycling in the first place. Rekindling that fire, finding the simple joy of discovering new roads together, that’s what our Collecting Cycling Memories motto is all about. And it’s what took us to the cycling jewel that is Montenegro.
In case the story of our trip inspires you to give Montenegro a try, below you will be able to find detailed information about our stay in the country, including the Strava GPX files to download.
And don’t forget to join the Isadore Strava Club!
Easy Landing in Montenegro
We had read about Montenegro in a few articles, and were intrigued by the fact that it was a beautiful place that had remained largely undiscovered and off-the-beaten track. Though it used to be a prime holiday location, the war in the Balkans had dulled a lot of interest in flying to this corner of Europe, even though Montenegro largely avoided the main conflict.
But now, we wanted to see what it had to offer as a cycling destination. It was very easy to get there with a relatively cheap direct flight from Vienna to the capital of Podgorica. This being just outside the peak summer season probably helped. And we had no trouble finding pleasant places to stay through Airbnb or booking.com. There are lots of placed from which to choose at all price points.
Spoiler alert: We were amazed at what Montenegro had to offer for a cyclist. The roads were good quality and pretty empty, the views were breathtaking and the terrain challenging. The food was enjoyable as a mixture of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, and the coffee was excellent every place we stopped. What more does an adventurous cyclist need?
Day 1: Kotor Bay – Lovcen Climb
Once we landed in Podgorica, we drove to Kotor, which is a charming small port town in the southwest of the country. We can highly recommend spending at least a day in Kotor itself, just to give yourself a chance to walk around and explore the old town with tiny medieval streets.
We used a beautiful 40km ride around the Kotor Bay as a way to warm up for the climbing ahead. Ringed by pretty tall hills and mountains on several sides, the Kotor Bay offered a beautiful and reasonably flat road to ride with motorists who were polite and respected our space while riding. After a pleasant 40-50 km loop around the Bay, which included a ferry transfer, we ended up back in the central part of Kotor from where we were able to start the climb up to the Lovcen National Park.
It’s a good thing we were all warmed up since this could very well be nearly the longest climb we have ever done. Around 27 km long, the climb leads up to the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos at 1749 meters in elevation. But though the climb is super long, the gradient is never too steep, and remains pretty regular.
The traffic was a touch on the heavy side, but that most likely is because we were actually climbing it on Montenegro’s Independence Day, which could account for all the traffic heading up to visit the famous mausoleum dedicated to this important Prince-Bishop who was also a poet and philosopher.
Day 2: Mratinje Dam – Durmitor National Park
After enjoying our first day around Kotor Bay, we traveled north in the direction of the town Pluzine. From there we were able to start our ride on the Mratinje Dam, which at 220 meters high is one of the highest concrete arc dams in Europe. Riding back south along Lake Piva (Pivsko), the largest reservoir for drinking water in the Balkans, the spectacular scenery looked like something out of a James Bond film. The road was practically empty and there were a series of short but epically dark tunnels that alternated with the view over the lake.
The first 15km was mainly flat along the lake, but then the climb towards Žabljak and Trsa started. It’s quite a dramatic entry into the climb with a sharp left turn off the main road taking you into a raw dark tunnel while the gradient kicks up pretty steeply.
Echelon Jersey Sagebrush Green
Signature Cycling Jersey Steel Grey/Reseda 1.0
The difficult gradient continues for most of the first part of the climb towards the Durmitor National Park. Once we passed through the forests and entered the high pasture lands on the plateau, we could start to see the rocky peaks of the Durmitor. Imagine if the Dolomites and Alps merged together in a fraction of the area, and that’s about what you can expect from this intense scenery with dramatic vistas.
About half way up the Sedlo climb, which is the main pass thru the Durmitor National Park, we were advised not to go any further because the road was blocked with snow. But being intrepid cyclists who are super happy not to be following a training plan anymore, we took a chance as we were drawn by the promise of even more breathtaking views.
Yes, okay, so we did hit the snow wall at some point, and our crew could not follow us in the car any further. Undaunted, as our crew had to turn around and meet us all the way on the other side of the national park, we continued through the snowy sections on foot carrying our bikes. There were a few of these snowy areas blocking the road before we finally reached the top of the Sedlo climb at an altitude of 1907 meters.
Spectacular hardly describes it. And after a long descent towards the town of Savnik, we were able to meet back up with our crew and call it a day.
Day 3: Kolasin – Climb Grabom (Albania)
Having saved the longest and hardest day for last, we started the morning in the town of Kolasin in central part of Montenegro. Heading southeast towards the border with Albania, we had to get over the first climb called Tresnjevik. Climbs of over 45 minutes felt pretty normal by now since we had spent so much of the previous two days climbing.
We stopped for lunch just before reaching the Albanian border. And although the place did not have a set menu, they assured us that they would have anything we would need. To our amazement, they were right. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, we enjoyed one of the best meals we had had during the entire trip.
We then crossed the border into Albania and hit what turned out to be the best road of our journey. Tracing along border with Montenegro, this was a deep canyon road with epic views that are nearly impossible to describe. And best of all, we were practically alone with perhaps a couple adventure motorcyclists occasionally passing. It felt like the road was built for our exclusive use so we could go out there and hammer each other!
We finished the ride at the top of the Grabom climb, exhausted, soaked by a fresh summer storm, but totally amazed by how epic the last three days had been.
- It’s pretty easy to get by with English nearly everywhere in Montenegro
- The roaming charges for the phones are high, so best option is to buy a local sim card. Happily the coverage was very good even in the most rugged terrain. We opted for the Telenor provider.
- Most of cafés, restaurants and airbnbs provided wifi, which was usually pretty strong. Not sure why, but the majority of places lock their networks with very simple passwords. It was usually the name of the network with 123 added at the end, and there you go.
- You should definitely try the local beer Nikšičko. It’s light and refreshing with a low alcohol content which makes it a perfect refreshment during a bike ride.
- Another local ‘’must try’’ is the white wine made from the Krstač grape. It’s a variety only grown in Montenegro. A very crisp and balanced wine.
- And one final gastronomic tip: In addition to the amazing seafood and many varieties of cheeses that are excellent choices thanks to Montenegro’s geographic position, one of the local specialties we tried and loved was the deep fried pancakes filled with cheese. If you are planning a big ride, this is a great option for fueling up ahead of time.