Beaching It in Montenegro
Croatia's cool factor is no longer a secret. Visit the old city of Dubrovnik and you'll stand on a citadel next to Bill from Boston, who'll describe in detail the Game of Thrones scenes filmed on those very walls. But if you're slightly more intrepid, the Mediterranean fantasy still exists — across the border in Montenegro, where sunbaked pocket beaches, tumbledown villages dating from the Roman era, and a wild mountainous interior are still free from tourist incursions.
Start your self-guided tour by renting a car at the Dubrovnik airport and driving 90 minutes south to the Bay of Kotor, an inlet as dramatic as any Scandinavian fjord. The medieval walled city of Kotor clings to the side of Lovcen Mountain, which seems to drop directly into the blue-green bay. Cruise ships dock there, releasing swarms of passengers into town, but they disappear by late afternoon. To avoid them, buy a local beer and clamber up the 1,350 steps above town, where you can take in the mountainous panorama and glassy bay from the terrace of an ancient stone chapel. You'll probably have the scene to yourself. Five minutes up the road from Kotor is Palazzo Radomiri, an affordable 10-room boutique hotel on the water. You can rent a kayak and paddle through the fjord that Lord Byron called the most beautiful encounter between land and sea he'd ever seen, or dive for shipwrecks in the bay.
Next, drive another hour south to some of the best beaches on the Adriatic coast. If you can afford it (and with bargain euros, you can), check out the Aman Sveti Stefan, a tiny islet that juts into the sea. Used by royals in the 16th century, the limestone compound fell into disrepair during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Hotelier Aman recently revived it as a luxurious resort; Novak Djokovic rented the place for his wedding last year.
Then head to the mountains. Five national parks lie within a half-day's drive. Try the Tara River Canyon for Europe's best whitewater rafting and the Dinaric Alps for an 8,000-foot trek or an impressive climb. Dawn Glanc, a Colorado mountain guide, visited Montenegro and notched a few first ascents; now she's longing to go back. "If you're adventurous," she says, "there's so much potential in Montenegro."