The narrow coastal belt enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with long dry summers and short mild winters. Average July maximum temperatures are around 28°C; the January average is 9°C. Annual sunshine amounts to over 2,500 hours with a summer average of 300-plus hours per month – or ten hours a day. November is generally the wettest month.
The central plain is colder in winter and warmer in summer than the coast. Podgorica averages a January temperature of 5°C and a July temperature of 26.5°C. The maximum can reach 40°C and the minimum –10°C.
The high karst mountain area consists of plains at around 1,700m rising to peaks at around 2,000m. The climate is subalpine with cold snowy winters (up to 5m in the mountains) and moderate summers averaging 270 hours of sunshine per month. Winter maximum temperatures are around 3°C and minima around –6°C. In the summer months, temperatures range from 23°C to 9°C.
Local houses in Zabljak © saiko3p, Shutterstock
The nicest seasons to visit Montenegro are spring and autumn: either between late March, by which time even in the high mountain regions the ‘ice days’ should have passed, and the end of June; or in September and October after the summer vacationers have dispersed, when the deciduous trees will be turning coppery but the sea will still be warm enough for bathing. July and August are the best months only for those who like family fun and crowds. As a local hotelier put it, speaking of the ‘Montenegrin Riviera’, while the under-30s will love the nightlife and buzz of the town beaches in July and August, those seeking a quieter ambience may prefer to visit the coast during the bridge months – April/May/June or September/October. In the mountains, July and August are guaranteed to be temperate.
Skadar, almost enclosed within Montenegrin and Albanian mountains, is the largest lake in the Balkans. Wonderfully tranquil, the shades of mist float just above the surface, dissolving into the far beyond. Equally a paradise for fishermen and ornithologists, it’s also lovely for boat trips among the little islands.
Biogradska Gora is mountains, lake and forest, 30% of the large area primeval and protected since 1878; no pruning, no planting, no clearing, but 2,000 different plant species make it scientifically important as well as beautiful.
Lovćen features the imposing mausoleum of Petar II Petrović Njegoš, Montenegro’s greatest ruler, philosopher and poet, high on the summit of Mt Jezerski and commanding a 360° view over his lands. This, the legendary Black Mountain, is sometimes referred to as Montenegro’s Mt Olympus.
Durmitor, a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1980, is at the mountainous heart of Crna Gora and was a centre of Partisan activity in World War II. It includes 27 peaks of over 2,200m and is bordered by two deep canyons, the Tara and the Piva. Rich in both fauna and flora, it is also the acme of the country’s winter skiing.
The Prokletije is Montenegro’s newest and arguably most breathtaking national park, its crenulated massif towering above deep glacial valleys and boasting Maja Kolata, at 2,528m just 5m higher than the mighty Bobotov kuk of Dumitor, rendering it the highest peak in the country. Largely undeveloped, this is a park for those who like spectacular scenery without many people, and are prepared to exercise their legs and lungs.
The city of Kotor, deep in the Boka Bay, is a second UNESCO Heritage Site. Often called a mini-Dubrovnik, its walls are even longer than those of its Croatian counterpart. A charming stone-clad maze of twisting alleys bathed in dawn shadows, it can feel like its only inhabitants are the cats. Venetian palaces and treasure-filled churches compete for your attention.
If you plan to spend only one day in the country, and if you are travelling from Croatia and join an organised coach or taxi tour, it is possible to travel through much of the Bay of Kotorska, climb the dizzying Ladder of Cattaro, lunch on the mile-high plateau of Njeguši and continue to the ancient capital of Cetinje before retracing your steps. You could also make the same itinerary by rental car or, if you are feeling energetic, by bike. An alternative would be to travel down the coast via the stunning though short Kamenari–Lepetane ferry, on to Tivat with an opportunity to stroll through the impressive new Porto Montenegro development, and then to visit the restored city of Budva. Travelling by a relatively slow and infrequent local bus from Dubrovnik to Herceg Novi, the first big town over the border in Montenegro, would leave you very little time indeed to explore in a day.
If you wish to plan a weekend in Montenegro and you are travelling from Croatia it is possible to travel more or less the length of the coast and back, with perhaps one overnight stay in each direction in either Kotor, Petrovac or Budva, all of which offer a wide choice of accommodation. From Podgorica a tour of most of the coast, passing en route over Skadar Lake, could also be achieved in a weekend, but it would not allow much time for relaxation!
With a week at your disposal it would perhaps be best to choose between exploring the coast quite fully, stopping at monasteries (accommodation within all price ranges should be available in coastal towns whatever the season), or instead concentrating mainly on the spectacular countryside inland. For example, a round trip allowing time for proper sightseeing could still include the Bay of Kotorska, but also the dramatic new road linking it, through Grahovo and Nikšić and the once remote Šavnik, to the high Durmitor range and the mighty Tara Canyon. There would be time to head to the far north to Pljevlja, with its beautiful mosque, before, if you are travelling by car or bike, taking the much-improved route down the eastern border to Bijelo Polje and the new Prokletije National Park. After this, travel through the Komovi mountains to Kolašin and later Podgorica and Skadar Lake.
If you have a fortnight you would comfortably be able to cover most of the country. Do keep in mind, though, that during the winter extensive touring using mountain roads is not recommended. At any time of the year the choice of accommodation will be limited in more remote areas.