Millennium Bridge, Podgorica, Montenegro
Podgorica was once deemed as Europe's most boring city. True? I think not. It might not have the usual charm and candor of quaint western European villages, however; the Montenegrin capital does have its fair share of mountains and pastries. I had 48 hours in Podgorica before heading back to London and needless to say; my itinerary was packed.
Breakfast at Zrno:
I'd done my research. Montenegro did not have a single multinational food franchise, aside from a Hard Rock Cafe situated in Podgorica's financial district (which was as terrible as the one in London). This unusual situation suited me quite well, since I am an avid independent chain supporter. Consulting locals for suggestions (who had a hard time understanding why I'd decided to visit Podgorica), I headed to Zrno - a vibrant cafe very reminiscent of Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana. Local consensus said Zrno served the best coffee and salted caramel muffins (€5 in total). I have to admit, it was one of the nicest calorie-laden breakfasts I'd had in Montenegro. Their coffee was rich with a smooth creamy texture, and I may have gone back for another round.
1) Stara Varoš:
After breakfast, I ventured out to explore Montenegro's oldest neighbourhood retaining 400 years of Ottomon history. The entry to Stara Varoš is marked with its Clock Tower (also known as Sahat Kula) overlooking the square. It's one of the very few Ottoman landmarks that survived the bombing of Podgorica in World War II.
Stara Varoš, Podgorica, Montenegro
2) Starodoganjska Mosque:
The next stops involved walking into a maze of the city's old town. Podgorica's famed mosques are separated by a single street, amidst fairytale houses in cobbled alleyways. Starodoganjska was built in the 15th century - its walls still punctured by world war bombings. During the Ottoman period, it served as a community centre as well as a place of worship and brought people of all faiths together.
3) Osmanagić Mosque:
Podgorica's second ottoman mosque is located just a few minutes away. Osmanagić is an impressive 18th century landmark with the loveliest calligraphy and Arabic inscriptions from the Quran. It was also beautifully restored (via Turkish donations) in 2011, following an arson attack.
Osmanagic Zamija, Podgorica, Montenegro
4) Picnic lunch along the coastline:
The Adriatic coastline makes for a stunning picnic by the coastline. I made a beeline for the nearest supermarket, bought some traditional buzara (shellfish, prawns and shrimps cooked in red/white sauce) and plumped alongside aquamarine waters. Stellar picnic for a cheap price with views for days.
5) Natural History Museum Montenegro
A small unassuming building, it was the perfect way to end the first 24 hours of exploring Podgorica. Montenegro's Natural History Museum is a small but well set-up with informative displays of the country's flora, fauna and fossils. The building is located opposite the clock tower and is free to explore.
6) Dinner at Nostalgija:
As one of the oldest city settlements in the Balkans, this aptly named restaurant offers home-style cooking via recipes passed through generations. The minimum ingredients and maximum flavour focus works particularly well with their succulent steaks and buttery mashed potatoes (splurged a little as it cost €16 in total). Halal meat is provided upon request.
The delectable meal was definitely a goodnight hug to my otherwise aching self.
1) Niagara Falls:
Yep, that's right. Podgorica has its own version of thundering cascades as those seen so famously on the other side of the world. While it might not be as strong as its North American counterpart; these waterfalls make up for a fantastic trip nonetheless. I left early in the morning, bought some burek (€1) for breakfast, and spent one half of the day reading alongside the beautiful view.
Podgorica's Niagara Falls, Montenegro
2) Lunch at Niagara Restaurant:
The restaurant is located a stone's throw away from Niagara Falls and is incredible value for money. It is adjoined by a crystal clear lake with ducks, swans and a play area for children. I ordered a tuna sandwich with some feta salad (€3.50) and devoured it in peace.
3) Petrović Palace:
I returned from my trip in the evening, just in time to explore this pale pink 19th century palace. Petrović hosts high-profile exhibitions on contemporary art and is a beautiful space for those interested in modern expression.
4) Dinner from a trader's market:
Podgorica's local markets are perfect for leisurely strolls and cheap treats. From homemade cheese to handmade scarves, it took all my willpower to avoid unnecessary splurging. However, I did buy some artisan bread, camembert and blueberry pastries for dinner (€7 in total). Couldn't leave Montenegro without treating my tastebuds to a Balkan market experience.
Although Podgorica does not have that "it" factor which most European capitals seemingly possess, it definitely is an up and coming destination.
Visitors to the Montenegrin capital can expect their trip to reflect a rich cultural and culinary history, with Russian and Italian influences found all around the dynamic city. Go discover it yourself!