As of a few months ago, I didn’t know anything about Montenegro except that it conjured gorgeous imagery from one of the recent James Bond movies. If you, like me, didn’t even know Montenegro was a country (don’t beat yourself up, it’s actually one of the newest countries in the world) you might appreciate a quick primer.
But first, Casino Royale, although set in Montenegro (which in fact, runneth over with gorgeous imagery) was actually filmed in Italy and the Czech Republic.
1. Montenegro is a country in southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea and is bordered by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.
2. The official language is Montenegrin, a very close relative to Serbo-Croatian. A distinctively classified Montenegrin language coincided with the country’s independence. In fact in a 2011 census, most citizens declared Serbian as their mother tongue. Most writing is in the Latin alphabet but Cyrillic is widely used, especially inland.
3. Montenegro officially declared independence (via referendum) in 2006. It was a former constituent republic of Yugoslavia and then part of Serbia-Montenegro until they voted to become an independent country eight years ago.
4. Montenegro is small and rural – the entire country is about the size of the state of Connecticut, but only has about 620,000 people, 1/6th of Connecticut’s population.
5. Montenegro is incredibly geographically diverse – especially for its size. It contains five national parks, rugged mountains with snowy peaks, Europe’s biggest canyon, a Mediterranean coastline, one of Europe’s only virgin forests, the Balkan’s largest lake (which is shared with Albania) and is home to 40 different types of fish and hosts one of Europe’s largest bird sanctuaries.
6. Probably Montenegro’s most recognizable landmark is Sveti Stefan, a small islet and hotel resort which played host to the world’s rich and famous in the 60s, 70s and 80s and is now a 5-star hotel.
7. Montenegrin culture has been shaped by a variety of influences throughout its long history – the prevalence of Orthodox, Catholic and Islamic religions with Slavonic, Austrian, Turkish, Italian and seafaring Adriatic peoples has created a diverse culture.
8. True to Montenegro’s cultural and geographical diversity, its cuisine has a mixture of Italian, Mediterranean, Turkish, Serbian, Croatian and Hungarian influences. Some examples: the northern area features wild berries and mushrooms, lamb cooked in milk, veal stuffed with ham and cheese, peppers stuffed with (kajmak) locally made sour cream; the continental and coastal areas use a lot of fish and eel, black rice flavored with squid ink, smoked ham, cheese in olive oil, sausages and dried mutton. A traditional form of cooking is ispod – ‘under the coals’ – in a pot known as a sač.
Imagine a place with sapphire beaches as spectacular as Croatia’s, rugged peaks as dramatic as Switzerland’s, canyons nearly as deep as Colorado’s, palazzos as elegant as Venice’s and towns as old as Greece’s and then wrap it up in a Mediterranean climate and squish it into an area two-thirds of the size of Wales and you start to get a picture of Montenegro. You could easily drive clear across the country in a day – or spend a month and be left wanting more.