Archive for the ‘wanderlust’ Category

Postcards from Petrovac

October 19, 2009

It’s nearing six o’clock as I join the rest of the household on the open-air terrace looking out over Petrovac – now a quiet crescent of sand-pebble beach and hillside nestled against sapphire Adriatic coastline. Father, aunts, cousins and uncles greet me to a small table set with plates of rustic bread, hand-picked grapes and fresh white cheese. A chair appears, and on cue, ushers me forward into the evening’s welcoming panoramic. I’ve only just arrived to this quaint village my family calls home, and even after a three-year absence, the return to its calm and familiar rhythm comes naturally. Elsewhere in the world there’s rush-hour traffic, ringing cell phones, deadlines and time clocks, headline news. For now, though, our only commitment is the effortless content of another day by the sea.

Petovafromroad

As any previous family retreat, our little party comprises an eclectic mix, with present company including two Italians, three Americans and two Montenegrin locals; the resulting fluency of Italian-Anglo-Serbo rhetoric is laughable. Despite this setback, conversation is pleasant and easy, if not fragmented, as we drink in the hours of peaceful twilight. A slight breeze floats up over the neighboring rooftops, warm and fragrant with earthy hints of sea and olive. In the distance, the sun paints deepening shades of golden watercolor across the ocean, framing the islands of Katic in noble silhouette.

It’s good to be back.

Petrovac (pronounced Petro-vatz) is likely not a destination that’s familiar to most travelers – you’re not alone in having never heard of it before now – nor does it beg glitzy fanfare like neighboring urban centers. Believe me, it doesn’t need to: its understated charm and picturesque setting make Petrovac a world apart.

PetrovacHarbor

Petrovac, looking inward from the castello point

Any local or visitor will tell you that a typical day here is really a series of intervals separating time near the sea. Residents walk between sleepy resorts to the main stretch of Petrovac beach and, a little further out, the less developed Lucice (Lu-Chi-Tza), separated by a hilled peninsula that juts out into the inlet. The water is cool if not downright icy, but clean and crystal-clear, rivaling the coasts of renowned Mediterranean destinations like Sardinia, Capri and Cyprus. Slants of bare rockface jut out from the surrounding cliffs, forming turquoise caverns at the water’s edge.

Petrovac is also distinctly low-key, the kind of place that makes you happy to leave everything behind in return for its small-town vibe even in the height of summer tourist season. I haven’t packed much for my visit besides breezy cotton dresses and flip flops; a swimsuit is really the only dress code requirement for a two-week stay, and that’s fine by me. There’s no need for driving here either, and personal experience in trying to maneuver through steep, narrow streets by car will tell you that walking is absolutely preferred. Not that I would think twice about leaving the keys behind while I set off for a stroll along the oceanfront promenade, lined with boutique hotels, village shops, gelaterias, open-air restaurants and shaded cafe terraces. On the numerous walks back up the hill, however, I will highly reconsider.

viewfromaunties

a girl's daily stroll to the shore

I recently came across a prominent travel guide’s admission of keeping mum on Petrovac, an effort by the writer and numerous others to guard the unique, unspoiled feel of this seaside retreat against overdevelopment.

All things considered, can you really blame her?

Montenegro, Finally

October 13, 2009

A full week after my return from abroad, and I’ve been mulling over this post for nearly as long, struggling to find a starting point that can in any small way set the stage or do justice to such an epic narrative. Officially, I’ve relented on the basis of professional bias. It’s also pretty much close to impossible.

Of course, it’s comforting to note that throughout a thousand-year history, visitors here have grappled with that same task, stumbling in the sheer wonder of unrestrained creation that greets them. In person, Montenegro is by far more breathtaking than initially assumed.

Limestone cliffs along the Adriatic Sea - Petrovac, Montenegro

Limestone cliffs along the Adriatic Sea - Petrovac

Almost any travel reference will quickly turn to a ubiquitous christening by the British poet Lord Byron – who, upon first visiting at the turn of the 19th century, observed the country as ‘the most beautiful encounter between land and sea.’  Raw and impossibly seductive, it’s not difficult to imagine how the Romantic figurehead would discover a muse in a place called Crna Gora – Black Mountain in Serbian. Though, even here, the poetic ideal waxes short of the tangible Montenegro – a vivid landscape so intensely realized, it literally charges upward out of the sea in fierce pursuit of itself.

Mountains over the town of Zabljak - Durmitor, Montenegro

Mountains over the town of Zabljak - Durmitor

Defining this ‘wild beauty’ by a single impression is somewhat of a challenge, if mainly for the simple fact that it’s just so unexpected. Montenegro has long remained a tucked-away corner of the Mediterranean region, overshadowed by the better-known Italy, Greece and glamourous coast of Croatia. Totally logical, since the entire country is roughly the size of Connecticut. Only in recent years, with its recognition by the EU as an independent state in 2006, has the country gained a foothold in mainstream consciousness (though navigating the locale via GoogleMaps remains questionable). For what it lacks in geographical area, however, Montenegro more than makes up in the stark contrast of its terrain.

Pastures below thirteenth-century Moraca monastery - Moraca River Valley

Pastures below thirteenth-century Moraca monastery - Moraca River Valley

The country’s entire population hovers somewhere around 700,000 – mostly concentrated in urban centers like its capital Podgorica and its seaside mega-resort towns – leaving a vast expanse of open landscape. Crisscross the country’s narrow, cliff-carved roads and you’ll feel your pulse incrementally quicken – for more reason than hairpin turns and treacherous shoulder drop-offs. Beyond idyllic villages and gracefully rolling plains along the southern Adriatic coast, Montenegro reveals its mountain namesake in triumphant herald. Ancient stone crags leapfrog taller one over the next, arching gracefully above glacier-marred ravines and crystalline lakes. Primeval conifer forests plunge into low-lying marshlands, jutting back again in slanted cuts of rockface just as suddenly.

The Money Shot - Bay of Kotor

The Book Cover View - Bay of Kotor

Intense? Um, yeah. Welcome to Montenegro.