January 14, 2020

Let’s Twist Again: Montenegro’s tight and tantalising Serpentine Road.

Roderick Eime

You’ve all seen those ridiculous hairpin roads in Europe like the famous road from La Turbie to Monaco where Princess Grace drove her Rover P6 over the edge into oblivion.

These tortuous thoroughfares, so beloved by daring Mini Cooper drivers and mad motorcyclists are all over the mountainous midriff of Europe right down to the Mediterranean naval. But one such road, once hidden behind the communist curtain of the former Yugoslavia, is reemerging as a riding ritual.

The Cetinje-Kotor Road or just R-1 (Regional Road 1) is a 38km length of road between the town of Cetinje and the historic port of Kotor. The most challenging part of the road is the short 8.3km stretch with 16 hairpins dubbed Kotor Serpentine, while the whole length of the road itself has almost 30.

[Google map https://goo.gl/maps/4D6rSNA22MTD5RSx6]

The road was built in the late 19th century when Montenegro was just a fledgeling nation and motor vehicles were the stuff of fantasy. The country was later subsumed into Yugoslavia in the early 20th century and is tucked into a cosy little geographic alcove surrounded by Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

When the Serbs and Montenegrins stopped shooting at everyone in 1995, the region slowly began attracting tourists. Montenegro gave Serbia the cold shoulder in 2006 and went their own way, signalling an influx of foreign investment from mainly Russia and Saudi Arabia. The sheikh loves to tie up his squillion dollar superyacht in the nearby harbour while his many wives spend small fortunes at the designer shopping strip he built adjoining his five-star hotel.

When I visited last year on the ebb of the peak tourist season, cruise ships were still disgorged their sandalled hordes on the dock at Kotor to wander and rubberneck through the old town, a streetscape that would befit any episode of Game of Thrones. But then, Dubrovnik (aka Kings Landing) is just around the corner.

This pair of Spanish Triumph Tiger riders are ready for action (RE)

Our little gang of novice yachties commandeered a minivan (and driver) and took it to the peak of the highest mountain, Lovcen, where the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, the great saviour of the Montenegrins rests in peace. It’s a magnificent drive and it broke my heart that I wasn’t able to make the ascent on a Moto Guzzi. Probably a good idea though, as I may well have broken several of something else.

The ride is definitely not for the faint-hearted and it’s curtailed numerous overambitious egos over the years. Fortunately, the road has been widened in many places, from four metres to six, but that is of little consequence when you come face-to-face with a 50-seat tour bus. Bewildered tourists in tiny hire cars and clearly out of their motoring depth are also frequently encountered. Such standoffs inevitably require one party to capitulate and reverse. Downhill traffic claims the right of way, but often the bigger you are, the more ‘way’ you get.

For a crazy video, see Kotor Serpentine - R1 road (Cetinje-Kotor)

Considering the width of the road, the very short straight sections, the often-absent safety barriers and the type of traffic you are likely to encounter, it must be stated that caution is paramount. A misjudge or snap avoidance could see you over the edge and down a very long way (think: opening scene from Italian Job) leaving your colleagues with lots of unwelcome paperwork.

There are several viewpoints to stop for obligatory photos and it was here that we met many of the motorcyclists. Germans, Spanish and Austrians seemed to dominate our survey, riding everything from the predictable BMW GS’s, Ducati Multistradas, Triumph Tigers and even some Japanese machines such as Yamaha Tenere and Suzuki V-Stroms, all of which seemed perfectly capable.

View from Restaurant “Nevjesta Jadrana” (RE)

As for dossing down en route, there is not much in the way of Hiltons or Marriotts, so “when in Rome” seek out a homestay or village inn where you can enjoy some local hospitality and home cooking. The prosciutto is to die for, even if the wine takes a bit of getting used to. Several restaurants are strategically placed along the route for great views and tucker - or go all the way to Pete Petrovic’s for the lookout restaurant.

Avoid the summer peak season (June through August), the traffic is crazy and it’s very hot.

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