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It has been variously described as 'the new Riviera', an 'unpolished gem' and even 'a paradise', all of which are true to a large degree of the Republic of Montenegro, situated on the southern Adriatic coast of Eastern Europe. Whether it will stay that way or not is a matter for conjecture, because this little newly-independent country is being enthusiastically embraced by the world tourism market, which is ever hungry for fresh destinations.
Formerly a part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was embroiled in the ethnic and civil unrest that plagued the region in the 1990s. After peace was brokered Montenegro was joined to Serbia as a combined state, but following a referendum in June 2006 the country declared its independence, and is now feeling its way into a new Republican era.
Montenegro, for a long while considered an unsafe no-go area, is now being deservedly extolled as the new dream holiday destination - but if truth be told, there is nothing new about it. The charm of this country lies in its picturesque medieval towns and villages, its timeless river valleys, beautiful beaches, glassy lakes and towering mountains.
The most popular area for tourism is the narrow coastal section, which stretches from Igalo in the west to the Bojana river mouth in the east, indented by numerous verdant fjords, and washed by the azure blue Adriatic Sea. The resort area known as the Budva Riviera offers sandy beaches and balmy summer days. Across the Dinarian Mountains is the central plain, where the capital, Podgorica, swelters through baking hot summers and the scenic Skadar Lake region offers a tranquil retreat. The north of Montenegro is dominated by mountains, where rivers have carved spectacular canyons through the tall forests and in winter the ski resorts of Zabljak and Kolasinj provide snowy fun. There are also two national parks in this area, which draw keen eco-tourists.
Montenegro is undoubtedly a natural Balkan beauty, offering a real get-away-from-it-all holiday for everyone from beach bums to sophisticates. Don't forget your camera!
Business relationships in Montenegro are founded on hospitality, so expect to be wined and dined. Dress is formal and conservative, and handshakes are the norm at the beginning and end of meetings. Business hours are generally between 8am and 4pm.
The coast of Montenegro enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The capital, Podgorica, on the central plain is the hottest spot in the country, with mid-summer temperatures averaging 81°F (27°C). The northern mountains are much cooler and snow-covered throughout the winter.
The international dialling code for Montenegro is +382 (the previous code of +381 is still in use). The outgoing dialling code is 99. There are local area codes (Podgorica is (0)81). The telephone system is undergoing modernization with digital lines being slowly introduced. There is good GSM mobile network coverage throughout the country provided by two operators. There are Wi-Fi Internet zones available in Podgorica and all the main towns have Internet cafes, charging around EUR1 an hour.
Wearing shorts is not permitted inside public institutions such as hospitals and dress should be modest when visiting monasteries in Montenegro. There are designated nudist beaches and over-exposure is frowned upon elsewhere. Being drunk in public is considered in bad taste, and so is discussing national politics and ethnic issues. Littering is considered the ultimate insult.
The following can be brought into Montenegro without paying duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; a litre of wine and 750ml of spirits; perfume for personal use; personal jewellery and clothing; up to two cameras and one movie/video camera; electronic equipment (such as radio) for personal use; and sports equipment. Pets can be brought into the country with a veterinary certificate of good health.
Electrical current in Montenegro is 220 volts, 50Hz. Two-prong round pin attachment plugs are in use.
Montenegro is generally a healthy country with few risks. Only bottled or purified water should be consumed, and food should be well prepared and well cooked. Those intending to hike in the countryside should take precautions against ticks. Medical facilities in Montenegro are limited, and supplies are lacking. Medical insurance with evacuation cover is strongly recommended. There are some private clinics in Podgorica, which treat travellers, but payment in cash is expected. A reciprocal health agreement entitles visitors from the UK to free emergency treatment.
Serbian (very similar to Croatian) is the official language of Montenegro, although Albanian is commonly used in some areas. English is widely understood in the capital, Podgorica, and in the coastal resorts.
The official currency is the Euro (EUR). Visitors entering Montenegro with more than EUR2,000 (including travellers cheques or the equivalent in another currency) should declare the amount on entry. Without declaration on entry large amounts may be confiscated on departure. Serbian Dinars are not accepted in Montenegro and should be exchanged for Euros. There are ATMs, which accept international bank cards in major cities and towns, and most of the larger hotels, shops and main restaurants accept Diners Club, Visa and MasterCard, but American Express cards are less welcome. Money can be exchanged at the numerous banks in the towns and cities.
All foreign passengers to Montenegro require a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of their stay in the country, and which has at least one blank page left (to receive a stamp or other official endorsement). Visitors are advised to carry their passports on them at all times. Furthermore, visitors must register with the local police within 24 hours of arrival in Montenegro (however, this is done automatically when checking into a hotel or official tourist accommodation). Failure to do so could mean a fine or imprisonment. Travellers must only enter Montenegro through recognised border crossings, and may be required to show proof of a return or onward ticket, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in Montenegro. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Montenegro is a safe destination for travellers, although it is wise to take sensible precautions against street crime in the towns and cities, as you would in any other European country. Travellers should note that car thieves tend to target four-wheel-drive and luxury vehicles and that unexploded landmines may still remain along the Kosovo border, so necessary precautions should be taken.
Service charges are generally not included in restaurant and hotel bills in Montenegro. A tip of 10% is appreciated. Taxi drivers do not expect tips; but a small gratuity would be appreciated.