Road Trip to Spectacular Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

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A beautiful day in Montenegro is a great time for another road trip! This time we had our sights set on the locally-renowned Ostrog Monastery, a 2+ hour drive away. Once again our AirBnB host, Bojan, proved worth his weight in gold. When I asked about possible road closures in light of all the road work we’d seen on the way to Albania, he called the local traffic authority and got back to me with invaluable information: a major bridge and sole access to the monastery from Kotor would be closed for two 2-hour stints, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The bridge was an hour and twenty minutes into our journey. Armed with that knowledge, we timed our drive to arrive a scant 5-10 minutes before the bridge reopened after the morning closure. Thank God we didn’t get up early just to sit in a line of cars and semi-trucks for two hours wondering what the heck was going on!

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Construction near the Moštanica Bridge. Bojan’s data was right on.

We drove out of Kotor in the opposite direction from our previous trips to Lovcen Park and Albania, this time heading north and then west along the water through the beautiful little town of Perast with its two small islands sitting just off-shore. One with a church and the other with a monastery. We vowed to try to come back and take a boat out to the church. At the far reaches of the inner bay of Kotor, we turned north onto the P11 and into the mountains. The highway is new and in great shape, offering a beautiful look back at the bay:

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View from the P11

Soon, we were out of sight of water and speeding along the sparsely-trafficked highways through the mountains until we came to the road closure just before the bridge. With that minor delay behind us, we drove over the bridge being treated to the magnificent vista of Slansko Jezero (Slansko Lake) with snow-capped mountains beyond.

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Slansko Jezero

We arrived in the valley below the monastery pretty much in the time expected. Past a small village, we began yet another switchback road leading up to the monastery. The road was in good shape, but once again there were those intentional gaps with a sheer drop off just inches from the pavement. It wasn’t as much of a drop as on the Kotor-Cetinje road, but just as deadly. At least there weren’t any car-caused gaps.

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Starting up the road to the monastery

 

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An early glimpse of Ostrog Monastery built into the sheer wall of the mountain

We reached a larger, more touristy village as the road narrowed. There’s a church and parking there, but we continued up the mountain and were happy to find plenty of parking just outside the monastery. [There are also public toilets at the far end of the parking from the monastery entrance.]

Just to the left as we approached the arches leading to the monastery plaza, we saw Lourdes-like fountains of holy water where people filled flasks or dabbed themselves with healing waters.

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Fonts of holy water
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Mosaic-decorated interior of the entrance arch

Of course, we couldn’t visit the monk’s quarters, but we could visit the church and the balcony above it which boasts several beautiful mosaics as well as a grapevine said to have sprung from the spot where Sveti Vasilije (St. Basil) died in 1671. The grapevine is considered miraculous as appears to grow from stone devoid of any soil.

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View over the valley from the church balcony
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Miraculous grapevine at the place of St. Basil’s death

 

Several yards to the right of the doors of the church is the chapel housing the tomb of St. Basil. Goran, who drove us to Albania, was from Ostrog and had told us how the body of St. Basil is said to be perfectly preserved, that we could see his face, and that people came to his tomb to receive miraculous cures. A monk stands guard over the body of St. Basil, but we were disappointed to see that the saint’s face is covered with a cloth and his hands are encased in gloves. Hmm. Not to be disrespectful, but it’s hard to say whether St. Basil has escaped decomposition or not…or even whether that was his body or just an elaborately-dressed scarecrow.

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There’s a fair-sized gift shop off the main monastery plaza offering religious objects, books, jarred foods and beauty/health products. There’s also a ticket window for busier times, but we were blessed by few other tourists. In fact, the only “admission” was an honor-system minimal payment for small photo calendars set out on a table at the church entrance. There was no one to pay nor anyone to ask questions of, so I hope we did right there…but other visitors seemed to be doing the same thing.

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Monks on the monastery plaza with the entrance arches beyond leading to the parking area

A short way back down the mountain, we stopped to eat at Koliba, a restaurant recommended by Goran. Taking advantage of the glorious weather, we ate outside. The food was excellent and it was a perfect way to spend a little time while we waited for the afternoon bridge/road closing to end.

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Fresh fish, local cheese and grilled vegetables at Koliba (plus favorite local beer Nikšićki)
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Koliba terrace on a slow afternoon

Despite our lazy meal, we still had a little time to kill before the road reopened, so on whim we detoured through farmland at lambing season to follow a small sign indicating a roman bridge nearby. Fun!

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About halfway back to Kotor, an intriguing monument on a large mound near the highway enticed us into another detour to the near-deserted hamlet of Grahovo.

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The monument that lured us to Grahovo
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Abandoned buildings in Grahovo
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Untended memorial blocks on the approach to the monument

The memorial park and monument are/were beautiful, but they’ve fallen into such disrepair. Most of the buildings in town are derelict, but there were a few old men in a run-down café that seemed to be the only functioning business in town. A few older school children went into the park as we left although we did not see their school. It was an odd and moving place even though we could only guess as to what had happened there until we got back to our apartment and wi-fi.

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It turns out that although the town suffered much destruction during World War II, it did survive to create the once-lovely memorial park. Apparently, an earthquake in 1979 dealt the near-fatal blow to the town from which it has never recovered.

 

 

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