Towards the tail end of an epic 3,300-mile rail journey across Europe, during which I’d haphazardly crisscrossed the continent in a generally southeasterly direction from Paris, I realized that Dubrovnik, where I was currently sitting beneath a blooming bougainvillea overlooking the rooftops of the fortified town, was just a short bus ride away from the famous city of Kotor, in Montenegro.
I’d heard nothing of the destination, but a quick Google showed a number of those “Best of” and “Undiscovered Gem” awards from travel guides across the spectrum. Usually, this is a reason to avoid a city, but it was the offseason, and I learned there was a train ride between Montenegro and Serbia that those in the know claimed was the best on the continent. So early the next morning, I scooped up my backpack, exited through the city gates of Dubrovnik, and boarded a rickety bus that was to trace a thin sliver of land south between towering peaks and the shimmering Adriatic.
What I found in Montenegro fascinated, confused, frustrated — and, at least once, terrified — me enough to cement it as one of my favorite countries on the continent.