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It was random internet surfing for Europe’s most scenic train journeys that brought the Belgrade to Bar train route to my attention. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere and romance of train travel particularly when it involves crossing international borders, in this case from Serbia to Montenegro. Let’s face it, would Brief Encounter have had the same impact had Noel Coward based it in a bus station?
In post-WWII Yugoslavia, The Blue Train was specially commissioned to facilitate leader Josip Broz Tito’s travel throughout the federation, acting as a mobile residence and office. When the Belgrade to Bar railway line opened in 1976, after over twenty years of construction, the first train to pass through was Tito’s Blue Train.
Nowadays, the route is a popular way for Belgrade folk to reach the beaches of Montenegro’s Adriatic coast via the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.
As of the 1st July 2018, the Belgrade terminus for the Belgrade to Bar train is Topčider Station, south of the city, due to the closure of the historic Central Station.
In theory two trains a day depart in either direction. At the time of my trip, the Tara train departed from Belgrade at 09:10 and the Lovcen sleeper train departed at 21:10. The northbound trains departed Bar at 07:00 and 19:00. Further information can be found on the Serbian Railways website.
I pre-booked the 09:10 from Belgrade a couple of days prior to travel as I was journeying during high season, costing an extra few euros on top of the twenty-something euro ticket, a bargain for a 12-hour journey.
The day before my journey idle searching on the internet revealed that bus transfers to Lajkovac were in place to facilitate line works prompting me to arrive at Belgrade Central Station approximately one hour before departure.
Finding the transfer bus was impossible as was the attitude of the Information Desk’s attendant in her total refusal to speak English to me after conversing fluently with the British couple immediately before me in the queue. A local in his twenties saw my confused state and brought me to the bus transfer area.
Our early bus meant a lengthy wait at Lajkovac for the remaining bus transfers but it also meant getting a good seat. I was assigned a specific seat on the ticket but was told This is Serbia (i.e. nobody adheres to seating rules).
The next station stops were Valjevo, Požega and Užice. After Požega the flat Serbian landscape was beginning to change into valleys.
Between Užice and Priboj the train briefly skirted into Bosnian territory without stopping.
At Prijepolje Serbian Border Police boarded the train and departed soon after I received a text message informing me of roaming rates in Montenegro. Within minutes the formidable Montenegrin Border Police were thoroughly inspecting the train, its passengers and the luggage of what appeared to be every male under the age of forty.
Border police departed the train at Bijelo Polje where we all disembarked for a stretch of the legs and a swig from the water fountain on the opposite platform. By now it was six in the evening and I dreamt of ravioli washed down with a swig of pinot grigio although any hot food with a swig of anything would have sufficed.
I ran out of homemade sandwiches and the train’s “cafeteria” only sold black coffee and bottles of water. The entirety of Montenegro was before us. The journey was beginning to feel like an endurance test.
The scenery between Bijelo Polje and capital city Podgorica is the journey’s finest. The train meanders around the side of mountains and through tunnels with a vertiginous view into the canyon below. But dusk had descended by the time we reached the famous Mala Rijeka viaduct and pitch darkness enveloped Podgorica upon our arrival.
By the time we departed Podgorica at 21:20 the train was already one hour and ten minutes late. Given the delay and the fact that Montenegro’s beautiful scenery was veiled in darkness, my host advised me to disembark at Sutomore, the penultimate station.
So I didn’t manage to complete the entire journey to Bar but at least I travelled for the vast majority of the 296 mile stretch and made it to the Adriatic coast.
A few years ago a travel company revived Tito’s Blue Train providing luxurious rail travel on a chartered basis on this route although according to Mark Smith’s The Man in Seat 61 rail blog flooding damage to the line caused a cancellation in services.
Few journeys in Europe compare with the Belgrade to Bar railway route and I would have no hesitation in travelling the Montenegro part of the journey again to experience the landscape I missed out on. And should the Blue Train re-commence service maybe I could be in with a chance of having that ravioli and pinot grigio I so craved on my maiden voyage.
My advice for travel on the Belgrade to Bar railway? Bring plenty of food and drink, and something to read as there’s no wifi or charging points.
Secondly, if you want to see the spectacular Montenegrin landscape travel northbound on the morning train or southbound on the night train.
If travelling southbound from Belgrade, pre-book your ticket especially in high season.
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BELGRADE TO BAR TRAIN: STATION STOPS
Serbia: Belgrade Topčider – Valjevo – Požega – Užice – Priboj – Prijepolje
Montenegro: Bijelo Polje – Mojkovac – Kolasin – Podgorica – Virpazar – Sutomore – Bar