A monastery cut into a cliff

The Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro is the most important pilgrimage site in the country. For obvious reasons, it’s also drawing in the tourists.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

Cut into a cliff, this spectacular Montenegro monastery near Niksic has centuries of fascinating history… like the Ostrog Monastery miracles, for example!

Without giving it too much thought, I join the queue at the top of this monastery in Montenegro. Perhaps it’s my partial British heritage that subconsciously prevents me from questioning what the line is for – I just feel compelled to stand behind someone and wait, slowly shuffling ahead with the others.

My mind wanders slightly and I look out over the view from Ostrog Monastery. At the top of a mountain in central Montenegro, with an expansive valley stretching out below me, it’s a good location to enjoy the scenery.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

I don’t really mentally process that everyone in the queue is a local, all the women have their heads covered with scarves, and many are holding bags full of food or clothes.

It’s only when I’m almost at the end of the queue that I notice the bags are being put into wooden baskets like offerings – but by then it’s too late.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

I’m ushered through a tiny entrance in the cliff I need to bow down to get through… and I find myself in a cave.

This isn’t any ordinary cave, though. The walls are painted with frescoes from many years ago, there’s a small altar in one corner and in front of it is a priest giving blessings and mumbling in a language I can’t understand.

I realise I had been waiting with everyone for this special moment to be face to face with the human representative of the divine spirit of Ostrog Monastery.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

Thinking quickly, I cower in a corner and wave the person begins me past. I pretend this was planned and act calm. I stand for a while and admire the artwork which surrounds me. I inspect everything carefully and put on a face designed to give off respectful appreciation.

Then I smile politely at everyone and make a retreat back through the small hole, bowing out of necessity rather than devotion as I squeeze back out.

This is what happens when tourists like me visit a site that is still a significant centre of worship.

The story behind Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog Monastery is, in fact, the most important Orthodox site in Montenegro – and definitely the most dramatic!

It was built in the 1600s by literally carving into the face of a cliff. The work was overseen by the Bishop of Herzegovina at the time, who would go on to be known as St Basil of Ostrog.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

His decision to build this monastery in Montenegro into a cliff was probably in a large part for protection, because this was the time when the Ottoman Empire was causing havoc in the area.

But the legends say that St Basil was also guided by God to create something special here. In the first cave, he built a church. The second cave he made a bedroom for guests. And the third cave was where the religious artefacts would be held. 

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

Large and painted white, Ostrog Monastery can be seen from kilometres away, contrasted against the greys and oranges of the natural rock. But, actually, this is all from a restoration that happened around 1925 after a major fire destroyed much of the monastery.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

The two caves, which are the most important part of the site, did survive, though. Perhaps St Basil of Ostrog was protecting them.

Ostrog Monastery miracles

When St Basil of Ostrog died in 1671, he was buried at the monastery in Montenegro that he had founded. But this was not the end. In some ways, it was just the beginning.

This is when the miracles of Ostrog Monastery began, with people telling stories of St Basil appearing in their dreams. He would often be there to guide them, to help them, to heal them.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

Over the years, the stories spread, and people started coming to visit Ostrog Monastery. Many of these visitors who were sick or injured were said to be healed by being in the presence of the relics of St Basil.

There are countless stories of these miracles, people who claim that St Basil cured them – even in modern times.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

One of the most famous tales that’s told is of a former US senator called William Barr who had been injured in an attempted assassination. He said he had a recurring dream of an old man in a white church in a cliff but didn’t know where it was.

When he one day heard about Ostrog Monastery, he decided to do a pilgrimage. He spent many days, walking (in pain) up to the monastery and kneeling before St Basil’s relics.

Each day he felt less pain until eventually it went away completely.

Pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery

Every year, tens of thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery in the hope that the relics of St Basil will be able to help them. Many of them go barefoot for the last three kilometres from the lower monastery, up the winding road to the upper monastery.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

Although I am not doing it for any spiritual reason, I find myself doing a bit of a pilgrimage myself.

I have come from Podgorica to Ostrog Monastery by public transport, which has dropped me off on the highway, about eight kilometres from the upper monastery. Although there are a couple of taxis waiting nearby, I decide to walk.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

(I will go into the transport options to get to Ostrog Monastery shortly but, if you’re interested in visiting, I would recommend a tour to take the hassle out of the logistics and save yourself the walk! I would recommend this great tour that also visits some other sites.)

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

There are definitely a lot of people here when I visit. Some are tourists, but the majority are definitely local. Maybe not pilgrims, as such, but presumably believers who have come to worship.

It’s a Saturday, so it’s probably a bit busier than usual. But it’s interesting to see such a cross section of the community here. From the old grandmothers to hip well-dressed twenty-somethings.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

The pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery is clearly not confined to just a certain type of person.

I guess that included me. I may not have brought a bag to donate to the church, I may not have had a blessing, and I may not have appreciated the presence of Saint Basil’s remains.

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

But the long walk each way did give me plenty of time to think and it’s hard not to be inspired or awed by these incredible buildings in the cliffs above the Bjelopavlici Plain.

This monastery in Montenegro is a highlight of my time in the country and I would recommend trying to visit Ostrog Monastery if you can. If you have any ailments, St Basil may be able to help.

Where is Ostrog Monastery?

The Ostrog Monastery is just off the main highway between Podgorica and Niksic.
By road, Ostrog Monastery is about 25 kilometres from Niksic, about 40 Kilometres from Podgorica, and about 120 Kilometres from Kotor.
You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Ostrog Monastery?

I wouldn’t say it’s simple to get to Ostrog Monastery by public transport, but it is possible.
To get from Budva or Kotor to Ostrog Monastery, you’ll need to first get to Podgorica.
To get from Niksic or Podgorica to Ostrog Monastery, you can take a train to Ostrog train station, or jump on one of the many buses that go between the two cities and get off on the highway at Bogetici (just tell the driver ‘Ostrog’ when you get on).
From Bogetici, it’s a two-hour walk one way. From the train station, it’s a bit over one hour. Or there’ll probably be taxis waiting at both to take you to the last leg.
Of course, it’s much easier with a tour (which I’ll discuss in a moment), or I would also recommend hiring a car to explore Montenegro.

When is Ostrog Monastery open?

Ostrog Monastery is open from May to September from 06:00 – 17:00.
From October to April, it’s open from 05:00 – 16:00.

How much does it cost to visit Ostrog Monastery?

There is no cost to visit Ostrog Monastery but there is an opportunity to leave a donation, if you like.

Are there tours to Ostrog Monastery?

The easiest way to visit Ostrog Monastery is with a tour and, unless you have a lot of time and enjoy the challenge, I would recommend you take one.
Most of the Ostrog Monastery tours will also visit some other sites in the region so you get to see some bonus parts of Montenegro. Plus the tours can be quite affordable, especially considering all the time they save.
I would recommend this great tour, which packs A LOT into one day. You can browse some of the other tours that include the monastery here.


Although you could also stay somewhere like Kotor, the best accommodation to visit the monastery is in nearby Podgorica.


For a friendly and cosy hostel, I would recommend the lovely Hostel Q.


With a nice breakfast and unbeatable location, Hotel Kerber is really good value.


For something modern and cool, Hotel Hemera has a great design and fantastic facilities.


And the best five-star luxury hotel is the Hilton Podgorica Crna Gora, in the centre of the city.

27 thoughts on “A monastery cut into a cliff”

  1. Wow, this looks like a very beautiful place. We really wanted to visit Montenegro when we were living in London but we never got the chance. We certainly want to make sure we go there next time we’re in Europe. Your blog posts about us have made us want to. (Although we might skip the capital, giving your last blog post!)

    • Definitely skip the capital!! It would have been a pretty easy trip from London, I think. You could’ve flown into Dubrovnik and then gone along the coast into Montenegro. But it’s close to a lot of the other Balkan countries so easy to include if you’re ever doing some travelling around that part of the world.

    • Montenegro definitely deserves to be on the bucket list and this is a great place to visit while you’re there. It’s also quite central so there’s a good chance you’ll go pretty close to it if you’re doing a bit of travel around the country.

  2. I have seen images of this monastery though none so detailed as yours – nor quite so magnificent as the shot taken from a distance. Such a dramatic location. The orthodox artwork looks magnificent and so beautifully maintained. I will have to make a pilgrimage of my own!

  3. Such a dramatic location for the monastery. As you said, even though you didn’t bring an offering, you did hike. Thanks for making that pilgrimage for us. It looks incredibly beautiful!

  4. Wow, that is one monastery I would love to visit. I’m not a big fan of what the Catholic church has left behind, especially here in Central America, too much bloodshed. But when they are as unique as carved into mountains, that is so worth the journey.

    • It’s worth pointing out that this monastery is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is different to the Roman Catholic Church. That being said, most strains of Christianity have plenty of blood on their hands over the course of history but they’ve all also created beautiful works of art and architecture around the world.

      • Not only is your article offensive – you treat the monastery like its some typical spot for tourists – its not and this is offensive to locals who worship at the site. It is a religious for of worship, first and foremost. Secondly, the church was built into cliffs because the Serbian Orthodox Christians were actually persecuted in the 1600s. They were persecuted by the Turks under the Ottoman Empire. Learn the history of a place before you offend an entire culture & the Orthodox Church has no where near the same “blood” on its hand that other churches or religions have.

        • Agree with you Jade. It’s almost as if the writer was reviewing some random local cafe.
          It is a Holy site and should be treated with respect.

    • I can’t even think about how long it must take to make places like this, though. It sounds like I’m going to have to make a trip to Bulgaria soon and see all these things you keep talking about!! 🙂

    • There are lots of monasteries in Serbia but you can really pick the stunning ones. It’s a whole part of the history that I never knew about before. The paintings inside the buildings are so beautiful and detailed. Definitely the kind of thing that’s worth seeing when you’re there.

  5. I just finished painting a picture of the monastery on a live edge board that looks like the mountain. My wife Carole and I baptized our God Children (Kaca and Zlatko) here in 1992 during the war. It was one of the most religious experiences I’ve ever had and I still get emotional thinking about it. I lost my wife five years ago after 50 years married, but I still have my God children and wonderful memories in Montenegro and Serbia.


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