The triangle-shaped fortified city of Kotor was the first Montenegrin city in our itinerary. It is told to be the most famous town in the entire country, and I seriously wouldn’t doubt it. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and since then tourism has been on the rise.
On the 9th day of our journey across the Balkan states, we crossed the border from Croatia into Montenegro, to discover what I consider to be the most beautiful landscapes of both the Adriatic and the Mediterranean seas.
The Bay of Kotor
Simply known as Boka, the Bay of Kotor, is one of the deepest bays on the Adriatic Sea with a total length of 28 km. Situated in the southwestern part of Montenegro, it is often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, as it is surrounded by enormous hills.
Driving to Kotor was indeed an hell of a challenge. There’s a ferry line connecting Kamenari and Lepetane, which could have saved me a really long drive, but as stubborn as I am, I took the road all around the bay. The road is in very good condition, however, you’ll come across many 40km/h signs and police in every corner waiting for you to break the law.
Through the ages, several settlements were established along the bay and they’re still inhabited nowadays. As you travel around the bay you’ll be passing through some of the most important medieval towns, such as Herceg Novi, Risan, Perast, Prcanj, Tivat and of course, Kotor.
Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Đorđe, are the names given to the two islets off the old town of Perast, which can be reached only by taking a boat tour. This photo below was shot when we were driving around the bay.
Kotor is also a famous cruise port in the Mediterranean. At the moment we visited the town, there was a huge cruise ship docked at the harbor. There were also some yachts and some smaller boats. The scenery of the bay, with such large cruise ship docked at the port of Kotor, while surrounded by hills was incredible.
As expected, this is Kotor’s most famous attraction. Encircled by massive walls, it is where most monuments are located, such as cathedrals, churches and palaces. Each one of them with a history of its own.
There are three entrances to the Old Town. The main entrance is called the Sea Gate, built in the year of 1555 when the city was under Venetian rule. The northern gate faces the Scruda River, and there’s a stone bridge that connects it to the northern part of the city. Gurdic Gate is the one located on the southernmost point of the Old Town, and it is considered by many the most beautiful of them all.
As you enter you’ll find yourself roaming through the picturesque narrow streets of Kotor, where many souvenir shops, restaurants and pubs can be found. There are also some main squares where most of Kotor’s points of interest are located. Trg od Oružja, in English “The Arms Square”, is the main and largest square, where the 17th Century Clock Tower can be found.
Inside the walls there are two main churches. The Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, on St. Luke’s Square and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. Both constructions are very impressive, however, they’re separated by eight centuries. The first one dates back to the beginning of the 20th Century, while the second one dates back to the 12th Century.
As we were there, we visited Mariner Pub, which had an interesting look and an even more interesting menu. There’s a large variety of both imported and local beer and wines.
Apparently, all cities on the Adriatic Sea seem to have been invaded by cats, and the Old Town of Kotor wasn’t an exception. Inside the Old Town fortified walls you can find the Cats Museum and a souvenir shop named “Cats of Kotor”. Of course I had to shoot some photos of our four-legged friends.
Hiking to Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni
The highlight of our visit to Kotor was the moment I climbed up the city walls to the Fortress of San Giovanni, which lies at an altitude of 280 meters above sea level, providing the best view of the city and the surrounding region. I just had no idea that there were 1350 steps separating me from the top.
During the winter season, visiting the walls is completely free, however during the summer an entrance fee of 3€ is applied. However, I had been informed that there is a way of getting to the walls without having to pay that fee. You can ask the locals and they will tell you exactly how, however, I didn’t bother to ask anyone. 3€ didn’t seem like a bad deal, and I was already there, so why going back?
Unfortunately my girlfriend had fallen sick and wasn’t feeling well enough to hike with me all the way to the top of the Castle of San Giovanni. I feel sorry that she didn’t get to experience the best view of the Bay of Kotor and Europe’s southernmost fjord, but it was the right choice to be made.
I had no idea how many steps were between me and the top. I could see the Church of our Lady of Remedy and it didn’t seem so far away, little did I know that it isn’t even located halfway to the castle. The view was getting better and better, I could see the Old Town, the Bay of Kotor and a cruise ship docked at the port, but I could no longer see my girlfriend who was probably getting tired of waiting for me.
It didn’t take long to reach The Church of our Lady of Remedy, built in the first part of the 16th Century. At the entrance, there was someone selling bottles of water and soda cans. I was thirsty, but I didn’t have my wallet with me, so I just kept hiking all the way to the top.
While climbing you can choose taking the cobbled path, or the steps. However, the first option seems too risky once the path is too slippery. If you’re carrying a camera I’d suggest the second option, unless you wanna risk falling and damaging your devices, or even worse, getting hurt.
At above 200 meters of altitude, I found a window, leading to a valley between the hills, where is situated the small Church of St. George. There’s also another off the beaten track path leading to the Church and back to the Old Town, but my focus was getting to the flag that could be seen on top of the hill.
Soon I reached the castle. The largest part of the fort is crumbling, so I suggest playing it safe and avoid being underneath the crumbling ceilings. Instead, just keep climbing all the way to the top. The higher you climb, the better the view gets.
The flag of Montenegro can be found on top of St. John’s Fortress. From the flag you’ll encounter the most amazing scenario where the mountains rise from the sea, similar to those of Norwegian fjords. Just like the English poet Lost Bryon wrote:“At the birth of the planet the most beautiful encounter between land and sea must have been on the Montenegrin coast”. I believe that this quote explains the Montenegrin coastline in just a few words.
Everything can be seen from the top, the fortified city of Kotor, the surrounding villages, the incredible fjord-like mountains and the Bay of Kotor, which is a major stop for cruise ships traveling the Mediterranean Sea. Such unforgettable scenario… I want to go back!
Stay tuned for the next part of The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip