After months of inland ravel, our first glimpses of the Adriatic Sea from the last mountain pass into Montenegro brought great joy to our hearts. Claire growing up in a seaside town, and myself working on the beach for several summers have always felt at home by the ocean. Away from it for too long, and we begin to feel a part of us deep down inside aching. Montenegro and its wonderful coast proved to be more than enough to mend our hurting hearts.
After winding back and forth down to the coast, we made our way into the the Bay of Kotor, a large bay surrounded by mountains that seem to drop directly into the sea, with only a small bottle neck connecting it to the larger Adriatic Sea. From every angle you look, this little piece of Montenegro is stunning. The bay is ringed with small medieval towns accompanied by the constant backdrop of Karst mountainscape towering from above. Clouds often shroud the peaks above while on a calm day, the bay mirrors all that lays before your eyes.
If all of this doesn’t convince you to grab your bag and head to the region, keep on reading. Here we will highlight the two must see towns in the area and what to do while here.
Kotor: Town above the Rest
At the far end of the bay lies Kotor, the finest town along the bay and perhaps the highlight of your trip to the country. The town has held a commanding presence here for hundreds of years. The small space between the water and mountains supports a completely walled in town, filled with churches and medieval buildings. If you come here when the cruise ships are not in port, it is hard not to travel back to a different era. Narrow and winding alleys help you get a little lost in the ancient maze of old town, while it is small enough to wander aimlessly without ever truly losing your way. As the city becomes overwhelmed with tourists in the summer months, this was one of the places we were glad to have visited during the off season. We had the whole place to ourselves, except for the dozens of cats patrolling the streets.
Where ever you go in Kotor (or for that matter anywhere in Montenegro) feline friends roam about as if they own the town. There are so many, that one can think of the place as a giant cat house built for their own use. This turned into a wonderland for Claire as I see her eventually becoming a crazy cat lady, with the effect becoming more and more apparent the longer we are away from our cat, Sushi. Locals leave out food and water for the cats, ensuring that most of them are well fed and welcomed.
Fortress of Kotor
Above all of this (except for the cats because there are more above as well) lies what remains of the ancient castle complex. The crumbling walls ride the cliffs up to the top of the mountain where a citadel still stands today. The climb takes about 45 minutes directly, but by rushing up, you miss the stupendous views of the town and bay below in addition to the many nooks and crannies to be explored on your way up. Even if you hate climbing or are here in the heat of summer, this is a must do. It is the best thing you will do while you are here. Take at least half a day here.
If the fortress isn’t high enough for you, there is a trail about halfway back down that will take you up to the nearby peaks the loom over the fortress and town. Once at the top, be careful as the rocks are extremely sharp (seriously, like knifeblade sharp). I sliced my thumb open due to my own carelessness as I descended down to the viewpoint.
Eating in Kotor
Inside town there are several restaurants catering to tourists and prices most certainly reflect this. While we were there, most of these places were closed down for the low season. For cheap eats and groceries, there are two large supermarkets just a short walk outside the city walls and several shops that sell Burek and other baked goods. We ended up cooking our own food during our stay here, buying some local wine to enjoy as we gazed out at the city from our balcony.
Staying in Kotor
During the summer months, staying in old town is expensive and noisy. During the winter months, prices plummet, and as mentioned before, you will have the town mostly to yourself. We stayed at an airbnb where the building dated back to the 1600s. It cost us $20 a night which was incredible considering the location along the city walls. The apartment was the best we had stayed in for a long time as we felt spoiled here. While I’m sure these prices skyrocket along with the temperature, if you are here in the off season, the website is your best option.
Perast: Beautiful Town, Beautiful Landscape
A Twenty minute bus ride away from Kotor is the even smaller town of Perast. Located opposite from where the Bay opens up to the sea, its hard to determine how to split your awe time between the natural scenery or the town itself.
The bus drops you off on the far side of town, which is right next to the small boat that ferries people out to one of the two islands near town. Our Lady of the Rocks, the island tourists can explore, is actually man made. It was created by sinking boats in the late 1400s and then pilling rock upon rock until the island that you stand on today was created. The original church dates back to the 1400s and was important for men to visit before heading out to sea. The best thing to do here is simply relax and soak up the scenery that surrounds you. A round trip boat at the time of writing cost 5 euros.
After making your way back to the mainland, the town of Perast is rather linear, comprising of a few main streets with offshoots that head up the mountain side. There seems to be more churches than houses here, some of them dating back to the 13th century. Slowly make your way through town until you reach the other side where you will see a bus stop. Wait here by the seaside for the next bus to roll through and bring you back to Kotor
The Bay in Winter
In the winter months, time slows down around the Bay as the locals reclaim their slice of paradise from the boat loads of tourists that infest the city during the warmer months. While swimming may not be on your agenda, you will get to see how the city was ‘back in the day’. The towns here end up having a little extra bit of charm with the tourists at bay, making the experience of being here just that much more special for you.