The Charming Town of Kotor, Montenegro

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Kotor, Montenegro was an almost accidental destination for me.  The anchor destination for the trip was Italy but my wanderlust wanted me to go further to new places (even though Pompeii was new to me).  So I added Croatia by visiting the gem of the AdriaticDubrovnik.  But then I found out about day trips to Mostar (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Montenegro.  It didn’t take much for me to say “sold!”  Kotor was a very picturesque and “alive” town with its cafés and old architecture.

Café scene in old town Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Part of the café scene

Kotor sits between the bay of the same and the mountain of St. John which was fortified as early as the 6th century.  This town has passed from empire to empire from Roman times, Byzantine times, Republic of Venice’s time, Hapsburg times, Bulgarian times, Ottoman times and Yugoslav times among others (even if not all those officially had the name “empire”…).  You get the picture of the changes this places must have gone through over two millenia!

Sea Gate in Kotor, Montenegro part of the fortifications city wall Canon EOS Rebel

The Sea Gate which dates from the 16th century

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate of Kotor Montenegro carving Canon EOS Rebel architecture detail

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate

fortification wall tower Kotor Montenegro St. John history Canon EOS Rebel

Fortifications consist of large walls interspersed with towers along the water and up the mountain

Its architecture, heavily influenced by the Venetian style, contributed to it being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site which seconds my recommendation that this is a place that ought to be checked out – the trip to reach it is both, worth effort AND beautiful as Kotor Bay is a unique setting – in and of itself worth seeing in person.

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel balcony

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro tower Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro street Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Churches in Kotor

Kotor has quite a few churches from different times – 11 if I counted correctly on the tourist map for this town of around 13,000 inhabitants.

St. Tryphon's Cathedral in Kotor, Montenegro - crucifix, museum Canon EOS Rebel

Crucifix in the small gallery on the second level of St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Tryphon's Cathedral - alter and crucifix in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Altar and crucifix in St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in front of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church (facing St. Lucas Church) in Kotor, Montenegro

Church of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Romanesque architecture photo Canon EOS Rebel

12th century Church of St. Lucas – Romanesque style

Getting lost in Kotor -and is true in many places – is a neat way to see this town and, trust me, you won’t be lost for too long as you are bound by the mountain, the moat or the Sea Gate!

Day Tripping in the Balkans (part 2) – Montenegro

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

In my prior blog entry I described how I decided on going to the Balkans and how I found day trips to take.  The first day trip was to visit Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  The second day trip was centered on a visit to Kotor in Montenegro, one of the “youngest” countries in the world.

Montenegro may seem obscure but it has been a part of European history (for example, in Italy and Russia) for a while even while buried under this empire or another.

Kotor

Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an old town nested in Kotor Bay which is kind of behind another bay that opens out to the ocean.  Driving all around the coastline takes a while but provides beautiful scenery and interesting small hamlets to see.  (I wrote more about Kotor in another post if you want to read a little more.)

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Sights of Kotor Bay: Church built on a man-made island (that took 200yrs to create!)

We went straight to Kotor as we also had planned going all the way up to the mountains and Lovcen National Park and that would require a bit of time.  The town is quite charming and full of life.  Among things to see are parts of the fortifications (which run up the slope of the mountain) and various types of churches (Orthodox, Catholic).  The Church of St. Tryphon is well worth a visit – pay to go upstairs and look at the treasures it keeps!

Orthodox Church in Kotor, Montenegro

Church tower in Kotor, Montenegro

Church tower in Kotor

Lively café scene in Kotor, Montenegro

View of Kotor city walls and churches in Montenegro

Ride up Lovcen mountain

Going up the mountains will reward you with spectacular views over Kotor Bay and other coastline areas.  It is incredible how high you get in such little time.  The road up was built during the Austro-Hungarian empire days (it has been updated since then!) and it is quite impressive as you zigzag your way up pretty quickly.  Again, you do it for the spectacular views!  Hopefully, you won’t have a rainy day (had I done this tour a day earlier, I would have missed them!)  After like curve 32, you officially have entered Lovcen National Park (http://www.discover-montenegro.com/lovcen.htm) and gotten to Lovcen mountain where supposedly Montenegro gets its name from (black mountain – which is not how the locals call it, by the way – they call it Crna Gora).

It is funny to re-read the section of “On the Shores of the Mediterranean” by Eric Newby (first published in 1984) and hear how this road up used to be back then:  full of potholes and gaps in the protective walls that showed how vehicle occupants on this road made a “spectacular exit to eternity”!  The road is still one lane with lay-bys for cars to pass each other but the road is of excellent quality now vs. 1984 (thankfully!).

Mountain town

Our day trip stopped at a mountain hamlet, named Njegusi (famous for being the birthplace in the 19th century of a future Montenegrin ruler), which seemed pretty empty on that day.  Maybe the people were elsewhere working… We stopped at a small restaurant where we visited the smokeroom for the ham and then sampled some of it in a fairly basic ham and cheese sandwich (the cheese also being local) bought at the counter.  Of course, I also got a glass of vino which was actually quite adequate.  The ham was tougher than jamon serrano (Spanish ham) and I had a hard time chewing through it.  But it was interesting nevertheless.

Budva and the Montenegrin Riviera

From the hamlet we drove through the mountain countryside.  We were quite high up and yet all we saw for a while were mountains that looked pretty dark in color (trees hadn’t grown their green back yet) and some with a little snow.

At some point we did get to look in the distance at the lake that is part of Montenegro’s border with Albania and my heart wished we were a lot closer so I could enter Albania!  We made our way down to the town of Cetinje, former seat of the royal house that use to lord over Montenegro and hosted foreign embassies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetinje).  We drove through town not stopping on our way to coastal Budva.

Budva seems to be quickly becoming the capital of a Montenegrin riviera.  Well, maybe it already is.  Hotels and many other modern structures abound, including a hotel we were told was used a good bit by the movie Casino Royal (of James Bond fame).  I suspect a lot of Russian tourism hits this part as the countries do have some historical connections and wonder whose money is funding all the construction… But I digress, a favorite weakness of mine.

We got a couple of hours to explore Old Town Budva which is rather charming.  As usual, I got a coffee somewhere to get access to a hopefully clean restroom (which it was).  It was a nice afternoon and it was nice to be able to stretch them legs on a nice stop like this one.

Budva, Montenegro on the Adriatic

Around old town Budva

Impressions

Montenegro offered me almost two different worlds within a rather small land area!  Budva and the riviera sort of contrasted with earlier in the day when I was seeing something that felt more like a distant world from times long gone.  Budva old town was worth the stop but the riviera aspect of it (since I was not there to enjoy it, I suppose) diluted the charm I felt earlier in the day and in spending time in the old town.  Now, maybe in another visit, I will get to enjoy being seaside and then Budva could become a favorite?  I will have to come back perhaps to the Montenegrin riviera which I assume is broader than just Budva!

I have to say that Kotor Bay would be an area I would stick around another couple of days to take in more slowly.  I would also love to get lost (not literally) inland in those mountain areas that actually felt remote though, in distance, they were not.  They seemed pretty unspoilt as far as the eye could see (which in the very far distance was actually Serbia).

If you do get to go and choose a tour, make sure you get one that takes you up the mountain for the splendid views of Kotor Bay and to see the “hinterlands”.  Your impressions of Montenegro will be different if you don’t see these two things!  I leave you with that phenomenal view!

View from Luvcen mountain of Kotor Bay, Montenegro

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