The Charming Town of Kotor, Montenegro

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!

The Jewel of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia!

For a long time, Dubrovnik has been in my radar as a destination.  The images of this city sitting on the Adriatic Sea with its tiled roofs has always captured my imagination – as I hope it does yours, if you have not been to this gem of a place!  This initially was going to be one post but there was so much I wanted to share, I decided to split into two, to not short change you, my readers!

Planning a trip to Italy with friends, I began wondering where else I could go after the Italy visit since I was already across the Atlantic.  As I reviewed the map (first mentally, then online), I zoomed in on Croatia.  Very close to Italy… I did not have a hard time making my mind up.  Croatia it was and Dubrovnik within it….

Arriving in Dubrovnik

I landed in the small but very efficient airport and boarded the bus to town, saving tons of money and paying little to be dropped off right outside one of the main gates into the old city.

The main bus stop area outside of Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, Croatia

As I rode the bus along the coast, I kept my eyes wide open waiting for my first glimpse of Dubrovnik.  And that moment was still as impressive as I thought it would be:  this place looked like out of a fairy tale!  Though I didn’t luck out in the weather department that week, it was impossible to not be charmed by Dubrovnik…

Approaching Dubrovnik, Croatia coming from the airport and meetings its famous tiled roofs

Not too bad for a pic taken from a moving bus!

My Home for 4 Days – The Hilton

My hotel, the Hilton Grand Imperial was almost across the street from the bus stop.  Lucky guy!  (In fact, you can see in the top picture on the top right of the picture!)

Grand Hilton Imperial Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The beautiful Grand Imperial!

Sample architecture in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Building across from the Hilton Grand Imperial Hotel

The hotel was built in the late 19th century and suffered greatly in the attacks in 1991 (I saw a picture of its roof burning in a local museum where a photo exhibit shows the pain the city went through that year…).  It is now a beautiful Hilton property with excellent service, great location, and an incredible buffet breakfast (along with a well prepared gym to burn off any calories you don’t burn by walking around!  Oh and an indoor pool, sauna, and steam room – imperial indeed.).  (Check out my TripAdvisor review for this hotel.)

Hilton Grand Imperial welcome treat in my room in Dubrovnik, Croatia

A nice welcome treat after a long day coming from Rome via Munich at the Hilton!

Background to appreciate this beautiful place even more…

Dubrovnik competed with Venice, in its heyday (as it does today in my head!), for being one of the most important centers of trade in that part of Europe.  In fact, the Republic of Ragusa, as it was known, was the only contender in the eastern Adriatic to Venice.  It was a skilled center of trade working through complicated politics and centers of power to remain independent until a series of mishaps in the late 17th century started eroding its staying power to be independent.  Little known to me and likely to my compatriots from any of our history courses, this place was definitely unique in history.

Eventually, after many different circumstances, Dubrovnik ended up in Yugoslavia.  When the Yugoslav state began falling apart, Croatia declared its independence along with Slovenia.  Unfortunately, it was not a clean break for Croatia.  Dubrovnik suffered serious attacks in 1991-2 that destroyed parts of the city and most of the tiled roofs that added a lot of charm to the place.  Most of the tiled roofs you see today, in fact, are reconstructions due to the war.  It is very sad not only for the loss of human life and the destruction suffered upon this beautiful city but this city had been demilitarized in the 1970s on purpose to ensure it would never suffer war due to its beauty.  But nationalist zealots don’t respect much…  Dubrovnik paid the price – still visible as bullet holes in some buildings and by the new-looking roofs.   Who is laughing now, though??

Old Town and the City Walls

For sure, the best part of Dubrovnik is what is in Old Town and what surrounds its:  its famed and still intact city walls.  There is so much to share on this that I devote another post to what Old Town offers.  For now, until a few days from now, know that exploring every corner and alley of Old Town is a delight!

The following are views of different portions of the famous city walls as I walked them!

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Food – Because You KNEW I Was Going to Go There

I mentioned in my review of the Hilton how good the buffet breakfast was – so that was one meal I did not go elsewhere for!  I had a nice meal at a local place in Old Town one night, and then another meal right between the Hilton and the Pile Gate at a restaurant that was good but pricey.  However, the star of the show for me was Restaurant Posat.  Though in my TripAdvisor review I mention that it was pricey, it was a great deal.  I had mussels for a starter and then a local grilled fish for the main course.  The mussels and the fish were very fresh (and I know fresh fish having lived in Chile for a year!!).  I sat by the waterfront, under the aegis of the St. Lawrence Fortress (or Fortress Lovrijenac).  The restaurant, though outside of the Old Town and very close to the Pile Gate and the main bus stop, was and felt tucked away.  Oh, and they had good wifi!

View from Restaurant Posat in Dubrovnik, Croatia

View from straight ahead from the Restaurant Posat

View of Fortress St. Lawrence in Dubrovnik. Croatia

View of Fortress St. Lawrence – the immediate neighbor of Restaurant Posat!

Great Location!!

Dubrovnik is not just a phenomenal destination unto itself.  It is a great jumping place to many different places.  Island hopping in the Croatian coast, I hear, is incredible.  Heading to awesome Split not too difficult.  Day trip to Mostar, a jewel in Herzegovina?  No problem.  Saunter off to Kotor Bay, the double-bay in Montenegro, or visit Riviera-like Budva also in Montenegro?  Very easy.  Dubrovnik is just blessed with its location as a great place to base a lot of travel in the region.

How Do I Wrap My Head around Dubrovnik?

I have to say that I have seen many places and many places that I like.  I have seen many charming European towns and villages.  I have seen Venice.  And Dubrovnik fares EXTREMELY well when I stack it against any of these.  I dare say its charm is very unique, as is Venice’s.  Except no foul smells, floods, or sinking buildings here…  Stay tuned for part 2 where I hope you will continue to see why I so enjoyed this jewel of the Adriatic!

View of the eastern approach from the sea to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Beautiful view of the eastern harbor, the Fortress of St. John, the Bell Tower, the Dominican Monastery, St. Vlaho’s Church and the wonderful tiled roofs!

Day Tripping in the Balkans (part 2) – 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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