I hadn’t heard of the city of Kotor until I found it on my cruise itinerary. Our ten night cruise would take us around the Italian boot, and Kotor was one of the planned stops along the way.
Kotor is a little town in the mountainous, rather obscure country of Montenegro. It is so reclusive, so hard to reach that it is not your usual seaside destination. Yet, despite Kotor being an unlikely candidate, I recently found an online article proclaiming Kotor to be the top travel destination of 2016.
As it turned out – Kotor proved to be one of the highlights of our cruise. The rugged Mediterranean surroundings in this part of the world are breathtaking. Indeed, some call the deeply indented Bay of Kotor a Montenegrin fjord, although this is not technically the correct term.
Add to that the charm of the unspoilt, almost intact medieval town centre and you will be easily won over. Not without reason is Kotor listed as an UNESCO World Natural and Historical Heritage Site.
While we found that places like Venice and Dubrovnik were overrun by tourists, Kotor is yet to see this conquering influx of foreigners. This is not to say that there were no visitors at all, with a moderate tourism infrastructure of shops and restaurants to match. But outside the main square right by the Sea Gate (the main entrance to the city) you could easily forget that you have arrived here together with another 1,000 or so cruise ship passengers.
There are many things to discover in Kotor. For one, the streets are traffic-free. A maze of romantic hidden back lanes and wide sunlit squares. Old buildings with wildflowers growing between the masonry and green shutters covering the windows. Yet, there is so much more.
Here are our 6 highlights of our day trip to Kotor.
1- City Walls
If you are mobile and have a reasonable degree of fitness, the city wall walk up to the St John Fortress is a must.
Not only will you come close to the most outstanding medieval fortifications in South-Eastern Europe. Walking up the walls, you come past ramparts, citadels, cisterns and a castle. But you also can enjoy the most outstanding views of the Bay of Kotor . A picture-perfect panorama of sheer limestone mountains and the glittering turquoise indent of the Mediterranean Sea.
And here’s a tip: Do make sure you start your walk early in the day if you are visiting in summer to avoid the worst of the heat. In the morning hours the wall is in the shadow of the mountain which is a major advantage on those hot summer days. Also, make sure you choose sensible footwear for the day as the walls are not in the best condition. Take some spare change to purchase cold drinks and beautiful handcrafted local jewellery along the way.
Read more about the Kotor city wall in my recent blog post.
2- St Georg and St Maria Church
Halfway up the city walls, see if you can spot a small sign indicating a church. Follow the arrow pointing to the left and climb through a hole in the wall. The short detour will take you to one of the most precious finds you will ever make on any of your trips.
The tiny church of St Georg and St Maria is a thousand years old. It is little more than a ruin today.
The paddock where you will find it is littered with foundations of medieval farm houses. Cows are grazing on the hardy grasses, butterflies are dancing on a sea of purple wildflowers.
Read more about this tiny, one thousand year old church and our magical encounter in my recent blog post.
3- Church of St Nicholas
One of the younger churches in Kotor, just around 100 years old, yet still absolutely stunning – this is St Nicholas. Built in the pseudo-Byzantine style, this church is particularly interesting for its gallery of icons.
With its checkerboard forecourt, the big domes and the flag hanging down the front facade it is probably the most recognisable building in Kotor.
When visiting make sure you also walk around the building to get a glimpse of a beautiful ancient fountain and staircase.
4- St Luke’s Church
Tiny St Luke’s was built some one thousand years ago and started out as a Catholic church.
When it was turned over to the Orthodox community, the Catholics secured the rights to retain an altar for their own use inside the walls. This is why today you will find inside St Luke’s dedicated areas for both faiths – an altar as well as an iconostasis.
Noteworthy is the calm atmosphere inside and the golden artefacts, iconostasis and icons. Pay attention to the floor entirely made of tombstones. Many people may not even give St Luke’s a second glance, given that from the outside it looks just like any of the other somber buildings of the old town.
5- Check out the rest of the city wall
Maybe you are not keen on hiking. Or the prospect of fantastic views of the fjord is not tempting enough. Still, you need to make sure you at least walk along the lower parts of the Kotor city wall. Start at the Southern Gate and walk along the wall to the Northern Gate.
There is this interesting interplay of thick defensive walls and the mumbling water of the river Skurda which is really enchanting and makes for great photos. I find it actually quite romantic.
In the river bed you will see some ancient remains of previous fortifications or maybe other, more industrial purposes.
6- A departure you won’t forget
Lastly, if you are visiting Kotor on a cruise ship do make sure you don’t miss viewing the departure on the top deck of the ship.
Leaving the Bay of Kotor is probably one of the most memorable things you will ever do in your life as a traveller. The beauty of this place is unmatched. Unforgettable is the panorama of the high mountains framing the bay in a protective circle.
Kotor has a lot to offer, I am really just scratching the surface in this post. Even if you are less adventurous and prefer to just sit and take in the atmosphere, Kotor is just perfect. You will find many quaint cafes in the public squares that will tempt you with local cheeses, olives and cured hams. Ideal for a relaxing afternoon in the shade of an ancient tree, surrounded by pretty old buildings and lovely people.
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