Everybody knows that Norway has fjords. But did you know that you can also find a fjord in Montenegro? Well, to be honest it is not really a fjord but a river canyon called a ria. But still, in terms of beauty and scenery this deeply indented part of the Mediterranean is unrivalled.
I am speaking, of course, of the picturesque city of Kotor, a little known Unesco World Heritage site. Beautifully located in a bay that is surrounded by steep barren limestone cliffs that cast deep shadows onto the indigo water.
The old town of Kotor reflects in style and layout the strong Venetian influence which derived from the Venetian occupation of the site until it was passed on to the Habsburg empire in the late 18th century. The Venetian Winged Lion can still be found in the masonry of the city.
Kotor was an important stronghold of Venetian rule, so much so that you can still visit the impressive fortifications that surround the city. A strong city wall that protects the city from the water-side and that stretches all the way up the mountain in the back of the city to the ruins of an enormous fortress.
It is these fortifications that we want to explore on the day that we arrive in Kotor on a cruise ship, and it is also the panorama views of the ria that we cannot wait to see from the top of the fortress.
A little known UNESCO world heritage site
It is bound to be a hot day, so we are one of the first to leave the cruise ship to avoid a strenuous climb in the midday sun. A wise decision as we realise soon enough, as the sun is yet to rise over the peak of the mountain. This early in the day, the wall is still bathed in cool shadows that help us conquer the steep ascent to the fortress.
In fact, we are so early we miss the fee collector at the foot of the climb, which accidentally saves us a couple of euros.
There seem to be at least two or even three ways to get to the wall from the old town of Kotor, yet it does take us a couple of minutes to find our way between the houses onto the proper path up the mountain.
A strenuous climb but worth the trouble
It is advisable to attempt the walk with sensible footwear. The wall is in ruins and there is a lot of lose rubble under our feet, so much so that we sometimes prefer the trail next to the official walk. The wall is maintained by the local people. There are plenty of neatly affixed trash bags for example and a good number of locals selling cool drinks and souvenirs along the way. But the walls are still pretty much in original condition, so you need to apply some care.
As we climb we are rewarded with fantastic views, not just down the mountain but also of the rocks and boulders, the grasses and wildflowers, the overhanging limestone mountains. They all remove us so much from our everyday lives that we believe we have ended up in a raw and natural world full of untamed beauty and innocence.
We walk past shrines dedicated to saints, then a little chapel, strangely familiar yet very different, following more the doctrines of the Orthodox church than those of the Roman Catholic church which is closer to what we have grown up with.
The secret church behind the wall
On our way we also walk past an opening, a window overlooking the backside of the mountain, which turns out to be the gateway to something truly special. A little secret which I will share with you elsewhere on the blog. Trust me when I tell you that you won’t find a more authentic experience than when crawling through this window in the wall. Most visitors that we met on the day missed it and were thankful when we pointed it out to them.
Eventually we make it to the top of the city wall, past lower fortifications, all in ruins now and not just more than a maze of stones overgrown with hardy weeds. But before we reach our destination we need to cross a rather frightening looking chain bridge.
It is our last obstacle before we are getting rewarded with the most wonderful panoramic views of the Bay of Kotor and the roof of the old town.
Huffing and puffing and arms wrapped around each other we stand on top of the fort and enjoy these most amazing views. A climb that was well worth the effort and highly recommended.
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