Our travel from Croatia to Montenegro was via one of the most beautiful bus rides I’ve ever taken. The Bay of Kotor, which I’ve seen far too many picture perfect Pinterest photos of, was ever more gorgeous in person. Towering mountain faces slope dramatically toward thin, tiny towns on the bay’s edge and then continue plunging into the clear water below. Looking at this region from any vantage point reminds you visually, there is precious little space we can actually inhabit on this earth.
Kotor itself has only about 13,000 citizens. The first mention of it in history was in 168BC when it was settled by the Romans but most of it was built up in the Venetian period. Looking at it, you can see how Kotor would be clearly valued as a stronghold. There is absolutely no way to sneak up on this city. Jagged mountains lay all around, broken up only by a huge bay of calm water.
While we were enjoying our 10 days of exploration here, we saw that Lonely Planet named Kotor it’s #1 city to visit in 2016. We heartily agree. This place is magical. Check out this super short video for some professional footage of this place. Better than we could ever do!
Kotor includes another medieval walled city, like many that we’ve spent exploring in Croatia. Outside the walls, where our apartment was, you’ll find restaurants, businesses, and strangely, many large abandoned hotels – a pattern we saw in many of the eastern European towns we visited. We were warned by some folks in Croatia that Kotor is nice, but “filled with trash”, which is true in a way. Outside the cute old town walls, Kotor is just a dingy little town, but it’s setting is what makes it incredibly unique. If you just look up from the trash-dotted streets, you’ll be amazed.
Hiking the City Walls
While we took advantage of the surrounding mountains during several hikes, we also “hiked” the old city walls. Though we didn’t go far from the city, make no mistake: this was a tough day of hiking up, up, up for some great views.
One of our favorite memories from Kotor was attending a free chorale concert in an old orthodox church. The choir was a group of professional singers from England and they sung a selection of English, Latin, and Montenegrin pieces. It was an incredible performance and a truly unique experience for us. Afterwards, Nate noticed a Buffalo Bills hat on the man sitting in front of us and we made quick friends with him and his wife, who are from Ithaca, New York! Small world.
Lovčen National Park // Njegoš Mausoleum
One day we rented a car and drove out to Lovčen National Park, about an hour from Kotor taking the “new” road. The most direct route is a series of switchbacks that go straight up the mountain range behind Kotor instead of around. We had a great day and ended up seeing some beautiful sights along the coastline during our drive.
We were drawn to Lovčen to see the Njegoš Mausoleum. Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1813 – 1851) was a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, poet, and philosopher. His poems and writings are considered some of the most important in Montenegrin and Serbian literature. His final wish was to be buried in a chapel of his design at the top of Mount Lovčen. His chapel was destroyed in World War I in 1916 and this mausoleum was constructed in the 1970s as homage to him. The mausoleum is impressive, but we were even more smitten with the 360 degree view behind it. We could see all the way to Albania and Skadar Lake which creates a border between it and Montenegro.
We also loved the market just outside the old town walls each day. It was wonderful to have an alternative to the grim selection in the grocery store near our apartment. Tons of pomegranates, oranges, figs, plums, and chestnuts, along with local fish and meat.
Among these adventures, we did plenty of resting, reading, and enjoying the cafes of Old Town Kotor. We learned a little trick here: many cruise ships come into Kotor for the day and lead guided tours around the small old town. If you pick a cafe right on their route, you can eavesdrop on the tours and learn all sorts of nifty things. Which we did.
Kotor. You are wonderful. We miss you already.