We chose Kotor, Montenegro as a destination because of its beauty and unique landscape, which also made it a great choice for hiking! We have been using an open sourced offline app called Maps.Me which showed us some hiking trails that we couldn’t find any information about online and simply went off to explore!
LADDER OF KOTOR
Called “the Ladder” because of it’s steepness and 70+ switchbacks, this was our first hike in the area. We had a gorgeous day for it and enjoyed looking down over the walled city and the fortress that surrounds it. Since we couldn’t find any information on these hikes online, I’ll share here for any other curious travelers: the path begins just before you get to the Old Town entrance when coming from Perast. There are some dilapidated buildings at the foot of the mountain; if you look up, you should be able to make out the switchbacks clearly.
About an hour into our hike, we went off the main trail a bit and came to an old abandoned village named Špiljari. The terrain is rugged, steep, and only footpaths. But still, a family lives a few minutes walk from here, with goats and cows and cheese and rakia for sale.
We made our way up the “ladder”, being met by a few cows and more goats, and the views just kept getting better and better.
We ate lunch at the top of the trail (our favorite: cheese, crackers, salami, and whatever local fruit we can find) and rested as much as we could before heading back down. The sun set here around 4:30pm so we often didn’t have the luxury of a lot of daylight to explore. Regardless, this was an incredible way to spend our day and to get our bearings in the Kotor bay area!
This was by far among our most interesting hikes during our whole trip. One of my favorite aspects of hiking is the unexpected things you find along the way, and this hike gave us plenty of surprises and mysteries.
We walked around to the opposite side of the bay from Kotor’s Old Town and, after passing into the town of Muo, began our hike up lots of steps in people’s backyards, getting some good views as we explored the town from a different angle. (If you are looking to do this hike, we recommend using the Maps.Me app, which shows the trails very clearly, but note that the final trail we tried to descend out at Sveti Ilija did not actually exist).
Eventually this turned into pine forest, which then turned into an ancient stone road zig-zagging up the mountain side. We came upon some hikers camping on a tiny patch of grass here and then we surprisingly came upon a herd of goats. There were so many, and the trail was so steep and thin, that we approached them with caution. And then we became goat herders, inadvertently ushering them up the trail and eventually out of our way so we could get by.
After another couple hours of switchbacks on the crumbling old stone road, completely destroyed in some places from the 1979 earthquake, we reached the top of the ridge and had a lovely lunch looking down onto the town of Tivat, which would be our last stop in Montenegro in a few weeks.
Upon approaching the clearing on the ridge, we saw an old sign that noted this was a horse-riding camp; there were a few buildings in the distance and lots of fencing around, so we figured camp was closed for the year. Little did we know, after resting our legs, we would come across one of the strangest sights of our trip.
What we found, as we can piece together, is what remains of a Soviet-era military engineer camp. We found endless piles of paper from the 1970s, reports and research, that show they were considering building something here to generate energy for the surrounding area. The place looked as if it had been abandoned in haste and was eerily preserved. This room below included a bed, refrigerator, and lots of clothes including fatigues, boots, and bags.
About 200 meters past this, is the Vrmac fortress. This shows up as a castle on the map we were using; it is anything but. Built between 1894-97, it saw considerable action during World War I. We looked up information on Fort Vrmac after our hike but as we circled this strange, concrete mass, we wracked our brains trying to figure out what era it was from, or if it was even from Earth!
Not wanting to turn back around just yet, we took a trail that led us along the top of a thin, stretching ridge above the bay. It led to a satellite tower, no longer in use, another relic of Soviet-era infrastructure.
We relaxed here for a bit and refueled with fruit and M&Ms before looking for the steep downhill trail that led down to the bay below. This would still be miles from where we started from, but we figured we could take a taxi if we saw one, or at least be walking on the road once it got dark.
The only problem was: we couldn’t find the trail. Where it should have been, according to our map, was nothing but grey, jagged rockface, straight down. We tried getting down a few different ways, hoping these “paths” would lead us to the elusive trail eventually, but decided it was too dangerous. We headed back the way we came, knowing we had a long road ahead of us.
As we walked back along the ridge, at a brisk pace because of the fading daylight, one floppy shoelace of mine got caught in the hook of my other boot while taking a step, and I went flying forward and into the rocky path, unable to even take a step to break my fall. It felt a lot worse than it was. I ended up with one bloodied palm, torn by the rocks, and a lot of bruises along one side of my body from my shoulder to my knee. Ironically, we had just been talking as we walked about how we’ve gotten lazy in packing for hikes, realizing we’d forgotten bandaids, headlamps, and alcohol wipes in case of emergencies. Luckily, we at least had some hand wipes and an extra bandana, which covered the wound for the hike back. It should be noted that Nate administered first-aid gracefully and thoroughly, both on the trail and at home, picking out the stones in my scrapes and cleaning my hand the best he could. We continued on, feeling extremely lucky that nothing worse than a bad scrape had happened. I couldn’t wash my hair for a week because of my hand and Nate had to do dishes, but otherwise it didn’t slow us down one bit.
We managed to get back down before the sunset, but only just, so we enjoyed watching the dusk-inspired colors hit the mountains across the bay. The zig-zags you see are the fortress walls surrounding Old Town Kotor. The meadow dotted with trees at the top of that mountain was our summit on the “Ladder of Kotor” hike.
This hike was a short but exciting one – we could see the fortress from the road on our way home from Lovčen National Park and decided to stop and find our way there. After walking some local dirt roads and through a very pungent pig farm, we hiked up, up, up a crumbling path and finally entered the fortress. Built in 1840, Kosmač sits on a hilltop overlooking the coastal town of Budva, about 30 minutes from Kotor. At the time of its construction, this area was where the borders of Montenegro, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire met. After the fall of the Austro-Hugarian Empire, it was used by Italian troops in World War II.
We entered the fortress right before sunset, so the light streaming inside gave the place a mystical feel. We love walking around the ruins of old castles and forts (Montenegro has no shortage of them) and imagining what life was like for the people who once roamed these grounds.
The sun was setting fast, but we enjoyed watching it migrate below the horizon from our unique viewing spot at the front of the fortress.
We found signage during some of these hikes for a Trans-Montenegrin Trekking path. Though there is little to no information available online on the trails of Montenegro, this place has incredible potential to be among the trekking capitals of the world. Nate and I are scheming about coming back here one day with the intention of trekking the countryside and more of the beautiful Balkans.