The secret charms of Kotor, Montenegro

Along the Adriatic Sea, just south of Dalmatia, we find a Bay hidden from the rest of the Mediterranean. Sailing in this direction in early morning, we first set sight on the magnificent mountains over which the sun begins to rise…the Black Mountains, which give the name to this, the 6th smallest nation in Europe, Montenegro. It is also one of Europe´s youngest countries, having recently just proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2006 in what was left of the former Yugoslavia. Despite its miniature size, the country offers impressive variety in scenery, fauna and flora – going swimming and skiing in one single day is certainly a possibility here. 

Montenegro still remains also one of the best-kept secrets in Europe, hidden as it is from the rest of the world in this remote Southeastern corner of the Adriatic Sea. Here we find the opening to what some erroneously would call Europe´s largest and most southern Fjord, the beautiful Boca Bay, although it is strictly speaking a submerged large river bed and not glacial, thus relatively shallow at a maximum 90m compared to “real” fjords or inlets. It consists of 4 smaller bays, the most famous and beautiful of which is the Bay of Kotor. At the very end of that bay we find the small town of Kotor with a population of 25000. Totally destroyed by a recent earthquake in 1979, it was rebuilt in only 8 years with the help from the Yugoslav government and donations world-wide. Despite damage caused by the 1979 tremor, Kotor ranks among the best preserved medieval towns on the Adriatic and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Let´s first admire the sites in the city itself, such as Kotor´s magnificent Cathedral of Saint Tryphon built in 1166, the Kotor Historical ARchives or its unique Maritime Museum of Montenegro. Here nearby we also find the highly picturesque Square of Arms, which houses the Prince´s Palace, the Venetian Arsenal and the Old Town Hall with the Town Clock tower. Yet by far the most impressive site in Kotor is its magnificent city ramparts that rise from the town uphill to the fortress of san Giovanni for a total length of 2.8 miles and some 1700 steps to the highest point. Entrance to the ramparts costs 3 Euros and the ascent may be strenuous, but it is well worth the investment, as the views across Kotor Bay from the fortress ranks among the most unforgettable experiences in Kotor.

It is also possible to go even higher above town into the mountains onto narrow winding mountain road with a total of 25 steep curves until we may reach a magnificent observation area at about 4000 ft. overlooking almost the entire Boca Bay with its 4 respective smaller bays. The  road uphill is in relatively poor condition and caution is advised particularly since it is rather narrow and has traffic in both directions. Returning to central Kotor later that day, we may then decide to unwind at the modern Kamelia retail complex or enjoy coffee and later dinner at one of the many scenic and comfortable cafés located throughout central Kotor. 

The unquestionable highlight of any visit to Kotor, however, is the sailing away on a ship out towards the Adriatic, a trajectory of about 15 miles, which lasts for just under 2 hours. During this sailing we pass the unique community of Perast, in front of which we find 2 islands, the St. George´s monastery and the artificial island of Our Lady of the Rocks. Passing these 2 islands with the high powerful mountains of Montenegro as the backdrop must rank among the most magnificent, rewarding and memorable experience of any cruise in the Adriatic Sea.