During our trip to Dubrovnik, we decided to add another European country to our list and decided to spend a night in Kotor, Montenegro. We have heard great things about the area and seen some fantastic photos, but never did we expect the small town of Kotor to become one of our favourite places in Europe. Looking back, we wish we could have spent more time in the wonderful country that is Montenegro - there is a lot more to see there!
The medieval town of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's small, yet easy to get lost in, and very well preserved. The surrounding area is stunning and this place has got everything we like in a destination: the views, the water, the mountains, the history, it's not too crowded and fairly quiet, and prices are good. It's also a city of cats! More on that later... The old town has a very distinctive architecture, with charming stone house and narrow streets. As you wander around, you may spot carvings with the winged lion of Saint Mark or Venetian masks - that's because Kotor was under Venetian rule for almost four centuries!
Things to do
St. John's Fortress
If there is one thing you do in Kotor, do this. Just at the edge of the old town, there are two entrances to the path leading up to the fortress (you'll have to pay a small entrance fee of around 3 euros). Bring water. There are 1355 steps to climb to St. John's Fortress. This is a literally breathtaking journey, but the views of Kotor Bay along the way are even more breathtaking - trust me, it's worth it!
Your first main stop will be the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. This is a great place to rest in the shadows - in summer, you will want that! Head a little further and you will be rewarded with the best view of Kotor Bay (one that includes the church as well). The view from here up doesn't really get better, but keep going! You will pass by a few other nice spots where you could have a short break and take in the magnificent views until you finally reach St. John's Fortress.
There isn't much to do in the old town and it won't take long to cover the entire area on foot. You will come across many churches, some of which are really old and date back to 12th century - those are worth a short stop. You will also encounter many cats, and a cat museum, to celebrate this special bond between cats and Kotor. Go for a walk along the moat on the north side of the old town - the views of the city walls and the fortress from that angle are very impressive. There is a lovely old bridge at one end.
This park is just outside of the old city walls - there is nothing particularly special about the park itself, but it has a very nice little promenade opening up to the bay. Spending a bit of time here can be very refreshing. It is the perfect place to relax, watch the ships sail by and take in the spectacular views of the bay from another angle.
Kotor is a bit of a hidden gem and will probably remain that way, because it's not within easy reach for the masses. The town is very popular with cruise ships - this is how more than half a million tourists arrive to to Kotor every year. It's quite interesting to watch those huge ships dock and undock here on a daily basis.
Very often, people travel to Kotor from the nearby Dubrovnik, like we did. It's only a 2h drive away, plus customs. We took an early morning bus from Dubrovnik and returned the next day late in the evening, which gave us plenty of time to explore Kotor and also include a short trip to the nearby village of Perast.
We spent the night at Palazzo Drusko(click for Booking link), a small boutique hotel set in a 600-year old stone house - I have only good things to say about this place. Ideal location in the centre of old town, very friendly staff, great value, but what I liked most is its rooms are so incredibly authentic down to all the little details, it almost feels like a journey back through time.
Kotor has plenty of cats, you will bump into one at every corner. It's not really known why and where it all started. But the locals are embracing it, as there are cat-related souvenirs everywhere and even a cat museum! Here you will find hundreds of vintage portraits of people with their beloved cats and cartoon drawings with cats doing silly things, and the entrance fee is a mere 1€ which will contribute to feeding the strays. Kotor is definitely the place for cat lovers.
A trip to Perast
Perast is a small village a few kilometres away from Kotor (can get there by bus), with a population of less than 300. It's got charming old buildings and beautiful views of the bay and mountains nearby, but most come here for the two islets of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks.
St. George houses a small orthodox monastery. It's not open to the public (private property), but that's ok - just seeing it from the other island is everything!
Our Lady of the Rocks is actually a man-made island (the other is natural), but really old still, about 500 years! - also the only artificial island in the Adriatic apparently. Here you will find a chapel and a small museum. It is said that in 1452 two men found an icon of Virgin Mary on a rock that used to be this island. They vowed to build a chapel on that very spot and so they did, by bringing rocks until the island became larger and larger. The custom remains alive to this day in the form of an annual ceremony called Fasinada when locals go on their boats loaded with rocks and lay them into the sea at sunset.
It's really easy to get to the islands from Perast. Look out for locals with small boats docked to the shore. They will take you there and back for only 5€/person which is really reasonable. Or just admire the view and they will come to you! You can only step foot on Our Lady of the Rocks, but ask the guy to circle St. George on the way back so you can have a closer look at the other islet.
Kotor is an incredibly beautiful place, and Montenegro should be part of everyone's European itinerary. Still, one of the great things about it is that despite being well known it still retains its hidden gem status and isn't overflowing with visitors. I'm really not helping by spreading the word. Don't go to Montenegro, it's a terrible place and it has the worst views!