On our third and final day of car hire (that’s renting a car for our fellow Americans) in Tivat, Montenegro for the New Year holiday weekend, we drove around the bay of Kotor and went to a UNESCO World Heritage Site again and walked around in an old medieval fortress town again1.
Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor looks like a neatly tied bowtie. Or perhaps the three triangles from the inside of a radiation hazard sign. The bowtie description is less disconcerting, so let’s go with that one. Our home base for the holidays was the yacht harbor of Tivat, and in our previous blog we took you down the coast to Budva. Kotor is on the innermost corner of the Bay of Kotor. If Tivat is at the knot of the bowtie, then Kotor is on the corner of the lopsided, poorly tied droopy bow to the east.
Kotor was actually our first introduction to Montenegro. A few years ago Chuck got in his mind the desire to take a cruise on a tall sailing ship and so ordered what is likely the last brochure to ever come to us in the mail. There used to be something special in ordering glossy travel literature to come in the mail, didn’t there? Now we see it as only so much more sumptuous marketing that we don’t know what to do with, and can’t quite bring ourselves to discard, so it winds up occupying space in the storage unit in Atlanta that holds our lives. The marketing photos are that good, trust me, but not so good as to overcome THE UNBELIEVABLE PRICE OF TALL SAILING SHIP CRUISES.
Sorry for the outburst. My humblest apologies.
Kotor figured nicely into the slick brochure we received, and we’ve since learned that this little World Heritage Site, tucked neatly away into a triply protected bay, is actually regularly visited by cruise ships. Proudly displayed in the window of the Kotor tourist office is a picture of a full-sized Royal Caribbean cruise ship snuggled up next to Kotor’s single, stubby concrete pier. It looked very much like a grey whale napping in a swimming hole.
Now, we don’t have anything against cruises. In fact, we love cruising. We often get to and fro Europe by cruise ship (at least the last couple of years). And while a couple of hundred passengers moseying off a grand sailboat seems romantic, we can’t imagine the effect on a small little medieval town like Kotor of having two thousand or so tourists disgorged onto the docks for a day. We can only imagine the local shop owners, with names like Petrov and Oksana, bracing for the onslaught by ordering as many Chinese-made souvenirs as possible and keeping a few bottles of vodka under the counter.
Thankfully, we came in January when most cruise-ship disgorgement happens far away on tiny Caribbean islands that can barely accommodate the onslaught. We began our exploration of the bay by actually driving through and beyond the town of Kotor to the town of Perast. It’s a tiny village along the bay’s northern shore, with a waterside walk of only a quarter mile or so, and the best vantage point for snapping pictures of the incredibly scenic church and monastery on the twin islands of Sveti Dorde. Should you have a hankering for a close-up view of the church and monastery, Perast is the best place to go to find a boat to take you there. We really could have spent the entire day in Perast. For that matter, we could have spent a few days or weeks there. And in the future, we might just do that.
After some time driving along the bayside, occasionally stopping to be totally touristy and snap a few photos and opine on how picturesque the mountain-encircled bay and tiny villages all are, we made our way back to the town of Kotor. It really is a splendid old medieval town, overlooked by a spectacular stone fortress clinging to the hillside and leading up, seemingly thousands of feet, to a church or monastery. We say seemingly because we didn’t scale the thousands of steps to get there. We were quite satisfied with a couple of hundred steps, just enough to get us above the rooftops for a nice view and long enough to wonder why on earth the steps and walkway weren’t in any better condition than they were. Should you come to Kotor on one of those cruise ships, be forewarned that the climb up to the fortress is not an easy one, not so much because of the number of steps but because of the deplorable condition of the lower sections of steps. At least that was the condition where we elected to get a better view.
Like Dubrovnik and Budva, Kotor is an old medieval town, its fortress walls intact, its narrow stone streets and alleys simply aching for you to take their picture. Because of its naturally protective spot on the Bay of Kotor and because of the ideal vantage point of the looming fortress, Kotor has been settled since Roman times. It came into its own to create a lovely cruise ship destination during the middle ages and later under Venetian rule.
So far as things to do, you can pay a few euros to walk around on the old town walls. The cathedral is small but impressive, and there are several other churches worth a visit, particularly the orthodox church of St Nicholas. And of course there is no shortage of coffee shops and cafes from which to people and cat watch.
1 – Best read in the style of Forrest Gump: “…went to the White House again, and I met the President of the United States of America again…”