If you know one thing about Montenegro, it’s probably the Bay of Kotor. And if you are a reader of our site, you know that we’ve spent quite a lot of time here, based in the town of Herceg Novi. While that town is our favorite, the ‘flagship’ city of this area is Kotor. It is part of the local UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a very popular destination for cruise ships.
I personally think of it as a tiny version of Dubrovnik, Croatia. What I mean by that is that it’s a World Heritage Site, a beautiful port city surrounded by mountains, and completely inundated by tourists almost year-round. Good or bad, it’s a must-see stop in the region.
At the most secluded part of the bay and surrounded by towering mountains, the scenery in and around Kotor is something out of paintings and fairy tales. Rugged peaks stare down upon the reddish-orange roof tiles of the old town, complete with plenty of churches and a wall that dates to medieval times.
Have a panorama, on the house. (Click the picture to get the full version.)
Gaudy yachts and cruise ships dot the harbor outside of the old town, and tourists are aplenty when you enter the city gates. Regardless, one of the largest pijaca (markets) in the area is right outside the city wall, which means that people from all around the area not only come here to shop, but sellers from regions across the country come to sell their fine cheeses, olives, wines, and more that you’ve seen all over this site.
It’s quite easy to get lost in the narrow backstreets and alleyways that crisscross the area. This leads my imagination in all directions, as I think about what it must have been like on these exact same streets with these exact same buildings, some 500-odd years ago.
Even during our first trip to the town, at the end of tourist season, we were able to lose ourselves here. Crumbling walls…
…Impossibly steep stairways…
…Plenty of sexy, old windows and doors through which lies even more history…
…And mountains looming over the entire city make what is a very small old town feel quite large.
We had to swing by a highly recommended pizza joint as well. Now we know why it was highly recommended. Scrumptious!
Kotor is also home to several former palaces and prisons, all of which are marked with plaques that state their origin and former use. Imagine what it was like four hundred years ago, staring off this balcony of a palace that belonged to the Pima family in the 17th century.
As is the standard for this area, Kotor is home to a bounty of churches large, small, refreshed, and in decay. These include St. Nicholas, which is the largest Serbian Orthodox church in the city, and St. Trypon, which was built in the 12th century.
If you’re brave or have the calves of giants, you can also exit the old town and take a hike up to an old fortress for a breathtaking view of the bay area. This hike is not for the timid. Even when I was at my youthful best, I probably would have scoffed at the 1,350 ridiculously steep steps that take you on a trek of 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) to land 365 meters (1,200 feet) directly above Kotor. Scoffing was had. Plus, we had a car that allowed us to take things quite a bit higher than that. Bam!
One thing we should touch on here is how ‘authentic’ – for lack of a better term – Kotor feels versus a town like Dubrovnik. What we mean is that most things have not been restored here. A lot of them are kept up, some are left crumbling, but very little has received a full renovation with spit-and-shine polish. If you read our post about Dubrovnik, you’ll notice that we weren’t too keen on the pristine appearance of the old town there. It felt a bit like Disneyland or a movie set, which took away from the history and imagination of the town itself. For a variety of reasons – economic problems, war, earthquakes – Kotor hasn’t been put through the ringer yet. And, despite the growing amount of tourists that come here each and every season, we hope that it can maintain itself without over-maintaining itself.
No matter how you look at it, the town of Kotor is one of those must-see places. Besides being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s drop-dead gorgeous and there are few areas like it – if any – in the entire world. Since you probably won’t be going in the low season, we would certainly recommend it as a day trip. In the dead of summer, it’s impossibly crowded. And unless you’re into that sort of thing, probably not somewhere you want to base yourself when you’re on a Bay of Kotor immersion mission.
Stay in a town close by (there are plenty of lovely ones), or stay across the bay and have a retreat to welcome you once you’ve left the chaos. While there is an endless array of things to see and do in this wonderful country, Kotor is very small and can be thoroughly explored in one or two days.
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Have you ever been to Kotor? If so, what’s your take? If not, let us know what you think in the comments!