After a short weekend in Dubrovnik, we took the bus to Montenegro. Our destination: Kotor, the last destination during a trip of 17 days through the Balkans. I have great memories of our stay in Kotor. I think of the dramatic fjord landscape, the Italian ice-cream and swimming in the bay. Kotor is perfect, even though in the summer months you have to deal with the large amount of tourists from the cruise ships. Yet, I was more annoyed by the cruise ship tourists in Dubrovnik than in Kotor. Most cruise ships also stayed in the bay for a couple of hours and then sailed on. Furthermore, I totally understand why they choose to stop here. Kotor is stunning! I spent five days in this city and I saw it as an ideal base for discovering Kotor and the rest of the bay. Today I will tell you what you can do in and around Kotor.
The biggest attraction of Kotor is the Stari Grad (the old city center). Already from a distance the city center looks beautiful: at the foot of a beautiful rocky mountain and enclosed by a large city wall. The historic center of Kotor was built between the twelfth and fourteenth century and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979. There are many churches located within the Stari Grad. I counted seven in total. My personal favorite is the small church of Sveti Luka at Piazza Greca, the only church that has withstood several earthquakes. No one knows whether it is a Catholic or Orthodox church and therefore both religions have agreed to use the building for their services.
To me the Stari Grad felt a bit like a maze. I often walked around without a clue of where I was going and just wandered from one alley to the other. Personally, I think this is the best way to discover new places, but it also has the disadvantage that you can never seem to find that one nice restaurant again. What also surprised me in Kotor is that you will see a lot of ice cream shops and pasta & pizza restaurants. This is a culinary heritage of the centuries of Italian domination of the city by the republic of Venice.
View from Sveti Ivan mountain
On the list of almost every tourist in Kotor: walking from the Stari Grad to the fortress of Sveti Ivan. This fort is situated high on a hill above the city making the walk up the 1350 steps equivalent to a work-out. Moreover, in the summer it can be an ever bigger challenge when you have to deal with the constant sun in your face. However, once you have reached the first hundred steps, you will understand why you are doing this. The view of the triangular city center surrounded by water and mountains is truly phenomenal. You will get the best view from the sixteenth-century Church of Our Lady of Health. Honestly, the view over the city was the biggest reason why I wanted to climb the Sveti Ivan mountain. There is not much to be seen in the fortress itself.
Cat town Kotor
A remarkable detail of Kotor: this city has a large number of cats. The cat is one of the symbols of Kotor and there is even a museum dedicated to it in the Stari Grad. Where do these cats come from? According to legend the cats come from the old merchant ships that were docked in the city. In that time Kotor suffered a lot from mice, rats and snakes and the hunting cats solved this problem. Nowadays the cats are not so much hunting anymore, but napping in the sun.
Abandoned Kotor: hotel FJord
If you travel by bus to Kotor, you will see a number of abandoned buildings around the bus station. For example, there is an abandoned factory (I think) opposite from the bus station and a few meters away there is the abandoned Hotel Fjord. In the late eighties this was a luxury five-star resort in the Bay of Kotor. Unfortunately, the hotel was only in operation for 19 years before it had to close. After the Balkan wars in the nineties local tourism had declined dramatically. However, today tourists are finding their way back to the hotel, but this time for a whole different reason: urban exploring. For those unfamiliar with this term: this focuses on visiting and photographing abandoned and forgotten buildings. Something that I find very interesting to do during my travels.
Hotel Fjord is super easy to find. Just outside the Stari Grad there is a sign with ‘hotel Fjord’ that indicates the direction. The fence around the hotel is torn in many places, so you can easily walk inside. Tip: walk all the way to the top floor and enjoy the view over Kotor from the roof.
Want to see more abandoned Soviet hotels? In Dubrovnik I walked through the abandoned Belvedere hotel.
Alternative art: Dukley Art Center
Visited the Stari Grad and the Fjord hotel? Then I also recommend you to visit the Dukley Art Center. You will pass it anyways, as it is situated between the old city and the abandoned hotel. The Dukley Art Center is located in the former headquarters of the shipping company ‘Jugoceanija’. Before the cruise ships docked in Kotor, the maritime sector played a major role in this port city. Nowadays an artists’ collective is located in this building and used it for experimental creative expositions. There are 40 workshops in the building, each with a different focus. Entrance is totally free. For me this gallery was an unexpected surprise!
Discover the bay: beautiful Perast
The Bay of Kotor is about 20 kilometers long and along this route there are more villages like Kotor that are worth visiting. One of these villages is Perast, a small car-free town with no less than 16 churches for 350 inhabitants. Many tourists visit Perast to see the two islands off the coast: Sveti Đorđe and Gospa od Škrpjela. The first island is a monastery island and it is off limits for tourists. Fortunately, the second island is accessible for tourists. This is an artificial island built on a rock in the middle of the sea. The islands offers just enough space for the the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks which also functions as a small museum. The only way to get to the island is by boat. Boats are available at the quay and they will offer a return ride to the island. In the city itself there is not much further to do, but to enjoy the view on the islands, soak up the sun and wander through the alleys.
Discover more of the bay: surprisingly old Budva
To be honest, I did not have high expectations for Budva. Budva is known as a popular beach and party destination for Russian tourists. So before my trip I had an image in my head of Lloret de Mar, but fortunately that was not the case. Yes, Budva is busy and in my opinion less charming than Kotor, but it does have a beautiful Stari Grad. Narrow alleys with colorful laundry drying, a beautiful orthodox Holy Trinity church and a citadel: enough sights to stroll around for a few hours! Personally, I did not think that the fort itself was very interesting, but the view from the citadel over the city was beautiful.
But the real attraction of Budva is not located in the city itself, but 6 kilometers south of Budva. This is the island of Sveti Stefan. This used to be a fishing island, nowadays it is a luxury island resort with its very own casino. The island can only be accessed via a dam that splits into two strips of beach. One beach is a public free beach, for the other beach you have to bring your wallet. This will cost you €80 per stretcher. The difference between the two beaches? Nothing, it is the same piece of beach with the same view.
- If you want to go from Kotor to Perast by bus, I recommend you to take the Blue Line. This bus stops at the market outside Stari Grad and runs once every hour. Price is 1 euro and you pay to the driver. This is the only bus that drives through the center of Perast. There are also other buses available, but they pass Perast at the top of the hill. You have to get out along the road and walk down.
- Nice to know: in Montenegro they pay with the euro. In 2002 Montenegro introduced the euro as they lacked their own national currency.
- If you travel by bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor in summer, then I recommend to take some extra travel time into calculation. Bus companies other say it will only take 2 to 3 hours, but in reality it could take 4 to 5 hours due to queues at the border.
- The Bay of Kotor has so much more to offer. On my list for the next time in Kotor would be Herceg Novi, Risan and the Ostrog monastery (enclosed by a mountain).
Have you ever been to the Bay of Kotor?