The best part of the Balkans?
While we’re sure it adorns the pages of many a guidebook, we’re still going to go out on a limb here and bestow upon Kotor the title of “unexpected gem”. Not only because we hadn’t heard of this tiny harbourside haven, but it is also true in the way the scenery springs into view after exiting a lengthy and dimly lit tunnel.
Kotor has got to be Dubrovnik, moments before Game of Thrones happened. Sure, the tourists are there, in their hundreds day by day, but it pales in comparison to the crowds that can be drawn to King’s Landing, the Louvre, or Buckingham Palace – yet it’s every bit as worthy.
Surrounded by the limestone cliffs of Mt Lovcen on one side, and the tranquil waters of Kotor Bay on the other, it’s every inch the social media-worthy destination – but frequented by people of a generation much older than Instagram. Ain’t no granny taking ‘in the moment’ snaps for Instagram where she’s pretending she didn’t see the camera right in front of her face.
The largest drawcard to the fortified city becomes apparent as soon as you arrive. The huge stone walls extend straight up the mountainside, and cut across to the ruins of the Castle of San Giovanni. The old city below is as quaint as many others similar around the Balkans, and while you will find tourists ambling the cobblestones (bolstered in part by the frequency of cruise ships dropping anchor in the harbour), it still feels like you’ve stumbled upon a place few others have been witness to.
The Castle of San Giovanni:
Obviously, you can’t leave Kotor without rolling up your sleeves and making the hike upwards to the top of the castle. Several things to note though, one being that you should leave your phone firmly in your pocket until at least two-thirds of the way up, because believe us when we say the view does consistently get better. No matter how many pics you take on the way up – you will inevitably be deleting all of them come review time.
The other is that you probably shouldn’t expect towering spires and a drawbridge at the summit; the castle is mostly ruins and foundations, but it does provide an ethereal place to take in the crater lake-like harbour within the confines of the jagged mountains… as a cruise ship blights the whole scene.
Bay of Kotor:
Take a jaunt around the harbour, there’s plenty to see. Some of the lesser-known towns along the outer edges of the harbour will suit those who like a few less people (Perast is particularly beautiful), and there’s waterfalls and other sights to take in. Like the following…
Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Dorde:
Two tiny islets in the middle of the bay, the former being a man-made island, and the latter being natural. Our Lady of the Rocks, according to legend, surfaced after many decades of fishermen dropping rocks into the sea to keep an ancient oath (they apparently found the icon of the Madonna and Child on a rock in the sea) after every successful voyage. It now houses a church, filled with beautiful baroque paintings from a 17th Century artist from Perast. Sveti Dorde is home to a monastery and ancient cemetery. Take them both in with a boat trip, or from the land.
The community in Budva, Tivat, and the other surrounding small towns, is alive and well. If she’s available, seek out Natalia. She and her gorgeous son will take you on a road trip into the wilderness, to see her family’s home, and have you eating delicious traditional fare.
EASE OF HITCHING:
Easy peasy. The highway along the coast is fairly well traversed so there’s plenty of friendly traffic heading both ways for you to hitch a lift with. It’s also a great experience hitching your way around Kotor Bay to see all the sights you’d otherwise miss. I’m sure there’s public transport, but whether a bus driver will pull over on a whim to show you a fast-moving torrent of water, like one of the (many) drivers who fell in love with Ramune did, is anyone’s guess.