Sometimes I like to load up all my budget airline phone app’s, pick a date and see what’s on offer, which is sort of why we ended up (Mum & I) in Montenegro. I mean sort of, the country of the black mountains was on my radar, especially as over the last year I have been to a few countries in the Balkans, but also EasyJet started their first ever flights from Manchester to Tivat on the Montenegro Adriatic coast in March 17, so we booked on the inaugural flight and then started our research to see just exactly where we were off too.
Bordered by Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia & Kosovo, it was actually joined with Serbia until 2006, when it then became an independent country on its own, of course prior to 1992, it was part of Yugoslavia.
Arrivals. There are many ways to get into Montenegro, we flew direct from Manchester (just under 3 hrs), you can also fly direct into Tivat from Gatwick, or if you wanted to fly to the capital Podgorica, then at the moment, I think the only direct flights are also from Gatwick. There are no trains along the Adriatic Coastline, but you can travel via train from Belgrade, Serbia as far as Bar on the southern coast of Montenegro, and buses go direct from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Kotor and take between 2-4 hours.
History Bit. There is a reason why EasyJet have started flights to Tivat and not the capital Podgorica for us intrepid tourists. The capital has undergone many changes over the past few years, it has been bombed to the ground a number of times, most recently during WWII, and some say its still struggling since the destruction of Yugoslavia and the imposed sanctions. It was rebuilt by the communists after WWII and as people have moved to the capital, it has expanded at a such a great rate that unfortunately the infrastructure needed to support the population has yet to catch up. Although there are churches and parks and museums in the capital, there are far more beautiful and historic sites less damaged by past wars elsewhere in the country, and Tivat and its neighbour the UNESCO Kotor are often recommended as a better place to use as a base, in which to explore this recently independent country.
Kotor Bay itself is a short but breathtaking taxi drive (10 mins) from the Tivat airport via a tunnel through Mount Vrmac and out into the bay. Kotor old town is enclosed by a wall and entirely pedestrianised and it’s here where we stayed, so our taxi driver dropped us off just by the town walls and then walked us the last couple of minutes to our hotel.
Sights.This walled medieval city is steeped in history, with beautiful old terracotta tiled roofs, a fort up in the foothills of the surrounding mountains as well as a cathedral, churches, museums and tiny narrow streets leading into small square after small square, each one bringing a new discovery. Its not hard to see why its been awarded UNESCO status and why Norwegian, Caribbean and other cruise ships have a stop off here as they tour the Adriatic.
As well as Kotor Bay itself, there are loads of places easily reachable for day trips, so you could easily pack a full itinerary to fill 5-7 days, but I’ll leave the day trips for another blog post, and stick to Kotor for this one. There are 3 main entrances to Kotor old town, so if you’re exploring from outside I’d just pick any and see where the alleys take you, for ourselves, we were staying already inside the walls, but used Sea Gate, the North Gate and South Gate as good landmarks so we always knew roughly where we were and which way our hotel was, the other main landmark we used was the Cathedral of St Tryphon.
Beautiful alleyways & the Cathedral
The cathedral was built in 1166, damaged and then rebuilt during a massive earthquake, its worth visiting especially for the spectacular interior, with the detailed pieces of frescoes and a gold altarpiece inside. There are several other churches in the old town, St Luke, St Mary, St Clare and St Michael’s, you will more than likely stumble upon them as you navigate round the alley ways and squares and they are all worth a peak inside.
The many squares dotted around are all connected by the alleyways which all have unusual names, such as, the Square of Milk and Square of Flour each one houses say a church or museum, some restaurants, and some shops, so it’s worth taking your time to wander and explore, its not chaotic as say the passageways of Marrakesh, so you wont get lost, promise!
The main square, Square of Weapons, is located at the entrance of the Sea Gate, not surprisingly there are lots of cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating here, as its the entrance that most tourists enter through. This gate is by the main road, a bus stop and it is where the cruise ships are moored, with that in mind, we felt that the restaurants were a bit more expensive here, so ate elsewhere.
We found a lovely group of restaurants around Pjaca Sv, Tripuna Square, they all had comfortable outdoor seating areas, friendly waiters and menus filled with a great selection of local dishes, each one with vegetarian options. We ate at Pescaria Dekaderon and Pizzeria City next door to each other, both places offering local and other Mediterranean dishes with inexpensive beer and wine.
For coffee and deserts though, we stumbled upon a great little cafe chain called Mamma Mia, there was a small one inside the town walls, and a larger one just outside the North Gate, over two small bridges and turn left towards the shopping mall. Open till late, we came here one night just for the delicious cakes, and returned in the morning for coffee and a selection of the fresh, local, inexpensive burek pastries for breakfast, it was a great find!
Probably the highlight of our adventures in Kotor for me, was the hike up to the remains of the medieval St John’s Fort which was built on the side of the mountain to protect the city. There is a path that can be easily walked up, remember to take a hat, good shoes, sun cream and some water though, but we did see some locals selling a few refreshments along the way if you forget. It takes about 30-40 mins to walk but take your time to enjoy the views and visit the Chapel of Our Lady of Health along the way, its a church with a dome bell tower which used to house stationed troops. It’s easy to find the start of the walk, its signposted by one of the little alleyways close to the North gate and St Mary’s church. Top Tip – set off early morning before it starts to get hot and before the cruise ship inhabitants get there. I remember speaking to some tourists from the cruise ship who were just setting off up the path as we were almost back down, they were hot and thirsty and wearing sandals, they didn’t think they had the energy to make it all the way to the fort, which was a shame as the views were stupendous.
Views from the top.
One feature of Kotor you will not be able to ignore is the amount of cats the old town has. Speaking to the locals, it appears the cats originally arrived here from the many ships all over the world that have moored in the bay. With the old town being free from cars, it has allowed the cats to stay out of harms way, and wandering around you see cats hiding from the sun under the bushes and doorways of the churches, and dotted outside many of the little shops are bowls of cat food, they are most certainly well looked after. They have become a bit of a tourist attraction in themselves, with some shops offering cat themed merchandise and there is even a cat museum, with the entrance fee being used to support the feline community with food and vet bills. We really wanted to visit the museum, but it’s not open all year round and we missed the April opening date by a couple of weeks.
Just a few of the cats of Kotor.
It’s also nice to wander outside the old city walls, and for someone who’s never been on a cruise ship, it was a bit of a novelty seeing them up close and watching them manoeuvre themselves in and out of the bay, head just outside the Sea Gate for the best place to see them. Just outside this gate is also a tourist information centre, a cafe/restaurant with lots of perfectly situated seating areas to watch across the bay, as well as a market that stretches along the outside of the walls, with fruit, vegetables, clothes and crafts. It’s also a nice place for a walk in the evening and to watch the sunset across the bay.
One of many cruise ships in the bay
Views across the bay
There is still a lot more to do just in and around Kotor, and it’s only a short walk to the main bus station where you can get buses to neighbouring countries such as Albania, Serbia and Croatia, as well as many other places within Montenegro, including some really interesting places close enough for day trips, which I’ll write up soon.
Other sights. Pima Palace, walk the city walls, and go to the maritime museum, try the Niksicko beer and the local goats cheese and burek pastries for breakfast!
Always be polite. 🙂 Please “Molim”, Thank You “Hvala”, Good Morning “Dobro Jutro”, Hello “Zdravo”