Day Trips from Kotor Bay, Montenegro

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When we took a chance on booking flights to Tivat, Montenegro earlier this year, we had no idea where it was on the map. A brief google search ensued and we found it made sense to stay a 10 minute taxi ride away, through the other side of the mountain and in the UNESCO world heritage region of Kotor Bay. As I wrote in my blog post about Kotor Bay earlier this year, there is a lot to explore in this ancient walled town, but its position on the Adriatic Coast and its access to regular and inexpensive bus routes, means that its easy and cheap to use Kotor as a base to see more of this young Balkan country and that we did. So where can you go for easy day trips from Kotor . .  read on –

PERAST – Only 15-20 minutes along the main road north towards Croatia, every visitor to Kotor should make the short but scenic trip along the bay to this small town. Blue Line buses leave regularly just outside the old city walls of Kotor, its easy to pick up the bus, even though there is no physical bus stop, just look for the white bus sign painted on the road, close to where the market stalls set up. There will more than likely be people waiting around to board and there are benches close by to sit and wait, buses are regular and cost €1.

IMG_5593 Riding the bus to Perast

Perast itself is a small town with only one main road, but there is a whole heap of history here, including gorgeous interesting buildings, stunning views across the bay and 2 unique small islands a short boat ride away. Its colourful historic past vast outways what appears at the surface just a picturesque coastal town, its position along the Adriatic meant that the town was involved in important wars with the Venetians as well as schooling many Russians sailors in the 18th Century at their aclaimed naval academy. This has allowed a lot of wealth to flow into Perast and is responsible for the many elaborate churches and palaces that stand here to this day.

 

 

 

You can easily explore this little town by foot, the Church of St Nicholas is by the main square and the Tower Museum is located inside the Bujovic Palace. These are popular sights, but many arrive here to visit the two islets situation a short boat ride away. Both are incredibly unique with widely varying histories, despite their close proximity to one another. One islet, Sveti Đorđi or the Island of St George is home to a 12th Century Benedictine Monastery and has been owned by the Venetians, the French and Austrians, before eventually returning to Montenegro. The 2nd Island – Gospa od Skrpjela or Our Lady of the Rocks is actually a man-made island, and was formed with rocks that were left there by the sailors for good luck before a voyage, locals starting dumping rocks too and eventually a small island was formed. A small chapel was then built on the island to which captains passing through would offer a silver gift, all of which are now displayed inside the chapel which has expanded to become a small church and museum. Its a fascinating place and well worth a visit, boats leave regularly for the islands for a small fee, and with us visiting just out of season, we had a boat to ourselves.

 

 

 

There are quite a few places to eat and drink here too, with many offering bayside outdoor seating with spectacular views, we started with a coffee mid morning at Cafe Armonia and ended up returning for a delicious lunch and glass of local wine in the afternoon.

BUDVA. This Adriatic coastal town is well worth the 30 minute trip south, not only is it a busy seaside town with beaches, shops and restaurants, there is also a fascinating well preserved medieval old town that is over 2500 years old! You can easily split your day by eating/walking/shopping around the modern ‘Miami of Montenegro’ as well as steeping yourself in the captivating history and buildings of the old town.

Buses leave regularly from the main bus station in Kotor and Tivat, taking about 45 minutes, with tickets costing between €3-4 euros direct.

 

 

 

 

Located along a peninsula, there is a stunning shoreline of around 17 beaches, glistening blue waters, offshore islands and limestone mountains serving as the backdrop. A great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants line up just back from the beach, where you can order a coffee or glass of wine, sample some local cheeses and soak up the views whilst watching the locals walk their dogs and prepare their boats for the next trip out.

The newer area of Budva is developing into a modern bustling town, with plenty of shops, restaurants, nightclubs and markets. In the summer months it becomes known as the Montenegro party capital, so if Turbo Folk is to your liking, you’ll want to at least stay one night to hit the cocktail bars and clubs.

But if that is most definitely not your thing, don’t be put off, there is a lot more to Budva than just its nightlife and shops. It’s just a short walk to the old walled town, with its enthralling citadel, churches, passageways, sunlit squares and breathtaking views of the terracotta rooftops and Adriatic from up high. Take time to just wander and get lost in the paved alleyways with many shops selling local crafts, making sure to explore inside of the Church of St John, the Church of the Holy Trinity and Church of St Mary in Punta. The City Museum is a charming small museum and really gives context to how important and well preserved Budva is and I was glad we made time to visit that too. In the summer months there are often concerts and exhibitions up here inside the walls, so its worth checking online if there is anything worth seeing before planning your visit.

 

 

 

 

There are a few islands just off shore, with water taxis easily available to take you there or you could hire a canoe and make the journey yourself. We didn’t manage to squeeze that into our itinerary, but its something we would have liked to have done, popular and picturesque islands that are highly recommended by locals include Sveti Stefan, and St Nikola Island.

You will be spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink among the many beach front cafes and restaurants all offering prime seating with perfect views across the peninsula. We stopped for a coffee at a lovely place on our way to the Old Town and then had a delicious Serbian meal right by the beach at Jadran on our return, before catching a bus back up to Kotor in the evening, watching the sun set as we travelled up the coastline.

IMG_5868 Serbian food and wine with beautiful Budva backdrop.

CETINJE is the old historic royal capital of the country, and high up in the mountains. Taking just over an hour on the bus from Kotor, its what can only be described as a breathtaking, but heart in mouth mountainside bus ride.

 

 

Once you have recovered from the bus journey, and have landed back on terra ferma, there is a lot to explore here, its all well signposted and the centre is a short walk from the main bus station. Although the capital of the country is Podgorica the president actually lives here in Cetinje and its here where many government and cultural events take place.  The town has a really vibrant, busy feel that although it seems on top of the world, doesn’t feel too far removed from it.

A good place to start is the central square where there are lots of little shops and outdoor cafes, once hydrated, walk a short distance North to the Vlaska (Vlah) Church on Baja Pivljanina. This plain looking church is only small, but take a look inside for the most beautiful interior and we found a very helpful elderly volunteer who also gave us mints as we explored inside, check out the guard rail outside aswell, which is made of ottoman rifle barrels.

 

 

We then headed back towards the main square and explored the only pedestrian street in the town, this is where the main restaurants, cafes and shops are to be found, its worth a wander especially for postcards and souvineers and a chance to try some local food and wine.

Probably one of the main tourist sights here in Certinje is the Cetinje Monastery, it was demolished in the late 1600’s by the Venetians but rebuilt with the original stone. Located a short walk from the main square and easily signposted, you can visit the grounds as well as the inside where several relics are to be found, including what is said to be John the Baptist’s hand, which I admit wasnt completely sure about. Where the original monastery stood is now a lovely little church called Church of the Birth of Our Lady which is worth a visit to see the beautiful golden iconostatis from Russia.

 

The Chipur Church is short walk across from the Monastery, but if its locked, just head back over to the Monastery ask around, and you will be given a key to venture inside.

 

 

The National Museum of Montenegro actually comprises of a few small museums dotted around the town, and you can get single or joint discounted tickets depending on what you fancy seeing. We made time to see the Archaeology Museum, the Historical Museum and Art Museum, which are all located close to one another in the Vladin Dom.

 

Before heading back down to Kotor on the bus, we had a bite to eat, I originally didn’t want to try what I would term ‘Italian’ food which seemed to be on the menu everywhere. Soon though, I rather ignorantly realised that pasta and pizza dishes are pretty standard and local here too, with its close history to Italy. So we went for Pizza and beer at Obelisk on the main street sitting outside outside, a lovely end to our day trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northumberland Coastline 

One of the most Northern English counties, Northumberland goes as far as the Scottish Border to the north, Cumbria to the west, County Durham and Tyne and Wear to the south, with the wild North Sea off along the eastern coastline. It was here along the east coast where we stayed and as it’s a 3 hour drive from Liverpool, we booked a camping pod for the weekend. 

Full of history, this land of people living north of the River Humber, is the most sparsely populated of all the counties in England and is also home to the most castles. There are more than 30 miles of beaches along the coastline as well as nature reserves and islands easily reachable by boat, so it made sense to dedicate our time just sticking to the coast and leave the inland for another time. 

We picked Seahouses as its a busy harbour village, with things to see and do here in the village itself, as well as a good choice of restaurants, but also because its close to many of the east coast attractions that we planned to visit. We took our car for the weekend, and I think that is probably an essential, especially as our Camping Pods were about a 5 minute drive or 25 min walk just outside the village but also the A1 road goes all the way up the coastline and its along here that most of the main points of interest are. Although you can certainly get a train up to the east coast, to say Berwick upon Tweed, there isn’t a train line that would then get you to some of the main tourist spots such as Alnwick or Bamburgh, so unless you fancy biking, a car is going to be your best bet.

Our first night we settled into our camping barn, and then drove back into Seahouses for something to eat after a short walk around, we settled on the recommended fish and chip place Neptunes for some locally caught fish and chips, then explored the village a bit to walk off the carbs, before heading back to light our fire pit at our camping pod.

Our fire pit at the camping barn

The next morning we headed in the car a short drive north to visit Holy Island, yes its an island, but no boat is needed as its accessible via a causeway that you can drive, bike and even walk at certain hours of the day. You must check the Tide Times before setting off, as the causeway is flooded twice a day, so you need to plan your arrival & departure times, we got there just as the water was receding to ensure we had maximum time on the island, it was a fun and scenic drive.

 Driving over the causeway to Holy Island
As well as the famous Lindisfarne Castle, there is a lot more to see and do on the island, there are protected areas of marshland and mudflats, meaning tonnes of wildlife live here, there is a priory, hiking trails, shops and places to eat, even accommodation if you wanted to stay overnight. We spent a good few hours here, keeping a close eye on the time, to ensure we drove back before the causeway disappeared again.

Lindisfarne Castle is the star of the show on the island, no doubt, and its a National Trust Property so remember to bring your card. Unfortunately, according to the website the castle is currently closed for renovation until April 2018, but I think you can still hike the trails surrounding the castle, as well as visiting the rest of the island. If you can visit when the castle is back open though I’d highly recommend it, you get a real sense of history exploring the many rooms inside this 16th century fortification, that has also been a coastguard look out, as well as the tourist attraction it has now become.

 The dramatic walk up to the castle is well worth it.

Mum and I walked around the coastline, visited the rather large heritage centre from where I bought some of the local mead which full disclosure, I still haven’t drunk and remains in a kitchen cupboard. But, if strong fortified wine is your thing, then be sure to visit St Aidans Winery as well as learning all about how this liqueur is made, there is a large shop selling local crafts, food as well as the drink itself. 

 Mum contributing to the many rock piles dotted around the fields.

We got to the island just after 9.30am when the causeway was starting to clear and stayed till after lunch just before the causeway started to flood again.  It does reopen again by late afternoon, so you do have the option of staying later and still leaving for the mainland on the same day if you wish. Before leaving we grabbed lunch at a lovely coffee shop called Pilgrims Coffee, with outdoor seating in a lovely garden and lots of local birds hoping for scraps of cake. That evening we grabbed a meal at one of the Italian restaurants in Seahouses and then retreated back to our fire pit and watched for shooting stars in clear night sky.

The next day we drove about 30 miles on the A1 South to Alnwick Castle, this castle has belonged to the Percy Family for over 700 years, and still own it today. It may look familiar as the castle exterior was used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, and proud of its new found fame, it holds broomstick lessons in the grounds among other things, the children taking part seemed thoroughly enthralled by their wizard teachers. There’s lots to explore in the castle and the grounds too, you can tour the interior, including some lavish state rooms and a large art collection by the Duke of Northumberland, join a 45 min tour of the grounds, or the state rooms, take an archery class, or head downstairs to the creepy lost cellars. You can also watch one of the free talks on offer, currently there is one about the history of the castle and one on how the castle has been used in many productions as well as Harry Potter, I would tell you what,  but I’ll leave that to the tour guide.

  Exploring Alnwick Castle

If you have the time, then I would definitely recommend getting a ticket for both the Castle and the Gardens, as there is so much to see and do in both. You can buy individual tickets for both, but if you buy a combined ticket, you have the option of just visiting the gardens on that particular day, but the castle portion of the ticket is valid for an entire year. We managed to get them both done in one day, but could have easily of spent longer in the gardens. The Alnwick Garden is not just a small garden attached to the castle, but a separate tourist attraction that easily stands on it own. A forgotten piece of land in the castle grounds, it has now been transformed under the brains of the Duchess of Northumberland who has employed designers to create a 21st century garden that is truely unlike anywhere I have visited before. The outstanding Grand Cascade waterfall is the first thing to great you, but there is also a cherry orchard, a bamboo labyrinth, the interactive water sculptures kept us amused for ages, one of the largest tree houses in the world is here and if you fancy the poison garden, it’s guided tours only (with good reason). The garden is designed to take full advantage of each season, so depending on when you want to visit, check the website to see what events are happening.

Our final morning before the drive home was supposed to be a wildlife boat trip out to the Farne Islands, where we were looking forward to seeing some seals amongst other animals, but the weather was too wild for the boat to set sail. So our back up plan also included some rather rare animals, the Wild beasts of Chillingham. These cattle are some of the rarest animals on earth, and have lived here, isolated from any other animals for over 700 years, they are wild, but enclosed within the grounds, without any interference from humans. There is also a castle here at Chillingham, a church, gardens and a cafe, but we stopped off purely for the rare beasts. There are guided walks daily by a warden, so pick a time from their website and just turn up, no booking necessary. It was a bit unnerving seeing these wild cattle, as it was us entering their natural habitats, from a distance mind you, under the careful watch of our guide, who was constantly checking their whereabouts at all times.  We kept out of harms way, but breathed a sigh of relief as we made it back to the safety of the car park. It was a really interesting and unusual way to spend our last morning in Northumberland though & i’d definitely recommend it.

 Spotted! The wild beasts of Chillingham.
Other things to do on the East Coast – Farne Islands (weather permitting) Bamburgh Castle, coastal town of Berwick upon Tweed, drive up the Coast and visit some of the many beaches.

Lindisfarne Castle £7 (last time it was open) gardens free

Combined Alnwick Castle & Gardens £ 23.55 (if bought online)

Farne Island boat trips between £15-40 depending on duration and company.

Chillingham Beasts guided walk £8

Consciously Exploring Every County.

When my dad became ill with early onset dementia and it became clear he wouldn’t be returning home, that he would be spending his remaining time in the care of a nursing home, it was understandably upsetting and stressful. But travelling is my big love, I love nothing more than packing a small bag and stepping onto a plane or train for the unknown, ready to experience whatever new sights, smells, tastes are thrown at me and emerge myself in a new way of life for few days or weeks, or as in my big trip in 2006, a few months.  

Me and Dad many years ago
With the instability of dads illness, it became apparent very quickly that my priority needed to be close to home, or at least I needed to be able to get home quickly if there were any problems. I am an only child you see, so there is just me and mum, and as is the nature of dementia, dad can no longer make decisions about his care and needs 24hr nursing support. So my dreams of visiting some of the more far flung places had to be put on hold. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable with the idea of travelling across Russia or exploring India by train, knowing that things were so unpredictable at home, and I wouldn’t be able to get back quickly if a crisis came up. But I still had a burning wanderlust and travelling is my passion, so I needed to find a way to replicate that, but also be able to get home quickly if needed.

That is when I decided that I would visit every county in the UK. I have visited many in the past, explored some extensively, or passed through others on the way to somewhere else. Once I had made the decision, my friend Weene (she will probably come up quite a lot in this blog, as she is involved in many of my adventures especially here at home) renamed my project ‘Emma Consciously Explores the Counties’. This was because Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had just announced they were ‘consciously uncoupling’ so it was all over the media, and I wanted to make a point of consciously exploring each UK county individually. To educate myself about the history of each region, try some of the local food and visit some of the tourist spots, basically set about each county as if I was in Europe on a city break. 

So I did . . . and I still am doing, so I will document my progress here and its why my own country will have a big section devoted entirely to itself. I used to be snobby about holidaying locally, I was all about the far off locations and the new passport stamps and visa’s, but things change, life changes, and sometimes in ways you don’t want it too, so you can struggle and resist, or go with it and adapt, so after a bit of a struggle, I adapted, and it turns out I quite like the UK after all.