“Monte-what?” I hear you say. Montenegro – roughly meaning “black mountain”, named so by the first explorers and sailors coming to the region – is situated on the Eastern coast of the stunning Adriatic coastline. This beautiful country shares borders with the equally interesting countries Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. Together with Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Greece they make up the Balkan Peninsula.
“Thwarted with a very sad history the locals have very strong personalities and live a pretty tough life, understandably. But that doesn’t stop them from being some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, and boy can they throw a party.”
One of the most charming towns in Montenegro is the 5th-century coastal town of Kotor, perhaps the most visited during the summer months along with the little town of Budva, a bit further South. It’s better to visit Kotor when it isn’t peak holiday season as you will have almost free range of the town, fortress and beyond. Cruise ships frequent the town between May and September, making the old-town population of 5,000 double, so you are literally bombarded with passengers. Kotor is a UNESCO listed town and it makes up one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and there are a lot of fun things to do there for young and old and to suit every pocket. I will name a few money saving experiences in and around this exquisite town.
Get lost in a burek
A burek is a meat or cheese filled pie, made from phyllo pastry and originates from the ancient Ottoman Empire and you can eat it for breakfast, lunch and supper if you want. There are many pastry shops in Kotor but if you want to “go where the locals go” ask your guesthouse owner or a local where you can find the best of the best. You had me at “pie”.
You can get pastries for 12 cents if you want, but they are the little ones and where’s the fun in that?
Explore the old medieval town of Kotor
The population of 5, 000 people can give you an idea how quaint and quiet this old town is. The old part of Kotor is actually a small fortified complex, with buildings and churches that are hundreds of years old and have stood the test of time. Souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes, bakeries and dessert delis abound here in harmony but can get a little tourist-trappy. My advice is to befriend a local (the younger know more English than the older) and ask them to suggest where you should go for a proper Balkan meal. The people can seem a little stand-offish at first but are very proud of their heritage, so they will appreciate it if you are keen to try their local dishes, which are superb. Be sure to top your meal off with a shot of “rakija” and a healthy cry of “živjeli” and you are good to go.
Cost of lunch: €3 – €13.90
Cost of a coke: €3
Stroll up the ancient fort of Kotor
Okay, so ”stroll” may be an understatement here. As you look directly at the old town of Kotor the massive San Giovanni (or Sveti Ivan) fortress stretches up 250 meters behind it, with the mountain of St. John sprawling on even further. Take a bottle of water, as it gets super hot climbing up the 1,350 steps to the top, where the Montenegrian flag flies and seems to laugh at you, sweat dripping down your face and almost ready to drop. Wear comfortable shoes that grip very well as the steps are ancient and there has been absolutely thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of feet that have caused the stone steps to become very smooth, making it very difficult to ascend and descend the fortress. All in all you get a fantastic workout and fabulous photographs along the way – don’t forget to stop for breaks (this is going to happen a lot) and take in the awesome views.
Cost: €3 for adults, kids younger than 13 go free. The walk is not manned 24/7, so you can enter for free before approx 7.30 am, and after the sun goes down. There is no fee in low season.
Duration: 1 hour
Length: 4.5 km
Tour the bay by boat
There are many boat trips that you can take to explore the beautiful bay of Kotor. There is a tour that takes you to the Adriatic’s only man-made island called “Our Lady of the Rocks” that houses an ancient church and a museum. This tiny islet was gradually created after 1452 by sailors who carried on a tradition that after every fruitful voyage they would pile rocks onto sunken and seized ships in the bay, a custom that is kept up to this day by the locals, on every July 22nd at sundown. Thereafter the tour stops off at the pleasant town of Perast to check out the old town and its maritime museum. The town is less crowded than Kotor, especially if you are there in tourist and cruise season as no cruise ships dock here. Be sure to listen out for the church bells that ring every time a large ship sails past the town, a tradition kept up for centuries. After exploring this beautiful sleepy town the boat drops you back in Kotor.
Cost: €15.60 per person
Duration: approx 2.5 hours
Go on some awesome hikes
The country of Montenegro is absolutely overflowing with stunning views, so a perfect way to immerse yourself in this beauty is to go hiking some of Kotor’s most popular paths. These trails are namely,
- The Ladder of Kotor – for centuries this was the only way from Kotor to the royal capital of Cetinje, it runs past the Fortress of Kotor and includes a forgotten ghost town called Špiljari.
- Vrmac – explore a scary and forgotten fortress, along with an abandoned military camp from the Soviet era.
- Kosmač – a fortress built in 1840 that was manned by Italian soldiers in WW2 after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this trail ends up in stunning Budva.
To name but a few! Remember where and when the sun sets when you plan your hikes, as you don’t want to be stuck hiking into the setting sun and half dying from the heat!
Duration: 5, 4.5 and 5 hours respectively.
Visit the fruit stands along Gradska pijaca
For a quick snack or picnic lunch go and support the local farmer’s market, located along the main road going from Stari Grad (the old town) to Dobrota (the residential area of Kotor). Here you can find loads of different fruits and veg, the best in my opinion are the cherries, provided you are there in the summer season.
Cost: The prices are very good and you don’t have to bargain.
Take a full day tour on a bus
Splash out a little and book a bus excursion, complete with a local tour guide to visit the tiny village of Njegusi (pop. 35) on the base of Mount Lovćen, the Lovćen National Park and the mausoleum of the Montenegrin poet and philosopher Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the old Royal capital of Cetinje, the famous river of Crnojevic and the attractive town of Budva. It covers amazing sites, important landmarks and provides a brilliant mixture of breath-taking views, history and traditional culture. The road going up Mount St. John towards Njegusi and the country beyond has 25 hairpin bends, making it a rather exciting albeit nail-biting experience. At the village, you have an opportunity to sample the regions’ authentic Montenegrin cuisine – prosciutto ham, cheese and honey beer. A tour is a great way to just relax and listen to the incredible history of this nation – I advise you to switch your phone onto “record” mode so that you don’t forget the interesting facts the guide reveals to you, as there will be lots!
Cost: € 58
Duration: 12 hours
So as we can see, Kotor and it’s neighbouring towns are absolutely worth visiting but these are just the beginning; the whole Balkan Peninsula is expecting you. What are you waiting for?