After three amazing days in Dubrovnik we picked up a car made the short drive to the Montenegrin border. Montenegro is not much bigger than the US state of Connecticut but offers more than you’d think for its size, with a rugged, mountainous interior, a stunning coast as good as any on the Adriatic and the majestic Bay of Kotor, a T-shaped fjord-like inlet peppered with pretty little historical towns and villages. The last of the former Yugoslav republics to claim—and be recognized for—independence, Montenegro in its current form is less than 10 years old.
We broke up the drive around the bay with a stop in Herceg Novi (“New Castle”) and we were immediately aware of the difference in level of tourist infrastructure and sophistication between Montenegro and Croatia—the parking system was beyond archaic, requiring a hike up to a small café where the restaurant had to write up one ticket per hour of parking I was requesting. This meant that, as we requested four hours of parking time, we had to bring back to the car and display on the dashboard four separate tickets for each hour. While we found this frustrating, we couldn’t help but find the charm in such a silly system!
Herceg Novi’s Old Town is quaint and offers views of the bay from above almost everywhere you go. We wandered around, slowly making our way to the Kanli Kula Fortress where we took in some more vistas of the surrounding mountains and waterfront. Back down in the Old Town we stumbled on a small local market with vendors selling fresh produce and flowers, and even in cases where we don’t plan on buying anything, we always enjoy taking a look. We took a rest at the main square (Trg Herceg Stjepana) and quickly realized another difference from Croatia: everything is so inexpensive! We stopped in Crkva Svetog Arhangela Mihaila, an Orthodox church that serves as the central point of the main square. While Croatia is primarily Catholic, Montenegro, along with neighboring Serbia, is primarily Orthodox.
We finished our visit to Herceg Novi with some time at Forte Mare and then got back in the car with our sights set on the small bayside village of Orahovac where we would be staying for 5 nights. Our Airbnb was a small but comfortable apartment in the basement of our host’s house with a sizable stone patio right on the bay. Our host and his family were very friendly (even bringing down chocolate muffins and cheese pastries on different occasions!) and our location on the bay made it easy to get to all the points we wanted to hit on our trip. We took advantage of the patio, spending some afternoons laying out in the sun and swimming and enjoying sunsets every evening.
The town of Perast is one of the bay’s hot spots and for good reason. It’s a sleepy little village, but it’s for that very reason that many come to take in the slow pace of life and the beautiful scenery. On our first visit to the town we visited the Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, walked along the harbor and enjoyed ćevapi and mussels at Konoba Skolji. On our second visit we took a boat out to Our Lady of the Rocks, a Catholic church built on a manmade island—as the legend goes, fishermen discovered an icon of Madonna on a rock in the sea in the 15th century and they worked tireless sinking ships and throwing rocks in one spot until an island formed. This tradition is still celebrated today and every year on July 22nd, residents go out to the island and add rocks to the ever-growing pile. What we found most interesting about our visit is looking around the edge of the island—you can see how many rocks it’s taken to form this island!
The bay’s starring town (and namesake) is Kotor, located in the deepest and most secluded portion of the inlet. We were struck right away by the beauty and architecture of the Old Town and its tangled mess of streets and alleyways which were a pleasure to wander. Even with the warmest and most humid weather of our trip, we hiked the 1,300 steps up to the Fortress (with a rest about halfway at Cskva Gospa od Zdravlja) and were handsomely rewarded with commanding views of the bay and its environs. We were so warm and tired (and out of water) that we found it fitting to celebrate with a Sprite from one of the vendors selling overpriced cold drinks at the top—never had the fizz of a soda felt so refreshing!
We visited Kotor a second time and spent more time at sea level exploring the streets of the Old Town, visiting St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and the Church of St. Luke and finding our souvenir (a small, framed hand-painted piece of wood depicting the two islands in the bay) at Gallery Nives. After a delicious dinner at Astoria Restaurant (Rico had the pork gyros and Britt had the chicken skewers), we sat down to enjoy some gelato from Il Gelato di Salvatore in Trg od Oružja (“Square of Arms”) and people watch. Our drive back to Orahovac that night featured a surprise, sunset drive along the coast in Dobrota where we got of the car to appreciate the view by a collection of row boats. Moments like this is, for us, what traveling is all about.
Stay tuned for more from our trip to Montenegro, including a visit to Lovcen National Park, a hairy ride down from the mountains to the coast, swimming at secluded beaches, the ritzy town of Budva, the fairytale islet of Sveti Stefan and, of course, paragliding high above the Montenegrin coast!