Montenegro, which sits just underneath Croatia on the Adriatic coast, is not a place that has reached the top of many people’s ‘to visit’ list, if it has made a spot at all. I had never considered it as somewhere I particularly wanted to visit until a few months ago – admittedly, before then I couldn’t have pointed it out on a map! – but having just spent several days exploring the coast of the tiny country, I am glad I did.
For most, the Bay of Kotor is Montenegro’s main draw. The country’s name, literally meaning ‘black mountain’ appropriately gives a clue to its geography – there is little that is not mountains. And it is the mountains that edge the Bay of Kotor – a huge, winding bay at the northern end of the coast – that make it so tranquil. Dotted around the edge of the bay are many small towns and villages, all equally picturesque, built in light coloured stone. The locals spend the hot summer afternoons sunning themselves on the jetties and dipping in the refreshing turquoise waters.
The bay’s stari grads (old towns) are very Italian-esque, emanating the stone towns of its neighbour across the sea. This is not surprising, considering Montenegro was once a Venetian stronghold. Walking the streets gives the feeling of being transported back in time – there is a lack of much visible modernity, especially with motorised vehicles not being allowed within the walls of most, which makes for quite an absorbing experience. But take advantage of the road that stretches around the entire edge of the bay, and take a leisurely drive to get a real picture of Montenegrin life in its storybook villages.
Kotor Stari Grad, the bay’s main attraction, was first settled by the Ancient Romans as part of the province of Dalmatia. But it was its four centuries under Venetian domination that gave it its present allure: fabulous stone palazzi, endless hidden squares of assorted shapes and sizes, and shining floor stones from centuries of feet passing through this enchanting town.
Perast, on the northern edge of the bay, is similar to Kotor, bursting with grand palazzi and countless church spires, but in contrast sits directly on the edge of the water. Perast has numerous restaurants on the water’s edge, and an evening stroll along the waterside promenade is particularly charming. Two tiny islets sit in the water beside Perast: Our Lady of the Rock, which was artificially built in the fifteenth century and holds a Roman Catholic church by the same name; and St. George, a natural island upon which stands the Saint George Benedictine monastery. It is possible to hire a boat from Perast to visit the islets.
The back road to Mount Lovćen
For amazing views over the bay and beyond, hire a scooter or a car and drive the back road up to Mount Lovćen and Lovćen National Park. The road is smooth and winding, and takes between an hour and a half and two hours from Kotor to the top of the mountain (with many photo stops included!). Views reach across the bay to the Adriatic, and from Mount Lovćen over the seemingly never-ending stretch of mountains that gives Montenegro its name.
This article features on Monday Escapes.