Ah, Montenegro! This incredibly beautiful country in Southeastern Europe that has been overlooked by mainstream travelers for so many years! A remnant of the former Yugoslavia, Montenegro emerged as an independent state only in 2006, when it separated itself from the former Union of Serbia and Montenegro. But in more recent years, thanks to the new European cruise ship routes, Montenegro’s gorgeous scenery and old-world charm is no longer a secret. With its 300 kilometers of unspoiled coastline and rugged mountains plunging into the sea, Montenegro coast is now the place to go on the Adriatic. At a fraction of the cost of Italy, France or even its neighboring Croatia, no wonder Montenegro is quickly becoming the 21st century Riviera. Although a small country, Montenegro is packed with dramatic landscapes, medieval walled cities and quaint fishing towns. Here are the best places to visit on the Montenegro coast:
The Bay of Kotor
If there is one place in Montenegro that will stick in your memory forever, it would be the Bay of Kotor, also known as Boka Kotorska. As cliché as it may sound, it is simply gorgeous, breathtaking and majestic! The fjord-like bay is surrounded by towering peaks, green canyons and beautiful medieval towns.
The Old Town of Kotor itself lays at the far end of the bay. Kotor is the ideal base if you are planning to visit the coast of Montenegro. Although not as polished as its neighboring towns in Croatia, Kotor is really pretty, with lots of twists and turns down cobbled streets. The old town Kotor is more interesting for its nostalgic atmosphere than it is for its landmarks. It has a couple of clock towers, a few churches, nice souvenir shops and plenty of delicious places to eat and drink for a good price.
Be advised however that old Kotor is a very tiny place and not really prepared for mass tourism. If you want to experience its charming atmosphere you should try to avoid the times when cruise ships disgorge their content into town.
The Fortress of St. John
Kotor’s city walls –built by the Venetians to protect it from invaders– stretch for about 4.5 kilometers, right up into the steep hillside above the town. The walls continue into a system of fortifications that culminate with the fortress of St.John (also known as the Castle of San Giovanni), which sits roughly 250 meters above the sea level. Climbing the 1355 steps is strenuous, but I would certainly recommend it to all tourists (and of course photographers) who are physically fit and have good walking shoes. The Castle itself isn’t really much to see, but the views from up there are absolutely spectacular.
This is the only place from where you can admire the bay of Kotor in all its splendor. Looking down upon the terra-cotta rooftops and the entire bay is worth every drop of sweat (and knee pain) this hike may cost you.
Many small historic towns dot the coast along the Bay of Kotor, but the one most likely to steal your heart is Perast. The small fishing town is simply lovely. Its main road, winding along the coastline, is lined with waterfront cafés, white stone buildings, church bell towers and small art galleries. The town lies beneath the hill of St. Ilija, on a promontory that overlooks the Verige strait, the narrowest part of the Bay of Kotor. Perast is full of gorgeous Baroque architecture, boasting 16 churches and 17 formerly grand palazzos that date back to the time when the Republic of Venice owned the city (1420 and 1797). One of the former palazzos is the sumptuous Bujovic, built in the 17th century, that has now been converted into a museum (Museum of Perast.)
One interesting thing about Perast is that it has no defensive walls, but instead it has a chain of watchtowers that were used as checkpoints to protect against attacks.
The Islets of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks
Right across from Perast there are two little islands that look pretty much alike, but couldn’t be more different. The smaller one – the Island of St. George – is actually a natural island. The island is home to a Benedictine Monastery dating back to the 12th century, as well as an old graveyard where the nobility of Perast was buried. The Island of St.George is not open to the public, so it can only be admired from the boat while traveling to the other island.
The bigger island – Our Lady of the Rocks – is an artificial island created by sinking old ships loaded with rocks. The main attraction on the island is the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, built in 1632. There are several legends surrounding the history of this island. One story says that a fisherman found a painting of the Madonna and Child on a rock while he was fishing. He took the painting to his home and got healed overnight after being ill for a long time. He believed this to be a divine intervention and promised to build a church on the spot where he found the painting. Another legend says that the sailors of Perast made an oath to the Madonna to throw a rock in the water every time they would return home safely from a voyage. Eventually the islet emerged. The custom of throwing rocks in the sea is still being practised to this day. On the 22nd of July, all the locals gather on their boats and throw rocks into the sea around the islet.
The two islets are just a short boat ride away from Perast. The transfer to the island is serviced by local small boats that can be hired in the marina.
Budva can’t beat Kotor’s attractiveness, but Kotor can’t beat Budva’s location – right on the water. Surrounded by the city walls, Budva’s old town treasures 2500 years of history. Walking through the Citadel and admiring the sweeping views from its walls is perhaps the best thing you can do in Budva. There is also a small library within the walls of the Citadel that can be visited.
Just down the coast from Budva, Sveti Stefan has a reputation for being stunningly beautiful. Unfortunately, for most people the fortified island-village will only remain a distant image. The island is owned by the luxurious Aman Resort and is actually closed to the public. So unless you are ready to pay €800 per night to rent a room at the resort, you’ll just have to settle for a quick snapshot from the beach.
It was with a heavy heart that I said good-bye to Montenegro. I would have gladly spend another week roaming the streets of Kotor, or soaking up the sun on a small beach in Perast, but all good things come to an end. Hope to return to Montenegro someday.