After rambling around Croatia for 6 weeks, Daniel and I were ready to visit a new country. We heard great things about Kotor, another fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage site, so we boarded a bus heading southbound. It was a short bus from Dubrovnik and we soon crossed the border into neighboring Montenegro.
I knew that Kotor was located in a scenic bay, but nothing prepared me for the stunning beauty of the Bay of Kotor. Mountains rise dramatically out of Adriatic Sea and frame the city in a breathtaking backdrop. I eyed the mountains as we approached the city, itching to do some hiking. The Old Town is surrounded by ancient walls that extend behind the city up to St. John’s Fortress and I couldn’t wait to climb up there as well.
Even though we visited in the off season, Kotor was bustling with locals and tourists alike. Cruise ships occasionally docked in the Bay of Kotor during the daytime, flooding the city with gawking tourists who left the town to locals at night. My advice – stay in town and hang out with the locals after the cruise ships leave for the day.
Here is a roundup of our favorite experiences in Kotor:
- Driving Around the Bay of Kotor
- Hiking the Ladder of Kotor to St. John’s Fortress
- Exploring Kotor’s Old Town
- Hanging out with Kotor’s Cats (you can also visit the Cats Museum if it is open)
- Walking along the Bay of Kotor
- Enjoying the Holiday Season in Kotor
Driving around the Bay of Kotor
Daniel and I traveled to Kotor by bus from Dubrovnik and had an amazing view of the bay as we arrived. Sometimes referred to as Europe’s southernmost “fjord”, the Bay of Kotor has an unusual butterfly shape which it gained when rising sea levels drowned an ancient river valley. There are tourist buses that drive along the bay for those that don’t have a car or arrive by cruise ship.
Hiking the Ladder of Kotor to St. John’s Fortress
Kotor’s Old Town is surrounded by ancient walls that extend behind the city up to St. John’s Fortress, which is perched on a cliff overlooking the town. Climbing the 1355 steps to the fortress is a must-do when visiting Kotor – not only do you get great views of the Bay of Kotor, but you get to visit the crumbling remains of an ancient fort as well.
I was really itching to do some hiking, however, and so I combined climbing the fortress with hiking the Ladder of Kotor trail on the mountain behind the city in a single loop. The hike was my favorite experience in Kotor and I recommend exploring part or all of the trail if you have time. Note that entrance to the fortress from the trail is sometimes blocked.
You can read a full account of my hike here: Switchback Heaven: Climbing the Ladder of Kotor in Montenegro.
Exploring Kotor’s Old Town
Our apartment was located in the middle of Kotor’s Old Town and we spent hours rambling around the old cobblestone streets and exploring the town on foot. It is a charming city, although it can become a bit crowded when cruise ships are docked.
Hanging out with Kotor’s Cats
If you love cats then you’ll love Kotor. The city is home to hundreds of stray cats that are fed by the locals and cared for. We enjoyed feeding scraps of food to the cats and giving them some affectionate scratches and pets. The city even has a museum devoted to cats although it was closed for the season when we arrived.
According to local legend, cats arrived in Kotor with sailors coming to port and saved the city from disease by keeping the mice and rat population under control. This is why they are still cared for and revered to this day.
Walking along the Bay of Kotor
On the advice of our AirBnB host, we spent one afternoon walking along Kotor Bay just north of town. Put I Bokeljske Brigade street runs along Kotor’s coastline in the neighboring community of Dobrota and is lined with shops and restaurants. There is also a beach for those so inclined but it was too chilly for swimming during our visit in November. We got caught in the rain during our walk had a spectacular view of a rainbow over the Bay.
Kotor during the Holiday Season
We visited Kotor during the last week of November, 2019. City workers were in the process of setting up holiday decorations around town when we arrived, giving the whole city a festive air. The dominant religion in Montenegro practices Eastern Orthodox Christianity which celebrates Christmas in early January. According to our AirBnB host, most people celebrate Christmas on December 25 as well, which essentially means they have extended Christmas celebrations for weeks on end.
We were a little early for Christmas, but Daniel and I did happen to be in Kotor for American Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 28. We thought briefly about preparing some sort of traditional Thanksgiving meal in our apartment but ultimately decided that it sounded like too much work. So we went out for a lovely meal of traditional Montenegrin food instead (which turned out to be similar to the food we enjoyed in Croatia).
The Albanian 2019 Earthquake
During our stay in Kotor, a massive 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the nearby country of Albania killing 51 people and injuring 2000 more. The shaking started around 4:00 am local time and could be felt as far away as Belgrade. Many Kotor residents were awoken by the quake, which apparently was pretty intense, but we slept right through it.
Daniel and I had planned to visit the city of Shkodër in Albania next and immediately began to have second thoughts. As we contemplated what to do, a series of aftershocks rocked the region and a 6.0 earthquake struck across the Adriatic Sea near Crete. That settled it. With the country of Albania in a state of emergency, it seemed like a bad time to try and visit.
It was time for a new plan. So we headed back to Dubrovnik instead to join the Dubrovnik Winter Festival Kickoff Celebration.
Where are we now?
Location: Kotor, Montenegro
Date: Monday, November 25 to Friday, November 29, 2019
Vagabonding Journey Status: Days 56-60
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 57: Switchback Heaven: Climbing the Ladder of Kotor in Montenegro
- Day 55: A Fresh Perspective on Dubrovnik: Hiking Mount Srđ
- Day 50: A Walk Around Dubrovnik’s City Walls in Croatia
- Day 45: Visiting Korčula, Croatia in the Off Season
- Day 41: Weathering an Epic Winter Storm on the Island of Hvar, Croatia
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