The historic city of Kotor, Montenegro is tucked into the southern end of the Bay of Kotor under towering, majestic mountain peaks. Walking through the gates of the thick defensive walls that extend to the hill-topping fortress feels a bit like walking back in time. The originations of the seaside city can be traced to Ancient Roman times, but throughout the centuries, the city was conquered by various rulers. Today, visitors to the city will find many things to do in Kotor, Montenegro – and we’ve compiled a list of our top six to help tourists experience the best of the city and region.
Lately, we’ve been talking excessively about Airbnb, but for good reason: We love it! In our journey around the world, accommodations account for slightly less than half of our spending at an average of $44 USD per day (which is equivalent to paying $1,360 monthly rent, all utilities included). The cost of two beds in a dorm with shared bathroom at a hostel often exceeds that amount – and renting apartments allows us to have the entire place to ourselves with a kitchen. We’ve landed another fantastic stay with our Airbnb in Kotor, Montenegro.
I am a big fan of local festivals and participating in events that bring the community together, even if I’m joining in as an outsider. Parades, fairs and even the local market elicit more excitement in me than ticking off boxes of the sights we see. Perhaps it conjures up memories of my upbringing in a close-knit neighborhood in America’s mid-west suburbia and provides a sense of ‘home’ as we vagabond around the world. We seldom plan our itinerary around such celebrations, but we have – more than once – stumbled upon them, which is exactly what has happened with our visit to Montenegro coinciding with the Kotor Winter Karneval.
After our first successful day trip from Kotor to Perast, we once again heeded the advice of our Airbnb host and traveled south to Budva, Montenegro – the Budva Riviera on the Adriatic Sea. The historic, walled city of Budva occupies a stretch of land that faces south towards the sea, with beaches extending to both the east and west. More touristy than Kotor, but with an equally rich history, the area around the historic center has been built up with modern hotels, new shopping centers and a few trendy restaurants.
Traveling to Kotor can seem a bit like traveling back in time. Within historic Kotor, which is surrounded by thick protective walls from the harbor to the hills, the maze of nameless streets lead to openings that are not true squares, but irregular in shape. Stone buildings and orange tile rooftops have centuries of moss growing on them.
The church bells keep the time, clanging every hour from 6:00am until 10 at night and more robustly at 7:00am, noon and 7:00pm. The historic look of the town is preserved and void of anything flashy or modern, yet looking closely we can see the wires and boxed air conditioners that indicate the town isn’t lacking in modern conveniences.
The Bay of Kotor, commonly called Boka Bay, is the largest bay on the Adriatic Sea and Europe’s southernmost fjord. The dramatic mountains plunge into the deep, tranquil waters of the bay. From the Adriatic Sea, a channel opens into an expansive inlet and on the north side is a narrow passage – only 340 meters across – called the Verige Straight that leads into an equally large body of water and directly to Perast.
The city of Kotor is hidden in the furthest southern alcove of the bay, providing the town with natural protection from weather and invaders (for a time in history, a much coveted position). Many other small, historic towns dot the coast along the bay and a road conveniently connects the 66 miles of shoreline. A visit to the seaside town of Perast, a town north of Kotor and located directly across from the Verige Straight, was highly recommended by our Airbnb host.
One of the things I love best about traveling is learning the history of the place and the people and so often that means learning about their religion as well. Due to its designation as an UNESCO site, Kotor’s historic appeal of cobblestone streets, stone houses with green shutters and orange tiled roofs have been preserved and enable us to imagine the people that inhabited the area over the many centuries. As a result there are a hefty number of well-maintained Orthodox and Catholic churches in Kotor.
We spent our first few days in Kotor exploring the winding, car-less streets of the old town, hiking into the hills and venturing outside of the walls to stroll along the waterfront. Minus a bit of rainy weather, the picturesque town was proving to be more than we expected. Void of herds of tourists, we took pleasure in the quiet, daily life.
We decided that on Sunday we would attend the 10:00am mass at the cathedral, St. Tryphon, which is just around the corner from our apartment (and one of many churches in Kotor). At 9:50 the bells started clanging, signaling that it was time to be heading to church, but, on our way, we heard a marching band start to play. We thought it a bit odd for a Sunday morning. As we rounded the corner into the church square, it became apparent that a major celebration was taking place. By asking a few questions, we learned that it was St. Tryphon’s Day, in honor of Kotor’s patron saint, protector and the cathedral’s namesake.
There are three miles of protective walls that wrap around Kotor, Montenegro, completely fortifying the triangular, medieval town from the sea-facing entrance up into the hills above it. Building the ramparts took more than 1000 years and include lookout towers and a castle. Looking up from the harbor, we could see the outline of the walls, a series of paths, a church that clings to the side of the mountain and the expansive castle at the top.
We were anxious to hike up into the hills tracing the path that follows the walls, but with a forecast of grey skies, we were holding off in hopes of better weather. By the afternoon of our third day, however, our curiosity got the better of us. The stairs that lead to our apartment are part of the walls; short flights, like switchbacks, pass several homes before passing under a gate and connecting to the main walking path that leads all the way up to the fort.
Long ago, when we were deciding the route of our year-long journey around the world, we didn’t get specific about the end of the trip, we only determined the general destination of Europe. Even now we have only booked accommodation through the beginning of March and the remainder of the trip is open. The one thing we have to mind – and a small, but quite significant, detail we nearly missed – is our cumulative time in the Schengen Zone.
What is the Schengen Zone?
Many of the countries in Europe have banded together in alliance allowing the borders to be crossed without immigration checkpoints. Those aligned countries, growing in numbers each year, constitute the Schengen Zone and visitors can only stay within the zone for 90 days. We assumed this meant we could skip to Croatia or Turkey for a week or two and re-enter the Schengen Zone, starting our 90 day period again. Here is the detail we missed: Visitors can only stay in the zone for 90 days out of 180. We learned this after booking accommodations for 62 days in the zone. Thus, our research on non-zone countries commenced, as we intended our journey to last a few more months, at least.