Since arriving in Kotor, Montenegro, we’ve been determined to hike the town walls – and all 1355 steps – to the San Giovanni Castle that sits at the top of the hill high above the city and provides amazing Bay of Kotor views. There are three miles of protective walls that wrap around Kotor Old Town, 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.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, which is about halfway to the top ~ albeit, the easy half. The church was built in 1518 and although it appears large when viewed from the city below, it is rather small inside with two pews and room for no more than 20 people standing. The gates were locked, but we could peer inside to glance around and see the altar.
From the church, the hike becomes more steadily inclined with long switchbacks. Although my lungs were bursting, the views were mesmerizing and shifting just enough with each new perspective that I couldn’t resist snapping yet another picture of the scene below us.
Nearing the top, we first came to the small fort: an explore-at-your-own-risk, historic playground of shelled out rooms with floors overgrowing with vegetation. We navigated our way through the crumbling walls, going up stairs just to see where they led and poking our heads through doorways and windows before continuing on.
Just beyond the small fort, we came to a fork in the road. We could keep pushing up to the castle or we take the road less traveled and detour through a small window in the walls and see where it led. Driven by an adventurous spirit, we made our way through the wall and followed a dirt path into a valley between two hills.
We walked past remnants of age-old stone homes to a clearing where a small church stood. The door was open, so we took a look inside to find an open space with an old, stone altar at the far end, a connecting chapel and fragments of painted tile on the walls.
We hadn’t been there long when we were approached by a man – only the second person we’d seen since we started hiking in Kotor – who was able to communicate with us through a bit of broken English (which was far and away better than our Montenegrin!). He explained that his family has owned the land we were standing on for generations and he graciously provided some details of the area.
The homes with bases of large boulders were built 3000 years ago when the area was settled by the Illyrians; the homes with smaller, more uniform, square-shaped stones are a mere 300 years old, built under the rule of the Venetians. The Catholic Church we were standing in front of, St. George, was 1000 years old, with the chapel, St. Mary, being added 500 year ago.
Back through the wall, we completed our hike to the castle. Much like the fort, what is left is mostly a hollowed out shell, but it is bigger with more rooms and levels to explore. The phenomenal views stretched the length of the bay, with uninterrupted views of the mountains that completely surrounded us. The sun’s rays kept us warm, even though the wind continued to whip down the hill. We sat on the top wall and ate our picnic lunch and I contemplated the history of the place where we sat. How many people – over how many centuries – had taken in the same view? Were they nearly as impressed with the stunning blue of the sea and the height of the surrounding mountains as we are?
We walked through the castle a bit more, suddenly aware of the growing number of other people who were hiking in Kotor and had also made the climb – one woman doing so in her chunky, heeled boots (I barely made it in Sketchers!). As we made our descent, our shaking legs were glad to have gravity working with us, rather than against us. And, instead of being faced with another inclined switchback, we had a full view of the bay spread out below. We will, no doubt, be sore for a day or two, but we are already looking forward to hiking in Kotor again.
We want to know: Have you been hiking in Kotor? Did you take the detour to St. George’s Church outside the walls? What did you think of the hike and the views? Tell us in the comments!