As we sailed into the Bay of Kotor before dawn, we knew Montenegro was going to be a very special place. We were so right! The 17 mile inlet that links the Adriatic to the heart of Kotor is resplendent with spectacular views. Towering cliffs soar above the narrow Kotor ria – a submerged river canyon often called Europe’s southernmost fjord.
There are several small settlements along the bay, including restaurants perched on the hillside, resorts, islands, and tiny churches. One of two tiny twin islands houses one of only two of Montenegro’s Roman Catholic churches, Our Lady of the Rocks which can be visited by boat. The Island of St. George is a cloistered Serbian Orthodox Monastery. The Church of Our Lady of Remedy/Health sits halfway up the Kotor Fortress Climb, a steep walk built into the craggy hillside that looked a bit too intimidating for these timeless travelers.
Nestled snugly between a limestone wall and a glimmering bay, Kotor is home to a well-preserved Old Town. Surrounded by medieval bastions and walls, Old Town Kotor is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways and streets too small for cars. The cats of Kotor are everywhere! There’s even a Cats Museum! Because of its location between the sea and mountains, Kotor had to bring in cats many years ago to control mice, rats, and snakes. It must have worked, because we didn’t see any of the latter, but plenty of the former.
The walls themselves are stunning remnants from Kotor’s 300 years as a province of the Venetian Republic. Just inside the Sea Gate is one of the rare open areas within. Here you’ll find numerous cafes and bars as well as the old clock tower.
But the true charm of the Old Town is found meandering around and through the tiny streets. Here shopkeepers will gently encourage visitors to come and see their unique offerings.
Old Town is also home to several beautiful churches large and small. Kotor Cathedral, originally built in 1166, is the largest. But the smaller, older churches, mostly Serbian Orthodox, are nonetheless charming.
It’s well worth the white-knuckle drive to venture outside the Old Town to visit some of the outlying villages near Kotor. As described by our incredibly well-informed guide Vladimir, we were in for a thrilling drive along a 120 year-old road “with one lane only for two-way traffic!” There are 25 switchbacks along the steep climb to Njegusi, each numbered on the remaining bits of the stone retaining walls.
The main attractions in Njegusi are the Zipline (we passed!) and the local delicacies (we indulged!) The prosciutto is smoked and hand trimmed numerous times to produce a ham that has a mouthwatering flavor and texture. Cheeses, breads, wine, beer, and preserved fruits are just a few of the products made in this charming mountain town.
After a short repast in lovely Njegusi, we were back on the road to Cetinje, the former royal capital of Montenegro. This town was once the “heart and soul” of Montenegro and celebrates the “golden age” of the reign of Nikola I who reigned as prince from 1860-1910 and king from 1910-1918.
Cetinje was founded in 1465 by Ivan Crnojevic who was Lord of Zeta and the Serbian leader from 1465-1490 and moved the capital here. His monument stands in the middle of the city.
Home to the Lovcen National Park, Cetinje is rich with history. The National Museum of Montenegro chronicles the regimes, battles, and challenges this small country has overcome. The Museum of King Nikola, the former royal palace, was originally built as a fortress in the 19th century. The museum provides a glimpse of what life was like for the royal family.
The Monastery of St. Peter is an Orthodox monastery which houses several important relics including the right hand of John the Baptist.
At the very top of a hill overlooking the park is the masoleum of Petar Petrovic Njegos, a prince-bishop as well as a renowned power and philosopher.
Our visit to Korfu was pleasant and educational. It truly left us wanting more time there. During a stop for coffee before boarding our ship for the return trip through the beautiful bay, we reflected on a day that took us from the fjord to the old town to the cliffs to the country and back again. We’ll remember this day for a long time to come.