Spectacular geography, one of the oldest and best-preserved fortified towns in the Balkans, a laidback lifestyle and cruise ships galore. This is Kotor, Montenegro.
While many go to the coastal hotspot of Budva for beaches and nightlife, others find themselves in Kotor for that dramatic, mountainous scenery and stunning Stari Grad (Old Town).
Home for us was an apartment in the residential neighbourhood of Dobrota, an easy 10 minute walk from Stari Grad. Close enough to the action, yet far enough away for the peace and quiet of a gorgeous waterfront dotted with small boats and handful of restaurants and cafés.
Sitting at the lapping shore of Boka Kotorska – or the Bay of Kotor in English – is nothing short of glorious; completely surrounded by towering mountains peppered with stone houses and terracotta roofs.
Our introduction to the food scene – not that we delved into it too much – was lunch at Che Nova. Here you can sit back on the waterfront terrace, sip on something cold and tuck into a number of things like pizza, pasta, meat and seafood. Mine was all about the crni rižoto (8), a deliciously rich bowl of squid ink heaven.
Che Nova – Put I Bokeljske Brigade, 90
As you make your way along the waterfront from Dobrota towards the Old Town, you pass Kotor’s only beach. Ok, maybe not a real beach, but the stretch of stones and gravel attracts anyone wanting to get their kit off and bake in the sun or get wet in the cool and incredibly clear water.
At the southern end of the beach is Konoba Akustik, a café-cum-tavern-cum-restaurant with a fantastic waterfront setting, complete with palm leaf umbrellas.
The menu is of your typical Euro-Balkan standard – grilled meat, seafood, pizza, pasta – with some live music in the evenings. It was a grill-fest of ćevapi (7.8) and pljeskavica (7.8) for us; both enormous portions served with lukewarm fries that seemed to have been sitting around since lunch trade.
Konoba Akustik – Dobrota donji put BB
Whether you travel independently or are one of the human cargo dumped onto this town from your enormous cruise ship, you’re bound to spend a good chunk of your time in the UNESCO listed Stari Grad.
Want to see Stari Grad in relative peace and quiet, sans the tsunami of cruise ship crowds? Head there before 9am and after 6pm.
Surrounded by 4½ km of Byzantine walls that were later reinforced by the Venetians, this compact network of slender cobbled streets, open squares and churches and stunning Venetian palaces is wonderful to explore.
It isn’t just the Venetians that left their mark, as the Illyrians, Bulgarians and Ottomans had control over the city, among others. The main gate to the Old Town – displaying a carved Yugoslavian seal built in 1555 – originally opened directly onto the water, allowing people to disembark one ship at a time. Only two other gates provided access to the city.
Cute little gift stores, wine and specialty food providores, pizzerias, art galleries and places to grab a drink or local bite abound. You just need to make a choice, or find them, for that matter. Some of those laneways can get a bit confusing!
Bandiera Pub is a good choice for any kind of drink, and they’re all very well priced. There’s a nice terrace out the front in the fresh air or inside the dimly-lit bar. From €1 espressos to €1.90 shots of rakija, the national brandy, there’s a drop for anyone.
Bandiera Pub – Ulica 2 Stari Grad
You can get your fill on both drinks and semi-decent tunes at Evergreen, a nice little bar in the centre of town. They call themselves a jazz club, but the music can sway into easy listening and 80s covers from time to time. Still, an aperol spritz, cold beer or glass of vino goes down a treat as you sit and people watch.
Hidden away in a dog-legged passage is Letrika, a café-bar decked out in vintage oddments and original and very colourful artworks on walls surrounding it. The specialty here is charcoal coffee, something believed to have been brought to Kotor by sailors from centuries in the past. Apparently having chunks of charcoal in your coffee removes the acidity.
One thing for sure is todays “activated charcoal”-obsessed orthorexics would be all over it. Me, not a fan.
Evergreen – Trg Bokeljske Mornarice
Charcoal coffee at Letrika
Market-goers can sniff about the small market on the outside of Stari Grad, south of the main gate. Aside from the usual fresh produce, cheese, seafood and cured meats, there are some local handicrafts to snap up, as well. Nothing is priced, so if you don’t speak the lingo, expect to pay significantly more than someone that does.
Looking up from Stari Grad you can’t help but notice the ancient city walls that stretch above the city. You can reach the top in 45 minutes if you’re taking it easy, but it can be done in about 20.
The view is spectacular, as you can see in the first and last photos taken by my better half, and had I not been so lazy that afternoon I would have been up there too!
A string of small villages dots the northern shores of the bay, one of which is a nice little day-trip from Kotor.
Perast is a small town located at the foot of St Elijah Hill, it’s home to something like 400 residents and a destination for many people wanting to see its main attraction. Just off the shore are two small islets – St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks – the second of which can be visited on shuttle boats.
It’s believed that two fishermen found an icon of the Virgin Mary in 1452 on a reef in the bay, and for more than 150 years people visited the reef and tossed stones where the virgin was spotted. The ritual grew so much that ships filled with rocks were purposefully sunk at the same location, eventually forming an island on which a church was built in 1632.
It’s a lovely story, but something tells me there’s an element of “Chinese whispers” going on.
There’s not a hell of a lot to do in Perast aside from visiting Our Lady of the Rocks. Alright, maybe gawking at some old palaces and churches, lounging at waterside restaurants and simply taking in that incredible scenery.
The bell tower of the town’s largest church – St. Nikola – can be climbed for €2, an activity well worth the effort. The view from the top is spectacular!
If climbing bell towers sounds too strenuous, then drinks at Piazza de Perast by the cathedral, or the much cuter Bocalibre further along the waterfront might do the trick.
Food-wise, there’s the very nice Otok Bronza with its excellent service, traditional food and stunning waterside setting. We went for the jagnjeća sać (lamb under the bell; 12) and svinjska rebarca na žaru (pork ribs; 8). Simple, rustic and delicious.
Buses run from Autobuska Stanica Budva every 20 minutes and cost €3.50 per person. It takes 45 minutes to get to Kotor bus station.
To get to Perast from Kotor, flag down the local bus anywhere along Jadranska Magistrala (the main road through town) or the bus station. The ride takes about 30 minutes and costs €1.