Kotor, Montenegro: Glowing embers from streetlights create honey-hued romance along Kotor’s cobbled labyrinths. Lone musicians, peddlers and street food fill the narrow lanes during the day. But in the tranquil hours of early evening, I am free to amble through Kotor alone, sip a coffee and let my thoughts wander. Though mid-day sun kisses the village’s snug piazzas, the evenings are cool enough for a heavy jacket and mittens. However, I can’t complain about the chill that the darkness invites because every step of this picturesque town is pure joy.
After spending Easter weekend in a family-run pension in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I boarded a bus to Kotor. The ride along the craggy coast was stunning. Tiny, tuscan-roofed villages napped in karst mountains, dipping their toes in the bay’s sapphire waters before seamlessly climbing the abutting cliffs.
Kotor must be where Bohemian poets find their inspiration surrounded by these vistas of pine tree peppered bluffs, turquoise bays, and creamy stone villages. The Old Town of Kotor is a walled complex, resplendent with rusted medieval gates, sprawling plazas and Gothic arches. Inside the walls lies a time capsule of Venetian architecture; buttery walls and wooden-fronted shop houses flaunt blossom-bedecked windows and English-style shutters. Outside the fortress waits a dreamy atmosphere of Adriatic wonderland.
The backpacker’s scene at Hostel Old Town was welcoming and brewing with adventures. Many of us spent our days hiking along mountain ridges, enjoying respites tucked into hidden inlets and venturing out on wind-battered bike rides. Evenings found us sprawled in the hostel’s cozy common areas sipping tea and planning the next day’s exploits while rubbing sore muscles and singing praises about our day’s quests.
A Bit of History: Montenegro has only been a nation since 2006. As one of the poorer nations of former Yugoslavia, this area of Eastern Europe feels much less traveled than many of the other countries I’ve traversed thus far. Though delightful in their own special ways, Prague, Budapest and the like were overrun with weekenders and party-hopeful twenty somethings. But in Montenegro, placid scenes like this greeted me around every turn. Inviting, yes? I would urge anyone to visit this gem of the world soon for things are changing rapidly. I woke up early for a morning run one day. As I walked down to the harbor to stretch my legs, my dawn’s foggy breath was greeted with a scene of three cruise ships parked in the harbor. Tourists typically disembark after breakfast, tour the Old Town and then board again for an afternoon in neighboring Budva. News is traveling fast!!
Before Montenegro’s secret was told to the world, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor holidayed here and James Bond drove along the imitable splendor of these cliffs. Today, most backpackers and European vacationers head straight to Budva, but though its beautiful, Budva is overrun with tourists and sun worshipers. Kotor, on the other hand, holds a cache of 2,000 year-old Venetian fortifications and warm hospitality – a pace that is much more my style. Plus, I can easily venture out into the countryside and gawk at soul-stirring panoramas, like this one of the Tara River Gorge.
Montenegro Adventures: My Australian friend, Sara, and I spent a full-day hiking along the Vrmac Peninsula. From Kotor, we climbed several hours of switchbacks to the roof of the mountain ridge. At the top of the ridge, we traipsed along rocky monoliths toward Gorniji Stoliv and hiked down to Kamenari where we caught a ferry and bus back to Kotor. Along the way, broad vistas of white-washed villages enthralled us below. Risan, Kotor, Perast and Tivat, as well as the Bay of Kotor and the Bay of Tivat, fused into a colorful fantasyland.
The ridge was sprinkled with small farms and we passed a few locals walking with their goats and furry, drooling dogs. An abandoned church provided a respite for lunch – and a few fun minutes swinging on and ringing the bell rope! Though we did indeed get lost a few times, it was a day of meditation steeped in soothing breezes.
On another achingly beautiful day, my friend, Nate, and I biked 40 kilometers around the Bay of Kotor. We rented bikes from a neighboring hostel and set off with our tire repair kit and plenty of snacks zipped up in our packs. Fierce – and chilly – winds swept down the cliffs trying to impede our outing. We had to pause on many, many occasions to rest our weary thighs and sugar load with Kotor’s homemade fudge and pastries.
Alas, although Durmitor National Park was snowed in, we still decided to take a day tour to the Montenegro’s interior and highlands. The famous lakes were frozen over, and we were unable to hike through the strait or around the park’s trails. We did take a moment to build a snowman though!
Later excursions took us to Zabljak, the highest town in the Balkans, and Piva Lake near Pluzine. I seem to be just mentioning a plethora of hard to pronounce villages. I hope I spelled them all correctly! If not, the photos have captured their essence just fine.
Several times throughout my stay in Kotor, I took a book or my journal down to the bay, sat on an abandoned dock, and just listened to the whisper of waves against the shore. Sunsets in Kotor felt different for some reason. The clouds were just a bit more lavender in color. The flamingo pink of the fading light just a little bit brighter. The cotton ball clouds a bit more velvety.
From Montenegro, it’s time to travel on through the Balkans. Albania is my next stop and I am sure I will be greeted with yet another personality-packed oasis.