Go. Kotor. Montenegro
Set at the end of a ‘fjord like’ inlet of the Adriatic Sea, is the stunning old town of Kotor. Surrounded by ancient city walls, which cling impossibly to the mountains behind, the old town is a maze of narrow marbled streets and squares that are crammed with churches, shops and restaurants – all seemingly at one with the ancient architecture, as if they really have been here forever. The city walls are lit at night adding a touch of mystery to this stunningly preserved medieval town. Stepping inside the city walls (mainly built between the 9th and 14th centuries) is like stepping into the distant past, into a town that is begging to be explored and a town that seems to hold a secret around every corner.
However you arrive – by car, bus or boat – you’ll leave your transport behind you as you enter the car free old town. After making your way through the Main Gate (or Sea Gate), the first place you’ll see is the town’s main square. Piazza of the Arms is the largest square in the city and a good place to start you tour of old town. Complete with clock tower, Ducal Palace building, restaurants and cafes it’s a great place for a photo stop with the stunning mountain backdrop behind. There’s plenty of tables to grab a drink at and people watch – let’s face it, you are going to need to save your energy for the climb later.
Next, get lost!! Actually, it’s pretty hard to do in Kotor, as the town itself is not that big. You can easily spend an hour or two wandering the narrow streets, stumbling across small squares, churches, galleries, cafes and boutique shops. Sure, you may end up somewhere you’ve already been, but it’s a fantastic place to just stumble around – you never know what’s around the next corner. Worth a visit is St Tryphon Cathedral situated on its namesake square (around €3 to go inside) and then, while your there, make sure you carry on as far as the South Gate, its a quieter area that few tourists seem to venture to. You can also walk part of the walls between the North Gate and the waterfront, just head for the steps that lead up from narrow street at the north end of Piazza of the Arms.
And now for the energetic bit. We are off to explore the Castle of San Giovanni which sits on top of the hill overlooking the town. There’s only one real reason for going to the top – the view is outstanding. It’s almost feels as if you are hovering over the town, with amazing views north towards the Bay of Kotor. The entrance to the route can be found at the back of the old town, near the River or North Gate, and costs €3 per person – just follow the signs around town and you shouldn’t miss it. A few things to keep in mind – the walk up is steep and there are quite a few steps (over 1300 but it’s worth it), take plenty of water, plan your walk to avoid the heat of midday and don’t forget your camera. It’ll take you around an hour to get to the top, and there are plenty of places to stop and just admire the ever improving view. About half way up there’s a small church (Our Lady of Health) and some stone seats where you can stop for a moment, refuel and catch your breath. All in all the entire round trip will take you between 2 to 3 hours, and a word of warning – if it’s wet the route can be pretty slippery!!
Having pretty much explored the town and all its nooks and crannies, it’s time to experience a different side of Kotor. At night the town has a really unique character as the light fades and a large number of tourists (mainly off cruise ships or tours) leave the town for the day. As the city walls lights glow, the streets empty, the bars and restaurants fill up, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into some medieval themed movie set. It’s a much more serene Kotor, that perfectly contrasts the daytime.
Eat. Kotor. Montenegro
There’s no shortage of places to choose from, when it’s time to ‘fill up’ in Kotor. Here are a couple of suggestions of restaurants where we ate, and more importantly, really enjoyed.
Gallon Restoran: Set on the water’s edge just outside The Old Town, you’ll find it hard to get a better setting for a restaurant in Kotor. The stilted dining room of Galion gives you great views of Kotor Bay, the old town and the town walls arching across the rock face. This view is best seen just after sunset as the light fades and the lights of the old walls illuminate, giving a halo like glow around the town. Add to this a beautifully decorated restaurant, a dollop of atmosphere and a location close to old town, it’d be rude not to indulge for the night. However, breathtaking settings don’t necessarily make amazing restaurants. You have no worries here though on that front. This place is more upmarket than many others in old town, and prices reflect that too. The menu focuses on the locally available seafood, and in our opinion does this really well. But if this is not your thing, there are plenty of other options for you on the menu. Mains from €12 upwards.
Luna Rossa: The location for this restaurant couldn’t be more different to Galion. Right in the middle of The Old Town, amongst the narrow lanes, you’ll find Luna Rossa (located on the ground floor of the Hotel Monte Cristo). The setting for an evening meal, with the street lamps lighting up the old town buildings is very welcoming. The cosy restaurant has an outside patio/terrace area and roof terrace looking onto a small square but if the weathers not up to much it also has an indoor area for colder/wetter nights. The menu has a selection of Montenegrin and Mediterranean dishes and are reasonably priced. Throw in friendly and attentive service, a good selection of wines and a beautiful 13th century building and you have the setting for another memorable night.
Drink. Kotor. Montenegro
If you like your nightlife a bit more low key and want to avoid some of the major clubs, here’s a few bars where you can grab a drink and soak up the nightlife in Kotor’s Stari Grad. The town itself has a bit of split personality. During the daytime its full of tourists on day trips or off the cruise ships. By night, when the majority of these tourists have abandoned this medieval town, is when Kotor really comes into it’s own. Its dark, slightly eerie (but never threatening), atmospheric and feels very ‘local’. There’s life in the narrow alleys, underground bars, local kitchens and chatty wine bars. It’s easy just to wander and stumble across your own ‘comfort zone’, here’s some of our suggestions:
Havana bar: This hip and trendy bar set on a small square at the back of the old town has a large outdoor terrace and a big green Havana sign that you can’t miss. Inside, this busy bar has walls covered in Cuban pictures and latin music adds to the atmosphere. Draft beers, classic cocktails, live music, video projections and a great setting in old town make this a must do pit stop.
Evergreen: Set on the same square as Luna Rossa restaurant with additional outdoor tables, music and live bands. Nice setting, small bar inside, €3 for large beer. Perfect for a pre or post Luna Rossa drink.
Old Town Pub: Towards the back of Stari Grad on a narrow street corner is The Old Town Pub. This touristy bar with stools and high tables outside, has a selection of local beers on draft and in bottles. It all wood and cozy inside, it often hosts live music.
Chill. Kotor. Montenegro
So you’ve spent lots of energy exploring Kotor, and climbing ‘that hill’ (how could you forget!), perfect time then to take it easy. How does a day sound on the beach with another lovely old town thrown in for good measure? A worthy day trip from Kotor is to the coastal resort of Budva and this can be done using the local bus service.
To get to Kotor bus station you head out of the main town gate, turn left and take a 5-10 minutes walk up the hill (only a small one this time!!). The journey from Kotor to Budva takes around 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the bus you pick, with some buses going via Tivat airport. On arrival at the bus terminal in Budva the walk down to the beach area takes a further 15 minutes through the residential area. When you get there you’ll find some beach bars that run along the promenade with sun beds and umbrellas available for some chill out time should you need some R&R time after all those hills!
What do you get for the effort? Well, as you explore Budva you’ll notice that it’s really a town of two halves. The newer part of town with its apartment blocks, bars/clubs and a long sandy beach, that in the height of summer caters for crowds of package tourists. The resort is popular with Eastern Europeans who flock here for some sun, sea, sand and some lively nightlife. However much more interesting and possibly the main reason to visit Budva is it’s atmospheric Stari Grad or Old Town.
Set on a small peninsula near the port area, this walled town is compact and has some great narrow cobbled streets to wander and lose yourself for a few hours. You’ll find small boutique shops, cute courtyard cafes, small churches and a citadel. The view from various parts of the walls is pretty good, but in terms of historical sites there’s not much to get your teeth into if that’s your thing. Having said that you could easily spend a decent part of the day just wandering, chilling, grabbing a drink and finding a cute little courtyard for some lunch.
Whilst you’re in the area (and if you’re feeling slightly more adventurous) you should take the opportunity to make a short detour before returning to Kotor. From the bus station take the local network to Sveti Stefan a couple of miles south of Budva. This small town built on a island now connected by a short causeway is pretty much off limits to most travellers. It’s now a 5 star hotel complex owned by the Aman Resorts. The views though from the road down to the town can be found on many a travel brochure for Montenegro. It’s a steep walk down the steps or winding road and getting back up is a task in itself. But hey you’re getting used to hills by now, right? There are few small cafes and a beach area to chill out on at the bottom. Is it worth the trip? Well you get great views, picture postcard photo opportunites and a nice little beach. Just ensure you leave yourself plenty of time to catch the bus back to Budva – timetables seemed pretty relaxed!!
Sleep. Motor. Montenegro
Take a walk through Kotor Old Town and it doesn’t take you long to realise that you are somewhere very unique, somewhere very old and somewhere very special. The walled town oozes character, especially at night when the narrow streets are lit with ‘old’ lamps, the wine bars spill out onto the street, and the lights from the surrouding city walls give the town an eerie glow. You’d half expect to see a cavalcade of horsemen galloping through the town, looking for a place to tie up their steeds and settle down to a plate of bread, cheese and a tankard of beer.
If you are visiting Kotor for any length of time, then staying in the old town itself is a real treat, giving you the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in this ‘old world’ experience by day and night. Thankfully there is a fantastic guest house that fits just perfectly with the atmosphere around town. The Palazzo Drusko is set in a 600-years-old stone house that was formerly owned by Montenegrin nobility. It retains many of its original features, with rooms decorated in authentic style, shutters that open out onto the streets below, and traditional music piped through to the room ‘wireless’.
The rooms are all individually decorated, combining wood, stone, antique furniture and paintings with modern touches to add to your comfort. Each comes with a flat-screen satellite TV (looking quite out of place!), a private bathroom fitted with a shower or a bath, wi-fi and access to a shared kitchen in the basement. It’s comfy, clean, oozing with character, welcoming and in a perfect spot in the old town. If you’ve booked the B&B option then breakfast is provided in a local wine house!! When we were there the host for our stay was Daniel – quite possibly the friendliest, most helpful host ever!!
Just steps away from a small square with a handful of restaurants, it’s the perfect place to tie up your horse… if you had one!!!