Finally crossing the border into Montenegro and following the long and winding road at the edge of the water, we made it into Kotor where a small studio apartment with a balcony offering views of the mountains and the bay was awaiting us.
By late afternoon we made our way into Kotor, where our first order of business apart from fawning over the beautiful old town was to arrange a tour to Lovćen and find something to eat.
With the assistance of the tourist info desk just outside the Sea Gate entrance we made it to the north-eastern corner of the old town and the office of Montenegro Golden Bay Tours, booking ourselves on a five hours tour for Lovćen two days hence.
The guy at the office was marvellous and made me feel even more excited about the trip than I’d been before. He also pointed us in the direction of Café Pizzaria Pronto, which there seems to be some consensus on being the best pizza in town. Two slices later I could only agree.
With our hunger sedated and the tour planned, we walked the pretty streets of Kotor. Dubrovnik might be majestic and beautiful with its tall walls, but when inside the old town, I prefer to get lost in the pleasant alleys of Kotor.
The surrounding city-scape beyond the old town offers stark reminders of Montenegro’s recent past with old concrete rises and complexes in between the idyllic bay front houses. This is a place where both the Venetian, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian past as well as the years of Yugoslavian architecture is still achingly alive.
By sunset we found our way to the local beach where we took a swim in the bay and a cold beer before returning home to our bay view balcony.
Day in Perast
Apart from dreaming of a visit to Lovćen National Park and the Mausoleum of Njegoš, I wanted to see Perast and the two islets Lady of the Rocks and St. George . Thus, after a cosy breakfast on the balcony we made it into town where we found a boat tour departing for Perast and Lady of the Rocks at noon.
With two hours to spare we walked through gradska pijaca, the market to the south of Seagate where we were offered a taste of some of the amazing products Montenegro has to offer. As a Mediterranean country they make brilliant olive oil and cheese and has a relatively big wine and rakija production.
But it is the Njeguški pršut (ham) which stands out. I was extremely amazed with the ham and cheese I tasted, and I’ve promised myself not to leave Montenegro without some Njeguški pršut. While the cheese reminded me of the Spanish Manchego, Njeguški pršut seems similar to Parma or Serrano.
We passed the southern Gurdić Bastion where we entered the old town. Here we spent the following two hours enjoying the cooling alleys and another pizza slice from Pronto, before making our way to the boat.
Bay of Kotor
It is a magnificent experience to sail on the Bay of Kotor, though also slightly daunting with the imposing mountains rising up in front of you. Out in the middle of the bay, it seemed as if we were cut off from the rest of the world by massive walls of solid rock.
Reaching Lady of the Rocks, we had 30 minutes to make our way around the island. I’d thought that it seemed quite a short amount of time, but as the islet is only around 3030 m2 and offers a small chapel and museum – none of which we had any need to visit, we had time to spare.
Lady of the Rocks is an artificial islets created through the centuries. According the legend two seamen discovered an icon showing Madonna and child under the shallow water in the bay outside of Perast on July 22nd, 1452. They vowed to create a chapel in the spot to honour the Lady Madonna and started to throw rocks into the bay where they had found the icon. This slowly created the articificial islets and a small chapel on top. It became a tradition for sailors of Perast to drop a stone at Lady of the Rocks before heading out to sea. Today, the act is celebrated on 22nd of July at sunset when locals sail to the islet to drop stones.
Perast is a pretty little bayside village with old stone houses and mansions. It boasts 22 churches and only around 350 inhabitants. We never managed to find a street leading further up to what I imagine will be additional streets, but stayed mainly at the seaside, where people were sunbathing and swimming in the bay.
If only we had been smart enough to bring our swimsuits, we would have been able to cool down from the intensive heat, but instead we found a bayside restaurant and a table in the shade. The food was in no way anything to write home about and the waiter managed to get our order wrong, but who cares when you sit overlooking Kotor Bay and the pretty little islets.
Carpet haggling in Kotor
At 16.30 we were back in Kotor for an evening meal and another walk through this amazing town. During our morning walk through the old town I’d fallen in love with a Kelim carpet in a small shop and by afternoon we returned to haggle. I’m really terrible at this and nearly get a stomach cramp when attempting it. But I am proud to say that despite panicking halfway through I got it for half the price. A sumak kelim from somewhere near Mount Ararat.
The shop was new and the owners Turkish. And if there are a people in this world who have made it a culture to haggle, it is the Turks. We ended up seeing the sellers surgical wounds, hear his life story, discuss the beautiful Italian town Bergamo and drink a coffee from next door. I returned home to our lodgings with my beautiful new carpet and beginning concerns on how I’d ever fit it in my backpack for the remaining part of our backpacking holiday.
Lovćen National Park
The following day we met up with our driver and a few other tourists at Kamelija Shopping Centre for a tour up the old Austro-Hungarian Road and deep into the mountains behind.
The Austro-Hungarian Road behind Kotor is an absolutely beautiful and stunning construction consisting of 26 hairpin turns. As such it is not for the faint-hearted. Despite my fear of heights, I felt quite safe with our local and very competent guide as he navigated up the road.
In the bay below us lay two massive cruise ships. I am by no way a fan of cruise ships and often find they obstruct the view for others. This is particularly the case in Kotor, where the entire old town seems to lie in the shadow of the cruise ships coming in for the day. But as we climbed further up the road adding new hairpins to our journey, the cruise ships became smaller and smaller parts of the magnificent view. They were great indicators for us to grasp just how far up we got and how much more was visible to us from the 25th hairpin turn than the 3rd.
From the view point of the last hairpin turn we drove further into Lovćen National Park. We made a stop at a zipline, where we were given the chance to soar above the cliffs.
Once again my usual fear of heights was nowhere to be seen as I swung my legs straight in front of me and out over the mountain side.
What a rush. Despite going slow the view and the perspective was stunning and the feeling of sliding through the air amazing.
From the zipline we continued through the beautiful mountains on slow and twisted mountain roads until we reached the entrance to Njegoš Mausoleum.
Njegoš Mausoleum is the final resting place of Montenegro’s greatest son Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. It has to be one of the most beautiful resting places in the world. After 467 steps uphill through a tunnel the visitor is met with the beautiful views of the mausoleum standing majestically on the top of the mountain.
While flabbergasted and stunned by the scene it is hard to imagine that the true magic only comes to show once through the mausoleum. Here the visitor will find a large circular observatory deck, which on a good day will offer views of the Italian coast 160 kilometres away. On the day we were visiting, Italy was shrouded in a mist and we had to satisfy ourselves with the stunning view of the mountains of Montenegro as well as views of Croatia and Bosnia to the north and Albania to the south. We could see Lake Skadar and the hazy vision of Shköder, which I’d passed through 12 years ago.
This little slice of heaven is proof that the communists were able to build more than grey and desolete concrete buildings. It was built in 1970 to 1974 in the days of Yugoslavia and is living proof that communists also new how to honour old religious and national heroes.
After enjoying the breath-taking view, we made our way back the 467 steps and onwards to the small, but very famous village of Njeguši. This is the birthplace of Njegoš and the reason for his nickname.
But Njeguši is famous for more than Njegoš. This is where the much celebrated ham from the market the day before Njeguški pršut is made. I’ll dare say it is up there with Serano and Parma – an absolutely perfect slice of heaven.
Our day ended at one of the many farms and smokehouses, where we were served homemade bine, ham, cheese and olive oil in the shade of a green roof of leaves.
It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day through Lovćen National Park and to our stay in Kotor.