An introduction to Montenegro (1): Kotor

Yes, I’m straying from my first love, finally: this is the first blog post that deals with hiking in another country than Romania! Last summer was my first chance to explore other territories after having done research for the guidebook for three years straight. We ended up picking Montenegro: humble in size but chock-full of mountains and with a stunning coastline to boot. Who said you can’t have it all? It definitely left an impression, and the only reason I haven’t written about it earlier is that other writings (the book) and tasks (the job) got in the way. But Montenegro is still there, and worth your attention, fellow-adventurers! Now that corona is here and the book is published I’ve got a little more time to idle away on the blog. In this post: the old town of Kotor.

‘Why did they call it Montenegro?’ was one of the first things I said after we arrived in Montenegro, or Crna Gora in Montenegrine. Because it’s not black at all: it’s incredibly green! Apparently it’s how it looked to the Venetians when they approached it over the Adriatic: they must have seen a dark silhouette of tall rocks rising up from the sea. But upon closer inspection, this silhouette gives way to a gorgeous coastline with quaint fishermen’s towns, medieval ramparts and imposing mountains, adorned by leafy greens.

First impressions

We landed in Tivat (yes, we flew ?) and started our trip in the popular old coast town of Kotor and were surprised by the lush vegetation. Although Tivat and Kotor are only 7km apart, it took us ages to get to our rooms. Tony and his sister Sandra picked us up and while Tony slowly pushed the car through the mountain tunnel, Sandra chatted with us: ‘You are such a beautiful couple! You must have many babies. I hope our house does you good’. We hoped so too. Perhaps not in the same way. From our apartment we had a perfect view over the bay. First impressions: two giant cruiseships; surrounded by steep mountainsides; lots of old stuff. The ancient city walls creep up to a fortress higher up the slope. Must explore. Mama Sonja feeds us slabs of pizza; vegetarian isn’t a problem and we get a double portion each. A text from our mobile provider reminds us that we are now outside the EU and can no longer reap its benefits: data is €10/MB and calling €3/min. So we hastily switch off our mobile data and explore the narrow alleys of the old town without Google Maps under a setting sun.

A concert on the city walls

The next morning, Wilbert buys a gas canister at the stall next to the Aroma supermarket and goes for a run while I decide I need more sleep. Thank God for AC! It’s June, but the temperatures are sweltering. Strolling through town, we see a poster advertising a concert by the Barcelona Gipsy Balkan Orchestra. And it’s tonight! We buy tickets at the tourist info stall. ‘Dve karte za koncert, molim,’ I try. It works! So I gather my courage and ask: ‘Gdje je koncertima?’ (Where are the concerts)? We’re pointed to a platform on the ancient city walls. Delighted, we find places in a back row, next to a fragrant rosemary bush. Wilbert lights a cigarette to fend off the mosquitoes. BGKO turns out to be as soulful and amazing as I hoped: an amazing singer in a gorgeous red dress is backed up by a bass, guitar, accordeon, clarinet, violin and percussion. The members of the group come from seven different countries spread out over southeastern Europe. And we can hear it: they sing in different languages (Romanian too!), we hear klezmer influences, gipsy tunes, Spanish dances. I use the city wall as a headrest and stare at the star-filled sky. ‘Last chance to dance!’ the muse announces and so we all dance, languidly and feverishly at the same time. She dances with a little girl from the audience. The last song is an anthem that makes half the audience go melancholy. They softly sing and sway along. I buy a cd from the exhausted Sandra Sangiao; she looks like she’s left herself behind in the arena. We stroll home through the night.

Time to conquer the fortress

The next day we decide it’s time to tackle the city walls and the fortress. We’re in the middle of a heatwave, but we’re going to climb mountains in a few days so a little preparation won’t hurt. It’s too hot for me to really process what all the plaques en route say about the fortifications, but what I take away is that it’s old, impressive, pretty and that there are a lot of stairs. So we drag ourselves up these, taking a break every now and then in the scarce shade. During one of these, we discover a bunch of long-haired goats nibbling away at the trees underneath the wall we’re sitting on. They don’t seem bothered by our presence at all and deftly climb thin branches to reach that delicious-looking green leaf. Mid-way we pause at a 16th-century chapel, dedicated to ‘our lady of health’. I reckon she’s in a good spot. We push on to the San Giovanni castle on top and look down – admiringly towards Kotor Bay, scornfully towards the ridiculous cruise ships that float on it. We descend via another path, encountering more goats, and on our way home buy tickets for our bus to Žabljak tomorrow. The autobuska stanica (bus station) is en route to our apartments in the Škaljari district, on the busy E65 road. No Montenegrine needed – the woman at the desk speaks perfect English. Tickets secured (I can’t remember how much so it can’t have been much) we make our way up hill for one more night on the outskirts of Kotor. Tomorrow we’ll hit the mountains. The mountains beyond the mountains – because there is little else here. To be continued!

Walk to the fortress and back down: ±4km | 2hrs 15mins | +240m | -275m

Practical info

How to get there: we took a flight from Brussels to Tivat, which is right next to Kotor. Ideally, you’d get there by train of course. (I did get away by train, but that’s for another story.)

Transport within the country: the bus station (autobuska stanica) in Kotor is easy to find and right next to the old town. Tickets can be bought at the station. There is a clear timetable on the outside of the station. There are local buses (to Budva, Tivat etc.), national buses (to Bar, Žabljak etc.) and international buses (to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania and Austria). Facilities: ATM, kiosk, waiting room, luggage storage.

Currency: although Montenegro is not a member of the EU, the euro is used. Long story.

Connectivity: lots of places have decent wifi. Since Montenegro is not a member of the EU, expect high roaming costs. If you do need to use mobile data, consider buying a prepaid sim card. Telekom offers 500GB for 15 days for €5, for instance. Other providers offer similar tourist packages.

Other interesting places near Kotor: even though it can be accessed on foot from Kotor, we skipped Lovcén national park. It is probably worthwhile in terms of hiking but we wanted to focus on Durmitor and didn’t have that much time to spare.

Where to stay: we absolutely loved our stay at Guesthouse Sandra. The family were very hospitable and non-intrusive. The apartment is just a little out of town and uphill so that it was quiet and we had great views over the bay. Room was fitted with AC, fridge and kettle; there was a supermarket nearby.

the mountains of romania janneke klop cicerone press

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4 thoughts on “An introduction to Montenegro (1): Kotor

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