An amphitheatre of cliffs and sea, the Bay of Kotor superb hiking, rich culture, and delicious cuisine make for an unforgettable vacation
The Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska in Montenegrin) is one of those places that makes you want to stay forever. Located in the Adriatic Sea in south western Montenegro, just a few hours’ drive south of Dubrovnik in Croatia, its a winding stretch of water that sparkles beneath commanding cliffs and charming medieval villages.
Though the bay itself is only around 28 kilometres long, the area manages to weave together an impossibly picturesque tapestry of sights and sounds, with ancient history and natural beauty colliding at every turn. But perhaps the best thing of all is the overwhelming sense of harmony you experience here: it’s as if you’ve entered a holy place dedicated to natural creation – seen and touched the Axis Mundi.
If, like most travellers, you’re thinking of spending just a few hours in the Bay of Kotor as you pass between cities, you would do well to reconsider. The stunning landscapes, historical towns and gastronomic specialities definitely warrant a much longer stay.
Hiking the trails
There’s one thing you don’t want to forget to pack when you visit the Bay of Kotor, and that’s your walking shoes. There are awe-inspiring vistas to drink in (and photograph) – but you have to earn them. Case in point: St John’s Fortress, which can be accessed by a 1,200 metre ascentup 1,350 steps and which rewards the energetic pilgrim with the most sublime views imaginable.
The fort, a UNSECO World Heritage Site, is connected to the fortified Old Town of Kotor via a series of large stone walls that zig-zag up the hill of St John, and which are visible from all around the bay.
If you prefer to avoid the aforementioned stairs, you can instead follow this zig-zagging route – known as the Ladder of Kotor – to the top. It’s longer, but equally stunning.
Aside from the fortifications, the hiking opportunities around the bay are many and varied. For an undemanding yet pleasant hike, take the old village pathway between the coastal settlement of Kostanjica and the small hamlet of Celina – a 1.8km trail that passes through a thick forest of laurel and chestnut and takes only around 35 minutes to complete. For a longer hike, head from Kotor to the beautiful little port city of Tivat, a trek across Mount Vrmac of around 17km that affords incredible vantage points above the bay.
While you could opt for other forms of transport, experiencing theBay of Kotor on foot is the best way to breathe in the tranquil air, touch the palpable history, and get close to the cultural treasures that present themselves at every turn.
The tiny settlements that dot the Bay of Kotor have been shaped by a wide diversity of influences, making them fascinating as well as beautiful.
The area that makes up Old Town Kotor, situated at the foot of the mount Lovcen, has been inhabited since antiquity, with the first records of the town showing up in the 1st century AD.There is a haphazard beauty in the asymmetrical squares and irregular narrow streets, and a reminder that the village grew organically across time and space. Here in Old Town Kotor, you can visit the impressive St Tryphon’s Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1166 and restored after various earthquakes, or admire the numerous palaces and monuments spanning from the Gothic to the Baroque periods and beyond. Another picturesque town worth visiting is Perast, where Venetian palazzos hark back to its prosperous time as a Venetian outpost and stone churches beckon you inside to experience a calm moment beneath light- drenched windows. From here, you can also hop on a boat for a short ride across to the lovely island church of Our Lady of the Rocks.
Indulge your senses
Feasting your eyes is easy in the Bay of Kotor, but let’s not forget your tastebuds. Sit at an outdoor terrace with coffee and a krempita, a local custard-filled puff pastry, or a sugar-dusted cherry strudel. Come sunset, nothing beats the experience of dining on local cuisine atan old tavern in a tiny square, where slow-roasted meats and fresh seafood are typically on the menu. If you love a good drop, don’t pass on a locally-produced wine to go with it – you won’t be disappointed.
When your eyes and belly are full, turn in atone of the small family hotels, or, if you want to treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay, try the Kotor Blue Bay, a premium resort and health complex. Wherever you stay, just be sure to rest well, as everyday brings a new adventure.
“Each turn of the ship in the dark green sea of three smaller bays, which make up this huge amphitheatre of stones and water, is almost an event” wrote Croatian priest and poet Frano Alfirevic, adding that the colour of the hills changes “as if by magic”. He wasn’t wrong. The Bay of Kotor is one amphitheatre that knows how to put on a show – and one that proves that good things really do come in small packages.