Why Kotor (Montenegro) impressed us more than Dubrovnik
Kotor has been on my list of places to see ever since spotting a photo similar to the above on another blog. So when we left Split last week for a little trip down south, Kotor was the place I wanted to see. Not Dubrovnik, but Kotor. I didn’t tell Spanky that because she hates it when I choose a destination because of a hike or a “photo opportunity” (as she calls it). I told her we were going to Dubrovnik with a little side trip to a place called Kotor. Like most people she had never heard of it.
We’ve been to a lot of nice places over the last year, but no place has blown us away to the extent Kotor did. I came for the geography. Doing the hike up to Kotor’s fortress surpassed expectations. I think it might be one of the most spectacularly beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I had read that the Old Town was pretty but small. It ended up being one of the most charming and untouched old towns I’ve seen anywhere in Europe. We extended our stay from 3 days to 5 days and have vowed to come back one day for more.
(at the bottom of this post I tell you why Kotor impressed us more than Dubrovnik)
I’m not going to bore you in this post with things that you have to see in Kotor. The only thing (besides that hike up to the fortress of St. John) that you have to do is wander around town, sit at one of its squares, and enjoy your surroundings. Watch the kids ride their bikes through the streets, look up at the steep cliffs and fort walls that loom over the town. Unlike a place like Dubrovnik, Kotor is a real town and with a little imagination you might think yourself 500 years back in time. Especially in the evening when the tourists vacate the town for the comfort of their cruise ships (a lot of the tourists that make it to Kotor do so on cruise ships).
Except for a few captions, I’ll let the photos do the talking in this post. There’s a lot of them.
The Hike up to the Fortress of St. John (also known as Kastel Sveti Ivan)
Bring good shoes and expect a slightly strenuous 45 minute hike up to the fortress.
While you’re up there, look down on the opposite side – there’s a huge drop off (maybe 400 feet?), a sheer impenetrable cliff that makes attack from the backside of town impossible. Most of the Wall structure was built while Kotor was under Venetian rule in the 15th century.
Kotor’s Old Town
Kotor is full of squares connected by small streets, none straight.
Most of the town’s museums are Orthodox, but St. Tryphon, a Catholic church, is the most significant in town. In AD 809, Venetian merchants were sailing up the coast from Turkey with the relics of St. Tryphon (a 3rd century martyr) when a storm hit. They took refuge in the Bay of Kotor. Whenever they tried to leave the weather worsened. They decided to that his remains were destined to stay here and built a church (the version you’ll see is the latest version, 4 earthquakes have destroyed previous churches built here).
St. Luke’s Square is another pretty square and has a couple of interesting Orthodox churches built in the time of Serbian rule.
One of the oddities about Kotor is that most of the tourists you’ll see are from cruise ships. You’ll often see 1 or 2 in the harbor. It means sudden influxes of tourists during various parts of the day, then sudden emptiness at other times. A waiter told us that lunch times can be crazy. But then you can walk around in the evening and have the town all to yourself, as evidenced below.
I previously wrote about Dubrovnik. It is a beautiful city but there is one thing that was nagging at me. I realized what it was when doing this post: Dubrovnik is a glamour girl, a super model. She’s been glammed up, has had a few nip and tucks, and has been reconstructed in parts. She’s too perfect. Kotor feels like the real thing. Look at the grass growing between bricks and tiles, see the warped and faded doors and windows, the rusted iron, and the weathered walls. She’s authentic. We more than loved Kotor, we were blown away by its charm.
Where to stay in Kotor
The exceptional Hotel Vardar or equally excellent Hotel Monte Cristo (both in the heart of the old town). If looking for an apartment (you’ll save money) then Apartman 367 and Old Town Boskovic Apartment are both very good.
Getting to Kotor
2.5 to 3 hours by bus from Dubrovnik. It’s actually about 2 hours driving time but passport control can be slow. There are only 2 to 3 buses a day Dubrovnik – Kotor (schedule here) and about the same back (Kotor – Dubrovnik schedule here). That’s not a lot of people travelling independently to Kotor. But buses to get filled up quick so I would suggest you buy tickets in advance as we did. As mentioned, the bus station is a 5 minute walk from the south gate of the Old town. If flying in, then you want to fly to Tivat airport (airport code: TIV). From there you can take a 10 minute taxi ride to Kotor.
If you don’t have much time, I recommend taking an organized tour from Dubrovnik, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle. You’ll also be taken to the town of Perast which is really incredible (I wrote about that here). If already in Kotor, you can book this tour: it will cover Perast as well as the town of Budva.
Renting a Car
The best way to get around while also seeing the beauty in the region. You’d be surprised by how affordable it is (except in high season when prices go up). Have a look here.
Have you been to Kotor?
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