Leaving Sarajevo, we had a few days to spare before our flight out of Belgrade, and we’d loved every bit of the Balkans we’d visited so far. So why not get in another country? By all reports, Montenegro was a good option for some time by the water – so it was just left to pick a city, really. A combination of bus timetables (both from Sarajevo, and to Belgrade), Wikitravel pages and Google image searches helped us choose Kotor. There may have been some coin tossing involved as well – I can’t really recall.
The bus trip into Herceg Novi, and then the connection on to Kotor, more than adequately demonstrated the picturesque beauty of the Montenegrin coastline, and confirmed for us that our choice to fit an extra destination into our allotted time in the region had been a good one. And having made it that far, past the (living, moving, grazing) bovine obstacles that seemed to litter stretches of the Bosnian highway en route to Montenegro in the first place, the drive around the Bay of Kotor was like the geography of Montenegro advertising to all and sundry: ‘see, we have such excellent coastline that it seemed only reasonable to include a stunning natural harbour, just to have that much more waterfront to share with the world.’
And once we were done admiring the journey there, we found a lot to like in Kotor itself, as well. It’s selling the city short somewhat to describe it as Dubrovnik-lite, but that’s a good start nonetheless. It doesn’t have quite the crowds that Dubrovnik does (yet) – the cruise ships that grace its harbour are fewer and smaller. It’s a more petite city, too; but with that, it’s possibly more charming than the sometimes-impersonal Dubrovnik. (Kotor has its swimming spots as well – and I imagine kayaking is just as possible here – but in that respect the Dubrovnik-lite moniker is accurate more in that they didn’t have quite the spectacular enchantment that we’d experienced weeks earlier in Croatia. Still, you can’t have absolutely everything…)
Like Dubrovnik, the fortifications are a major attraction. In Kotor’s case, this is a climb up the walls which run up the hill to St John’s fortress, for an amazing view out over the city and across the Bay of Kotor. The climb is hot and hard work, granted, but the view from the top, and the fortress itself, are most definitely worth it. Montenegro being not yet a nanny state, you can still explore the fortress and climb on its walls, without a forest of unsightly barriers – nor a team of spoilsport babysitters – preventing you from going anywhere interesting. An afternoon well spent, enjoying the stony feel of history, marvelling at the view, and basking in the sunshine.
Once you’re back down, the fortifications make for a nice view from below, too. We happily spent far too much time one evening trying for (but failing to get!) the perfect photo back up the hill as the sun set.
With not much time in Montenegro before we headed back up to Belgrade, but with a mid-afternoon departure, we had time for one more energetic pre-bus climb. Across the Bay from the Old Town of Kotor is a walking trail to the top of the hill on the other side. Aside from some more spectacular views, the climb also offered the attraction of a World War I era Austro-Hungarian fort: Fort Vrmac. The fort is abandoned now, but not yet derelict, and perfectly accessible and open for exploration. Bring a torch, or spend a while letting your night vision adjust, and you can wander through and onto and over it all, playing quite the intrepid explorer.
And then, once done, climb back down as we did, and reluctantly watch the beautiful scenery roll by on your way out of this spectacular country. As you promise yourself you’ll be back. And soon.