After a full month in Croatia it was time to move on to the 15th country of our European road trip, Montenegro. Our first stop in the country was the city of Kotor, an ancient walled city on the tip of the bay with the same name.
The drive from Dubrovnik to Kotor took about two and a half hours and the border crossing was quick and painless.
When we enter a new country we have a family quiz where we list the counties we have visited in order. Montenegro is one of our kid’s favorite names and they remember it because it means “Black Mountain” in the Venetian language. In Montenegrin the name is “Crna Gora” which translates the same. Montenegro is the first country on our trip where the Cyrillic alphabet is used, although the familiar Latin alphabet is also common.
Kotor Old Town
Upon entering the old town we immediately noticed the contrast between Kotor and Dubrovnik, where we had just come from. Where Dubrovnik is polished and sometimes feels like an amusement park, Kotor feels more authentic and a little gritty. There is no shortage of restaurants and coffee shops catering to tourists but the town feels like a place where real people live.
Entering through the sea gate we saw the familiar Venetian Lion from the era when the city was part of that empire and a more modern inscriptions commemorating the liberation of the city from the Nazis. The quote above the door attributed to Tito means “What belongs to others we don’t want, what is ours we will never surrender”.
Within the walls there are numerous churches and cathedrals, the most famous of which is St. Tryphon Cathedral which dates from 1166 and is the symbol of the city. It is also one of only two Roman Catholic cathedrals in Montenegro (the majority of Montenegrins are Eastern Orthodox).
The kids were thrilled to find that the old town is also home to a huge population of cats. The locals see the cats as a symbol of good luck, and many shop owners put out bowls of food for the furry residents. Most of the cats appeared to be in good health but several looked a bit rough. And judging by the number of kittens not many of them have been spayed or neutered. Bob Barker would not approve.
Kotor’s fortified walls form a triangle around the old town and up the hillside to the top of the nearby mountain, where the Castle of San Giovanni protects the city from above. Hiking to the fortress along the walls is a good way to get some exercise and to get some great views of the city and the bay beyond.
The hike begins within the city walls, and near the beginning of the walk there’s a ticket booth, where adults are charged 8 Euros. We realized later that it is possible to do almost the same hike for free if you begin at the Kotor Ladder trailhead just north of the city walls.
Once we reached the Castle of San Giovanni we decided to take a different way down the mountain. We climbed through a window in the castle walls and followed a trail that took us past a derelict old church and a herd of goats.
To the east of Kotor is Mt. Vrmac, and at the top there’s a Hungarian fortress. One morning Wes set off on a marathon training run to the top. The trail to the top starts just outside of Kotor and it is made up of twenty switchbacks.
Today the trail is in rough shape in some spots; earthquakes and landslides have taken a toll. Overall it is in pretty good condition though, and the construction of the road must have been quite an engineering challenge.
No doubt about it, Kotor is high on our list of favorites. We loved the friendly and laid-back people, scenic hikes and drives, historical sites, and the myriad nearby attractions to visit. The kids loved it as well and prefer to call it “Cat”tor.