Sunday, 9 August 2015

Discovering Kotor - a town with character

Who would have imagined, when I started to write about my travels that I would be telling you about a small town in Montenegro called Kotor? Before starting to read travel blogs, I didn't even know it existed.

View of Kotor from the Church of Our Lady of Health

When I arrived at Kotor bus station, uided by extant reviews of this fjord-like bay in Montenegro, I simply followed my map to the old town and  I entered through an old gate. The town was entirely made of stone, and I felt like I was in the past, in a mysterious and old-fashioned land where old laws still ruled among the family clans. Kotor  is famous for its stunning natural setting between the bay and the mountains, but also for its monuments and fortifications dating from different periods and dominations. 

To be completely honest with you, at first I was a bit disappointed with Kotor. I had come straight from Dubrvnik, which I loved, and Kotor seemed really small. After less than a couple of hours of going back and forth the same small streets I thought there was nothing more to visit apart from a couple of cute squares. How wrong I was! Determined to overcome my feeling of disappointment, I began to explore the back streets, finding beautiful hidden corners where the charm of Kotor really lies. It took me a while, for instance, to discover St. Luke's Square, which I now consider the most beautiful in Kotor. The small church that you see in the picture, with the mountains in the background, has both Catholic and Orthodox altars, which is quite unique.

St. Luke's Square and Church
Kotor is the kind of town where details are worth noticing: a balcony with some flowers and some overgrown plants, or a statue hidden behind a gate, for example. The Orthodox faith of most Montenegrins means that you'll find candles in the sand inside the churches, and golden iconostases. For me, they make churches look more exotic. Venturing behind a church I found a fountain with running water and, just above, an icon, which is an image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary painted on wood and venerated mostly in Orthodox countries.

Fountain with icon

Of course there is also the main square, with the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon and the ancient clock tower. The most stylish restaurants and cafés are located here, but the tour groups were sometimes too annoying to fully enjoy the square. Better to come after five for a slice of cake; by that time the tourists have gone back to their cruise ships docked  just a few hundred metres away in the harbour.

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon

The clock tower in the main square of Kotor

Wondering through the town I found a strange-looking stone arch. The inscription in Latin says "Regia Munitae Rupis Via", and it marks the way to the fortifications up the hill. The winged lion and the date in Roman numbers (1760) tell you that this is from the period of the Venetian domination.
Detail of the architecture of Kotor
The climb to the Venetian fortification up St. John's mountain starts from the old town. The road goes steeply up, but as a reward halfway through the climb you will encounter the votive Church of Our Lady of Health and the most famous view in all Kotor. From here you can see how beautiful the bay is.

Church of Our Lady of Health
It's not the easiest hike: if the sun is shining, prepare yourself for a very hot climb without much shade. The stone wall looks like a Montenegrin version of the Great Wall, zigzagging through the landscape out of sight.

The Venetian fortifications in the mountain of St. John
And what about the food? I had great meals here, for example the typically-Balkanian ćevapčići, served with onion and kajmak, a sort of sour cream. I had such  a plate at Kotor's main square, with a full view of Tryphon's cathedral for €8,60. I can also recommend the konoba (restaurant) "Scala Santa", where I had mussels and fish soup. The name of the restaurant means "holy staircase" in Italian and not without reason, since it is located just in front of the stairs that lead you up to St. John's Mountain and to the church of Our Lady of Health.

Eating ćevapčići in Kotor

There are cruise ships stopping in Kotor, but it's not as crowded as other places, such as Dubrovnik or Split. I found people really friendly here. I stayed at Old Town Kotor, probably the best hostel in town. The pub crawl I joined on my first night gave me an idea of the night life in this part of the world. Kotor, and Montenegro in general, is quickly finding its way and its identity after the dark period of communism and the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

A pub in Kotor

I hope that Kotor will not become just another tourist town without a heart. As the number of tourists visiting Kotor and Montenegro rises, the challenge will be to find a balance between taking care of them and maintaining one's identity and authenticity.


1 comment:

  1. I hope that Kotor will not become just another tourist town without a heart. As the number of tourists visiting Kotor and Montenegro rises, the challenge will be to find a balance between taking care of them and maintaining one's identity and authenticity.

    Prague to Kotor


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