Monday, 15 August 2016

The coast of Montenegro (Kotor aside)

Even though I was planning to stay in Montenegro only  a few days, I was determined to see something aside from Kotor. When I was on the bus that took me from Dubrovnik to Kotor, we passed by several small towns in the fijord-like Bay of Kotor. These villages all look somewhat lower-key compared to Kotor, but also enchanting.
From Kotor I hopped on a local bus that in about 15 minutes (and for only 1€) drove me to a small town called Perast. The main thing to do here is to take a boat tour to the islet just in front of the town: Gospa od Škrpjela (which means literally "Our Lady of  the Rocks"). It is an artificial island (the only one of its kind in the Adriatic), and the legend says that it was created by seamen after finding an icon of the Virgin on a rock in the sea. Every time the seamen came back from a successful voyage they threw a rock in this place, thus the island gradually emerged from the sea.     
The island of Our Lady of the Rocks
The boat (5€ for a return ticket), leaves you on the island for enough time to visit the church built in 1452 and the small museum on the island. More than its historical or artistic value, what makes this place special is the atmosphere and the view of the surrounding mountains. The Bay of Kotor looks more like a peaceful lake than a stretch of sea: there are woods everywhere, and practically no beach.

The church of Our Lady of the Rocks

There is another small island in front of Perast, Sveti Dorde, which hosts a 12th century Benedectine monastery,  but the boat  tour does not stop there. Back in Perast, I walked its cobbled streets and felt the history unfolding all around me. The town is wonderfully preserved, and it has many old churches and palaces, all cramped in a narrow stretch of land before the mountains rise up. As a matter of fact, in the past Perast was a prosperous town under the Venetian flag of the Serenissima. 

A church in Perast

Another place that is popular along the coast of Montenegro and that is very easy to reach from Kotor is Budva. In spite of being one of the most famous tourist destinations in Montenegro, it was a bit disappointing. The beach is just a regular  sandy beach, crowded, with plenty of ice-cream shops and the usual children toys for sale. The old town is pleasant, but it could have been any small town with some Venetian influence along the Adriatic sea.

A church in Budva

I walked through its streets, trying to find something interesting among the trendy cafés and souvenir shops. I am fascinated by Orthodox icons, these simple, yet artistically fascinating works of art. There are several in Budva, if you look in the corners of the smaller streets.

An Orthodox icon in Budva

Religious image in Budva

From Budva, it was fairly easy and quick to find the bus stop to go to Sveti Stefan. This islet, connected to the mainland by an artificial narrow isthmus, appears in most of the tourist brochures of Montenegro together with Kotor. In the 1960s and up until the 1980s it was a playground for the rich and famous, with stars such as Elizabeth Taylors or Sophia Loren enjoying its glitz and village atmosphere.

The island of Sveti Stefan
Unfortunately, Sveti Stefan is now a luxury hotel, so it is not permitted to go to the island, unless you have a reservation for its expensive restaurant, so I took a walk. There is another resort nearby, the Hotel Kraljičina Plaža, but it is permitted to walk along the well-maintained beach. There are caves to explore, created by the karst rock formations, but the best thing to do is just walk along the sandy beach and along the pine-covered paths.

A beach near Sveti Stefan

Unfortunately, I didn't see the interior of Montenegro, with its famous mountains where bears can still be found, but what I have seen of this small but welcoming country left me with a desire to visit again and explore more.

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