Marvel at the unspoilt magic of Montenegro

A day in Kotor, Montenegro’s prettiest town…

Honest confession. To start off, I was first drawn to Montenegro by the clever deception created by James Bond’s Casino Royale. In reality, not a single scene was shot there. Revelation. It is a thousand times more enchanting than the fantasy its name evokes. 

If you’re only 350 km away in neighbouring Dubrovnik, missing one of the youngest countries of Europe is a sin. Steal a day for a fascinating preview, as we did, and you will be left hungering for more. The drive, for one, is a treat for the eyes. Leaving Dubrovnik’s medieval walls, as you hit the spectacular road high above the coast, you will be engulfed in a sensory overload of unspoilt nature. Drench in the sight of the sparkling deep-blue sapphire waters, the mesmerising views of the sea at every bend, the raw exotica of the looming mountains and the velvety lushness of the forest cover.

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Small, sleepy towns with mundane apartment blocks along the Adriatic coastline give away the reality. No laid back sophistication of Croatia here… Montenegro is far less prosperous. Flow with the enchanting everyday scenes…an elderly man reading the newspaper outside his house, a woman and her son running to catch a bus, clothes drying on the balcony, people buying veggies and groceries, unassuming motels advertising ‘camare’ (that’s Hindi for rooms too!). Ordinary people with ordinary houses facing the extraordinary sea. Reflect on the interesting historical evolution…from the Venetians to the Serbs and the Turks to a free country status during World War I and a democracy as late as 2006. Now chew on this…a little over half million inhabitants and a staggering 1.2 million tourists. A country bursting at the seams?

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

The scintillating drive continues along the stunning Bay of Kotor, Europe’s most southern fiord. For an hour and a half, the two-lane road curves and winds along the 40 meters deep and 20 km long Bay of Kotor, entrapping you with its silent beauty. Towering mountains, rising vertically from the sea, peaks kissing the skies, mystical monasteries carved into solid rock. Houses dotting the hills on one side of the narrow road, and the glittering waters of the sea mirroring the glory of the vista. Melt into the magic. 

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Stop for a photo opportunity of the famous two islets, Sveti Dorde, the natural one, covered with trees and the manmade ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’, where a painting of Virgin Mary was discovered inside a rock. Let your eyes lazily hover around the scene of the lake-like bay, enclosed on three sides by the tall mountainous walls. You cannot capture its serenity on film…but its image will creep silently in your heart and stay embedded forever.

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You can see it in its full glory now. Kotor, the most interesting town in Montenegro,  under the shelter of that ‘black (dark) mountain’ as the Venetians called it. An inviting scatter of white-and-red limestone, basking in the sun, on the glittering shores of the Adriatic, where minimum temperature never falls below 7-10 degrees. No nail biting snow here…simply unending gorgeous weather all year round. Unemployed or not, Montenegrins sure have the best of both worlds!

With just about 13,000 inhabitants, of which 3000 occupy a cozy maze of ancient stone houses inside the delightful labyrinth of the 7th-century fortified city, the town curiously manages to retain its sense of space. An imposing walled structure and fortifications that once served as protection against invaders, now attracts tourists by the millions. The wall snakes 1000 steps up the steep limestone cliffs behind, which faces the most beautiful bay in the world. The hike is worth it, if you have the stamina and the luxury of time. 

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Brace yourself for impact as you enter the fortified town from the main Sea Gate into the main square. It will be pulsating with hordes of tourists, but don’t lose heart just yet…tranquil spots await. Its easy to spot the usual suspects…the old Arsenal, Theatre, Rector’s Palace and the Clock Tower. Trace your eyes along the continuity of the stone architecture all around…simple houses share walls with these symbols of the town’s medieval past. The impression is one of uniquely modest grandeur (if you can call it that). 

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There are a handful of restaurants, cafes and hotels, and lots of shopping to cater to the crowds. Yet, Kotor is clearly less commercial than Dubrovnik, and therein lies its brand of charm. An innocent naiveté lingers in its Adriatic air. The crowds will thin away into oblivion the moment you step into a quiet side street. One cannot really get lost in an area less than 400 square km, but it’s easy to stray and lose track of time…so put away that watch and disappear into those delightful folds. Forget agenda, maps and landmarks. Tell yourself you have nowhere to be, and roam around for hours.

The Venetian influence is obvious in the traditional mansions and the churches spread across the town…in the green shuttered windows, stone balustrade balconies and the decorative archways. Reach out and touch the blackened limestone…many of these solid structures have stood the test of time.

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There are more churches than you would expect in such a small area, so wander into as many as you fancy. But don’t miss the largest of them…the UNESCO protected Catholic Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, tucked away in the crowded St Luke’s square. One of the oldest on the Adriatic coast, this temple dedicated to St. Tryphon, patron saint of Montenegro, goes as far as back as 1166. Attached to the largest Cathedral is the town’s smallest and strongest, St Luke (it has survived most earthquake disasters). This one deserves special attention for of its two altars, Orthodox and Catholic. Browse the incensed interior. No Notre Dame this, but you will be overpowered by the quiet elegance.

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Back in the main square, steal time to sip coffee and savour a slice of melt-in-your-mouth cake at Forza, Kotor’s famous pastry shop, watching the unending crowds assemble and disperse. Up above, a local resident will peer curiously from her bedroom window into the street below, her arms resting on the window sill, taking stock of the crowds gathered outside her home…unaware that she is posing for an enchanting photo. She will travel home with you as an image in your camera…a lovely memory of a glorious afternoon in Montenegro’s prettiest town. And as you leave, you will find yourself making a pact…I’m going to come back to this country for more. Much more!

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83 thoughts on “Marvel at the unspoilt magic of Montenegro

  1. During my last year’s visit to Dubrovnik, I did indeed take a detour to Montenegro and can totally emphasise with everything you said. The beauty on display throughout the country is nothing short of spectacular while the weather is seemingly always idyllic. That being said however, my photography skills certainly don’t match yours from my time there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved Kotor and Montenegro – people say it’s off the beaten path – but not for the tourists from the East! It was packed when I was there. The city, the fortress and the views were so stunning. If you loved Montenegro I would also recommend you visit Albania, just across the border – you’ll be shocked how amazing it is! Everyone skips Albania and what they miss is: paradise beaches, turquoise lakes and springs, beautiful mountains, canyons and unique fairy tale like towns…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am going to Montenegro in June, I can’t wait to go. It looks so beautiful from your photos. Its making me excited and I have pinned your post to make sure I don’t miss anything when I am there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We loved Kotor so much! For such a small place it has so much to do and it’s so beautiful! We loved hiking up the old walls for the fantastic views of the bay and the old town!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the pictures. I too often get tempted to visit locations shown in movies. But then I have learned the hard way to check about the locations before I decide on the destination from Movies. The cobbled streets quite interesting. I would love to walk aimlessly in a town as beautiful as this.

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  6. I learned a lot by reading this post, most notably that Montenegro is a country, not a city. And here I thought I was well-traveled and cultured! I recently moved to Europe, so accessing Montenegro is a lot easier for me now. I will have to add it to the list!

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  7. Haha, great how you discribed the woman watching the crowd from her bedroom window, I love those kind of details. Beside that, I learned something new today, because I didn’t know that the Bay of Kotor is Europe’s most southern fiord… And with the minimal temperatures not falling below 7-10 degrees, I guess I have to go to Kotor during winter, when the rest of Europe’s freezing! 🙂 Thanks for this tip.

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  8. No wonder the Cathedral is a UNESCO site. It looks amazing inside. And I love the views of the Adriatic from the coast of Montenegro. Looks so enchanting and picturesque. And I too thought it would be like Casino Royale. Lol. Glad to know it was even better than the fantasy.

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  9. This post really made me want to visit Montenegro. I’m sure I will get there in the next couple of years. The place seems so unspoiled and full of history. And I didn’t know Casino Royale wasn’t really shot there! Good to know the real place is better than James Bond.

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  10. We visited Dubrovnik a couple of years ago, but didn’t make the trip to Montenegro – kind of regretting it now! But, just means we have an excuse to plan another trip to this part of Europe. Montenegro looks absolutely beautiful – had no idea it was one of the world’s youngest countries! You really can see the influence from places like Italy and Croatia … can’t wait to travel here!

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  11. You write so beautifully. I loved all your pictures. There is a perfect blend of pictures and content. Interesting to know the ordinary people just follow the normal routines. Did you try those 1000 stairs hike along limestone cliff? How was your experience with it?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. There are really places like that, where there seem to (or in fact) have more tourists than locals! Like Prague, Budapest, Iceland, etc. Montenegro looks so beautiful though, thanks to your extraordinary photography skills! 🙂

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  13. Love Kotor and love Montenegro! I agree with you that it is a place full of magic. Unfortunately I have seen that “most beautiful bay in the world” you talk about completely occupied by a huge cruise ship so unspoilt unspoilt unfortunately not . . . Thanks for this nice post

    Liked by 1 person

  14. i really want to visit Dubrovnik after watching it in some movies. After reading your post you give me one more destination to add in my itinerary. You got some really good pics as well.

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  15. I never really thought about going to Montenegro, but it looks really awesome I have to say. I like the historical facts and buildings. They look so pretty! Also the road along the coast must be extremely joyful to ride!

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  16. We’ll be spending close to a week in Montenegro in May! Your post made me so excited for our visit. Did you visit Durmitor National Park and the Tara Canyon apart from Kotor?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. From your pictures and description, this place reminds me a little of the quaint town of Liechtenstein. The views of course, were more mountains but the charm was quite similar. I love the heady combo of landscape and heritage in this one. Lovely images

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  18. You do a fantastic job of selling Montenegro! Your writing does a wonderful job of evoking curiousity and passion. I’ll definitely be pushing for it to be included in my end of year Europe trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. We visited Kotor as a port call on our cruise and absolutely loved it! This post definitely has me reminiscing our few hours here. You briefly talked about the hiking up the wall, but I did not grasp if you did. I am curious because we did and really enjoyed the early morning hike. The views from the top were magnificent and reminded us of Lord of the Rings. Wondering if you felt the same 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think tourism is a inevitable part of travel and one has to consciously filter it out, because some of the most stunning places are overcrowded..but that’s not good enough reason for us to miss them out. We pick shoulder season to get the best of both worlds.

      Like

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