The Bay of Kotor, less than one hour from Budva, about 2 hours from Dubrovnik, and within easy reach of Montenegro‘s two international airports, is ideally suited for a short getaway. Here’s my itinerary for a perfect day in the Boka.
Start your day early with a workout by climbing up the steep stairs to Castel St. John, and enjoy the sunrise from one of the platforms — I’m a big fan of Soranco, but there are plenty of options all the way up into the Illyrian fort, all offering equally stunning sights of the fjord, the mountains, and old Kotor below. After 8 am, a man will ask you to pay €3 entry fee. But you’ve not only beaten the crowds but also the entry fee.
Once you’re back down, — take the path to the right towards St. Mary’s church, the steps here are easier to descent — visit the church of St. Nicholas. The current incarnation of this Orthodox church is a mere hundred years old. But the atmosphere of the incense-filled room where local parishioners light thin honey wax candles and say their prayers in front of glistening silver plated icons suffuses even non-believing visitors with peace.
Now you’ve well and truly earned your breakfast.
Buy a burek — filled with meat (sa mesom) or with cheese (sa sirom) — at the Mamma Mia bakery on Trg od Brasna (Brasna Square), and head over to the café on Trg od Salate. As long as you stay outside, you can eat your take-here food while you enjoy their coffee specialities.
If you prefer a coffee shop with food options, head towards the Austrian prison (currently a locked up ruin) for more interesting, quieter options.
Savour these morning hours before the cruise ships spill out hundreds of tourists into the UNESCO world heritage site.
After breakfast, just get lost in the streets and narrow alleys of Kotor. You might find yourself wandering into dead ends and back again. But don’t worry: the city is tiny, and you will notice when you pass a gate leaving it.
If you’re looking for some culture, why not visit the quirky Cats Museum? Cattaro, as the Italians call Kotor, has a special relationship with felines. They are canvassing the streets, lounging on stairs and benches, requesting TLC (and treats), which the humans around are all too ready to dispense. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that this museum opened here at the beginning of the century from an Italian countess’ collection of period pieces.
For the best view of Kotor from the outside, pass the roundabout towards and into Muo.
Once you’ve had your fill of Kotor, and just before the munchies are setting in again, head along the cost to Risan.
The town itself is rather unspectacular. The advantage of this fact is that you get better local food at lower prices. I liked the Grill Park MM. The open air seating under palm trees is reminiscent of eateries in Thailand. The food, of course, isn’t. There is a hearty selection of meat (cevapcici or kebab) and fish dishes plus some pasta options for as little as €4. Not to be missed in Montenegro is the local cheese of a strong, salty variety.
Now, you have two options: chill by the beach, which isn’t big but less crowded over here, or visit the Roman Mosaics, an archaeological excavation of a large Roman villa, dating back about 2,000 years. With €2 entrance fee, it is affordable and sheds light on a different part of Montenegro’s history.
Turning back to Kotor, stop in Perast. There, you can wander the tiny old town right by the water, have some ice cream, and catch a boat to Our Lady of the Rocks church on a human-made island in the bay. Adjacent natural island St. George houses the church of the same name and a seafarers’ cemetery.
Note, that taking a car into Perast (as well as parking outside) incurs a fee of a few Euros.
You may be wondering why not many of the buildings — the churches and palaces in particular — along the Bay of Kotor are older than 400 years, which is extremely young for European settlements with a history dating back almost 3,000 years. The reason for this are some earthquakes in the 16th and 17th centuries, which destroyed virtually all dwellings in this part of the Adriatic.
You can stay in Perast for sunset and dinner — prices are about the same kind of steep in all of the dozen of so restaurants along the waterfront. However, if you have a car, I recommend driving over to the other side of the bay, past Kotor and the former fishing villages Muo and Prcanj, which in some areas have managed to retain their original flair. Go all the way to St. Andela church (rather a small chapel than a church) just outside the border to Tivat municipality. Here, where the water to the left meets the ocean and the water to the right goes all the way down to Kotor, you can sit with fireflies whizzing about, or head for the quaint Copacafana bar about 200m down towards Tivat. It boasts prime sunset views of the little islets off Perast and the mountains and even a small beach. Note that parking on the premises is limited but abundant within 200m before/after.
While there is no shortage of dinner options in Perast, Kotor, and the villages, my recommendation is the seafood-focused Konoba Bokeski Gusti in Prcanj, about halfway between St. Andela and Kotor. I’ve never had a better, more friendly and responsive service in Montenegro. Plus, the prices are very reasonable. Most importantly, however, the food — big mussels fresh from the bay, fried calamari, cuttlefish risotto,… — is excellent, fresh and homemade down to the French fries.
Should your budget absolutely not allow for a restaurant dinner, get your picnic at the Aroma or Idea supermarkets off the road to Budva or have a sandwich at one of the shacks just outside Muo (coming from Kotor).
If you still aren’t tired, go for a drink to Bardac Art Bar in the Cultur Center Nikola Durkuvic. Here, you can sit by the water and enjoy the view down the fjord, the walls of Kotor’s fortifications climbing the rocks to your right, the once grand, now decrepit Fjord Hotel to your left.
To lay your head, stay in Muo. This former fishing village saves you endless rides along the coast, is close to Kotor’s old town, yet cheaper and away from the bustle. Apartments can be very affordable even for backpackers. For single budget travelers, there is the Old Town Hostel Kotor in, you guessed it, the old town of Kotor. Check out Booking.com for all your options.