I had never really heard of Montenegro before we set off for our trip around the world, except for a few pictures I’d seen on Instagram. And even then, I had to Google Map where on Earth this place was. Once I located it, I thought surely we could squeeze this little country into our itinerary as it was just on the border of Croatia, which we were already planning to visit. Not knowing much about the country other than where it was located, we ended up choosing the city of Kotor as our home base strictly based off the pictures I had seen on Instagram (and not much more thought went into it than that). Kotor certainly did not disappoint, and the scenery was even more breathtaking than any pictures I’d seen. Here’s how we spent our 3 nights.
We arrived in Kotor via a Jadran Ekspres bus from Dubrovnik (about a 2 hour journey without traffic). A round-trip ticket from Dubrovnik will set you back about $35 USD. Our Airbnb host picked us up from the bus station and kindly drove us to our apartment, which was in the small village of Stoliv, about 10km outside of Kotor. Our apartment was just a 5 minute walk to the beach and only cost us $38/night. Because our apartment wasn’t ready yet and was still being cleaned from the prior guests, our host offered to drop us off a local restaurant near Stoliv for lunch while we waited. The food was delicious (so good we ended up going back a second time for dinner later during our stay), but the views were even more jaw dropping. It was a perfect start to our stay!
After our host picked us up from the restaurant and dropped us off at our apartment, we hit up the local grocery store, which in this village the “big market” was the size of our old NYC apartment. Nevertheless, we found all the essentials for our meals for the rest of our stay, and as we got to the checkout, we discovered they only accepted cash and we just happened to be completely out of Euros. Oops. The employee didn’t speak any English, but we did our best to convey our apologies as she had to put up all our groceries. We then set off on foot to find the nearest ATM, which was 10km away in Kotor. Rookie mistake, arriving in a new country without any local currency in hand. On our walk to town, we happened to pass by a house with a sign advertising bikes for rent. We approached the owner outside and he showed us to his garage with exactly 2 bikes for rent. We jumped at the opportunity to bike to town instead of walking and gladly provided him with Jeremy’s driver’s license as a deposit for the bikes. The cost was only 7.50 Euro/day per bike, and because we were staying so far outside the city, we ended up keeping the bikes for our entire stay. Eventually we made it to the ATM, went back to the village market to get our groceries and enjoyed a relaxing night in.
For our second day, we got up early and made our way to our local beach about 50 meters from our apartment. I somehow talked Jeremy into doing a 1-hour yoga session with me (using an app I downloaded). It was a wonderful start to the day and we enjoyed the rest of the morning sunbathing and swimming in the bay.
We went home for lunch and rode our bikes into town to explore Old Town Kotor, a medieval walled town built in the 12-14th century and considered to be one of the best preserved towns of it’s kind. Like many of the places we’ve seen lately, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage sight. Our first stop was entering through one of the three gates that lead into the walled Old Town. We chose the North Gate as it was much less crowded than the Main Gate that the cruise ship passengers pass through. Once in, we wandered through the winding alleyways gazing up at the many churches, homes, and of course the amazingly preserved town walls that surround the city and which make it so special.
We climbed to the top of the immediately surrounding town walls, but quickly realized there was an even higher continuation of the town walls that made their way up the mountainside. These higher walls, reaching 260 meters above sea level, are accessed via an official entrance located in Old Town – the cost is 3 Euros – and there are exactly 1,355 steps to the top. After looking at a few maps in town, Jeremy of course discovered a more “off the grid” path that would lead us to the exact same viewpoint, but it’s considered a more high-risk and dangerous path to take. An added bonus was that it was FREE, so I assume you can guess which path we took. Off we went, on the road less traveled…a recurring theme on our trip. Of course we chose the hottest time of day, and the path was indeed challenging as there weren’t any real “stairs” like the 3 Euro path had…it was basically overgrown weeds and trees filled with all kinds of bugs and creatures as you made your way up what you could guess used to be stairs many centuries ago. It was like walking through ruins in a forest and up a mountain.
After about an hour, we made our way to the viewpoint at the top and soaked in the stunning views overlooking Old Town and Kotor Bay. On the way down, we chose to take the paved 3 Euro path, but it does not cost anything to go down (it only costs to go up) so our entire trek was absolutely free!
We rode our bikes back home and rested for a bit before heading out to dinner at the same waterside restaurant from the day before. The seafood was just so scrumptious we had to go back. And to end the night, we rode our bikes back into Old Town to see the town walls lit up at night, forming what looks like a ring of fire from the distance. The sight of the Old Town was quite romantic and was a great way to end the day (after our 10km bike ride back home of course).
For our final day, we started off just the same as the day before with yoga and beach time in the morning. After going home for lunch, we set off on our bikes for our final and most ambitious excursion of our stay, which was a 20km bike ride to the quaint and picturesque village of Perast. It’s about 1hr and 15 mins each way by bike, but was certainly worth the effort. We could have taken a bus for a couple Euros, but we already had our bikes, and were determined to get as much use out of them as possible so again, we chose the road less traveled. Plus, I could never get tired of riding along and staring at the mountains and the tiny villages set along the gorgeously peaceful Kotor Bay.
Once we arrived at Perast, we were greeted by several boat owners on the bay offering to take us to the tiny island of Our Lady of The Rocks. We took them up on their offer and for 5 Euro each we arrived on the island just before a few of the large cruise ship groups. The only structure on this island is a church built in the 17th century. It’s 1 Euro to enter, and it includes a brief history and tour of the church. We learned the island was man-made, to house a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has a very interesting history and story as to why it was built there, and you can read more about it here: http://www.montenegropulse.com/our-lady-of-the-rocks.html
After our brief tour, we took a boat back to Perast, walked around for a bit and took in the views. Perast was a charming little village, but to be honest, I liked our village of Stoliv much more – it’s far less developed with virtually no tourists and just as much charm, which in my opinion leads to a more genuine experience of life as a local – and that’s exactly what we’re after. After that, it was a 20km bike ride back home with a brief stop at our local market for some more of their fabulous Gouda cheese. We couldn’t get enough of it during our time there. For our final night, Jeremy cooked us a fresh seafood dinner (lucky me, a man who can cook!) and we relaxed in our apartment for the rest of the night.
Montenegro surprised me in more ways than one. The views are spectacular. The seafood is super fresh and delicious. The people are the happiest we’ve seen. It’s extremely affordable and not overcrowded like some of the other nearby destinations (uh hem….Dubrovnik!). I think one day that will change as more and more cruise ships are being diverted here with the unrest in Turkey (our host explained to us that many cruise ships typically bound for destinations in Turkey are being re-routed to Montenegro and as a result, tourism is really picking up). Although we made the most out of our 3 nights here, we didn’t get to explore as much of the country as we would have liked to. Next time, I think we will rent a car and visit some of the national parks and take a scenic drive across the country.
Until next time Montenegro!