Located at the very end of a fjord-like ocean inlet (this geological feature is a ria, or a former submerged river canyon), the beauty of Kotor defies description, the incredulity of which is only exceeded by how few know of it compared with nearby destinations like Dubrovnik.
With a set of fortifications comparable to its cousin further north, and buildings that are just as spectacular, those that choose to skip Croatia in favour of Montenegro and other cheaper Balkan states will get an experience that one would expect in Dubrovnik for less here.
The best place to start your explorations of the area is in the Old City of Kotor, which draws many favorable comparisons to Dubrovnik further up the Adriatic Coast.
Within the old fortifications that have protected this city for centuries lies numerous churches, museums, and other structures that were crafted with architectural styles that were in vogue during medieval times.
Spend all day getting lost in the many narrow passageways, which lead to many squares, markets, shops and restaurants that will fill your day with many intriguing discoveries.
While there are many churches that will take your breath away within the Old City of Kotor, one of the city’s most noteworthy religious institutions lies out in the harbor on an artificial island. The Church of Our Lady of the Rock is well worth the effort that it takes to reach, as the fact that city residents were able to create this isle in the midst of Kotor Bay by sinking ships filled with rocks over many years is an extraordinary feat in and of itself.
This single minded quest was brought about by a legend that posited that local mariners, after having seen an idol of Madonna and her child on a rocky outcrop at sea, were inspired to create an island by throwing rocks in the sea until the pile would emerge from the surface.
A church in the icon’s honour was built shortly thereafter, and today, it is noted for its collection of paintings from Baroque era artist Tripo Kokolja. Be sure not to miss his ten metre long work, The Death of the Virgin.
If your appetite for art is hungrier than what The Church of Our Lady of the Rocks can satiate, the Perast Museum just outside the city of Kotor will certainly be equal to the task. Painting, sculptures, medieval weapons and other artifacts gathered from noble families over the ages have found their modern day home here, allowing domestic and foreign visitors to appreciate the cultural heritage of this under-rated region.
While the cultural highlights of Kotor will keep you busy for days, don’t forget to make time to explore the Fortifications of Kotor, which enabled much of the building stack to survive the violent times of the past more or less intact.
With the first reinforcements being built all the way back in the 6th century AD, it is easy to see how the interconnected system of walls, towers, battle stations and cisterns reached the grandiose proportions that they did, and with much of that infrastructure surviving through to the present day, it would be a sin if you missed touring at least part of it during your trip to Kotor.
Highlights include the crumbling castle of St. John (San Giovanni), Kampana Tower, and walking through the Sea Gate, but even if none of this necessarily appeals to you, the view of the Old City below makes a trip to the fortifications justified in its own right.
During your photography session along the walls of Kotor, you will also be getting some of the best views of the Bay of Kotor, which when combined with the mountainous terrain in the region, it makes for some of the most dramatic scenery in the Balkans. Don’t be content just to look at it though, as there are many ways to see this picturesque body of water up close and personal. Go on a boat tour with a well-informed tour guide, or rent a kayak and hit the waters in pursuit of your own solitary bliss.
Need a hit of adrenaline? Rafting the Tara River is the perfect day trip to take from Kotor which can satisfy this urge with ease. Sign up with local tour operators in Kotor, and all transportation and gear requirements will be taken care of – all you have to do is bring your sense of adventure and wonder, as you will be hitting one of the best, but lesser known whitewater rivers in Europe.