• Image
  • Image

What you should know about Kotor

Located on a “Ria” (let’s not let geographical pedantic-ism get in the way, call it a “Fjord” if you must) in a secluded part of Montenegro, Kotor is a tiny city that is over 2000 years old.

One grilled fish, one squid, a basic “shopska” salad, one local beer, and a glass of mineral water. “Local” style restaurant. Nothing fancy. Price? $77 US dollars. More than the average weekly wage in any of the Balkans nations. After, I returned to the “Bait and Switch” Hotel. Booked online, as usual. I turned up at reception earlier only to be taken down the street, around a corner, upstairs into a musty apartment that smelled of, well, old.

In the distance, seven huge cruise ships were docked in the harbour. The historic streets were jam packed with thousands of tourists, a maelstrom of one English conversation blending into another as I navigated through huge groups of guided tours. Homogeneous people, dressed alike, sporting tourist trinkets by the score I’d seen a thousand times before – apart from the admittedly stunning location, this was all eerily similar to all the other “hot” tourist destinations on Earth.

But enough about Split – Croatia’s city on the sea.

The week before all of that, I was in Kotor, Montengro.

And everything, was better in Kotor.

kotor montenegro - looking down

Looking down on Kotor, and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.

kotor montenegro - old town streets

Street level in Kotor’s old town, Montenegro.

The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.

The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro.

The historical island city of Sveti Stefan, Montenegro. Just 6km’s from Budva, and about an hour’s drive from Kotor. Ask me why the beach is so empty.

Located on a “Ria” (let’s not let geographical pedantic-ism get in the way, call it a “Fjord” if you must) in a secluded part of Montenegro, Kotor is a tiny city that is over 2000 years old. Like a good mullet, there are two sides to Kotor. Up front is deep, clean, blue, water. At the back are mountains – littered with walled fortifications from the Venetian period, mixing it up with ruins from the early middle ages. Kotor is remarkably, stunningly, beautiful – a comfortable and confident blend of on-trend old world prettiness, with a genuine lived in feel. Despite the authenticity of the UNESCO listed old town, somehow, even the occasional cruise ship (or more likely, luxurious yacht) sitting in the water right across from the main street doesn’t seem out of place. Nor ostentatious.

Montenegro shares historical similarities with other Balkan countries. Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Ottomans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Serbians have all controlled the rugged land at one point in the last couple of millennia or so. More recently, Montenegro was a republic within the former Yugoslavia. The twenty-first century configuration saw Montenegro joined at the hip with Serbia, forming the aptly named nation “Serbia and Montenegro”. Finally, only as recent as 2006, citizens of Montenegro declared independence from Serbia, and formed the young nation it remains today.

Although tourism numbers have increased in the first few years of the new Montenegro, during 2012 only 55,000 fortunate tourists arrived in Kotor. For a small town with a permanent population of less than 15,000, this is a huge number to be sure. However, like a small apartment with large windows, Kotor feels bigger than it really is. Even just before peak season the streets were comfortably uncrowded. Compared to neighboring Croatia, where in Dubrovnik often more than 15,000 tourists self-herd themselves into the old city walls at the same time (soon to be 30,000 as the Game of Thrones bandwagon rolls in to town), it’s fair to say that Kotor remains a tier below just-up-the-road Dubrovnik in the tourism stakes.

Which is perplexing. Kotor has the beauty, the rich and diverse history, and is easily accessible from the more popular tourist destinations nearby (or even on Tito’s train). It’s not the price – Kotor is cheaper than the Croatian coast, and just a little more expensive than it’s neighbour to the North, Serbia. Prices remain reasonable in Kotor – especially considering the added value of the natural surroundings which are after all, free.

Indeed, it’s amazing that a town like Kotor can still be fabulously enjoyed on the cheap. Sharing accommodation expenses meant paying 30 euros a night (a tenner per person, Phillipa and I picked up a blonde gypsy in Belgrade) to stay in a nice, fully equipped apartment within the city walls of old town Kotor. This was a similar rate to our digs in other Montenegro locations like Budva and Podgorica. Local transport to nearby towns such as Perast was a Euro or two. My newly developed “Pasta Balkana” recipe consisted of fresh ingredients from a local market, and the usual cheap (but always fresh and non-franchised) takeaways such as Burek and Pizza abound. Beer and wine is inexpensive by European standards, even in the hot spots of the old town.

budva, montenegro