Check out Kotor Bay when in Tivat
Often referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord (though it’s actually a submerged river canyon), seen from above, Kotor Bay is a 28km inlet that snakes its way between dramatic limestone mountains.
Its meandering shore is dotted with centuries-old stone villages and its waters speckled by several tiny islets. To the west lies the glistening blue Adriatic Sea, and to the east the rugged inland mountains, after which the country is named. The Venetians called the country Montenegro, literally “black mountain,” in the 11th century. Montenegrins themselves call it Crna Gora, which also translates as “black Mountain.”
Through the centuries, Kotor Bay has been inhabited by diverse people – the Illyrians (the earliest inhabitants of the Western Balkans), the Romans (who settled in Risan in the 1st century, where archaeologists have uncovered superb Roman mosaic floors) and the Byzantines (during whose era Kotor’s 12th century Romanesque cathedral was built). From 1420 to 1797, it came under Venetian rule, and it was the Venetians who fortified Kotor Town, hidden away deep inside the bay. Today, it’s a Unesco World Heritage site with its picturesque car-free center graced by proud Baroque stone buildings. During that period, the bay became renowned for its skillful sailors and prosperous sea captains and at its 18th century peak, up to 300 ships would anchor here.
Vackra villor och vyer i Perast
Wealthy sea captains built fine villas set in gardens in the waterside village of Perast, affording breathtaking views over two neighboring islets, each capped by a 17th century church. It’s astoundingly photogenic in all weather conditions, and especially alluring when semi-submerged in early morning fog. One of the churches, Our Lady of the Rocks, can be visited by boat.
Kotor Bay – the perfect place for an active holiday
Kotor Bay’s dramatic topography, with the mountains reflected in clear deep blue waters, makes it a perfect setting for sailing and other water sports. The obvious place to begin a sailing trip is the Porto Montenegro super-yacht marina in Tivat, where the Yacht Club arranges private charters and sailing courses.
“Kotor Bay is a great place to learn to sail, as its sheltered from the waves you’d get on a more exposed coast,” says Ben Murray-Brown (Porto Montenegro’s chief sailing instructor). “As you sail around it, you can see the islet church Our Lady of the Rocks, the uninhabited pine-wooded islet of St Marko, and the open waters at the entrance of the bay.”
” Porto Montenegro also offers sea kayaking and stand-up paddle board (SUP) trips. “The mountainous backdrop is what’s really stupefying,” says Jeffrey Sweetbaum (Montenegro Plus sea-kayaking instructor). “For first time visitors, paddling in sight of these giants is truly awe-inspiring.”
Budva - a pearl on the Budva Riviera
Further down the coast lies the 35km Budva Riviera, giving onto the open sea, and centering on Budva. Founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, Budva was also fortified by the Venetians. Now, its quaint cobbled alleys reveal old churches, fish restaurants and chic boutiques. Along the riviera lie old fashioned fishing villages, modern seaside resorts, rocky coves and pebble beaches, some with pedal boats and jet-skis for hire, and several hosting scuba diving clubs – underwater visibility is good (up to 30m), with dive sites revealing caves and wrecks. And then there’s the gorgeous Sveti Stefan, a 15th century village on a tiny fortified islet, joined to the mainland by a causeway and now an Aman resort.
460 steps to the top of Mount Lovćen
Moving inland, behind Kotor rises the mighty Mount Lovćen, near Cetinje. Set within Lovćen National Park, the highlight is the monumental mountain-top Njegoš mausoleum. Built of limestone and granite, and approached from 460 steps, it honors Montenegro’s national hero, Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1813-1851), and commands spectacular panoramic views over the surrounding landscape. From the tiny village of Njeguši, the Kotor Serpentine runs back down to Kotor, with 25 hairpin bends providing spectacular twists and turns. An old road, seldom used by larger vehicles, it’s popular with cyclists.
“The Mile-High Tour encompasses the best of Montenegro. Panoramic views of Budva, the historical capital Cetinje and our national treasure, Mt Lovćen,” says Igor Kordić (cycling guide at Montenegro Plus). “Lovćen is visible from everywhere, and everywhere is visible from Lovćen. The ride down is totally exhilarating, 1,700 meters of descent with a different view at each turn.”
Several national parks
But to discover Montenegro’s most beguiling landscapes, you should head even further inland, to Biogradska Gora National Park, near Kolašin. Here, dramatic rocky mountains rise over 2,000m, and marked hiking paths lead through meadows and virgin forests of beech and silver fir. There are six glacial lakes – on the largest, Biogradsko Jezero, you can hire kayaks or swim. And you can sleep in katuni (traditional wooden shepherds’ huts offering basic accommodation in bunk beds.) Likewise, in the remote north, Durmitor National Park encompasses soaring mountains, with 18 glacial lakes, and bears, wolves and lynx.
“You can hike a loop, taking in the Black Lake, the Ice Cave and Bobotov Kuk (the highest peak, at 2,523m) in just eight hours, where you’ll witness tremendous diversity in geomorphology and wildlife,” says Aleksander Dragičevič of Hostel Hiker’s Den in Žabljak. “Alternatively, you can go on a multi-day camping trip, waking in a different place each morning, but always only 3-4 hours from civilization, in case of bad weather, food shortage or injury.”
Europe's deepest canyon
In the northern part of Durmitor National Park, the turquoise River Tara runs through the spectacular Tara Canyon. At 80km long and up to 1,300m deep (making it the deepest canyon in Europe), it’s a fantastic venue for rafting, taking you over a succession of falls and cascades. Conditions vary depending on the time of year, but in spring you can expect class IV rapids, and in summer class III. If you’re short of time, you can join an organized one-day Tara rafting trip direct from Kotor.
Last but not least, in the south, near Ulcinj, lie the 13km-long Velika Plaža (literally, “Big Beach”) and the islet of Ada Bojana, right on the border with Albania. With soft sand giving into warm shallow sea, conditions here are ideal for both windsurfing and kite-surfing, thanks to optimal thermal winds with an average speed of 18 knots.
Published: October 23, 2019