The port of Kotor in Montenegro is a surprisingly nice place to visit. Most European towns have their old walled cities, but the walled city in Kotor is one of my favorites. Its old city wall extends high into the mountains and looks very similar to the Great Wall of China in this respect. Kotor is quite small in comparison to others, making it very manageable. Getting lost is almost impossible as you wander the wonderful winding streets.
Dating from about 300 B.C., Kotor is quite old. Today, like so many Montenegro cities, its population swells in the high summer tourist season when people flock to this and other Mediterranean cities for their beautiful climates and clean ocean vistas. Montenegro offers a particularly beautiful mountain setting — the name itself means “Black Mountain” — reflecting this distinguishing characteristic of the country.
Kotor usually has a population of fewer than 15,000 people who call it home, most of whom are devoted to tourism or maritime activities. Almost everyone speaks English. The country itself appears to be poor once you get out of the main cities, but the cities themselves appear to be quite metropolitan, an aspect I attribute to the various influences over the ages from foreign powers. Montenegro has been controlled in the recent past by the Empires of Venice, Austria and finally Napoleon before becoming part of Yugoslavia following World War I. It achieved independence in 2006.
The old city of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its impressive old city wall goes high into the rock mountain at the base of which it sits, reminding me of the Great Wall of China. The Venetian Empire’s symbol of the lion is evident as you enter the primary old city gate. Once inside you can observe remarkable examples of Renaissance, Romanesque and Baroque architecture among the many churches that fill the small space. The primary religious influences have come from the Catholic Church (the bishop still resides here) and the Orthodox Church.
The city inside the old walls, and some parts of the old wall itself, had been destroyed by the great earthquake that hit this city in 1667 and by smaller ones since, but Kotor has painstakingly restored the damage. The exception is the Cathedral whose two towers do not match. The story is that when one tower was destroyed, restoration started, but the church ran out of money to finish the work. It’s hard to imagine the Catholic Church running out of money for a project it really wants.
When you visit Kotor, you will have the opportunity to take boat trips on its beautiful protected bay, which is something I highly recommend. Most visitors, however, arrive by cruise ship, so they have no need for additional boat rides.
For them, a trip to Njegusi (pronounced “Neh-goo-she”) is usually on the agenda. High in the mountains, the single lane road to this town must accommodate traffic in both directions. Do not try to do this in a rental car. Hire a local driver who knows how this is done or you will undoubtedly hold up traffic. There are 25 hairpin curves getting to the town. They are numbered, so you know when you are getting close.
Njegusi, a typical Montenegro village, is located high in Lovcen National Park, part of the Dinara Alps. The ride there is exceptionally beautiful and is known as one of the best scenic mountain drives in all of Europe. But, remember, you can’t appreciate the beauty if you are the white-knuckled driver on the treacherous road there. Because of the beauty and the challenge, Njegusi is a favorite for bicycle enthusiasts. You pass many bicyclists struggling to master the extremely steep mountain road. Driving this road is hard enough, so I imagine successfully bicycling it should be reserved for the most fit.
Kotor is truly off the beaten trail, but worth a visit, if only to spend half a day in its old town for a meal. Once you see it, you’ll wish you had more time to spend.