The central point of Kotor is the Old Town – built inside the walls of a medieval fortress which surrounds the town and stretches behind it up in to the mountain.
The Kotor fortress walls up in the mountain behind the town form the shape of a lion on the hillside, which is visible at night when the walls are illuminated in a stunning light display that forms the focal point of the whole Bay of Kotor.
Sitting here trying to think of words to properly describe Kotor is proving difficult – it’s one of the most unique and special places you’re likely to visit in a lifetime.
The surroundings and the view, whatever direction you look in, are nothing short of breathtaking.
A huge natural bay with mountains on all sides, which spill directly in to unbelievably calm, clear waters below them. It’s a favourite destination for cruise ships, which glide silently in to the bay each day, depositing their passengers at the port next to the Old Town.
Around the bay are a few scattered old towns, a marina – home to increasing numbers of super-yachts – restaurants, holiday apartments (though only a few – not enough to spoil the natural beauty of the surroundings) and Kotor Old Town itself.
Stepping through the gates at the entrance to the Old Town is like entering a different sort of world. Narrow cobbled streets lined with Medieval buildings that are now home to boutique shops, stylish restaurants, cafes and gift shops.
Visit in the evening (also the best time to avoid the intense heat of the summer days) and around every corner are street performers – professional musicians employed to create a particular atmosphere for the shoppers, visitors and diners in Kotor Old Town, which is hard to find anywhere else.
A string quartet mixing classical performances with arrangements of modern tunes from the likes of Coldplay and Rihanna. A group of professional dancers doing a waltz in the main square. The best of all that we saw was one guy playing modern classics on a saxophone and clarinet at the same time on a balcony in front of a pavement-side restaurant.
There’s a great selection of restaurants in Kotor to choose from – slightly more expensive than those outside the walls of the Old Town, but still not excessive and, with all the surrounding entertainment and atmosphere, well worth the money.
The highlight of The Old Town is the Kotor walls hike up to the top of the fortress high up on the hillside above, with amazing views over the town and bay below.
We decided to do the Kotor walls hike in the early evening, for one thing to avoid doing what is clearly a strenuous climb in the near 40-degree heat of the mid-summer sun but also so we could see the dramatic sunset from the fortress at the top.
The tourist information point at the entrance to the Old Town will point you in the direction of the start of the hike, which is at the back of the Old Town and which you have to pay £3 to access (money very well spent by the way).
The Kotor walls hike is busy and popular and consists of just a narrow, very steep stone path with narrow and steep steps carved out of the mountainside.
After just 10-minutes’ climbing it became clear this was going to be a challenge; it may have been early evening but the heat was still intense (night-time temperatures during our July week here rarely dipped below 30-degrees).
It wasn’t long before we had to employ our usual tactic of bribing the children with promises of ice cream if they made it to the top.
It also wasn’t long before we realised we’d dramatically under-estimated the amount of water we’d need to take up there. Clearly we weren’t the first either, as half way up there was a man strategically positioned selling cold drinks. Unfortunately we hadn’t taken any money up with us so we struggled on, sweating and gasping for a drink, wondering if this was really all worthwhile!
Eventually we reached the fortress at the summit and immediately it became obvious the effort was worth it ten times over!
What an incredible view, with the pink sky and the setting sun over the surrounding mountains.
There were lots of other people up there at this time of day with exactly the same idea as us and there was a bit of jostling for the ideal photo spots. By the time we’d reached the top we were all bright red, sweating messes – not ideal for the perfect photo opportunity, but oh well, it was a price worth paying.
We stayed up here for close to an hour, watching the sun set and recovering before the long walk back down again. Many people make the return journey in the dark using their phones as torches, but even in fading light of the late evening it was pretty treacherous and not a walk we’d want to do in the pitch black!
Although there is a ‘staircase’ the whole way up, the Kotor walls hike is not a particularly safe and easy one – it’s carved out of stone, probably in medieval times, and it’s rocky, slippery and with sheer drops right alongside in some places!
So you’re in for a tough, slightly dangerous walk – but one that is so worthwhile it would feel like a massive wasted opportunity to visit Kotor and not make the walk up to the top of the fortress.
Kotor Old Town gets busier and more popular with tourists every year, particularly with thousands of cruise ship passengers, but it’s not completely over-run and, thanks to being a UNESCO World Heritage site (which means it’s protected as a site “important to the collective interest of humanity”) it shouldn’t ever be ruined by over-development of tourism.
We – and everyone we spoke to in the area – all agreed it’s a place you’ll remember for a lifetime. Without a doubt the most special and memorable part of Montenegro we visited and it was a real pleasure to spend the week here.