Exploring Kotor, Montenegro’s Jewel

Have you ever arrived at a town for the very first time and immediately known you made the right destination choice?

That’s how my husband Duncan and I felt as we arrived the latest stop on our roving retirement adventure.

I struggle with the right words to describe the beauty of Kotor, which sits nestled at the bottom of Europe’s most southern fjord. The turquoise blue lake of the Bay of Kotor shimmers in the heat of the morning sun. At the height of summer, temperatures here hover around 30 C. I fell instantly in love; it was such a “wow” moment, so much beauty all in one place.

Early this morning a cruise ship gracefully sailed into the Bay, one of many that we’ve seen in our time here. We’re staying in a century old guesthouse which is located in the small village of Prcanj, on the shore opposite the old town of Kotor. Our choice to stay here, instead of the Old Town, was the right one. A €5, 10-minute taxi ride can take us into town whenever we want and, for €60 a night, our one-bedroom apartment is well equipped with a kitchen and stunning views over the Bay.

In the evening we stroll along the waterfront of Prcanj, where we are spoiled for choice with restaurants dishing up delicious Montenegro cuisine. Grilled fish dishes are their specialities and a chilled local beer is a welcome accompaniment. All these eateries are located on the waterfront where the waves lap gently and the lights of Kotor and the Fort twinkle in the distance. It’s like a fairyland.

Our favourite spot for dinner was Bokeski Gusti where we dined on tasty, grilled local lake fish with seasonal vegetables and of course a couple of beers. All up, it cost us just €22.

Kotor’s old town is a maze of cobblestoned streets, winding lanes with bars and restaurants pop up in the most unlikely places. Restaurants are busy from morning to night during height of the season especially when the cruise ships come in. We try and avoid the old Town at this time.

A good time for photography is at sunrise as you walk around the back streets with the sun glistening on Kotor’s ancient buildings and quaint churches. The light plays tricks with you as you wander. It is quiet and peaceful, just don’t leave it too late! Restaurants start to set up for their daily trade around 7 a.m. and the procession of produce delivery begins not long after.

For the best view in town, you can climb the 1,350 steps to the Fort of Kotor (once there, there’s a small charge of €3 per person for entry). It can be a challenge, especially in the middle of the day, so we suggest an early morning or late afternoon hike. You can take a breather at the small church about half-way up. Be sure to take plenty of water—bottled water is available en route but at a highly inflated price of €5. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll be glad you put the effort in and, despite an earthquake in 1979, the Fortress and its walls are well preserved.

Most visitors to Kotor take advantage of the boat tour to the 17th century Baroque Lady of the Lake Church in the middle of the Bay, us among them. It’s not a big place, you’ll wander through the church and walk around the island in about 10 minutes. Across from the church you can see, though not visit, a 12th century Benedictine monastery and graveyard on its own cypress pine lined island.

The €30 euros we paid for the three-hour trip also included a visit to the village of Perast, a nice spot to enjoy a meal, a glass of wine or just wander the cobble-stoned streets of this pretty village. If you wanted to spend longer in Perast, just let the boat captain know and you can make your own way back to Kotor via the regular local bus or taxi.

Montenegro has a lot to offer, from the beauty of Kotor to the spectacular mountains and lakes centrally located in the country. If you’re planning a roving retirement, be sure to put it on your list.

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