Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kotor, Montenegro - a Day in the Medieval City

Bay of Kotor after hiking to the fortress.  Sunning views

With the promise of a glorious sunrise in addition to stunning vistas, I didn't need an alarm to get me out of bed as our ship, the Seabourn Spirit, entered the Bay of Kotor in August of 2012.  Located on the northern coast of beautiful Montenegro, the Gulf of Kotor provides a particularly picturesque entry to the quaint medieval city.

As the golden sun low on the horizon welcomed us on deck, my husband and I along with our two teens found ourselves lost in the sheer beauty of the majestic fjord-like landscape.  Brilliant hues of orange and yellow gave way to saturated greens and blues as the sun made its way higher into the sky, and our ship glided peacefully past the sleeping town of Perast and on by the Church of Our Lady of the Rock.

Entering the Bay of Kotor at sunrise in August 2012
Entering the Bay of Kotor at sunrise

View from cruise ship of Perast in the Bay of Kotor
Perast, the Bay of Kotor
Reaching our final destination for the day, Kotor itself, our eyes glanced upward towards the fortifications of St. John's Fortress along with the 1,350 steps required to reach the top.  From our breakfast seat on the back of the ship, the trail didn't look all that bad and the cool morning breeze gave us inspiration for our much anticipated climb.  Fueled with Seabourn's signature Belgian Waffles, a quick change had us ready for our summer weather trek.

As one of the best preserved medieval cities in the Adriatic and a UNESCO world heritage site, Kotor proved to be one of the most anticipated stops on our 10 day Adriatic voyage. With our prior day being a "day at sea", my 16 year-old son was more than eager for a bit of strenuous leg stretching and with all the vigor of an energetic teen the 1,350 steps reaching some 4.5 km above the city had him running up the first few flights and never stopping till he reached the top.

Visiting in August is indeed beautiful, however, the temps rising into the low 100ºF by late morning make taking the fortress trek as early as possible a good idea.  I had thought I was in fairly good shape as I started the steps, and while I made it to the top, I did find that my mid-40's body needed more water and photo breaks than my teen-aged kids.  Suffering the two laughing at me as they pranced on ahead, I'm now ever so thankful for those photos that take me back at a glance. 

Reaching the top leaves one somewhat awestruck from the remarkable beauty of the surrounding area along with breathtaking views of the city and bay below.  The extraordinarily clear air made for brilliant hues of natural blue and green contrasting nicely with the man-made red tiles of the city roofs below.

What you need to know about the hike:

Steps leading to St. John's Fortress in Kotor, Montenegro
  • Cost:   3€ per person
  • Hike consists of approximately 1,350 steps and a 4.5 km rise in elevation.  Note that the steps are steep in some areas and realize that they are very old.  As such, crumbling and loose rocks can be found and caution for secure footing is advised.  There are no handrails, but sometimes a wall for support.
  • Heat.  Mid summer is HOT - our day ended with a mid-day temp of about 104ºF with fairly high humidity.  Start out early in the morning if at all possible and bring water, though water may be sold along the trail.
  • We saw all shapes, sizes and ages on the trail, but quite a few people turned around before reaching the top.
  • Take care not to deface or damage anything along the trail, remember you are walking on history.
Returning to the city after our hike, Liv treated herself to her "I must try one in every city" Gelato, and pronounced Kotor gelato to be fabulous.  Shops and restaurants line the streets, and we found the vendors to be exceedingly friendly and welcoming.

Display of Gelato in Kotor Montenegro

Our afternoon spent walking the cobbled street led us to the 900 year-old Cathedral of Saint Tryphon.  Consecrated in June of 1166, the cathedral received heavy damage in an earthquake in 1667.  Lacking funds for a full reconstruction, one will notice that the two towers are not mirror images.

1979 brought another major earthquake which again greatly damaged the cathedral.  Careful restoration has brought this beautiful piece of Romanesque architecture back to its original splendor for all to visit.  With a rich collection of artifacts and frescoes, the cathedral also boasts a selection of art objects and religious pieces.  Entrance fees: 2€ per person.

The Church of Our Lady of the Rock, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Back on board the ship, our family made its way on deck for the exit cruise of the Bay of Kotor.  Rumor had it that our ship's Captain was friendly with the Priest of the Church of Our Lady of the Rock and that we were "in for a treat" as we passed.

According to legend, sailors returning from a particularly difficult voyage on July 22nd of 1452 discovered a representation of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in the shallows of the bay. Considering the find a miracle, the sailors pledged to honor their find with a worthy sanctuary, and so began the "building" of the islet.

Dropping stones in the bay became a tradition for any sailor returning safely from a voyage, and over time old ships were sunk at the same spotWith the combination of the sunken ships and the dropping of the rocks, an islet emerged from the sea and there was built the Church of Our Lady of the Rock.

Housed in the church are numerous paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-centruy artist from Perast, as well as paintings from other Italian artists.  The most famous artifact, perhaps, is an intricate tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović, also of Perast.  Taking over 25 years, Jacinta used golden and silver fibers as well as her own hair to complete the masterpiece.  It is said that she produced the tapestry while waiting for her love to return from a long voyage and became blind while finishing the piece.

Back on our ship, most of the guests trained their cameras on the church of Our Lady of the Rock as we cruised past.  The blowing of our ship's horn made us all jump, however, after moments of silence the bells of the church rang out in response bringing a remarkable finish to a most memorable day in Kotor, Montenegro.

 Blowing the ship horn as we passed, the bells from the tower in the Church of Our Lady of the Rock rang out in response.


  1. Gorgeous photos! Thanks for taking us along for a bit of your adventure :-)

  2. @Erin



  3. Wow, must add Montenegro in my to-travel list. Love the historic panorama in here. Got my eye on your next posts.

  4. Kim, I'm sold. You've done it. We need to visit this place! Love the look of that climb and great tips. The video at the end has just transported me away for a couple of minutes complete with goose bumps (I have a think about church bells, ooh-aar.

  5. And i live there. I just had to say it...:)

  6. Thank you Kim for taking us with you to Montenegro. Your journey is strewn with beautiful images. I feel as though I was there. The beauty is incredible!

  7. I'd love to visit someday. Your pictures are beautiful, Kim--thanks for taking me there with you.

  8. Gorgeous photos, Kim. I love history so this was a great post for me.


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