I’ve always wanted to go to Montenegro—long before it was its own entity and when it was still adjoined with Serbia, maybe even when it was still deemed Yugoslavia, I really can’t remember. I’m not sure why, but it probably has to do with the fact that the name alone summons images of a fantasy land that existed only in fiction, as if it were plucked right from the pages of Game of Thrones or from the screen of a Disney movie. And I finally got one day in Montenegro to visit Kotor while on a recent Mediterranean cruise with my family.
Sailing into the port through the fjords, you can’t help but fall in love with the Balkan nation. The landscapes, quite simply put, are stunning. I forgot I was cruising the waters of the Adriatic Sea; rather, I felt like I was back in Norway, jutting in and out of its striking fjords.
Why did no one tell me Montenegro was this gorgeous and had such magnificent fjords at that? The entry was like the best IMAX featuref ever—only real life, I’m pretty sure.
Everywhere we looked, the views seemed to go on and on and on. For the couple hours it took to reach Kotor, we were a rapt audience, eyes glued to the horizon.
Once we arrived, the Royal Clipper pulled right up to the central square of Kotor, where we docked.
On a cruise, there’s nothing better than a central port and one in which you don’t have to tender.
Kotor itself was nothing to sneeze at. Funny enough, when we arrived in Croatia the next day, I pulled out my phone to post a photo from the old town and what popped up as the location but Winterfell; I’d also argue that Kotor would have been a good setting for such a mythical, stonewalled kingdom.
And while I would fall in love with Dubrovnik, too, if given the choice between the two, Montenegro would be where I’d return.
We had no real plan in mind—but then again, when do we ever?—so we set out to do what all visitors to Kotor do: hike “the walls.” But first we deposited my dad, who has a bum knee, at one of the many cafes that pepper the town square.
It was a bit of a challenge to find the walls’ entryway, as it wasn’t well marked, but eventually we navigated our way through the tight, maze-like city center and found the starting point to one of the two paths that wind all the way up to the fortress perched above the city.
We paid our three euros apiece to enter and set off on the climb. Now call me crazy or ignorant or perhaps simply uninformed, but I assumed these “walls” encased the city; maybe there’s be 100 steps we had to climb to peer into the downtown square from above. What I was not expecting was 1,350 steps, one way. (That’s 2,700 round trip for those of you who failed math.)
We took a break at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, about a third of the way up, where we left my mom who didn’t want to make the rest of the sweaty trek. And then there were four.
But I’m glad us “kids” braved it: The views kept getting more remarkable the higher we climbed.
The now dilapidated fortress walls of the Castle of San Giovanni were built gradually over a period of 1,000 years, between the 9th and 19th centuries, and tower some 4,000 feet over the city.
We were told it would take 45 minutes to reach the top, and that was pretty spot on—if you’d been walking the whole time and not taken extended breaks, mind you. We, on the other hand, paused for photos every 20 feet, so it took us closer to an hour.
The hike is not for the faint of heart, and I’m glad I’d taken the advice of one of our shipmates, who suggested I change into my tennis shoes and leave the flip-flops at home.
Once we reached the top, the views of the Bay of Kotor and the surrounding mountains were worth the energy expended, even as the clouds began to creep in.
I saw a yogi out doing handstands on the roof, and I contemplated joining him.
That is, until my protective husband put a halt to that plan. I begged SVV to let me go out there—I’ve been working on my pincha practice for months now, and what good is a respectable pincha if not for an excellent photograph against a dramatic landscape?—but he wouldn’t let me for fear the centuries-old structure would crumble beneath me. (Are you calling me fat, SVV?)
Then, it opened up and starting pouring, a brief but powerful half-hour shower, the only rain we’d get in our three weeks in Europe (#blessed), signaling it was time to head back down.
When we got to the bottom, drenched in a mix of sweat and precipitation, we felt we had earned our beers (which were much more liberal pours than the water).
Gelato, too, because duh, it’s a day of the week.
For the rest of the day, we shopped and wandered around the old town, grabbing dinner before heading back to the ship just before midnight and promising Montenegro we’d do it justice upon our return.