KOTOR is nestled in a fantastically dramatic nook between abrupt cliffs and a blue-green fiord, which creates a landscape like nothing we’d seen on this earth. The language (as far as our untuned ears could detect) is similar, and the culture/history on the coast is the same Dalmatian/Venetian combo we’d been seeing. That said, Montenegro felt different. A bit less polished, and a bit more friendly. We were instantly in love with the land of the Black Mountain.
“those mysterious mountains were definitely something that caught my eye right away! I get why the name means “Black Mountain”!” d.
“sitting on the patio behind our Kotor flat, I’m happy to have a minute jot down how much I’m enjoying Montenegro already…” a.
FROM Dubrovnik we took the pulse quickening bus along the soaring cliffs of southern Croatia and crossed the border inland to Montenegro. The rocky crags turned into a more alpine landscape, and the difference was tangible. The border crossing was a painless process of deboarding the bus in Croatia, processing our exits at one window, walking a hundred feet to be processed into Montenegro at another window, and hopping back on the waiting bus.
The air was crisp and warm, and we were excited for this new phase of our adventure.
OUR first stop in Montenegro was Kotor, the small city on the bay with the same name. Kotor is breathtaking in a quiet, subtle way. The bay itself is the deepest of blue, with sheer grey cliffs erupting straight up collecting the meandering coastline in a tight and protective embrace. Like something out of a Tolkien novel, Kotor’s old walled city sits perched next to the water and seems to be absorbed by the surrounding terrain like a chameleon.
Surrounding the walled Old Town, more modern (yet clearly past its hey day) environs sprawl out, and with the appearance of the Cyrillic alphabet on street signs was a communist era vibe that we hadn’t noticed in Croatia. Our flat was literally in the parking lot of the bus station, which we chose for convenience rather than glamor, but it turned out to be a great decision. We’d highly recommend our stay with Tripo. You get off the bus, walk behind the parking lot, and there’s your apartment complex. Not nearly as loud or creepy as it might sound to city dwellers like us, Trigo’s mom lives across the courtyard, and the apartment is super cozy. He was a great host, with tons of helpful information and a cheerful attitude.
Here’s a link to the apartment hosted by Tripo. N&N Francovic Apartment 1
THE sun had dipped behind the cliffs by the time we entered the walls of the old town, which only heightened the fairytale atmosphere. By no means is this a “secret destination”, so by day large groups of yachtes and cruise people engulf the small enclave, but at night the labyrythian lanes are quiet and mysterious. A table al fresco at a cozy wood accented spot called Bokun called our name, and we settled in for our first Montenegrin meal.
We got right to business, ordering some local white wine and the “Bokun Platter”- a selection of Montenegrin versions of the Dalmatian goodies we’d fallen in love with over the past weeks. We’d had a lot of “platters” on this trip, and this one was a killer. After finishing the mountain of food, we literally had to go home and go straight to sleep. This beauty had three types of local pršut, slanina (cured ham), kren (local salami), 3 types of Montenegrin cheeses, eggs, tomato, peppers, olives, arugala, this awesome eggplant/pepper based spread called ajvar, and all topped off with a crusty flatbread we couldn’t stop devouring.
“that was only an appetizer, and I’m completely satisfied!” d.
“after this deliciousness it was lights out, but worth the meat sweats and sodium induced irregular heartbeat…” a.
FOR our only full day in town, we suited up in our best attempt at athletic gear, and set out to conquer the 1350 steps up to the top of the city’s ancient fortifications. The walls shoot up 250 meters along the sheer face of St. John’s “hill”, rising away from the sea level center of town. Because we are geniuses we ended up getting started exactly in the dead on the midday heat, but although we had been warned against this, it really wasn’t that bad. The hike was steep AF, and bring water for sure, but even in the unrelenting sun it went by quick and we pretty much had the place to ourselves (see previous Pro-tip about avoiding crowds by braving the heat).
The views from the top, not to mention exploring 9th-14th century ruins along the way, is totally worth the sweat and burning calves. There are guys at the top that sell ice cold beers, so fear not- you’ll be rewarded for your effort in scenery as well as refreshments.
AFTER a well deserved Nikšićko beer back down in Stari Grad (Old Town), we explored Kotor by day and drank in the amicable Montenegrin hospitality. We were greeted with smiles at markets, restaurants and shops; as opposed to the icy/aggressive first impressions we often received in Croatia.
AN unnerving, but interesting stop during our explorations were the orthodox christian churches in the old town. Another unique detail in the subtle differences between Croatia and Montenegro is that the population has historically split between Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. No where is that more evident than the tiny St. Luke’s Church which has both a Catholic and Orthodox later going back to the 1600s. To be honest the thick aroma of incense, simple chapels, and imposing religious figures staring down from what looked like propaganda posters gave us the creeps. The unfamiliar version of faith was interesting to observe, but felt alien to us.
NOWHERE was the Montenegrin congeniality more evident than with a scrawny kid serving food at a seafood restaurant called Rendez Vouz in central Kotor. During the day we passed by and he gave us the usual siren call trying to lure us in English with “pizza, pasta, shrimp cocktail…”. We said no thank you, and said we’d come back later. He flashed a smile, and said he’d give us a discount if we did.
Come dinner time we decided to take him up on his offer, guessing he wouldn’t be there or wouldn’t remember, but the seafood on display over ice in the open air dining area looked fresh so why not. Although a little tired looking (it was now 6 hours later) the kid was still there. He managed another familiar smile when we walked up and ended up serving us with the upmost friendliness and humor.
“I forgot what good service was until I saw this kid’s work ethic and kindness.” d.
“I can’t believe this kid is still here, and still killing it with a smile!” a.
DINNER was octopus, local salmon, and a caprese salad, all exceptionally fresh and delicately prepared, but the hospitality and hustle of the staff at Rendez Vouz stood out the most. We even got that discount without us bringing it up. The Scrawny Kid rules and he embodies the goodnatured vibe that what was quickly making Montenegro stand out.
AFTER dinner we walked around a bit with the ghosts of the old town. There was this devilishly shitty dive bar across from the restaurant we ate at last night, and eventually Adam convinced Daniela to join the rough looking, seemingly local crowd at one of the plastic tables in the alley out front. The inside looked like a hospital’s commesaery and the only one in there (although there were a dozen tables) was a ranting drunk going off to no one in particular about The Man assumably. We got beers (about $1.75 each) and Adam chose to try the “Local Rakija”. The latter tasted more like engine part cleaner than something for human consumption, but the atmosphere was jovial, and a couple kids were playing really good cover tunes in the alley, so one became two, became three…etc, etc.
After the earlier climb and a few of those “Local Rakija”, suffice to say that was a wrap on Kotor.
SO that next morning was a little rough around the edges for 50% of your intrepid travel team, and Adam was left with a splitting brain as souvenir of our fun times in Kotor.
We thanked our host, hopped on the local bus. For 3 euro (about $3.25) we were able to take the 45 minute bouncing, weaving, exhaust inhaling ride to our next and final stop. All the while thinking Montenegro is different than Croatia…and we really like it this way.
“a hidden maze called Kotor was just a sneak peak of this wonderful country that made me feel in love right away” d.
“good shit already in Montenegro. It has everything I’ve liked around the Adriatic, but a little rough around the edges….which I love.” a.
Soon enough our final stop rose up around the highway, and we where in Budva.