Whilst Kotor Bay receives a healthy flow of tourists from visiting cruise ships, the area is still very unspoilt and relatively untouched by international tourism. But it's coming: a new super yacht marina, Portonovi, opens in 2018 with numerous hotel chains following suit. So visit soon before Kotor Bay puts itself on the map in a big way.
Just a two-hour drive from Dubrovnik airport, yet this Balkan country couldn’t seem further away from its neighbour, Croatia. There are no huge overpasses; in fact work only began on the country’s first motorway network in May last year. So we had to rely on the rather rural route that curved around the coastline, providing stunning views of the endless shoreline. I’d pick this over the M25 any day. Kotor Bay enticed us in with its promise of sparkling seas and bright blue sky and the fact that it’s closer to Dubrovnik than Croatia’s other cities. So before a break with my boyfriend’s family in Croatia’s cultural capital, we decided to explore one of the Adriatic coastline’s lesser known jewels: Boka - or the Bay of Kotor - located in south-western Montenegro. I am pleased to say that the winding bay is even prettier than pictures suggest and it actually took a few moments for my eyes to properly adjust to its vibrant colours and sparkling waters. The vivid blues of the bay are overlooked by steep mountains, making it postcard-perfect wherever you look. It could have easily been an extravagant green screen from a film set - it’s unbelievably picturesque. I now understand why Lonely Planet's Best in Travel named Kotor as the world’s number one city for 2016.
We stayed in Kotor Dobrota, which was a 15-minute stroll along the boardwalk into the Old Town. This location is perfect if you want a healthy balance between party and peace, away from the cruise ship crowds and the late night bars (NB. In Spanish-style, people eat late and drink even later! One evening we ate at 10:30pm and people were still sitting down to eat as were finishing our mains!) Yet you’ll still find several bars and restaurants along this 7km stretch of seaside promenade offering dramatic views of Mt. Vrmac and a quieter vibe than its bustling neighbour! Even if you don’t end up staying in this area, I would highly recommend taking a shoreline walk out of the walled city to one of Dobrota’s sea-facing restaurants. Go for breakfast, lunch or watch the sunset while you wine and dine at one of Dobrota’s open-air lounge bars (all are reasonably priced and include lush views of the bay free of charge!!)
Jet Ski- Furthest away from old-town but great for breakfast. Dan would recommend the ‘Jet Ski Breakfast’, which comes with a hash-brown style pancake!
Che Nova?- Most fancy bar on the strip, with a lovely ambience. We often came here late afternoon for a beer (draught is €1.50 a litre) and cards, cuddled up on the comfy sofas as the sun slipped behind the mountains.
This strip of shoreline, also known as Dobrota plaža, is a concrete-gravel beach, so whilst the area offers spectacular views it isn’t always the comfiest sunbathing spot. We favoured laying our towels down on one of the many jetties on the dock which stretch out into the bay. However if you are happy to pay a small fee, you will find that the main beach areas are well equipped with sun beds and umbrellas. And as you’d expect the further you walk, the quieter the shoreline. One day we walked past Dobrota’s main restaurants and around the curve of the bay until we found a second ‘beach’ area and a lively bar. It was a popular spot amongst Montenegrin tourists, which meant that prices were very reasonable. It was from here we hired a tandem kayak and paddled around the bay for a few hours, at a rate of €5 an hour. Overestimating our kayaking abilities we didn’t quite make it to the Blue Cave, which is famed for it changing blue waters, (apparently it’s 20-minute boat ride away!). So whilst nursing our aching shoulders we parked our kayak in the centre of the bay to soak in the panoramic view, only occasional disturbed by the odd boat coming or going. To my surprise it felt incredibly safe and secluded, despite the presence of super yachts and cruise liners, which were either docked or moving at snail’s pace, tip toeing out of the bay so not disturb the sleepy surrounds.
However, a trip to the bay would not be complete without a visit to Kotor’s UNESCO-rated Old Town, a walled municipality largely built by the Venetians but with a history that stretches right back to Roman times. Often described as a mini-Dubrovnik, Kotor’s Old Town is home to numerous sights such as the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (built in 1166). Walking through the main archway was like stepping back in time and into a Game of Thrones-style city, but with the welcome addition of ice cream stalls and bars, which somehow seamlessly blend in to the Venetian-style architecture! (NB. The Sea Gate- or the Main Gate- is one of 3 entrances into Old Town. However, I'd recommend visiting the River Gate on the north side, which offers a far quieter approach into the fortress via a bridge over a moat.) The main plaza can be quite crowded, particularly if there are a number of visiting cruise ships, but luckily a labyrinth of alleyways lead you away from the crowds and to quieter courtyards and secluded little cafes. Every time we visited Old Town we found ourselves happily lost in the maze of narrow passages, stumbling across another cute corner shop or a terrace top restaurant. Yet what really struck me were the simple signs of civilisation (such as washing lines hanging high above the cobbled streets), highlighting that this fortress is as much a home to many Montenegrins as it is a historical landmark. Whilst I do have a few recommendations for food and drink I’d recommend exploring the city for yourself and seeing what you stumble across, as in general most restaurants offer similar menus: a mix of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Whilst it’s a bit more expensive than Dobrota, you can still eat fairly reasonably as long as you stay off the main squares (but even at these hotspots you can get a pizza for around €6).
Restoran Rendez-Vous- located in the centre of the Stari Grad (local language for ‘Old Town’) the restaurant stretches out onto one of the city’s smaller cobbled courtyards, serenaded by live music in the summer months. We ordered a main dish for our starter (a plate of fresh prawns), as this is often cheaper than ordering two starters. For main course I order the black squid ink risotto - a local speciality that was particularly delicious here.
https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g295381-d1755966-Reviews-Hotel_Rendez_Vous-Kotor_Kotor_Municipality.html - the restaurant is attached to the hotel of the same name.
Address: Restoran Rendez-Vous- Pjaca od mlijeka 485, Kotor
Phone: +382 69 043 377
Bastion- great for seafood, possibly the best sea bass I’ve ever had. However, the service was terrible and our incredibly rude waiter hurried us through our meal, serving up our mains the second we’d finished our starters. (NB. In general, service in Montenegro hasn’t caught up with Western European standards and even in more fancy restaurants, the bill is placed on the table right from the start and added to as you order more).
http://www.bastion123.com/ - There are actually 3 Bastion’s spread across the city. We visited Bastion 1, which is located in the small square called "Parila" inside the old town by the northern gate.
Address: Bastion 1 - Stari grad 517, Kotor
Phone: +382 32 322 116
Evergreen- there are loads of great bars in the Old Town but this quirky bar was particular favourite due to its live jazz music and Charlie Chaplin projections on the wall. Offers a huge selection of drinks at good prices.
Address: Evergreen- Stari Grad 422, Kotor
Phone: +382 68-680-482
Galion- Located just outside the main walls you’ll find Galion, the best restaurant in Kotor according to critics (although it is actually no.2 on TripAdvisor, beaten by a family-run fast food kebab shop called Tanjga!) On our last night we decided to try out this acclaimed restaurant and booked in advance (cheekily claiming it was our anniversary so that we could get a harbour-side table on the balcony). The location is stunning as the restaurant stretches right out into the harbour, providing spectacular views of Kotor Bay by night. The prices are incredibly reasonable given the quality of service, the stunning views and the sensational food (we paid just under £100 for 2 courses with wine). Galion provides the perfect setting for a romantic meal or a family celebration, but I would definitely recommend booking in advance to make sure you get a table on the terrace (there is also a conservatory area but it isn’t quite so glamorous!) Dan had the lamb which he said was “to die for” and I tried a local specialty fish, Saint-Pierre, which was cooked to perfection.
Address: Galion- Suranj bb, Kotor - if you are walking to Galion from Old Town then I would recommend leaving the fortress via the Gurdic Gate on the south side.
Phone: +382 32 32 325 054
…climbing the castle walls to Castle St. John (sometimes known as the Castle of San Giovanni). This is a must do in Kotor Old Town as you are rewarded with some spectacular views of the whole bay from the remarkably well-preserved ramparts. Whilst I am reluctant to call it a hike the ascent is up to a height of 1,200 metres made up of approximately 1,350 rocky and uneven stairs, so proper footwear is recommended. My biggest tip would be to visit the Chapel of St Ivan, which is quite literally through a hole in the wall to the right of the castle (hardly anyone seems to go this way as it is slightly away from the beaten track!). From here you can take an almost deserted path all the way down to the north side of Old Town, near to the River Gate entrance. Whilst the traditional route up gives you the chance to explore the extensive ruins that wind their way up the mountain side, I would recommend following this rural decent to vary your route and experience the tranquil Montenegrin countryside. Give yourself at least 2-3 hours for the total walk to allow ample time for photos at the top!
Kotor Bay, Montenegro- useful information:
Currency: Euro, surprising considering that Montenegro is still a candidate country for the EU.
Language: Montenegrin (Key phrases: Hello= Zdravo, Thank you= Hvala).
Nearest Airport: Tivat (approximately 11km away from Kotor Bay). Easyjet flights run on Monday/Thursday from London Gatwick. Or alternatively you can fly to Dubrovnik and drive/bus to the bay (we hired a car for 3 days for approximate £150).
Accommodation: We used Airbnb and paid just over £30 a night for the whole apartment, located 30 metres from the sea and 500metres from old town. Here is the listing in case you are interested in renting Dragana’s apartment (she is incredibly helpful and very accommodating). https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/3238267
Lonely Planet’s Guide to Kotor Bay: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/montenegro/bay-of-kotor
When to visit: the warmest months are June, July and August, but you can expect at least 20-degree temperatures from mid-April to October.