Grilled fish in Kotor Bay

I had four days off and wanted to travel somewhere in the South East, possibly a place close to the sea in the hope of enjoying a bit of warm weather. I had recently seen some pictures of Kotor Bay in Montenegro and decided it was the perfect place for a short spring break. Flights were reasonable cheap, with one stop over in Belgrade, operated by Air Serbia. The flight to Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, was only 50 minutes, on board of a ATR 72-200, a twin engine turboprop short-haul, with capacity for 60 people, a tiny airplane with noisy propellers. Nevertheless, we had a safe flight.

Montenegro is a small country with about 600 thousand inhabitants that extends for 14 thousand km2 in a succession of mountains and valleys. The geography of the country makes it difficult for road transportation, there are no highways and many of the main roads are still under construction. Following the rise of tourism in recent years, the government is investing in infrastructure, building tunnels and enlarging the roads. Therefore, you need to slow down your mentality when driving in the country, the speed limit is often 60 km/h and even the locals respect it. Cars are asked to stop frequently at temporary traffic lights placed by the builders, since the road stretches at certain points into one single lane. Patience is a virtue, but the breath taking views of the valleys and the sea from the winding road makes the waiting even enjoyable.

We rented a car so we could have more freedom to travel around. We took the wrong road from Podgorica to Kotor, it was under construction and many parts were unpaved so it took us more than 3 hours to arrive, when the normal journey was around 2 hours, in the direction of Budva, a horrible vacation city full of apartments’ towers which you will want to skip.

This mistake resulted joyfully when descending the mountain as our eyes caught the views of Kotor Bay.

Its beauty resembles that of the fjords in Norway, only with a different architecture. We finally arrived to Kotor, a fortified city built in the Middle ages. The collection of historical buildings is striking.  They have respected the characteristics of the old houses whereby nothing interrupts the architectural harmony inside the walls.

The first recommended thing to do is to climb the 1500 steps of the hill at the back of the city to reach one of the highest points of the fortification. The walls and some arrow slits are still in very good condition, so one can easily picture the ancient ensemble at the time. The views of the gulf are stunning, the bricks of the roofs, the beautiful Orthodox churches and the sea, with its emerald colour.

After descending the hill our stomachs were begging for food so we decided to look for a restaurant at the seaside. We found some tables on a dock in the light sun of April and we sat looking eagerly to the menu. We ordered the fish of the day accompanied by some boiled potatoes and spinach. It was just delicious; the medium sized wild seabass had been grilled slowly and the vegetables had the ancient taste of real food, not grown inside green houses. Happiness is moments like this, light sunshine on the face, real food on the plate and a cold glass of local white wine. For my own delight, Montenegro produce very good red and white wines. During my stay I tried a charming local Chardonnay and an excellent red, Vranac, indigenous to Montenegro. Read more about Vranac here http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/sjekloa-vranac-montenegro

Next day we visited the mausoleum of poet and philosopher  Petar Petrović Njegoš‘s on top of Lovcen mountain. More than the mausoleum we were interested to see the views from the top of the mountain since it is the highest point of the country. From there we could see the sea at one side and the snowed peaks of a faraway mountain chain. The day was quite overcast so we could not live the experience at its best. The Mausoleum was also quite impressive, beginning with the two enormous caryatids welcoming visitors at the entrance, followed by the huge granite sculpture of the poet in the centre of the main room and ending with the golden byzantine ceiling.

Lovcen natural park was a bit of a disappointment though, there are many vacation houses built along the walking trails, so it doesn’t feel an experience into the wild at all, although I must admit we didn’t walk very deep into the park as the weather got worst and it started raining quite hard.

In the third day it rained all day long so we drove along the coast admiring the beautiful bay and stopping in Perast, a lovely little town 10 kilometres away from Kotor.

There are two small islands in front of Perast,  you can find several boats taking tourists to visit only one of the islands, harbouring Our lady of Rocks, a beautiful Roman Catholic church with a characteristic small blue dome.

We had lunch in a tiny restaurant, Otok Bronza. We sat inside since the temperature had dropped quite a lot, but sitting on the terrace with the view of the sea in a sunny day must be a splendid experience. The fish soup and the seafood risotto were delicious. Montenegro cuisine is the result of an interesting mix of Ottoman and Balkan heritage with a more recent Italian influence.

We considered the option of driving all the way to Dubrovnik in Croatia, since it was only 70 km away from Perast, but we decided not to, as we wanted to see more of Montenegro and reserve Dubrovnik for a longer trip to Croatia. This is of course a possibility for those willing to take the opportunity to visit both countries in a single trip.

Language was not a barrier at all, people in the tourism industry speak good English and are very welcoming. Most of the tourists were Serbian, Russian, Albanian and then British and Italian.

In the fourth day we wanted to book a boat trip along the bay and out to the Adriatic Sea to visit several islands with historical monuments and a natural cave but unfortunately we were not able to. There are not many options in low season so I recommend you to book in advance if you travel off high season. This one starts in May and lasts until end of September.

Instead we walked along the gulf and admired the views of the old city from the other side of the bay. To finish our great trip, we went back to the first restaurant to enjoy once more the grilled fish of the day with the view of Kotor Bay. Happiness is moments like this.

Photos: Elena de Francisco  CC BY-SA 4.0

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