Kotor: The Most Beautiful Tourist Trap Town.

Hi Friends,

I want to share what I loved and hated about Kotor, Montenegro. My new relationship blossomed in Kotor so I, of course, have very fond memories of Kotor and while I very much enjoyed my time there, I was also somewhat disturbed by some of my experiences. The UNESCO listed, well-preserved, walled medieval old town is charming and picturesque, in some parts buildings are delightfully weathered and there are street cats everywhere – it is undeniably a very beautiful part of Europe. Kotor is also the oldest town in Montenegro with archaeologists estimating its beginnings going as far back as 700-400BC!

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The Bay of Kotor, outside of the walled Old Town (which you can see part of on the right)

Unfriendly vibes (warning: rant ahead)

I found myself feeling like a wallet on legs, given dirty looks if I looked at a menu but didn’t go inside and the attempts of pushy waiters and storekeepers to get Marko and me to come into restaurants and stores were slightly aggressive (FYI: it is my personal rule to never go to into a restaurant if staff try to make me come inside) and I got the hint that some of the locals don’t particularly like tourists. Even more entertaining was how the waiters changed their tune when they realised Marko was, in fact, Montenegrin – they were friendlier and apologetic.

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The clock tower behind the main gate within the Old Town was built in 1602!

I know from experience that in my capital city, Melbourne, trying to navigate around tourists on busy city streets especially when some tourists don’t understand our culture is frustrating – Australians like personal space and appreciate manners and politeness (eg. I get very annoyed when tourists walk into me and don’t even acknowledge it). But I honestly don’t know what it is like to live in a city swamped by tourists, where it closes down seasonally, is too expensive for locals to visit (because they put up prices for tourists). I can understand why people would detest tourists for sure especially when they swamp the city in droves from cruise ships but I don’t understand why you would hate tourists and choose a job that involves directly working with them. Delving into tourist hate is a whole blog post in itself. I wouldn’t say to not visit for this reason especially because not all the locals are like this and for me, it was more uncomfortable than intimidating.

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A very cheeky sign (that made me chuckle) which probably is taking a jab at the many tourist shops filled with cheap souvenirs in the town.

When to visit

  • Marko recommends visiting between April-May and late September to October. These times are just before and after peak tourist season.
  • During peak season in summer hordes of tourist visit and this can get hectic especially when hundreds of people step off a cruise ship into a fairly small old town. If you don’t like crowds you probably do not visit during this time.
  • If you choose to visit Kotor off-season in winter and autumn be aware that some places including restaurants, cafes and tourist attractions are closed during this period simply because it is unprofitable for them to be open. So, if you visit off-season and have your heart set on visiting a particular attraction make sure you do some research to find out if it is open or not.
  • If you want to avoid crowds (all year round) I recommend that you look at the cruise ship docking times and explore the streets outside of these times.
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Every corner of the Old Town is truly breathtaking

My favourite sights/attractions

The Fortress (Cost: 8 Euro/$12.60AUD)

My Montenegran friends insisted that I must see and climb the fortress as it is the best thing about Kotor and I totally agree with that! It was a challenging climb on a hot day, I am lucky that I had been climbing lots of stairs prior to this so for once my cardio fitness was pretty decent. If you are unfit it will be challenging for you and it might be quite unenjoyable.

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The climb to fortress provides incredible views all the way!

The trail is mostly a very narrow staircase comprising of over 1000 stairs (you have to actually move on and off the main path to let other people pass sometimes) and the rest is unsurfaced dirt/rocks on a steep incline. I witnessed many people turn back before reaching the top, so I was very proud of myself when I made it to the top.

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The climb is definitely worth these views!

I complained about the stairs to Marko (lol) and he informed me that they are so small because they are in fact in original form as is most of the fortress which has had its present form since around 1420 during Venetian rule and as the entire Old Town is UNESCO listed they cannot change the original structure. Severe earthquakes and combat have damaged the fortification over a number of centuries.

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Our Lady of Health is very pretty small chapel which was constructed during the 15th century. The inside of this church is so lovely, the outside, unfortunately, has a stall selling souvenirs and drinks which is a bit of an eyesore.
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Our Lady of Health and the Bay of Kotor. Before this point, a lot of people turned around because they found it too difficult.

I loved the adorable little chapel, Our Lady of Health, the views were incredible and the actual fortress itself was a very cool place to explore. As mentioned, it was a challenge mostly due to the heat but for me personally, it was definitely worth the rewarding views. If you have time look around the trail I definitely encourage you to do so, there are some really pretty spots that are a little bit hidden away. I highly recommend climbing the walls and visiting the fortress, it is truly the best part of Kotor Old Town.

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Soaking up the incredible views of the majestic mountains and the bay
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On one of my detours, I found an area to chill with these huge windows looking out at this spectacular landscape! If you look closely you can see hikers exploring this area (bottom left).

My tips for visiting Kotor Fortress:

  • Bring lots of water and some snacks.
  • Make sure you wear sunscreen and have adequate sun protection (a hat, shoulder covering clothes etc.) if you go on a hot day. If you take some little detours you can find shady places to take a rest if you are struggling (this is what I did when I overheated).
  • Please wear proper footwear like runners/trainers or hiking shoes because you will be climbing a lot of stairs, some parts of the trail are very slippery and you probably will have to walk on an unsurfaced footpath which isn’t easy to walk on.
  • Keep in mind that there are 3 entry points and some might take you on a longer route. I recommend starting at the North Gate if you just wish to visit Our Lady of Health and the Fortress.
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Kotor Fortress in all its glory!
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The view from the top of Kotor Fortress.

Cats Museum (Cost: 1 Euro/$1.58AUD)

If you love cats and art you will probably love this museum. I like that this museum feeds local cats (it takes donations to feed the cats also), you may even find some wandering around the museum. The museum has a large range of cat illustrations from throughout history from all over the world and is quite a fascinating place.

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A local cat enjoying the cat museum

Getting lost in the back streets

Marko and I walked around getting lost in this city (especially when we tried to find a non-tourist trap restaurant which was near impossible), this was one of my favourite aspects of being in this city. It is my theory that all fortified towns are like confusing mazes and this is no exception but it was a great pleasure to get lost within Kotor Old Town.

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Exploring the more weathered parts of the Old Town
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Behind the door above… so cool!

We found some unexpected gems and patted the friendlier street kitties.

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Marko making friends with a street cat (this is my favourite picture in the entire world)

Food

Just a warning – most of the restaurants in the Old Town are super overpriced as mentioned above, finding a non-tourist trap restaurant was extremely difficult. I would recommend going to either of the places recommended below or having accommodation where you can prepare your own meal if you are on a budget.

Budget: Caffe Pizzeria Pronto

In an expensive city that jacks up the prices for the tourists this pizza place is where you want to be if you are on a budget. The pizza is delicious and well-made, the servings are generous and the prices are probably the best you can get in this city (at least for decent food anyway).

Luxury: Verige 65

So this is actually a 30-minute drive from Kotor but it is my favourite restaurant in Montenegro so I had to include it, I actually went there 3 times in 10 days…so I clearly liked it. If you have a car YOU MUST VISIT HERE.

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One of the views from Verige 65 (Tip: if you go down the stairs at Verige 65, towards the bathrooms you can visit the docking place for yachts and get the coolest views EVER!)
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Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world!

The views from this restaurant are mind-blowingly good, you can dine with spectacular mountain and bay views and a view of Perast. This immaculately designed restaurant has excellent, friendly service and incredible meals with a great variety of options and the prices are certainly the best I’ve ever had for this luxurious standard of dining.

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Taking in the incredible views in Verige

Budget Accommodation

I stayed in a hostel called Hostel Pupa which was a short walk from the old town gates it was clean and quiet. The day I checked in I spent no time in my room and when I came back late at night (when the reception was closed) I realised that they don’t give you a blanket as a standard so I had to sleep without one – I didn’t enjoy that. My favourite memory from this hostel is leaving in the middle of the night to go to back to my boyfriend’s city on a whim LOL. To be honest, my tolerance for hostels is extremely low at the moment, I am not sure if I will ever be able to return to one without having a female only dorm with an ensuite or a private room.

A hostel with cool boat tours recommended by my friend

My friend, Nathan, stayed at the ‘Montenegro Hostel4U Party’ hostel and he raved about it! I was deterred by the ‘party’ in their name when I came across this hostel while searching for a place to stay but what he told me made me regret not staying there instead. Not only were the staff at this hostel fantastic but this hostel also runs great boat tours and he was also actually able to sleep at night in this place despite the whole partying aspect. I will definitely do a boat tour of the bay of Kotor when I am back in Montenegro this year – this is definitely one of the best things you can do in this area according to locals. 

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The Bay of Kotor at night

Where to go next?

If heading towards Albania:

  • Stop by Bar Old Town and Skadar Lake. From Bar, you can also take the ferry to Bari in Italy.

If heading towards Croatia:

  • You can stop in Herceg Novi (either for a day trip or overnight stay) and then continue to Dubrovnik, be prepared for potentially long waits while passing through the borders in peak season.
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The illuminated fortress at night with the mountains in the background is indescribably amazing!

Final Thoughts – Do I recommend visiting?

The Old Town of Kotor (which is the main reason for visiting Kotor) does not give you a truly authentic Montengran cultural experience – it is a tourist town full of overpriced tourist shops and restaurants and unfortunately, a lot of the people working in these places seem to dislike tourists. As scathing as I am being, I still highly recommend visiting but only for a day or two (max), the fortress, the mountains views and the sea alone are reason alone to visit.

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A shot that was taken by Marko (Instagram: @marko__was_here) outside the Cats Museum

Come for the beauty if nothing else. If you visit you cannot miss climbing up to the fortress and if you can definitely do a boat tour of the bay – these two activities are highly recommended by Montenegrans (which to me is important when doing tourist activities – that locals would actually do these activities themselves and it isn’t some silly circus designed purely to extract money from tourists). Lastly, going through my pictures I remembered how much fun I had shooting Kotor and the surrounding areas, it is definitely a delightful place to be as a photography enthusiast.

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Directed by me and taken by Marko 🙂 (Instagram: @marko__was_here)

Special thanks to Marko for contributing his local knowledge and photographic skills to this blog post and for making my last part of my trip amazing up until the very end.

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A cat sleeping on the fortress walls

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it informative :)!  I will be back in Montenegro in August as mentioned in my last blog post and I look forward to sharing more of Montenegro with you as I get to know it better myself.

Mikki x

 

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