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The Bay of Kotor: Where the fjords meet the Mediterranean

The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The beautiful Bay of Kotor – or Boka Kotorska – is often called Europe’s most southernmost fjord. It certainly looks like one, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. Add in a few cruise ships in the bright blue waters and you could almost be in Norway. But both the water and the climate here are much more Mediterranean than Scandinavian. The bay’s not actually a fjord either, but rather a ria – a submerged river valley that’s made up of four connected bays which look like a butterfly shape as they stretch inland from the coast. That’s all just definition though, the scenery here is as stunning as any ‘proper’ fjord. And when you add in bags of history and culture then you can see why UNESCO have listed the Bay of Kotor as one of their World Heritage sites.

The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Boka Kotorska, or Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor’s most famous town is Kotor itself, at the far end of the bay. It looks like a normal waterside town until you get up close and see that it’s surrounded by city walls, built by the Venetians to protect it from invaders. These five-kilometre-long stone walls run right up into the steep hillside above the town and you can climb up them for a panoramic view across the bay. Inside the city gates is a medieval town made up of narrow cobbled alleyways lined with honey-coloured stone buildings.

The jumble of streets mean you immediately get lost but that’s part of the attraction as you never know what you might come across – a Venetian-style church, a piazza full of restaurants, a flight of steps leading up into the hills, a doorway surrounded by colourful pots of flowers. Kotor isn’t exactly undiscovered and on days when the cruise ships dock you might have to share the old town with a few thousand people. But you can usually find a quiet corner or a tucked-away café to hide away in.

Kotor,Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Inside the Kotor city walls

Further around the bay is the town of Perast, looking like a mini Venice with its Italian-style churches and palaces. In its heyday it was a prosperous shipbuilding town full of rich merchants living in the grand palazzos that overlook the water. A lot of the buildings are crumbling and deserted now and there are only about 360 people left living here – that’s less than 20 people for each church. But it’s still got its grand air and a beautiful setting with a strip of sandy beach running along the edge of the bay.

Out in the bay from Perast are the twin islands of St George and Our Lady of the Rocks. Both are religious pilgrimage sites but Our Lady of the Rocks is a man-made island. The legend goes that sailors spotted an image of the Virgin Mary on a rock here. So each time they had a successful voyage they added another rock as an offering as they passed. Eventually so many were added that an island emerged and the church was built on top of it. The villagers here still add rocks once a year as part of a festival called fašinada. And the rest of the time you can take a boat trip out into the bay to visit the church.

Perast, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Waterfront palazzos in Perast

As you follow the winding road along the edge of the bay you pass lots of other little towns and villages. Even in the smallest you’ll usually find something interesting to stop and see. Like Dobrota, with its long waterfront boardwalk where you can watch the sun set behind the mountains. Or Prčanj, where there’s a deserted rusty ship moored up which looks like it’s been there since the end of the Balkan War.

Or there’s the biggest of the lot, Herceg Novi at the entrance to the bay. The outskirts are all modern high-rises but towards the water is the old town or Stari Grad with its ornate churches and city walls. It’s also the best place for adventurous activities if you fancy kayaking the bay or walking and mountain biking up in the hills behind. Destinations are always being marketed as the ‘new Venice’ or the ‘new Dubrovnik’ but the Bay of Kotor really does feel like someone’s taken a bit of each of them and mixed them up along with the scenery of Bergen to make this the fjords, Mediterranean style.

Kotor, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Sunset in the harbour in Kotor

The details

Getting there and around: The nearest airport is in Tivat, about 8km away from the bay, or there are more flights into Dubrovnik in Croatia, 73km away. If you’re driving from Dubrovnik the narrow windy road around the bay is beautiful but can be painfully slow, especially in summer. To make it quicker you can take a car ferry between Lepetane and Kamenari at the narrowest point of the bay (takes about 5 mins, costs €4 per car and runs every 15–30 mins of whenever it’s full). It’s useful to have a car to explore the bay, but there are also frequent local buses and plenty of boat trips to see it from the water.

Accommodation: There are a few hotels in each of the main towns and a couple of hostels in Kotor. One of the best ways to stay in the bay though is in an apartment rental. There are some in traditional buildings in the towns and a lot of newer apartment blocks in the surrounding areas with shared pools and balconies with great views across the bay. Our two-bed, two-bathroom apartment in the Kotor Vista development in Muo was a 15-minute walk into Kotor and cost £400 for a week in May.

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The Bay of Kotor: Where the fjords meet the Mediterranean – On the Luce travel blog

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    vannillarock
    June 21, 2013 at 9:08 am

    looks stunning! has been on a very long’to do’ list of mine for a few years now, glad to have your take on things.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

      It’s a gorgeous spot – I spent hours on the balcony watching the boats come and go.

  • Reply
    Yaşar Norman
    June 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Reblogged this on yasarnorman.

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    June 21, 2013 at 10:02 am

    It sounds like my idea of heaven! I’m going to have to think long and hard about this. Thanks for sharing, Luce. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

      I’m trying to tempt you Jo! Seriously though I though Kotor was a great place to be based – easy reach the the beaches and mountains, and the view over the fjords was fabulous.

  • Reply
    Anita Mac
    June 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    That is gorgeous Lucy. Love that you took the rented apartment route too – so worth it if you are staying for a week. I am a huge fan.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I’m a big fan of the rental apartments too and it was really good value between four of us. Lots of places being built near Kotor at the moment so there’s lots of options.

  • Reply
    nuresma
    June 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Stunning! Looks like a great destination 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      It was a really lovely relaxing place to spend the week watching the boats from the balcony.

  • Reply
    aBitofCulture
    June 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Was it a bit quieter at night when the cruiseships had left? Dubrovnik gets too busy between 10am – 6pm and only really calms down when it’s dark.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      I don’t think Kotor gets any where as much cruise traffic as Dubrovnik – there was only one day when there was more than one ship and a couple of days there weren’t any. It’s such a small place though that you do feel it when they are in port, but after 6pm it’s way quieter again.

  • Reply
    Savi of Bruised Passports
    June 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Kotor looks amazing Lucy. You’re right- getting lost in labyrinthine alleys is often the best part about places like Kotor 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 24, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Yes you never know what you might come across – I’ve got a terrible sense of direction so getting lost is one of my specialties!

  • Reply
    The Travelbunny
    June 24, 2013 at 11:53 am

    We visited The Bay of Kotor whilst staying in the more lively Budva a couple of years ago – we took the bus which was just a 20 minute journey and enjoyed a day there with a fantastic fish lunch at Stari Mlini right by the water. Lovely to re-live it through your gorgeous photos.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      One of the best things about Montenegro is how compact it is – it’s easy to stay in one place and go out and visit lots of others. Glad to bring back some good memories.

  • Reply
    Climbing Kotor’s city walls | On the Luce
    June 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    […] above the town of Kotor are some of the best vantage points across the bay – the city walls. The walls date back to medieval times, started in the 9th century to protect […]

  • Reply
    Arianwen
    July 2, 2013 at 3:02 am

    Looks lovely! And kayaking is always fun for a bit of exercise and a different perspective! I’m going kayaking in 2 days in Abel Tasman national park!

  • Reply
    Jeff | Planet Bell
    July 4, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I enjoyed your posts on Montenegro. I”m going to be in Eastern Europe/Greece/Turkey this fall and I can’t decide whether to add Montenegro or not. There are just so many places to see in the world!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      It’s so hard to narrow the travel wish list down isn’t it! I have to reign myself in sometimes and try not to see too much in one trip as have had times when I can hardly remember any of it and need another holiday to recover!

  • Reply
    Tricia A. Mitchell
    July 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Oh, how I miss Kotor’s market – the flowers, the mammoth strawberries, and organic cheese. Did you make it there?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      We did, and bought some of those cheeses and some huge tomatoes. I love visiting markets whenever I travel, you can always find something interesting.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    April 4, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    WOW! I admit, I hadn’t heard of this place until now, but it looks so beautiful and peaceful, I’ve now added it on my list.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      April 4, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Great – it’s a lovely place, hope you get to visit sometime soon!

  • Reply
    Katie Featherstone
    February 7, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Oh wow, I think I need to go now- I’ve just been researching Montenegro and came across your posts. Kotor sounds incredible and your photos really make it look like something from a fantasy film.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Kotor is so beautiful, it could definitely be straight out of a film set! It’s a good time to get out to Montenegro now as it’s still comparatively untouristy and great value.

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