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Three months in Montenegro passed, time flew by and during my stay in the small town of Risan in the Bay of Kotor, I saw many people coming – but never leaving.
There is something about this place that made me feel calm and at peace from the very beginning I arrived, a feeling that is difficult to put into words, but that was felt and shared by every traveler I met in Montenegro. No wonder that leaving Kotor Bay, in my opinion Europe’s most underrated hidden gem, was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.
The 90 days I could stay in that country were about to end and I was struggling between figuring out how it would be possible to stay and going further south to Albania. I decided to do the latter – and it took five days to get rid of that tiny voice in the back of my head that kept saying: “You made a huge mistake.”
After spending my first night in Berat, I decided to spend the afternoon of my 6th day in Albania to stroll around the city, exploring the place where I planned to stay for at least 30 days. Only after that afternoon I realized that the decision to leave Montenegro was not that bad – maybe even necessary.
With one week of distance, I am now trying to get to the bottom of the phenomenon Kotor Bay. What exactly was it that made me fall in love with that place? And why was it so hard to leave? Let me try to explain why the Bay of Kotor to me is Europe’s most underrated hidden gem in this post of Giving Getaway’s Balkan Series.
1. Welcome to Europe’s Most Underrated Hidden Gem!
After spending two months in Kraków in Poland, it was time to move on. I have been dreaming of finding a place right next to the sea for years and looking for cheap accommodations in Southern Europe made me realize that there would only be two options for me: Montenegro and Albania.I decided to go to Montenegro first, to be more precisely to Risan in the Bay of Kotor.
The accommodation I found on Airbnb looked very promising: a private room with its own bathroom, shared kitchen, and a balcony from which one could overlook the bay – and all this for less than 160€ for one month. It sounded almost to good to be true, but I knew I would be more than happy if only 50 percent of it would be as advertised.I booked the room for one month, asked the owner if I could cancel for free in case new Covid-19-restrictions would prevent me from crossing the border, and left Poland. 14 days and four countries later, I entered Montenegro, luckily without any problems.
My first impression: it’s different. The roads got worse, buildings looked old, some of them abandoned, dogs running around without their owners, and I even saw someone driving his car with a baby on his lap. I arrived in Herceg Novi, stopped to buy a sim card and drove on as I wanted to arrive in time for the check-in.
Nothing special caught my eye, until I reached the waterside. The next 30 minutes of driving to Risan made me realize that the Bay of Kotor was the perfect place for me: clear water to my right, rugged mountains to my left, and the weather as perfect as it could be at the end of October!
2. Welcome Appetizers and Breathtaking Views
When I found my new temporary home, I met the owners whose top priority was to offer me a seat on their veranda and a shot of rakija, a fruit brandy which is especially popular in the Balkans. Communication appeared to be difficult, but two another shot of rakija and cups of Turkish coffee later we managed to have a conversation in a mix of Russian, English, German and sign language. Then it was finally time to check my room. Excitement is building up with every step I take to the first floor.The owner opens the door and…wow! A room much bigger than I had expected and more importantly, a breathtaking view!
Imagining that I would be able to see this view every morning, even to enjoy that view while working on the balcony soon made me realize that all the hard work in the past three years were worth it. I also realized how exhausted I was after two weeks of traveling, which is why I used the next days to relax and catch up on some sleep.
3. Birthday Trip in the Bay of Kotor
It was Saturday morning, the 31st of October, Halloween, my birthday, and I decided to explore the beautiful city of Kotor in order to mark the occasion. The weather was perfect, 20 degrees Celsius and sunshine.
I was already on my way to Kotor when I spontaneously decided to make a little detour and drive up to a viewpoint on one of the nearby mountains in Lovcen National Park. I wanted to drive the famous P1 serpentine road that connects Kotor and Cetinje, a road that made it on a “most dangerous roads in the world” list – and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.The road was curvy, very curvy, and so narrow that every oncoming car became a test of nerves, but more because of the risk to tear off each other’s side mirrors and not because my life was on the line. Concrete blocks on the hillside would have (probably) saved me from veering off the road. So I made it all the way to the top, in one piece, and what I found was a view that left me speechless.
I had the entire Bay of Kotor to my right and the open sea to my left, it was amazing! I don’t know exactly how long I was standing there and enjoying the moment, but at some point I realized that I had to get down if I wanted to explore Kotor by daylight.
4. Kotor – The City of Cats
There is a very good reason why most people consider Kotor as the most beautiful city in Montenegro. Seeing the old town with its old city walls wriggling their way up the rugged mountains in the rear is a view I will probably never forget. I entered the old city through its main gate and was surprised to not see crowds of people wandering around on this sunny Saturday afternoon.
But even with its open borders, hardly any tourists found their way to Montenegro in the time of the pandemic. So it came as no surprise that I saw more cats than people in the old town of Kotor, the city of cats.
According to legend, Slav sailors brought cats from all over the world to Kotor, who then delivered the city from snakes, rats, and mice. That’s how the cat became a symbol of good luck not only for Kotor, but also for Montenegro. And that’s also why you will find plenty of souvenir shops in the old town.
5. Climbing the Walls of Kotor
I strolled around, turned left and right to explore one narrow alley after another. A good while later, I left the old town on the other end and walked around the walls to find a good photo spot, when a taxi driver got out of his cab to ask me whether I intend to climb the old city walls on the mountains.
I told him that I was thinking about it, since I was told several times that it’s one of the best things to do in Kotor, but when he told me that it would take two hours, I decided to do it the next time. But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t do it the next ten times I was in Kotor. It took 80 days to finally do it, and what can I say: it was so worth it!The climb was steep, but manageable, and the views of the Bay of Kotor during the whole climb and especially from the fortress on the top compensated for the physical effort to climb up the 1355 steps. Although some bloggers say that the admission is free in winter, I still had to pay 5€ to enter in January 2021, while people I met one week later told me that they didn’t have to pay anything.
And when I climbed down 1.5 hours later, no one was there to collect money anymore. So in case you plan to stay in Kotor for a few days and you would like to save some money, make sure to go to the entrance once in a while and check if the gate is open.
6. Herceg Novi – City of 100,001 Steps
The closest competitor in contention for the price of the most beautiful town in the Bay of Kotor is Herceg Novi, the biggest city in that area. People asked me which place I prefer, Kotor or Herceg Novi, and I was never able to give a definite answer.
While you won’t find imposing mountain ranges rising above the city, Herceg Novi has what is missing in Kotor, and that is a beautiful coastal promenade. Also known as “city of sun” or “sunshine town” because of its Mediterranean climate with 200 sunny days per year, this city is tempting its visitors to amble along the waterside and take a break from everyday life.You can easily walk for a couple of hours since the promenade is stretching for five kilometers between Igalo and Meljine. And after bracing oneself in one of the many lovely restaurants and cafes, you still have the option to explore Herceg Novi’s picturesque old town as well as its three fortresses, the Sea Fortress, the Kanli Kula Fortress and the Spanish Fortress.
7. Perast – The Picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site
Change of scene, time to focus on one of the smallest, but not less beautiful towns in the region. While driving along the Bay of Kotor, one simply cannot miss the two small islands that are situated right next to Perast, a town that was listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor”. It was inscribed in 1979 and includes Kotor, Perast and Risan.
Similar to Lake Bled in Slovenia, you will find a small church with the illustrious name “Our Lady of the Rocks” on one of the islands, while the other island contains the Saint George Benedictine monastery from the 12th century. From Perast, you can reach these two islands by boat at a price of 5-10€, depending on weather you just want to visit the islands or also take a tour around the bay.I decided to just walk along the beautiful promenade and enjoy picturesque views while sipping a hot cup of coffee in one of the cozy cafes right next to the water. Besides visiting the two islands and walking along the promenade, you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view by climbing up the bell tower of the St. Nicholas Church, the largest of the 16 churches in the Baroque old town of Perast (admission fee: 1 Euro).
8. Time to Say Goodbye?
Born and raised in the middle of Germany, I usually had to choose between driving 3-4 hours north to the sea or 4-5 hours south to the mountains. In the Bay of Kotor I had both, and that is why this place differs from all the places I have seen before.
Two days before I left Montenegro to head towards Albania, I decided to climb on one of the mountains not far from my accommodation to capture this unique scenery.
Risan is located in the middle of Kotor Bay and almost completely surrounded by mountains. The upside is the spectacular view on the bay and a lovely old town that is usually quite empty, especially compared to Kotor, Perast and Herceg Novi. On the downside, the weather is unpredictable and usually much worse than in other parts of the bay. After two months of perfect weather, which was unusual for that time of the year, heavy rain and hard wind became the rule.
That’s why I drove up the mountain pass as soon as the sky was clearing. I left my car at the roadside and started to embark on the mountain that is majestically towering over Risan, which looked much easier than it turned out to be. The peak was covered with sharp, rugged rocks, and the closer I got, the tougher the climb became.
Trappy, deep rock crevices made me reconsider every next step twice, but in the end, the effort was worth it. The view was priceless and while swinging my legs with Risan and the beautiful bay beneath me, I felt that the whole world with its endless opportunities opened up right in front of me. That’s when I realized that the chapter Montenegro had closed and that it was time for a new adventure.
But let me get things straight: the Bay of Kotor is more than just Kotor, Herceg Novi and Perast. The whole region is a paradise for adventurers, nature lovers, hikers, and history enthusiasts.
By leaving the main road and driving a few kilometers further into the mountains, you will find plenty of abandoned buildings and fortresses. In Risan, you can explore the “Sopot” cave, which one day later can turn into a massive waterfall after a rainy day.
By leaving Kotor and following the main road along the waterside, you will pass through cute little towns like Prcanj, Stoliv and Lastva, followed by Tivat, which is known for its airport and Porto Montenegro, an exclusive marina with stylish bars, cafes, and restaurants. And if that’s not enough, you can always go further and explore Budva, the Durmitor National Park in the North, or even Dubrovnik in Croatia, which is only an one-hour drive away from Herceg Novi!I had a wonderful time in the Bay of Kotor, met plenty of interesting people and I am sure that I will have pleasant associations with the Christmas Campaign for the kids and teenagers in the children’s home in Bijela for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I am sure that this adventure and especially this charity campaign was only the beginning.
Now it is time to move on and to make sure, that such events will rather be the rule than the exception – and I invite you to be a part of it! Check flights, hotels, taxis, tours and more right here on our website, and from every booking you complete by using our affiliate links, we donate 50% of the commission to charity. This way you will enjoy your trip and do something good at the same time!