Read, Write, Run, Roam

Protecting Montenegro’s worst-kept secret: the Fort of Kotor


Our Lonely Planet guide to the Western Balkans* suggested we go “off the beaten path” with a trip to Kotor, Montenegro.

(Pause to hear all the Balkan readers laugh.)

Kotor’s been “on the path” since the Middle Ages, when Illyrians, Slavs and Venetians flocked to the spot along the Bay of Kotor. Today Kotor is one of the most popular destinations in Montenegro, a UNESCO world heritage site, and a stopping point for cruises and yachts working their way down the Adriatic. It’s more backless dresses than backpackers, but there’s at least one Kotor destination that moves visitors away from it all: the fort on the mountain of St. John.

Since my attraction to ice cream bars has become a full-blown addiction, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle the 1350-1500 steps up to the fortifications that overlook Kotor’s walled city. It was more of a hike than a stroll; 5 centuries of use, 80 years of neglect and several earthquakes later, there were times when it was easier to walk along an improvised dirt trail than to tackle the loose, worn stairs. It’s not for the timid or the acrophobic.

The fortifications were first built by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th Century. The Venetians expanded them in the 1400s, and they were all but deserted by the 1800s. It still felt a bit deserted when we were there. We explored the fort’s viewpoints to get a good look at the town below.

Kotor was still a sleepy coastal town at 8am, at least from 280 meters above. The cafes were just setting out umbrellas. Dance music hadn’t started pumping from outside speakers. Cruise ship groups were still enjoying their breakfast. It was easy to picture Kotor as a so-called undiscovered city in the 1800s, with nothing but fisherman, innumerable churches, and pretty views.

Yet as we descended, we were grateful it wasn’t. If had been the 1800s, there would have been no man with a cooler selling cold water on the path. Also, if it was the 1800s I would have no property rights and I never would have sailed all the way to Montenegro. The churches are still there, the fishermen now sell to great restaurants, and a Housewife can reward herself with an ice cream bar. Montenegro isn’t a secret destination, but it’s the best disappointment I could ask for.

All kidding aside, I do recommend LP-Western Balkans if you’re touring around the area. LP has the most practical information about border crossings and time tables. Bradt also does a great job with these facts, particularly for Serbia. 

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