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Balkan Odyssey Part 19: Kotor, Europe's Southernmost Fjord
After spending a few days in Dubrovnik, my girlfriend and I grabbed a 10:30 bus from the main station and headed south. Our destination was the city of Kotor, situated on Europe's southernmost fjord in neighboring Montenegro.
Tickets were just $10 each and the bus was very comfortable. I had taken this same route a few days earlier while traveling from Montenegro to Croatia, so I knew what to expect.
Just a few miles after passing the border, the road drops down to sea level where it meets an inlet of water coming in from the ocean. This is the beginning of the fjord. For the next two hours the road skirts the water's edge as it circumnavigates this enormous body of water. Large mountains rise up steeply on either side, creating the quintessential fjord-like image despite the contrary dry shrubs and warm weather one doesn't normally associate with fjords.
Kotor lies at the very furthest end of the fjord. Like Dubrovnik, it too is completely enclosed within thick stone walls and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main difference between the two towns is the size. Kotor is far smaller (less then 400 yards from the North Gate to the South Gate) and far more quaint than its neighbor to the north. Its cobblestone streets and stone houses are embraceable and even homey at times. Cars are not allowed within the city walls, nor would they even be able to fit through many of the narrow passageways. The other noticeable difference from Dubrvonik is the tourists; there are very few of them. They certainly visit, but not in the critical mass which often overwhelms Dubrovnik.
Perhaps the reason for so few visitors is that there really aren't too many tourist attractions in Kotor other than a couple of churches. The ambiance and old-world charm is the true draw and getting lost within the city's windy alleyways is a real joy. Most of the stone buildings which grace the old town, house private residences just as they have for hundreds of years. The ground floors, however, are lined with a multitude of shops. But not the typical bakeries and cheap Eastern European shops I was expecting. No, Kotor is full of little boutique stores selling women's shoes, purses, jewelry, hip fashion items, handicrafts, and more. It was a definite disconnect. This is what I expect to see in Italy, not some struggling, Eastern European town most everyone on this planet has never even heard of.
I love outdoor markets and couldn't resist sneaking a photo of the farmers hawking their goods. Although the market is located just outside the city walls, it remains a stark contrast to the fashionable boutiques which lie within.
Cats are EVERYWHERE in Kotor. How many can you count in this photo?
Kotor is blessed with a handful of decent restaurants. Like everywhere else I traveled in the region, Italian food dominates the culinary scene. We ate regularly at Restoran Pasteria, located just across from the 12th century Cathedral of St. Tryphone, which had good Italian food and a phenomenal cheese plate. City Caffe Pizzeria, however, was our favorite. Just around the corner and almost hidden in a shady, raised courtyard, the restaurant is a peaceful little romantic getaway with tasty food and great wine.
There are quite a few cafes and bars in Kotor as well. Most of the outdoor ones are filled on warm summer days with locals and foreigners alike, sipping cold beers, coffee, and wine. The evenings get a bit wilder. One night we headed to Cesare (above) for drinks and found ourselves in a hip club that (almost) could have been located in Western Europe. A two-man band was jamming away and the drink was on. I quickly learned just how surprisingly progressive this quant town was when my girlfriend got hit on--by another girl.
We were pretty happy with our choice of hotels. Hotel Marija (Tel. 325 062, 325 063) was 65 euros per night ($83) and conveniently located within Old Town. It did get a little loud at night, however, as there was some type of café directly below our window. Don't be suckered into a hotel outside the city walls where the charm of Old Town fails to extend.
Kotor's harbor is just outside the main gates. A couple of luxury yachts were moored up here but thankfully no cruise ships. Watching evening settle in over the calm waters of the fjord is a mystical, peaceful experience.
Just behind the city a long section of the protective walls zigzags its way up a very steep mountain. Early one morning when the sun was still behind it, I tackled the 1500 stairs that picked its way up the mountainside. There is a church halfway up, I suppose for those who can't make it any further, but the real payoff is at the summit where a series of ruins offer a great lunch spot and fantastic views of the fjord and Old Town itself. This is not to be missed.
Nor, for that matter, is the city of Kotor. Go now; It won't remain off the beaten path for very much longer.