Kotor, UNESCO World Heritage on the Adriatic Sea

Chanoa Tarle

Senior Contributor

Montenegro is home to a fjord-like bay on the Adriatic Sea, The Bay of Kotor. More than a stunning summer getaway, the region is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features fascinating history, a unique culture formed from centuries of seafaring, trade and new denizens, and impressive structures including ancient churches and a fortress winding high above the city’s walls. Kotor has much to offer for nature lovers and history buffs alike, and it’s conveniently located near other Montenegrin attractions and neighbouring Dubrovnik, Croatia - another UNESCO site - and just a thirty-minute drive away.

The Bay of Kotor

The city of Kotor sits on the shores of The Bay of Kotor, an extension of the Adriatic Sea, and it shares its name with the surrounding region of seaside villages and towns. Drive on what is mostly narrow winding streets encircling the bay and up and down hills to take in one charming, historic locale after another. Some of the most enchanting stops are Dobrota, Perast, Prčanj and Tivat (home of the luxurious superyacht marina, Porto Montenegro). Weather permitting (the “summer” season is late spring through autumn) Speedboats and yachts are popular modes of transportation, weather permitting, offering views exclusive to the bay and dock and dine experiences at fantastic restaurants. Though staggering beauty abounds, it’s Stari Grad Kotor (“Old Town Kotor”) that steals the show. The walled medieval city is a stunning presence deep inside the bay. Enter the city on the riviera side and saunter across its walls, then exit via a bridge, rushing moat waters and all. Enter the walled city again to get lost in a maze of stone buildings and stone streets, passing square after square of churches, restaurants, cultural centres, historic sites, palaces, private homes and more. 

St. John’s Fortress

UNESCO-protected Old Town Kotor is filled with incredible sights to take in, however, first-time visitors can’t help but look up. The city’s backdrop of mountains presents snaking stone steps making their way up to 1,200 metres. The approximately 1,350 steps are a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike, making their way up to St. John’s Fortress. The so-called Ladder of Kotor offers fantastic panoramic views, changing with each step, and every elevation. Use the climb as a workout, a photo expedition or an opportunity for discovery as you pass in and out of ancient structures and take in the surprises along the way. Clear days in October through April are the most comfortable months to make the journey. 

Churches and Cathedrals

Founded in the 5th century BC, Old Town Kotor is filled with Orthodox and Catholic churches. Some of the most popular sites are the Serbian Orthodox churches, St. Nicholas and St. Luke, just steps away from one on another on their own squares, dramatically contrasting in size. Then there’s The Cathedral of St. Tryphon, also known as Kotor Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church founded in 1166. Magnificent in every way, it’s no wonder the cathedral’s eponymous square is the home of cultural events including international fashion shows, concerts and alfresco theatrical performances for annual events including Kotor Art. You’ll even find two churches perched above the city while scaling the Ladder of Kotor- St. George’s and the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. However, the most picturesque churches are located right on the bay, Our Lady of the Rocks and the monastery of St. George. St. George is on a tiny natural island, The Island of St. George, and it features stone buildings and lovely cypress trees. It’s possible to pass it by sea, however, the island and church are not open to visitors. However, neighbouring Our Lady of the Rocks is open to the public. Sitting on an equally tiny island, this one man-made, the 17th century Roman Catholic church features works of art and a museum.

Vistas and Hiking

Some travellers continue high above St. John’s Fortress to Krstac for even more spectacular views and dark green forests. Feeling more ambitious? Scale over the mountaintop to the historic Lovćen National Park, for a hike of about 5.5 hours. The Bay of Kotor is surrounded by exotic paths reaching high up into the mountains to dark green forests, mountain biking paths and even obscure hamlets selling homemade rakija (fruit brandy), goat cheese, olives and more.

Fascinating Culture

Kotor isn’t just rich for the eyes, it’s rich for the ears. Speakers of the Serbo-Croat languages and Italian are delighted to overhear a dialect unique to the Bay of Kotor, fusing Montenegrin with Italian; Kotor was founded by the ancient Romans and was controlled by the Venetians from 1420 to 1797. It was an important trade route and a thriving maritime culture began; the tradition continues today with many local families naming one or more seafarers in their households. You’ll discover Venetian influence in some of the traditional costumes and masks seen at Kotor Carnival (held each winter and summer) alongside traditional Montenegrian garb. Daily life is quiet, albeit with a major cafe culture, a multitude of museums and year-round cultural events.

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