Meandering in Montenegro

Named for the black mountains that characterize the landscape, Montenegro is a lot of loveliness packed into a tiny place. We only spent a week in the country, but we logged a decent amount of activity into that amount of time without feeling overwhelmed.

We have fallen a bit in love with tiny fortified towns built by the Venetians. Kotor is a mini-Dubrovnik, only with a much more imposing wall.

Bustling downtown Kotor. Despite the fact that two cruise ships were docked in the bay, the place still felt like a small, lightly populated village. Photo by Tricia.
The fortification walls almost disappear against the mountain. Photo by Ryan.
It’s a steep climb along the fortification walls to the top of the fort. Your reward for the effort is a good view and a guy at the top who sells beer out of a cooler. Photo by Tricia.
The view of Kotor from about a third of the way up the walls. Photo by Tricia.

The city is remarkably well preserved for how old it is – it’s been a fortified city since 535 AD – which is what qualified it as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are a couple of wonderful churches here, and a cat museum! You can probably skip the cat museum if you’re limited on time since there is only one cat there and the rest is just a bunch of artwork.

Our next stop was the nearby town of Perast. We grabbed a quick city bus that brought us around the bay from Kotor to this quiet and beautiful town. This place is just plain pretty. Grab a ferry out to the island churches and take in a lovely meal at any one of the waterside eateries. It’s a truly pleasant way to spend a day.

Perast as seen from our ferry. Photo by Ryan.
Ferries are inexpensive, comfortable, and mostly empty in early May. Photo by Tricia.
On the island called Our Lady of the Rocks, so named because a couple of Venetian sailors found an image of the Virgin Mary here in 1452. Photo by Tricia.

Ferries were only running to Our Lady of the Rocks on the day we were there, the other island is St. George’s and legend has it that it’s built on top of old shipwrecks.

Ostrog Monastery
Carved into the mountainside by Serbian Orthodox monks, this monastery is a major pilgrimage site. If you want to visit the authentic way you have to walk the three kilometers from the lower monastery (where the monks live) to the upper monastery (where the relics are) barefoot. It was cold and raining when we came, and – bless them – there were two women making the unshod journey.

The Ostrag Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox church in Montenegro. Photo by Ryan. 

No photos are allowed in the small chapels, but it’s still worth the trip to see the frescoes and the mosaic tiling. Be warned that if you’re not a believer you don’t need to stand in the long line to get into the Church of the Presentation. That’s where the body of Saint Basil is. The pilgrims crowd into the room, a priest says a blessing, and then the penitents each take turns kissing the (covered) body. It was, uh, awkward for us to be there when this all took place. It was neat to see the frescoes, though.

Some of the many mosaics that are plastered into the rock face at the monastery. Photo by Tricia.

If you had to pick between Montenegro and Croatia, go to Croatia. But if you have more time, this country is truly lovely. It’s a bit easier to get around if you rent a car. There are plenty of buses, but they take quite a long time in the mountainous terrain.

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