Our stop in Kotor, Montenegro was AWESOME! All our ports were beautiful, but Montenegro really brought the WOW factor from dawn to sunset! It helped that we had a fantastic tour guide and great people to share our day with. The thought running through my head all day was how lucky we were to be visiting one of the world’s most beautiful places.
I booked early in the planning process with Montenegro M Tours, and since I booked so far in advance we got the company’s owner Mladen Lalatovic as our guide. I posted the tour information on my Cruise Critic roll call and we ended up with a total of 24 people in three vehicles taking the same tour.
Maybe this is a good time to make a couple comments about sharing tours. It’s a great way to make private tours more affordable, but I do think it’s important to make sure everyone in a vehicle/sharing a tour is on the same page before a tour starts. One of the three vehicles on our Montenegro tour had a very different experience and I think it’s because the people in the van weren’t in agreement about whether they would stop for lunch, how long they should spend at each location, etc. We were very fortunate in that all the people in our vehicle were “stop and smell the roses” travelers and our tour was outstanding.
Almost all our guides on this trip were excellent about listening to us and adapting the day to suit our tastes. That usually resulted in longer tours with plenty of time for local cuisine and off the beaten path sights. If all aren’t in agreement it can cause some conflict, so it’s a good idea to take care of the details ahead of time.
We were lucky enough to dock in Kotor instead of having to tender, so we were off the ship and ready to start our day right at 9:00. From Kotor we made the short scenic drive to Perast on the Bay of Kotor for our first stop of the day. Perast is an old maritime shipbuilding and trading village that is now a tourist destination, with a big draw being the tiny islands of Our Lady of the Rocks (artificial) and St. George (natural). Mladen hurried us along so we could get on a ferry boat to Our Lady of the Rocks before hordes of tourists from big buses descended upon the town.
Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Skrpjela) is just breathtaking. According to local legend, the island was formed by seamen and townspeople throwing stones into the sea and sinking old boats to mark the site where an icon of Madonna and Child was found. On July 22, 1452 two brothers found the icon on a rock outcropping. One of the brothers was crippled and was miraculously healed after the icon was discovered. The decision was made to mark the spot where the icon was found by building a shrine to house it. In this way the artificial island was created.
The original shrine was largely destroyed by pirates in 1624, and construction of the current structures was started in 1626. The island and buildings have been expanded over the years, and today remain as an important shrine for sailors.
Over the main altar, a painting depicting the icon is the centerpiece of the church. Painted in the mid 1460s, it has been well preserved over the years. This was one of several churches we saw where important religious icons were protected by decorative metal work, with only the faces exposed to the elements.
Behind the altar there’s a narrow passageway where one can put their hand through a hole to touch the rock beneath. It’s said to be the original rock the painting of the Madonna was found on. I took a peek and decided it wasn’t for me. The passageway was extremely narrow and it didn’t look like a good place for a middle-aged, slightly chunky, claustrophobic female! The way I looked at it there were two possible outcomes and neither was positive…I would get stuck because I freaked out in the dark, narrow space, or I would get stuck because I’d been consuming too much bread, prosciutto, and wine! Either way, I decided to take their word for the existence of the hole and the rock!
The other island near Perast, St. George (Sveti Đorđe), doesn’t have quite as interesting a back story as Our Lady of the Rocks. St. George is partially hidden from view by a wall and towering Cypress trees. The only structure on the island is an old Benedictine monastery, but the island is home to countless graves. As a matter of fact locals refer to it as the island of the dead! There is no tourist access to the island, and it has not been inhabited in many decades.
The picture below is a stock photo from the internet. It’s the photo I couldn’t get. Why? There was a girl posing right in the middle of the arch the entire time I (and many others) were trying to get a picture. She was posing for her boyfriend and taking numerous selfies. Very frustrating! Sometimes I think there should be signs posted reminding people they’re not the only ones there.
We had time to walk around Perast after we went to Our Lady of the Rock. It is a charming little seaside town and I would have liked to have more time there, but the rest of Montenegro awaited us!
We headed to Budva by way of the Kotor Bay Ferry. You can also get to Budva on land by driving completely around the bay, but it is much faster to take the ferry across.
On the way to Budva we stopped to see JAZ Beach. This is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, and is also a major concert site during the summer months.
Budva is a study in contrasts. Today, it is quite a large city, but our destination was the old medieval walled city perched on the edge of the sea. The old city was charming, and not crowded at all. We enjoyed walking around a place that isn’t on many big bus tour lists! Budva is also an interesting mix of old and new. Quite a bit of the old city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1979 and has been rebuilt.
We stopped for lunch in Budva. It was fantastic! We ate at The Juice Bar, which had smoothies and juices, but also some delicious meat and cheese platters, wonderful sandwiches, and of course, wine! Jim split a meat and cheese platter with a friend and I opted for a grilled sandwich. What I got looked a lot like what we would call a panini, but over there it was just a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto!
After lunch we began slowly making our way back towards Kotor, with spectacular scenery stops along the way. One interesting stop was overlooking Sveti Stefan (St. Stephen). This former island is now connected to the mainland by an isthmus, and is home to a 5 star resort. In the distant past, the island was a fort, housed a village, four churches, and a monastery, and provided shelter for pirates. In Yugoslavian times the facilities were converted to a resort, and have remained that way through various owners and renovations ever since.
The other scenery stop was above the port. I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves. Just breathtaking!
About 4:30, after our tour ended, we headed back to the ship but first we had a couple of important purchases to make. We had to find a Christmas ornament to add to our collection, and we had to buy some cough medicine. Fortunately my cold wasn’t getting worse, but it also wasn’t going away so I decided to do something about it.🙄 I love buying cough medicine in Europe. It seems a lot more effective than anything the FDA’s gotten their hands on!
Our day was far from over. We took advantage of the beautiful day and our huge balcony and invited our touring friends to join us for sailaway. What a fantastic experience it was – cruising through the fjords in picture perfect weather enjoying the company of new friends!
We ended the day with a late and somewhat light dinner at Canaletto. Once again, I was not the life of the party. My evening went like this…sailaway party, wine, dinner, sleep. My consolation was I was keeping the cold just under control enough so that it wasn’t stopping me during the day. It sure was wiping me out at night though!
I almost cried myself to sleep…the next day was Friday, which meant we were getting close to the end of the cruise. How could something we planned for so long be going by so quickly?😢