Montenegro. Say it.
It sounds… exotic, feisty, mysterious.. even dangerous.
These qualities (obviously) mean I should add it to my list of places to go with three young children, right?
Wait, are we nuts?! Probably. I know there are other families that take their kids even crazier places than we do, but, man, we are so far gone from pretty little Disney holidays.
Today’s adventure takes place in slick little Montenegro, another former YU country (sorry, I know I put it on our bucket list and it’s not technically Croatia, but just go with it). Known as Crna Gora / Црна Гора to locals, most people young, rich, and/or famous know it as a fabulous place to party (Budva).
But, we know it as a (literally) breathtaking place to drink in views of the fjord-like Bay of Kotor.
Bay of Kotor.
Kotor is a popular day trip from Dubrovnik given that it’s supposedly only an hour and a half drive (see Notes at the end of this post). If you like collecting stamps in your passport from random small countries to up your count or exploring old stone cities steeped in history, Kotor might be for you.
Just don’t come here to climb up to St. John’s Fortress like we did.
No, no, no.
The city of Kotor, located on the bay of the same name, is quite small and can be explored in an hour or two. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor is cute, and sweet (which is about the opposite of how Montenegro sounds). Plus, it’s less crowded than its flashy friend to the north, Dubrovnik. Cruise ships have started docking in the city, but you can check the schedule in advance and adjust your itinerary to visit on a different day.
So, what do you do after you’ve strolled the ancient streets? You could do something normal and sane like sit down at a cafe, have a drink, and and enjoy the atmosphere. Or you could set your sights on higher and more insane things like conquering St. John’s Fortress… with children.
I cannot officially recommend schlepping kids up 1,350 stone steps, so I won’t. But I will tell you how it could be done if you thought you might be hare brained enough to entertain the idea. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Pick up a map from the tourist information kiosk just outside the city walls. Or, just walk away from the bay and toward the mountain. You can’t miss it. Bring euros for the small entrance fee as well as water, snacks, and bribes for the hikes. You’re going to need it.
The first thing you’ll notice is that you have two choices: walk on stone steps or a somewhat flattened pile of rocks, both of which are quite slick in the rain (did I mention it was raining?!).
If you’re a parent, your two options become one option. Walk on the rocks while your child walks on the steps. Well, except for the parts of the climb where the low wall that provided a false sense of protection against a nasty tumble down the hillside is, conveniently, missing. Then, you can switch places until the wall reappears.
About fifteen minutes into the climb when you’re soaked to the bone underneath your rain jacket because good golly is this thing steep or what, you’ll reach the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.
Fabulous, you’re nearly there, right? Ha, no. But you can take a rest with the chain-smoker that’s more than happy to sell you an over-priced bottle of water. People watching is, of course, complimentary.
Just passing the Church of Our Lady of the Remedy.
Try to keep your eyes on the route and not on the fantastic panorama unfolding with each step up. You don’t want to slip on those rocks and take the kids down with you. No, no. Oh, and try not to think about why you don’t see any other families along the way.
When you do reach the top, you might want to (again) watch your step. It’s not like the fortress is falling apart or anything, but, well, yeah, it pretty much is. And the edges don’t have secure railings, so you might want to embarrass your kids by tagging along when they need to take a leak so they don’t tumble when they tinkle.
If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back because that was one heck of a climb. And one seriously ridiculous idea with tots in tow. But the view, the view, the view, THE VIEW!
It’s easy to understand why this spot was chosen to fortify. From here, you can see so much of the Bay of Kotor, the city of Kotor, and the surrounding terrain.
Set up the self-timer, and burn up the camera. This is a perfect place to take a family photo. Just don’t position expensive cameras or precious children too close to the edge of anything.
On the way back down, try to ignore those shaky legs. What are you, a weakling? You just owned that climb up to the fortress! Promise the kids they can have a n y t h i n g they want to eat from the grocery store if they just make it down in one piece.
Bonus: Groceries in Montenegro are CHEAP, so they can have the chips, the ice cream, and the juice for all I care.
Why yes I did just sweat my way up and down the mountain behind me, thanks for asking.
I’m (obviously) being cheeky here, and just in case the sarcasm is lost on you (Sheldon Cooper), I don’t want you to think we didn’t enjoy Kotor. In fact, we loved it, and it goes down as one of the best days of our Croatian adventure.
Also, I probably should add that for all my groveling here for the sake of humor, actually our kids made it up with hardly any whining. Reading that statement from my trip notes and typing it again here, I can barely believe it, but it must’ve happened. Just don’t expect a repeat performance, right?
By the way, I’m partly blaming my desire to conquer the climb up to St. John’s Fortress on Calli and Travis of Have Blog Will Travel. Their post got me hooked on the idea, and, well, we’re suckers for a good view. If they did it, why couldn’t we? Oh right, because we have THREE LITTLE KIDS with us. And apparently I just skipped over this little line, “The hike isn’t an easy one, as many of the pathways are still a work in progress,” and instead focused on the fact that, “the views at the top are more than enough reward.”
To see the fortress walls of Kotor all lit up at night, click here. And then tell me, what would you do for a good view?
Stuck at the border. This line took us nearly 1 1/2 hours..
More Notes on Montenegro:
- Driving directions will tell you that Kotor is about 1:30 – 1:45 from Dubrovnik. Don’t believe everything you read. Double that time to allow for long lines at the border (maybe triple it in summer). We were only about 12 cars away from the crossing and it took nearly 1 1/2 hours. Apparently there are problems with drugs, guns, money, and the like in and out of MNE so that’s why the checks are thorough. See? I told you, dangerous…
- The roads were horrific – one lane in each direction, winding and twisting around the water with 40-60km/hr speed limits, slow old beaters and big trucks.
- Bring loads of snacks and entertainment options (or practice your hand at these games that don’t require any equipment) in case you get stuck.
- Living in Germany, we have become quite accustomed to not bringing our passports when we pop over to France or dip down to Switzerland. They’re never asked for or checked. But you definitely need your passport with you when crossing any borders in this region.
- There’s a ferry option to cross the bay of Kotor, but it is not much faster than driving around the bay and the second option is much more scenic. Plus, if you drive around the bay, you can stop in Perast.
- To up the awesomeness of your time in Kotor, park in Perast and take a boat out to the island of Our Lady of the Rocks. We didn’t make it out there, unfortunately, but I believe the boat costs 5 euros per person. At the very least, pull over and have a look; the two little islands are lovely to look at from the shore (see the second photo in this post). Check out Travis and Calli’s post on getting to Perast via public transport here.
- Parking outside of the city gate in the town of Kotor is quite cheap (around 1 euro/hr) and convenient.
- You can find small grocery stores inside the city walls or larger supermarket-type stores a bit further out.
This post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series. Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!