Bay of Kotor
Gorgeous, breathtaking, majestic, divine; however hefty your thesaurus, the brain-blowing beauty of the Bay of Kotor will leave you struggling for superlatives. Hemmed in by commanding cliffs and shape-shifting between rippling gulfs and sparkling straits, the cobalt cove even manages to defy geographic description: is it a fjord? A submerged canyon? It seems there’s only one way to define Boka Kotorska: unmissable.
Scattered with photogenic medieval towns admiring their reflections in peacock-blue inlets, the compact bay – or simply the ‘Boka’, as it’s known in local parlance – is stitched together by a series of scenic, serpentine roads, making it easy to explore. As if determined to prove the ‘good things come in small packages’ adage, the region crams in everything from island monasteries and show-stopping citadels to adventure sports and extraordinary eateries, where waterfront views induce as much drooling as the fresh seafood. Whatever your bliss, you’ll find it in the Boka.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bay of Kotor.
Kotor's fortifications started to head up St John's Hill in the 9th century and by the 14th century a protective loop was completed, which was added to right up until the 19th century. The energetic can make a 1200m ascent up the fortifications via 1350 steps to a height of 260m above sea level; the views from St John's Fortress, at the top, are glorious. There are entry points near the River Gate and behind Trg od Salate.
Hulking Mt Orjen (1893m) separates Herceg Novi from Hercegovina and is higher than the more famous Mt Lovćen. It’s a popular spot for hiking and mountain biking (bring plenty of water). A hiking trail commences near the bus station at Herceg Novi (look for the red and white markings); heading towards Kotor, take the first road to the left, followed quickly by a right turn. This is the start of the mammoth Coastal Mountain Traversal hiking path, which goes on to Lovćen, the shores of Lake Skadar, Mt Rumija and Bar.
You'd never know it – thanks to a distinct (and puzzling) lack of hype – but 3km up the road from Morinj, a quick hike will bring you to the Balkans' most comprehensive collection of prehistoric drawings. Created in the 8th century BC, the drawings – which include mystical animal and sun symbols – have been largely left alone: there's no signage bar a token street sign, no admission fee and no fences. If you're the Indiana Jones type, this one's for you.
At the peninsula’s very tip you’ll find this sleepy fishing village (pronounced with two syllables: ro-seh), a blissful stand of stone houses gazing at Herceg Novi across the sparkling waters of the bay. Outside summer, village life winds down to near inertia, but from May to September a handful of waterside eateries open their doors to day trippers. If you fancy staying over, ask a local about private accommodation. Rose is easily reached by taxi boat from Herceg Novi (€10 to €15). Kayak Herceg Novi stops here on its guided paddle tours or you can hire a kayak and go it alone; it takes about 30 minutes each way.
This picturesque island was artificially created (on 22 July 1452, to be precise) around a rock where an image of the Madonna was found; every year on that same day, the locals row over with stones to continue the task. In summer, boats line up on the Perast waterfront to ferry people there and back (€5 return); off season, you may need to ask around.
In 1930, the foundations of a grand villa were discovered in Risan, complete with wonderfully preserved Roman mosaics from the 2nd century AD. The building’s not much to look at from the outside, but within, you’ll find a dining-room floor decorated with flowers, herbs, grapevines and squid, while other rooms have intricate geometric patterns. Best of all is the bedroom, with its glorious depiction of Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, reclining on a pillow.
The circular splat of Mamula is only 200m in diameter. The island is named after the Austro-Hungarian general who created the fort (1853) still standing on the island, which became an infamous Italian prison during WWII. A controversial plan to turn the island into an exclusive resort was approved in 2016; for now, Mamula remains a stop on many kayaking and boat tours of the bay, and is also reachable by taxi boat or by hire kayak (about an hour's paddle from Herceg Novi).
Located in the little town of Pržno (not to be confused with the other Pržno near Sveti Stefan), Plavi Horizont is – for now – a definite candidate for the title of Montenegro’s best beach; a gorgeous scallop of white sand, it sits within a green horseshoe of scrub, pines and olive trees. Alas, its days as relatively unspoiled paradise are numbered: at the time of research, construction of the Qatari-owned Beyond Horizon five-star resort was about to get underway.
The larger of two islands stretching out in a line from Ostrvo Cvijeća, the heavily forested Sveti Marko (St Mark) has run wonderfully wild since its stint as a Club Med came to an end with the Yugoslav wars. Plans for the construction of a six-star resort come and go; for now, it lies green, glorious and abandoned. You can get to the island on a taxi boat from Tivat or Herceg Novi.