Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, a Lesser-Known Star of the Adriatic Coast: Visiting the Boka
By Mathias Falcone
Say the words, ‘Adriatic Sea,’ and every European traveler would be able to list several popular hotspots spread along the Italian, Croatian and Slovenian coasts: Venice, Dubrovnik, Trieste, Istria, to name a few.
But this renowned Mediterranean arm doesn’t stop at the highlights, and also counts some mind-blowing destinations that haven’t fully fallen into mainstream routes yet: one for all, the spectacular fjord-alike Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, situated only a few miles past the southern Croatian border.
Locally known as “Boka”, the Bay of Kotor is a submerged river canyon forming a unique Balkanic scenario.
Nothing similar can be found elsewhere in Southern Europe, and yet, Boka is not on everyone’s map probably due to the niche destination status Montenegro is holding in the travel industry, despite its increasing popularity. And of course, that’s great news for secret gem lovers.
Old Town of Kotor
Boka is made of four little bays and a fistful of ancient towns surrounded by incredible natural sceneries, a unique combination of nature and history that deserved the UNESCO world heritage recognition in 1979.
The bay is named after the old town of Kotor, a medieval gem surrounded by the impressive limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovcen.
Such a combination of natural and historical elements, curiously located in a very secluded corner of the Adriatic, forms a landscape with no equals.
The history of Kotor begins over two millenniums ago, during the Roman era, and develops over centuries of occupations and conquests that gradually formed the town’s priceless cultural background.
Bulgarian, Serbian, Ottoman Empires, amongst the others, ruled Kotor until the Republic of Venice took over in the 15th Century and shaped the town with its very recognizable architecture, surviving to date.
Tivat is the youngest municipality in the area and the smallest in the whole country. It’s worth pointing out that although Kotor names the bay, Tivat isn’t playing a secondary role.
Its natural reserves, remarkable sunset viewpoints and coastal villages are beautifully frozen in time. They can only be given justice with no less than a full day of exploration.
The area has become an increasingly popular tourist target and recently saw the establishment of Porto Montenegro, a superyacht marina comparable to a little Monaco, now constituting the main base for wealthy visitors looking to explore the coast and inland.
Tivat is also the biggest of the four sub-bays constituting Boka and a spectacular place for boat trips and photography.
Only a short car ride away lies the protected natural reserve of Salina, with its rare and endangered plant and animal species – including flamingos.
The coastal village of Bjelila is a must-see for visitors looking for an authentic local atmosphere: traditional houses, old dock, and little taverns make for a time-traveling experience.
Paying a visit to Salina during the right time and season, when our pink friends are around, can result in spectacular views one could hardly expect around the Adriatic Sea.
Distant Mountains: Vrmac and Gornja
The Bay of Kotor is naturally divided in two by Mount Vrmac. At these altitudes, 300m above sea level, the almost uninhabited settlement of Gornja Lastva welcomes visitors with its traditional white stone houses, amazing panoramic sceneries, and trails regularly attracting locals and tourists.
The steep streets hosting Gornja pay back the hiking effort thanks to the beautiful overlooks on Tivat Bay popping out all around these slopes. Local visitors are gifted with a further, deeper immersion in the authentic atmosphere featuring each traditional village of the Bay.
Fun fact: cat lovers are going to have a great time around here because several felines have comfortably settled amid deserted houses and don’t seem keen on moving elsewhere anytime soon.
Cats are also very numerous in downtown Kotor, where they have become a municipal symbol.
Lovćen, home to the homonym National Park
One of Montenegro’s most popular features is the proximity between the sea and mountains.
Equipped tourists can literally go for a swim in the morning and ski in the afternoon, after a quick road trip to reach the altitudes.
And while the Bay of Kotor isn’t really a destination for snow lovers, its proximity does not lack hotspots for mountain aficionados.
One for all: Lovćen, home to the homonym National Park. Driving up the 25 hairpins connecting sea level to the peak of Lovćen leads to the most spectacular panorama on the whole bay and beyond, where everything from Kotor to Tivat to the main Adriatic pool down the horizon can be admired.
With regards to the sea, it comes without saying that traditional fishing has always been a big part of Montenegro’s heritage, and this is especially relevant around the Boka in virtue of the strong bond between the locals and their waters.
Follow the boats into sunrise and sunset whenever the opportunity presents itself, whether by jumping on a boat yourself or observing them against the landscape from the shore: those skies and their profusion of colors are going to paint everlasting memories.
Rumor has it that Montenegro’s popularity across the travel industry may raise to Croatian levels in the foreseeable future.
Before this and subsequent mass tourism happen, it’s worth including the Bay of Kotor in your travel plans, especially for low season trips, to enjoy the abundance of natural and historical richness this amazing destination shields between its natural borders.
Mathias Falcone is an Italian film director and travel photographer, currently living in London. Tradition, culture, heritage, crafts, and ever-lasting natural dreamscapes form the core of his still image production. Mathias loves Africa, islands, and capturing the unseen in popular destinations. He likes to exchange sources of inspiration, letting documentaries influence his photography and the approach to still image crafting his films.