It’s not Norway; it’s Montenegro! Kotor, the sun-drenched fjord
The coast of Montenegro seems to be traced with a ruling pen, as if nature had acted with a set square and triangle. And yet, all of a sudden, the Adriatic breaks away from logic and sneaks playfully through the Dinaric Alps to draw radically beautiful and contrasting landscapes where the distance between the sky and the water is measured in peaks. A unique fjord in the Mediterranean basin in which man has intervened with good taste and has created towns, cities and monasteries overwhelmed by slopes and where some of the most exquisite hotels in Europe are located. It is with good reason that this natural-cultural-historical fusion made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is Kotor, the ultimate Balkan paradise.
Montenegro, known as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, is a unique country in many ways. Bathed by the waters of the Adriatic Sea, this magical land in the Balkans contains countless surprises to captivate visitors. The list is inexhaustible, and includes natural landscapes, secluded beaches, leafy forests, crystalline lakes, rivers, canyons and magnificent mountains, perfect for exploring during a romantic getaway or a summer holiday. To help make your Montenegro holidays just magical, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts offers the best hotels in Montenegro at your fingertips.
The charming cities that are dotted around the bay have one thing in common: their Venetian aesthetics. This maritime empire used this orographic anomaly as a shipyard and naval base; it fortified the towns from top to bottom. The palaces, alleys and fortifications of the capital, Kotor, evoke those of Dubrovnik, at least in that chromatic combination of orange roofs, ochre stones and turquoise water. White stone strongholds still prevail here. The epic walls that, when crowned in search of a perfect photo to be popular on Instagram, offer an incomparable view of the place, as do the palaces that now house the finest restaurants.
In Kotor, sooner or later, the traveler's steps lead up to Saint Tryphon Cathedral, an ancient Romanesque church (dating from the 9th century) that has gradually expanded its towers to show its power. It is very difficult not to spend a few long minutes being amazed by its magnificence. Nevertheless, the tour continues through other outstanding buildings such as the more modern and colder Orthodox cathedral, the Church of Our Lady of Remedy or the Maritime Museum, an informative space located in an old palazzo that recounts the naval importance of the fjord over the years.
Venetian glory is not only offered in large portions. And the best example of that is Perast, a charming little town where 350 inhabitants live between Baroque mansions and pointed churches. The main reason for this high concentration of heritage stems from its frontier nature, since between the 17th and 18th centuries the Venetian empire encouraged its greatness and made the bourgeoisie noble by creating a new social class, the Married. This is why the residences of the Sestokrilovic, Bujovic (which houses a local museum) or Balovic families have nothing to envy of the buildings in northern Italy. But its icon is the church of St. Nicholas, a scaled down and unfinished cathedral of St. Mark, whose bell tower is visible from the orange roofs. Such a monument widens this little town that, when it doesn’t enchant with its heritage, it does so with its flowers, its banks and its alleys. They look like another piece of scenery from Game of Thrones.
Its most monumental house is the Smekja Palace, in the center of the coastal part of the town, which now houses the Iberostar Heritage Grand Perast Hotel. The palace consists of two parts: the oldest part, whose construction began in 1764, lies between the road that runs along the coast and the old road. The construction of the most recent one started at the same time as the old one, but was not completed until the 1930s.
The Smekja palace is the largest of the peaceful village of Perast. Its building began in 1764 using only blocks of stone from the most coveted quarry in the entire Venetian Empire: the island of Korčula. It consists of a ground floor, two upper levels and a viewpoint. The level of the first floor has a large terrace along the entire façade; on the second and third floors there are several balconies with balustrades. The entrance part of the Palace welcomes visitors with the heraldic insignia of the Smekja family, owner and promoter of its construction: a hand holding the stem of a plant (“čičimak”) with stars. The new part of the Palace was completed in 1936. The existing ground floor and first floor were used as a model, following the same style and with the same materials.
As if it wasn't satisfied with making the coast more beautiful, Perast also filled the water with Venetian jewels in the form of two spectacular islands. The first is Our Lady of the Rocks, an artificial island that features a beautiful church that has become one of the most attractive excursions in this corner of the bay. The other, St. George's, is home to a monastery of the same name, which cannot be visited but whose appearance from the water is hypnotic. To moor in its improvised docks or simply to surround its perimeter on the blue waters makes the short trip a dreamy summer.
Despite being a little-known destination, Perast is home to some of the best preserved baroque architecture in the Adriatic. This collection of beautiful buildings includes around twenty palaces and the same number of Catholic and Orthodox churches. The hotel Iberostar Heritage Grand Perast itself even dates back to the 18th century.
Tivat is currently the most major city in this landscape. Its marina is the most important (called Porto Montenegro) and on its borders is the only airport in the bay. It is worth getting lost in its docks, to be amazed by the yachts that dock here seduced by their beauty, well accompanied by the spectacular buildings that parade along the coastline. This view has earned it the nickname “Monaco of Montenegro”. And that's because every corner exudes the sophistication and tranquility necessary to spend an afternoon like Grace Kelly... but without the paparazzi.
Located very close to the Adriatic Sea, Herceg Novi has a tropical soul that blends very well with the aesthetic features of this bay. As with the rest of the towns, here rest and relaxation are combined with cultural walks that go deep into the city. It is very hard to resist the charm of Savina Monastery, an ecumenical group that holds three churches with surprising frescoes and iconostases. Other must-see attractions are their marble-like alleyways like Stari Grad, the Forte Mare stronghold or Kanli-Kula fortress, a space that becomes an outdoor stage in the sunniest months. That is to say, almost all of them.
From the Iberostar's hotel in Herceg Novi, you can admire one of the most iconic symbols of Montenegro, Mount Lovćen, the birthplace of the Petrovic dynasty and also a National Park.
Although on the Adriatic coast, visiting the Blue Grotto is one of the most spectacular and closest excursions that can be done from the bay of Kotor. This is an orographic curiosity in the form of a sea cave that can be crossed in many different ways: swimming, in a boat, kayak or even snorkeling. The play of lights, colors and shapes make this place a real kaleidoscope of blue. Compared to Capri, here you can enjoy less noise and much more nature.
Tying your boots and climbing any of the mountains that dominate this fjord guarantees two things: unique views and a very comforting day of active tourism, and more if you take into account the thousands of ways to relax that later await you in the hotel. The perfect panoramic is obtained by crowning the walls and castle of Kotor and continuing to climb the path until it reaches the Lovcen National Park, a site that also has a lot of symbolism as it houses the mausoleum of the poet and legislator Petar II of Montenegro, one of the country’s greatest thinkers. An expedition that is a fantastic 2x1 of spectacular nature and breathtaking culture.
Although it does not maintain the uniformity and Venetian essence of the rest of the cities, Risan can boast of being the first enclave inhabited on the shores of the bay. Hence its main charms are archaeological, such as the Lipci prehistoric site, belonging to Bronze Age or the Roman mosaics that were recovered from an ancient village. In addition to these findings, a stroll down Gabela Street and a visit to the Orthodox churches of St. Peter and Paul and Michael the Archangel complete an Indiana Jones style getaway.