ZigZagging Our Way Through Europe
Our day trip from Croatia to neighboring Montenegro began early. Although it is less than an hour to the border from Dubrovnik, we wanted to start early to make our way along the Adriatic coast to the town of Kotor.
Our first stop was in Perast. Overlooking the Verige Strait on a cape that separates the Bay of Risano from the Bay of Kotor, this UNESCO World Heritage town is only 1.5km long and can easily be walked in a matter of minutes.
But rushing through Perast would be a mistake. What makes it so charming is the perfectly preserved 16 churches,17 baroque palaces and a harbor too small to accommodate cruise liners which means fewer tourists. This tiny town of under 300 residents is packed full of intriguing history and legends.
From the 15th to the 18th centuries, Perast was part of the Venetian Republic when it had as many as four active shipyards, a fleet of one hundred ships and a population of 1,700. Much of the town’s architecture reflects the Venetian influence.
Walking along the waterfront we find the Smekja Palace and the Church of Saint Mark. Constructed in 1764, Smekja Palace is the largest palace in Perast. Next to it is the Church of Saint Mark, a Roman Catholic church and mausoleum built in 1760.
Continuing our walk, we pass the Bell Tower of Saint Nicholas Church, the town’s dominate landmark. Standing at 55m, it is one of the highest bell towers on the Adriatic Sea. Built in 1691, the tower consists of three bells and a clock brought from Venice in 1730. The tower can be climbed for €1 and provides spectacular views of the town and the sea below.
Built in 1616, the Church of Saint Nicholas was initially a parish church but the town authorities later decided to turn it into a cathedral. Work began on a new building in the 18th century but was interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars and never completed. Today, Saint Nicholas consists of two structures from different eras and architectural styles.
The statues featured in front of the church, one of Admiral Matija Zmajevic and the other of Captain Mario, attest to Perast’s nautical heritage.
Two islets lie off shore and remind us of Lake Bled, Slovenia. The first islet is Saint George on the left and Our Lady of the Rocks on the right.
Saint George Island is a natural islet consisting of a 12th century Benedictine Monastery and cemetery, however, visitors are prohibited on the island.
Our Lady of the Rocks, unlike Saint George Island, is a man made islet. According to local legend, on 22 July 1452 two sailors found an icon of the Madonna and Child on the rock. Taking the icon to Saint Nicholas Church, it miraculously returned three times to the very rock on which it was found after which the Perast community decided to build the artificial islet by throwing rocks and sinking more than a hundred captured ships.
In 1630, the Roman Catholic Our Lady of the Rock Church was built on the islet and the bell tower later added in the 18th century.
As we step inside the church, we are met with a richly decorated interior …
And an ornate ceiling fresco loomed spectacularly above us.
After visiting the church, exhibits and museum, we set out by boat along the scenic fjord surrounded by steep mountains to Kotor, Montenegro some 15km from Perast.
Palm trees swayed in the breeze along the promenade as we walk toward the Old Town of Kotor.
The oldest town in Montenegro, Kotor is known for its medieval fortifications that extend from the Adriatic coast and wind their way 4.5km up the limestone cliffs of Mount Lovćen and Orjen. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor’s Old Town is the most popular attraction.
Entering the Sea Gate (West Gate) to the Old Town, we step into the Trg od Oružja or Square of the Arms anchored by the 17th century clock tower and Venetian-style Rector’s Palace.
Kotor’s largest and main square, it was here that munitions were stored during the Venetian period. Today it hosts numerous stores, restaurants and pubs.
Walking through the streets of Old Town Kotor, we notice a great number of Orthodox and Catholic Churches. In fact, there are eight churches located within the walls of the Old Town with some being free to enter and other charging a donation (usually €1). Eastern Orthodox is the majority religion with Islam and Catholic following, however, Montenegro does not have a national religion.
Perhaps the most stunning church is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Tryphon dating from 1166.
Featuring two bell towers and a mix of architectural styles, it is considered by many to be the most stunning church in Kotor.
While the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon may be considered the most stunning, the Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas is perhaps the most beautiful.
Even though its Byzantine architecture blends with that of the Old Town, the Church of Saint Nicholas was built in 1909 making it the most recent church in Kotor.
While the Saint Luke Church is the most intriguing.
Built in 1195 as a Catholic school it was later used as an Orthodox Church. As a result, Saint Luke’s now has two alters – a Catholic and an Orthodox.
And, the Church of Our Lady of Remedy may be the most difficult to access.
Constructed in 1518 on a hillside overlooking Kotor, the Church of Our Lady of Remedy can only be reached by climbing some 700 steps up Mount Lovćen.
Although we could spend an entire day visiting the churches alone, there is so much more to see in Kotor including a myriad of museums and exhibits. But just walking the side streets brings new surprises.
As our day comes to an end in Kotor, we make one final stop at Ombra Caffe and Lounge Bar.
We both chose the “Filadelfija”, Kotor’s version of the Philly Cheese Steak. Consisting of beef tenderloin, mushrooms, paprika, peppers, onion and mozzarella on pita bread with French fries it was very tasty … although not exactly the most accurate rendition of the original.
A touch of home … well, sort of!
Have you been to Perast or Kotor? Tell us about it!
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