To be honest, I don’t think I quite knew where Montenegro was before this trip. I may have even thought it was somewhere in the Caribbean!

For the geographically challenged when it comes to post-Communist states, Montenegro lies to the south of Croatia (and a tiny part of Bosnia) on the Adriatic sea. It is bordered by Albania to the south and Kosovo to the east.

The flag of Montenegro flies 1200 metres above Kotor

The flag of Montenegro flies 1200 metres above Kotor

We stayed in the coastal town of Kotor, which has an old town surrounded by fortifications first built by Emperor Justinian in the 5th century, and improved by the Venetians. A sheer cliff known as the Hill of St. John overlooks the town, and has a fortress perched on top.

We spent a couple of hours hiking the walls to reach the fortress 1200 metres above the sea.

(I’m so glad I can do these kinds of activities with my kids with minimal whining.)

The town’s population is roughly 13,500, but increases by about 2,500 when the latest cruise ship pulls into harbour. The first day we were here we couldn’t understand why there were so many sets of empty tables on large terraces, but by the second day we realized why!

The Bay of Kotor is absolutely beautiful with mountains plunging into the sea like the fjords of Norway.  However geologists will snicker if you call these formations fjords, because the bay is actually a river valley submerged by the sea.

Not far away is the town of Perast, which has a definite Venetian air to it. The town was ruled by Venice between 1420 and 1797, which is probably why they saw no problem building the Monstery of St. George on a small island a few hundred metres off shore.

Our Lady of the Rocks sits on, well, rocks!

Our Lady of the Rocks sits on, well, rocks!

The island next to St. George is actually man made and has slightly bizarre origins. The story goes that in 1452, two sailors from Perast came across a small rock jutting out of the water and discovered an image of the Virgin Mary upon it. No one questioned the obvious about what they had been drinking; instead, they started sinking old ships and transporting stones to the spot where the image had appeared.

After 200 years of dumping things, an impressive artificial island had appeared, so they  built the chapel of Our Lady of the Rocks in 1630. Hundreds of gifts were donated to the church over the years, including 68 oil canvasses by Baroque masters.

Montenegro is still far from the madding crowd when it comes to tourism, but that has the potential to change with its beautiful scenery. If you want to visit before that happens, I suggest you go quickly!

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