Sunrise. The emerging glow creeps over the vast black mountains, which draw ever closer as the ship makes its way to the city in the distance. This is Montenegro.
When I went on a cruise of the Mediterranean this summer, I never expected to be enchanted by a day’s visit to the coastal city of Kotor. Formerly part of Yugoslavia, placed on the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Serbia, Montenegro wasn’t a place that I had heard much about. Yet here I was, standing on deck, awestruck by the scenic entrance to this unexpected gem of Europe. Waking early, I had made my way to the ship’s deck and, rising to the top, a large mountain rose with me. The ship was enveloped by the mountains which amazed with their scale, forming a guard of honour to welcome us into Kotor.
Montenegro literally means ‘black mountain’, which is an accurate description of the colossal guardians which swallowed our ship. Their position formed a fjord, a gigantic natural gorge, the sea becoming a path between both sides. The ship weaved its way gracefully in and out of the fjord, drawing us further into the small city at the mountains’ heart. Above, a stone path carved into the mountains, with a medieval fortress at its summit, instantly caught my attention.
After the dramatic entrance, I arrived in Kotor, getting off the ship and making my way into the centre. The city was very atmospheric, filled with people selling products and going about their daily business. Each Montenegrin was very friendly, always smiling and willing to help. The city was full of narrow streets lined with large, traditional cobbles, free of traffic or disturbance. The buildings were grand, slightly withered with time but intricate and beautiful. Houses were filled with flowers, and connected by makeshift washing lines, clothes hanging from them across the winding streets. This labyrinth winded round and round until eventually, it led to the main square. Cradled at the heart of this elegant community was a magnificent white church, its spire glittering in the sunlight. But the church could wait – there was the mountain to climb.
At the foot of the mountain lay a narrow flight of steep stone stairs rising into the sun. And that was just the beginning. I began walking, taking care not to slip. There was no barrier, no protection from a sheer drop into the city below. Further up, the stairs became narrower and narrower, drawing me closer to the mountain’s edge. The sun glared down, and I walked up and up before looking out from the top of the stairs. The panoramic view of Kotor was breathtaking. A sea of orange roofs spread out as far as one could see, reaching the glittering mountains in the distance. People do not often mention Montenegro as a place to visit, but Kotor was one of the highlights of my Mediterranean cruise. The stairs ended. A coarse path, filled with rocks and dust, led to the fort at the top of the mountain. The climb was exhausting, but exhilarating. I see a stone doorway, and climb through, being greeted by a set of large, steep stone stairs – at the top was the entrance to the fort. A tiny metal bridge lies at its mouth. Slowly, I step onto the bridge. It creaks, but eventually I make it, bridge and self intact.
The fort was filled with tunnels and ruins which were exciting to explore. Weaving between the ruins leads to a dark cave, solely illuminated by the small crack in its ceiling. Nothing there. Climbing the narrow ramparts in order to reach the top, I ran across the slim path overlooking the drop into the city, jumping across the rocks in order to make it to the other side. Eventually, I reach the summit, climbing to reach the edge and…WOAH – sheer, sheer drop into the valley below. However, the sweeping view of the city is magnificent.
Exploration over, I ran down the mountain’s stairs and stones, enjoying the rush of making my way through this stunning natural pathway. Winding down the mountain, the beautiful city became bigger and bigger until eventually the church emerged once more. The church itself was beautiful, filled with ornate sculptures, carvings and paintings, simplistic but far more alluring than the cathedrals abundant with gold. I hear a haunting, incredible voice behind me. A young girl is singing traditional Montenegrin songs, and is joined by a choir of young people. Their voices were phenomenal, and I sat in the church for a while, entranced by the unique sounds and pitch-perfect voices of this choir. I made my way out towards the ship, leaving this incredible gem behind, walking once more through the city’s winding streets. My brief, but eventful adventure in Montenegro had been insightful, awe-inspiring and exhilarating, and whilst Kotor may not be the most famous tourist destination in Europe, it is certainly one of the most beautiful. No wonder Montenegrins are so happy.
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