THE QUAINT HAMLET OF KOTOR
Rays of sun gleam off the ocean's sapphire surface like shimmering glitter as we ply through the fjord-like inlet. A scattering of villages boasting red-roofed homes are carved into the lush hillsides that border our narrow waterway. We veer around uninhabited islets and vacated lighthouses that dot the ship's route. During this early arrival time, all is quiet. Everything is still enshrouded by shade. But as the sun gradually rises over the towering mountains, we watch the skinny channel and fairy-tale communities come to life.
This roving show is just one of the many perks that we enjoy while sipping our coffee on our cruise ship's upper deck. Although every one of our nine ports have been gems, in our opinion, Kotor in Montenegro is the crown jewel.
The main hub of this hamlet is backed by precipitous cliffs and is strategically located at the most indented part of the Adriatic sea. Remains of a once-imposing fortification stands proudly above the old town and zig-zags up the steep Lovcen mountains. At one time, it effectively warded off the unwanted. And based on the history books, there were many. From 1420-1797, Kotor was part of Venetian Albania, then besieged in 1538 and 1657 by the Ottoman Empire. Although quite the historical hodgepodge, while boasting four centuries of Venetian roots and architecture, it comes as no surprise that Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Kotor Old Town pays homage to its well-defined past. Beyond the Venetian gates, we amble throughout a network of narrow cobblestone alleys where brilliant green shutters flank the windows of ornate balconies and medieval archways lead to Roman, renaissance and baroque attractions.
With three other ships in port today, we decide to leave crowds behind and get a different perspective of this picturesque place.
"Let's take a speed boat tour," my husband suggests, "and check out Our Lady Of The Rocks and the town of Perast." I've heard these landmarks in the Bay of Kotor are well worth the visit, so I'm up for the thrill!
We zip by quaint villages, veer around ancient ruins and drink in the glorious bay views.
The island, Our Lady Of The Rocks, earned its title on July 22, 1452, when a couple of mariners returning to Perast discovered an icon of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock. The sailors felt this was a miracle. Following each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the shallow bay and over time, this islet emerged from the sea.
"This ritual is still alive," our captain explains proudly as he docks. "Every July 22 at sunset, residents take their boats and drop a few rocks off, to keep widening this island."
A turquoise dome on the island's chapel stands out like a beacon and its interior is equally impressive. We wander in awe through the nave, renovated in 1722, gazing at paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a local 17th Century Baroque artist. Joining his works are other masterpieces, by Italian artisans and a famous tapestry by Jacinta Kuni?-Mijovi? of Perast. While waiting for her lover to return after a long journey, she became blind when working on this wall hanging. Silver and gold fibres were woven into it, along with strands of her hair. It was a labour of love that took twenty-five years to complete. And it is still being admired two centuries later.
Our final stop before heading back to the hub is nearby Perast, a seaside town that's rich with marine history dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. We stroll the waterfront promenade that overlooks Verige Strait and check out the Baroque style buildings. Palaces, churches, museums—each one has stories and legends to share that bear witness to the past.
The sun is beginning to drop in the sky as we zip back to port. Soon it will be hidden behind the majestic mountain range and this European enclave will be in shadow once again.
"We could get another perspective of Kotor and even a panorama topped off with a sunset, Brent suggests. "All it takes is a little leg work." He's referring to hoofing it up the 1,500 or so fortification stairs that escalate up the steep mountainside. "The view from this summit will take your breath away." Undoubtedly he's right. But my sea legs and lungs have had enough excitement for one day.
IF YOU GO:
Photos by Jane & Brent Cassie
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