The night before we sailed into the black mountains of Kotor, we set our alarms for 5:30 am and had one less glass of wine than we usually would have. "We can't miss it, we have to get up and be ready" my husband said to me as we were leaving dinner that night. We were cruising with our favorite cruiseline, Windstar, for our honeymoon and were eagerly awaiting our first meeting with the ancient city of Kotor, Montenegro. All of the ports were exciting and we enthusiastically researched them all, but there was something different in the way we felt about Kotor. Something about the chance to sail into the winding bay as the sun rose over the mountains enticed us more than other arrivals. I, an avid traveler, had already been to all of our previous ports that dotted the Italian and Croatian coastlines while my husband, a big adventure seeker and outdoorsman, looked forward to trading the hoards of tourists at museums for hiking the ancient city wall that scales Kotor's sharp cliff face.
When we woke the next morning, we threw open our blinds to our boat inching into a thick wall of fog. We dressed, grabbed coffee, and made our way to the deck where we could see the tops of the mountains as gray light started to peek through the marine layer. As the minutes passed, more and more travelers sleepily joined us on the deck as we crept up to the mouth of the bay. There, the clouds broke and an audible gasp from the cruisers were heard as we were greeted by a pink sunrise and calm bay waters.
For hundreds of years, these waters were sailed up and down as a trade space. The first mention of the city of Kotor was in 168 BC when it was a Roman province of Dalmatia. Later, pushing past the Middle Ages and not quite to the era of Venetian rule, Kotor was stuck in the middle of feuding city states such as powerhouses Dubrovnik and Venice. The Republic of Venice eventually won title and it became a center for Venetian trade. There, Italian architecture flourished which is one of the many reasons this tiny town has become one of UNESCO's most interesting world heritage sites.
As we sat down for breakfast, our ship anchored and we were free to explore the city. I chose to nap as Hayes hiked and I promised him we would spend the evening on shore exploring. With it being swelteringly hot plus the throngs of tourists (a lot of them, but nothing compared to where we had previously been) and being up at the literal crack of dawn had me tired. I had a feeling being on shore in the late afternoon would be far more appealing.
After Hayes had come back and showered, we were off to explore and we instantly fell in a deep love for the old town. Cobble stone streets, tiny vintage shops filled with trinkets from the second world war and the days gone from when it was once called Yugoslavia, and not a single t-shirt shop in sight. Hayes and I were smitten. Ready to never leave. Kotor is a traveler's dream with its friendly locals, cozy town squares, and wine bars playing European folk music around every corner. As the sun began to set, we searched for a place to eat and lucked out; we were sat on a wisteria-laced terrace looking over a small square in town, eating fresh mussels and home made cheeses and wine. Black and white silent Charlie Chaplin films were screened against the pale stone walls of the building adjacent to us as the sunset turned the mountains black and the bay waters a shade of purple.
As our time on shore began to dwindle, Hayes and I found a local bar that was in line with so many other European watering holes; a tiny joint carved into the side of the ancient city walls serving beer that is less expensive than water, patio string lights overhead, EDM blaring from a sound system. We took a seat outside, drank two beers a piece, and when it was finally time to head back to sea, we were followed to the docks by two kittens trailing behind us.
If you didn't know, Kotor is famous for their cats. Brought here as stowaways on old trading ships moons ago, the cats began to accumulate at a rapid rate with nowhere to go other than up a mountain or to the sea. So they stayed in the center and became a cherished symbol of the antique city. In many ways, we felt like one of these cats; wary to leave this hidden gem and ready to stay. Hayes and I hadn't even left the city walls, let alone gotten far enough out of the bay to see Kotor's dimmed lights fade into the dark, when we formulated a plan for our return to sail up the bay once again, and maybe just stay a little while longer.