After non-stop travel for a month, spending no more than 3 nights in one place, it was time to stop for a week, somewhere we could relax and work but also a good base for day trips. The tiny country of Montenegro has so much packed into its borders and The Bay of Kotor is just one of its gems.
Most buses travelling from Mostar to Montenegro go via Dubrovnik. We wanted to avoid this! I heard they involve three border crossings (from Bosnia to Croatia, and then back into that little Bosnian strip of coast, then back into Croatia and finally Montenegro) and long queues in summer. We chose the 6am bus to Trebinje in the hope of finding a direct connecting bus to Herceg Novi. Unfortunately, we were 10 seconds too late! I caught a glimpse of the bus rounding the corner and out of sight! It was 8:30am and the next direct bus didn’t leave until 10pm. If you’re travelling in the Balkans don’t trust the Balkan Viator website, or anything online. The only place to find accurate timetables is at bus stations. Our choice was to wait until 10pm for a 1.5 hour bus or take the 5 hour ‘tour-of-Montenegro’ bus which would get us to our destination at 2pm.
We decided on the latter and purchased our tickets not knowing they were oversold! The bus driver argued with his colleagues and the nine passengers waiting to board a bus with 4 available seats. Eventually a group of Italians decided to hire a taxi, leaving just enough seats for the rest of us. It was an interesting ride. With us was an elderly pro-communist protestor wearing a fez and a slogan-covered vest. He brandished his sign and enthusiastically expressed his views to all within earshot. I could see on his lap an expired Yugoslavian passport and hoped that he wasn’t going to try to cross the border with it! I couldn’t quite figure out if he was extremely passionate or senile (or both!). If only I could understand the language! Upon reaching the quiet border crossing, Mr Fez produced a valid ID and all of our documents were collected by the bus driver and taken to the office to be stamped and handed back to us as we continued our journey. no one checked if our faces matched our photos, hmmm. We travelled inland through Niksic, south to Podgorica, and west again to Budva. We disembarked at Tivat, the main port and closer than Kotor to our final destination, Kamenari.
Kamenari was the perfect base for us to explore the bay and take a much needed travel break. We stayed in an apartment just a few hundred metres from the bus station and the Lepetane ferry. It was mostly locals we saw swimming in the clear turquoise water. There’s one small supermarket, one upmarket hotel/restaurant, a bakery that sells pizza by the slice and a couple of tiny local bars. A couple of Kms north was Bijela, a larger more touristy town with hotels, restaurants and larger supermarkets.
The jewel of the bay and its oldest city, Kotor is tucked away in an eerie south-east inlet, flanked by tall mountains that feel like they are closing in on you. This location was very strategic in its time in protecting the city from attack. It’s even built like a maze for the same reason, making it easy to get lost. Kotor is surrounded by mostly intact town walls which you can climb and visit several churches and museums.
A few kilometres and an easy bus ride from Kotor, Perast is mostly visited for the two small islands you can reach by boat for €5. We joined two Italians who were on a motorcycle tour of the Balkans on a tiny fishing boat which stalled as soon as the driver started the engine. Not to worry, he stripped down to his speedos (swimming trunks) and dived into the water, disappearing for some minutes. He reappeared and soon the engine coughed to life. The first island R.K.C. Gospa od Škrpjela (our Lady of the Rock) is a man-made island with a Church and museum you can visit. Sveti Djordje is close by and a natural island with an old monastery. The boats usually only drive past this island as it’s privately owned but our driver swore he knew the owners, and we walked on the perimeter. Perast itself is similar to the other old towns on the bay.
Herceg Novi’s main appeal is the harbour where you can board boats to the Luštica peninsula. We spent a bit of time here though, the old town is pretty, there’s a beach that was crowded but a perfect place to swim. As 95% of people preferred to roast on a deck chair, it never felt crowded in the water! We visited the old fortress and walked along the coast a couple of kilometers south to Savina monastery.
A luscious long peninsula reaching north towards Croatia (which you can see from the other side) and dotted with olive tree and very little infrastructure. For €15 per person (less if you bargain), you can take a boat to the Luštica Peninsula (from Herceg Novi) for the day and this includes an afternoon boat trip to the Blue Cave and the Island of Mamula. This was my favourite day trip! Words cannot describe!
‘Konoba Ribar’ in Kostanjica
There isn’t much in Kostanjica apart from holiday apartments and a restaurant ‘Konoba Ribar’ serving up amazing seafood. Its a bit on the pricey side but worth it! Most sane people would drive here, but we walked the 7km return trip along the narrow winding road that doesn’t have space for pedestrians. It may be possible to catch one of the private buses going around the bay to/from Risan to get here instead.
Transport around the Bay
Many people rent cars, but in summer the roads are congested and there were often long queues for the ferry (The ferry is free for foot passengers). Blueline buses run between Tivat and Risan (via Lepetane, Kotor and Perast) every half hour. However we were waiting 45 minutes for the bus in Lepetane as it was delayed by busy traffic on the narrow roads, so on the way back we shared a taxi paying €20 between us (Kotor – Lepetane). Blueline also runs buses between Kamenari and Herceg Novi every 20 minutes, we didn’t experience any delays on this route. Outside of summer (1 July – 31 August) the bus schedule is heavily reduced and the buses don’t run after 5 or 6pm. There are private buses but I’m unsure of the schedules as we didn’t use them to explore the Bay.
We had a wonderful week, it was so good to stop and to have our own space, a kitchen we didn’t have to share, a washing machine! it’s the little things. However it was perhaps not as restful as we planned because there is just so much to see and do around the Bay.