The walled, medieval city of Kotor lies at the southern end of the Bay of Kotor, on the Montenegrin coast – a cluster of narrow alleys and cobbled squares wedged between the mountains and the sea.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Kotor is a fascinating place and arguably the most rewarding cultural destination in Montenegro. The city’s history stretches back to before the Romans, though it was during almost four centuries of Venetian rule that it gained much of its present appearance.
The location is certainly impressive – the Bay of Kotor (Boka to locals) is a spectacular natural inlet, surrounded by steep mountain slopes, its mouth so narrow that a massive chain was once slung across it to keep out enemy shipping.
Boutique hotels have sprung up in recent years and cruise ships now dock on the waterfront nearby, but Kotor remains more relaxed than glitzy Sveti Stefan or brash Budva. Wandering through the old town can still feel like stepping back in time.
A comfortable bed
Hotel Cattaro (www.cattarohotel.com) occupies three historic buildings within the old city walls, along one side of Trg od Oružja. The interior is suitably opulent, but the cafes and restaurants on the square below can sometimes be noisy. Rooms cost from €109 (Dh424) for a double, including breakfast.
Hotel Hippocampus (www.hotelhippocampus.com) is a luxury boutique hotel in a renovated Venetian palazzo, near the North Gate. Double rooms cost from €112 (Dh435), breakfast included.
Outside the old city walls in the nearby suburb of Dobrota, Palazzo Radomiri (www.palazzoradomiri.com) is a luxury boutique hotel set within an exquisitely renovated Venetian palazzo, complete with period furnishings, right on the waterfront. Rooms cost from €160 (Dh622) for a double, including breakfast.
Find your feet
Kotor’s walls stretch for about 4.5 kilometres – more than twice the length of the more famous walls of Dubrovnik – and are up to 20 metres high in places and up to 10m thick. As well as encircling the old historic core, the fortifications zigzag up over the steep crags, leading to the Fortress of St John.
The place to start a tour of the old town is the main city gate, which leads into the large Square of Weapons (so called because the city arsenal was located here – there are also other squares in the old town named after their former usage, Square of Milk, Square of Flour etc).
Kotor’s 12th-century Cathedral of St Tryphon is an outstanding example of Romanesque architecture (the baroque bell towers and the Gothic-Renaissance facade were added in the 17th century, after the originals were brought down by a huge earthquake in 1667). Inside the cathedral you’ll find a three-nave basilica and a 14th-century, three-tiered ciborium above the main altar, carved in Romanesque-Gothic style.
Kotor has a long and rich maritime history, and it's worth stopping to see the Maritime Museum (www.museummaritimum.com/eng/eng.htm), housed in an 18th-century baroque palace.
Make sure you head out of town to Perast, a village on the shore of the Bay of Kotor, from which boats set off to visit the tiny picturesque islands of Our Lady of the Rocks and St George.
Meet the locals
Kotor’s open-air market runs along the exterior of the city walls, by the waterfront, selling fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. If you want to see Kotor going about its daily routine, this is as good a place as any to start.
Book a table
Kotor’s most upmarket restaurant is Galion (+382 67 263 420), which enjoys a stunning location right on the waterfront, overlooking the superyachts in the marina. Entrées include monkfish and caviar carpaccio for €14.50 (Dh56); mains include premium fish from €48 (Dh187) per kilogram.
For something a bit less fancy, Giardino (www.restaurant-giardino.com) is a decent family-run restaurant/pizzeria, opposite the Maritime Museum. Seafood and grills start from about €10 (Dh39).
If you’re heading out of town to visit the islands of Our Lady of the Rocks and St George, Konoba Školji is a good place on the waterfront in Perast, near where the boat trips set off. Lamb cooked ispod saca (a traditional method of cooking meat, under an iron dish, on hot coals) costs €14 (Dh55).
There are plenty of shops in the old town selling local handmade crafts and souvenirs – Cats of Kotor is one of the most popular.
What to avoid
If you’re staying at a hotel in the old town, try to get a room that doesn’t face the streets or a main square – cafes and bars are open late and can be noisy.
For the quintessential view of Kotor, and to get up close with some of the city’s sprawling fortifications, hike up to St John’s Fort. It’s an easy 30-minute walk up the broad, stone path that goes up the steep slopes behind the old town – but make sure you take a hat and a bottle of water, since it can be relentlessly hot in the summer and there’s little in the way of shade.
Return flights with Etihad (www.etihad.com) from Abu Dhabi to Tivat via Belgrade, with the Belgrade-Tivat flight operated by code-share partner Air Serbia, cost from Dh3,890 including taxes. A taxi (www.redtaxikotor.com) from Tivat airport to Kotor costs €7 (Dh27) and takes 15 minutes.