What with the cloud cover obscuring part of the view, we didn’t realise how far we were coming down the mountains into Kotor itself. As we neared the bottom the town took shape and we could see the dramatic fortress on its sharp pointy crag, its walls zig-zagging down the steep sides. As time was getting on we decided to find the campsite rather than embarking on exploring the town.
We drove round towards the western side of the bay along a narrow but very pretty stretch of road right by the water’s edge. Tiny stone harbours with small boats and people sunbathing to our right, pretty cottages, chapels, the odd bar, a few derelict properties, and quite a few obviously refurbished ones with For Sale signs in English, marked the left. We passed a campsite we weren’t expecting to see, which looked quite busy. We pressed on hoping to find the great sounding campsite we’d seen mentioned on the internet. We wanted to be a little closer to Tivat where Susie and Steve, my cousin and her husband, would be staying so that it would be easy to meet up. As we rounded the headland the road got busier and the fjord opened out. We spotted our proposed campsite and went in to have a look. Although described as an Autokamp, you would have fitted approximately two vehicles in and I guessed people in tents would be ok squeezed between the vines. It wasn’t unattractive, but the only shower was in the women’s loo block, with little to hide anyone’s modesty. We decided to go back to the ones we saw earlier, ignoring the motel campsite next door, which was full of dead caravans, and which our guidebook had been less than complimentary about.
We pulled into Jadran Autokamp and found a tiny space on a slope, all the best spots had been taken by a mix of French, German and Swiss vans. The owner pointed out the loos and showers, only cold water. The shower was in the open air with just a curtain around … the squat loos were spotlessly clean though.
Although not ideal, it not being that hot here at present, we admired the honesty of the cold water. We’ve been in all too many showers we were told would be hot, only to waste water waiting in vain for it to warm up. It was a much nicer location than the other sites though, and after a few days, showering in the open air under the cherry tree felt very much ‘back to nature’. And we gained our first Montenegrin camping cat.
Much in need of a washing machine I spotted one in the owner’s garage, but was told it was not for use by customers. I was quite cross about this at the time as we are, as ever, getting desperate to do laundry. Didn’t they want to earn more money? It was quite soon academic though as the weather became unsettled again quite quickly and rain was forecast on and off for the next few days. Unfortunately, accurately.
The next day, all the other people at the campsite left, so we moved to a prime spot at the front of the small site overlooking the bay. The previous occupants, Theo and Sarah from Switzerland, were heading to Albania so we were able to share information about campsites and what to expect from the roads. They are taking four months out for their trip round the Balkans and we were sorry they weren’t staying longer at Jadran.
A lazy slow start to the day we eventually got our bikes off the van and with just a couple of minor showers to contend with, cycled along to Kotor old town about 10km away. As well as a superb setting, the town is lovely too. Like Budva old town it suffered from the 1979 earthquake, and has been done up and kept very neat and tidy. Its pale stone buildings giving a warm, light and airy feel, the graceful palazzos revealing the influence from Venetian rulers.
We visited a few churches, a mix of orthodox and catholic places of worship. We have come to prefer the orthodox style, with its warm friendly bearded clergy, and wondrous icons and carved iconostases. The baroque-style catholic churches seemed cold and overdone in comparison.
Being the jewel in Montenegro’s crown, at the end of a deep fjord, means that Kotor plays host to cruise ships, some of them huge. Passengers can just walk from their ship through the archway into the old town and spend the morning, or the afternoon there. The tourists looked bored as they followed their guide around – not a smile in sight.
We had a late leisurely lunch in one of the squares, following the progress of a lethargic old dog as he moved from one sunny corner to another for a sleep.
Time was getting on and grey clouds started to build up again, so we decided to leave our climb to the fortress for another day and hopped back on the bikes for the cycle home, via a pleasant bar for a beer by the water.
Rain and lots of it fell overnight and into the next day, and we aborted any plans we had other than sitting cooped up in the van.
It brightened in the afternoon though, especially as Susie and Steve arrived and whisked us off to Tivat, lots of wine was drunk and catching up done. It was truly lovely to see familiar faces again and hear news from home, it’s been a long time.
Susie and Steve are very familiar with Montenegro and had seen a lot of changes along the coast since their last visit a couple of years ago. Tivat has had a huge amount of investment in a brand new super yacht marina complex – Porto Montenegro. A lot of the development on the coast is aimed at the high end of the market, Sveti Stefan for example, and this is no exception. This is a billionaire’s playground. It means that there is less choice and poor value for money at the middle and lower end of the spectrum in terms of accommodation, at least all along the coast. Susie and Steve were less than enamoured with their digs, and their unsmiling landlady.
Porto Montenegro is open, although not all the building work is complete. It oozes luxury and swishness, and it is British investment pouring in here, as opposed to a lot of Russian money elsewhere. The boats moored here are fabulous over-the-top palatial creations, registered as far afield as Jersey, Bridgetown, the Cook Islands and Luxembourg. Susie and Steve had checked the price of one of them online – a cool £65 million. There are chi-chi restaurants and glamourous bars, and upmarket cleaning services and chandleries for your yacht. It’s another world from the red campervan and cold water showers!
The weather continued to thwart our daytime plans, but we spent much of the week meeting up with Susie and Steve, visiting a couple of rather lovely restaurants in Tivat, and going to an enjoyable expat curry night at the Tivat Yacht Club. More eating and drinking in other words. We also visited the plot of land Susie and Steve bought here a few years ago and that they are now in the process of selling. It’s a lovely spot high in the hills behind Tivat with the views you’d expect, and quiet, just the sounds of nature. We were invited in by their neighbour, a petite older lady, for a rakija or two, and a struggle to find conversation without a common language.
The weather eventually held off enough for Adrian to take off on his bike round the entire bay (around 45km), taking the ferry over to the other side to start off with. He did it in good time too, arriving back way before expected. We also made another cycle excursion to Kotor, this time making the climb (on foot) up to the fortress. It was worth it for the views and for the achievement of reaching the top after having cycled the 10km there. We felt we’d earned ourselves a beer or two and a pizza on one of the squares.
It was sad to say goodbye to Susie and Steve, but it was time for us to get our act together and head for the mountains. We took a detour on our way out of Kotor Bay, to Perast, a charming town across the water from our campsite, and less over restored than some other places in the vicinity.
We left the area on the multi-hairpin route we’d arrived on, a week later the clouds were kind and lifted to reveal more of the magnificent views of the Bay of Kotor and westwards over the headland to Tivat.