When Nicola and I told people we were visiting Montenegro, pretty much no one knew where it was. Someone thought it was a Caribbean island (it’s not). To show people where we were going, I showed them a photo of the Bay of Kotor. It is simply stunning; an almost undiscovered Nordic fjord in the south of Europe.
We stayed in a small hotel in the extraordinarily pretty town of Perast. Sitting opposite the narrow entrance to the Bay, the collection of stone buildings sat into the hill was recently designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, and is deserving of its title.
During the day, Perast is an optional stop on the ‘Bay of Kotor bus tour’, and bustles with tourists navigating their way alongside the water, seeking restaurants recommended on the back of their bus ticket. But come sunset, the tourists depart, and the village settles down to a quiet buzz, with local residents emerging to meet their friends for a quiet drink beside the water.
Our hotel, Hotel Per Astra, was reached by over a hundred steps which squeezed their way up the hill, narrowly skimming the perimeter of confused locals’ back gardens. A polite email to the hotel beforehand meant that we had been given one of the best rooms in the hotel, overlooking the pool and with an incredible panoramic view of the bay. Nicola tried to get to grips with the Jacuzzi bath while I stood at the window frantically taking far too many photos of a passing cruise ship. None of which were remotely inspiring in any way. Once Nicola had realised she didn’t quite have the necessary qualifications to work the bath, and I had decided to give up a career in nautical photography, we headed down to the water for dinner.
One of the surprising things about Montenegro is that the local wine was good, and more importantly, cheap. We went to a restaurant and sat by the water, alongside a small wedding reception which was being held at the same restaurant. The tables were decorated with flowers and candles, and guests toasted the couple while the children did their best to trip the waiting staff. As we sat there, with the evening mist descending on the bay, and the wedding violin duet wafting across the water, we realised we were becoming far too drunk. So, in our best (and increasingly fluent) Montenegrin, we ordered another carafe of wine. At £3 a bottle, you’d be silly not to.
The next day, as always, I leapt out of bed at 6am and clattered around the room until Nicola woke up. After a breakfast on the terrace, we once again descended the hill, this time to to rent a canoe. Our new found love of extremely calm water sports meant that, rather than being ferried out to the islands in Kotor Bay by one of the numerous boats, we had decided to make the intrepid 300-yard voyage ourselves. We put various valuables into a waterproof bag (this way, if we capsized, we lost everything), and set sail for the distant islands.
Locals say that the islands were made by their ancestors who built them from rocks after a painting of Mary was found in that position. It all seemed very suspicious to me, but provided us with a convenient place to moor our ship and wander around feeling extremely smug and making it clear to other visitors that we sailed all the way there on our own steam like the modern day adventurers that we were. They were certainly impressed.