Taking advantage of our location close to the border, we got an early start from Catvat to head to Montenegro and a day trip around the Bay of Kotor.
Montenegro is one of the youngest countries in the world, gaining its independence in 2006. Interestingly, they use the Euro as their currency, unlike their former Yugoslav neighbors, Croatia, which uses the Kuna, Bosnia, which uses the Bosnian Mark, and Serbia, which uses the Serbian Dinar.
Between this trip and a previous trip to Slovenia, we have now been to all of
the former Yugoslav states, except Macedonia. Side note – I was curious why when you look at a map you see FYROM for this country. It turns out that Greece objects to this independent country being called Macedonia, a name they consider as associated with part of modern Greece (and home of Alexander the Great). An so the official current name of this country is “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or FYROM. I suppose this would be a bit like calling the USA “the former colonies of the British Empire”, which is not a great name for an independent country.
The drive starts by passing by a few dreary towns, but rapidly opens up to beautiful, impressive scenery – very steep, tall mountains flowing down to a large, clover leaf shaped series of bays. What makes this area so militarily important is that the neck of these three bays at the Verige Strait is very narrow (less than a quarter mile), but very deep, so that even today cruise ships can sail in to the interior town of Kotor. However, this has been an important maritime site since at least Illyrian times in the 3rd Century BCE when Queen Teuta spanned the strait with a shipwrecking mechanism in order to collect taxes. The bay is apparently littered with such shipwrecks. But she was probably too successful as she attracted to attention of the Romans, who seized most of her holdings.
Verige is a Slavic name derived from the Slavic word for chain. The strait is so narrow that the Slavs were able to stretch a chain across it to control access. The Venetians upped the ante by placing canons on either side of the strait, as well as in the opposite town of Perast, making the bay essentially impenetrable.
Perast was our first stop, and a small, but very pretty town, located right on the shores of the bay. In fact a few restaurants are setup on docks that poke out into the bay, which makes for a lovely place to have a cup of coffee or a meal.
The main attraction in this area is Our Lady of the Rocks. According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by local seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding an icon on a rock in the sea in 1452.
Upon returning from each successful voyage, locals laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea, helped along by the deliberate sinking of old ships
full of rocks. A church was erected on the rock and in 1632 the present Church of Our Lady of the Rocks was built, and a small museum is next door. In the back of the altar in the Church is a small hole where the faithful can reach in to touch the original icon. In the museum are all sorts of offerings from sailors and their families for safe journeys and answered prayers.
One of the most interesting is an embroidered painting made by a woman using her own hair. As you look around the image, you can see the color change from blonde to gray as she aged.
In the nearby town of Ljuta, which claims to have the shortest river in the world, we ate at the Stari Mlini (old mill) restaurant which had a great array of really fresh fish, including trout from their own trout pond. We had a lovely meal and then drove on to the main town of Kotor.
Kotor is a military town that dates back to Roman times. It is now a major cruise ship stop with some 350,000 passengers visiting annually. The local fortified town is impressive and in some ways similar to other towns we’ve seen, but in the setting of a pretty
waterside with steep mountains rising from the edge of town. There is an impressive fortified wall running up the mountainside built as part of the town’s defenses.
Rather than drive all the way back around the bay, we proceeded
on to Lepetane and took a quick ferry across another narrow part of the bay to head back to Croatia and our apartment in Catvat.