“Is it far to the top?” “Is it worth the climb?”
We’re on our way down – in fact, nearly at the end – of the 1,350 stair climb to Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni, when the first of the many cruise ship patrons begin arriving at the entry gate for the 1,200 metre mountain ascend.
Few are wearing appropriate footwear for the mainly cobblestone steps and pebble pathways, and most are already panting like they’ve run a marathon. It’s to be expected then that every group we pass ask the same two questions.
I say earnestly, “it is so worth the climb, the view is amazing!”
Rob says deadpan, “but you’ve got literally 5,000 more steps to go”.
On this advice, some turn back, and others decide it’s worth pushing forward.
And it is.
We’re staying at the Boutique Hotel Astoria, within Kotor’s old town walls. We’d arrived into Kotor the night before and enjoyed pre-dinner drinks with a view to the Fortress, illuminated like a protective line around the old town. It’s here, buoyed by the false courage that a number of cocktails offer, that we decide to get up by 6am the next morning and start the walk up.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, the Kotor Fortress snakes up the hill behind the town of Kotor, offering breathtaking views across the Bay. Built between the 9th and 19th centuries to offer protection to the town, the walking tracks, walls, architecture and gates are remarkably well preserved.
Around 4.5km in total length, the Walls of Kotor ascend some 1.2km above the old town with a number of places to stop and take in the vista. There is a semi-circular stone seat in front of the Church – about half way up – where you can rest. It’s from here that many are tempted to turn back.
Keep going to the next level where you’ll find a sign on the walls pointing left to the Chapel of St Ivan or right, to the Fortress. Most will head right, but it’s worth detouring to the left and climbing through the hole in the wall (it can be a tight squeeze) to visit the chapel there.
From here, you will see across to the mountainside to a stone cottage, farming land and the people that live there – it’s a lovely glimpse into rural life in Montenegro.
We had the walk to ourselves, given our early departure. The quietness, walking track and stunning views did remind us of a recent long stretch walk of the Great Wall of China. Whilst obviously nowhere near the majesty of China’s structure, the views of the Bay of Kotor are worth every one of the 1,320 steps. It is the highlight of our stay in Montenegro.
- Do the walk either very early in the morning (particularly in the heat of summer and to miss the crowds), or in the late afternoon. Both times offer spectacular views of the Bay and Old Town in different lighting.
- Allow at least two hours round trip. Even better, take a snack to enjoy closer to the top, sit and enjoy the view. If you prefer a more leisurely walk, allow three hours – there are dozens of photo opportunities along the way and it does depend on your level of fitness.
- Wear appropriate footwear. You will need sturdy, covered shoes. The pebble stone pathways and cobble stone steps can be slippery and uneven. Be aware, the walk is even more so after rain.
- Take water, a camera and coins – the entrance fee is three euros per person at one of two entrances. It is best to take the main entrance near the River Gate, where you purchase a ticket and will be given a brochure identifying the various landmarks along the way. You can also purchase bottled water along the path.
- Whilst not a hike in the true sense of the word, it’s still a steep climb and you will need to have a good degree of fitness. If you have heart or other serious health issues, it is not recommended.