Lonely Planet Picks Kotor as the No1 City in the World to visit in 2016

Kotor is drop-dead gorgeous from every angle...

Within the city walls, locals sip strong coffee at pavement cafes and queue for warm bread at the bakers amid a dreamy maze of alleys and plazas; beyond them, the mountain-encircled, fjordlike bay (It's actually a Ria which comes from a river valley not a glaciated valley) of the same name is one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe. Better still, the cruise ships have yet to overwhelm this marvel of the Med – get here before they drop anchor.

Hemmed in on all sides by dramatic folds of rock, it’s nigh-on impossible to take a photo in Kotor where looming mountains aren’t loitering in a corner of the frame. It’s got to be said that it’s a picture-perfect visage from virtually every angle. Beyond its historical city walls is the much-loved Bay of Kotor, gorgeous and about as fjordlike as the Mediterranean can get without qualifying as a legitimate fjord.

But what lies within is just as memorable: a living, breathing town where locals catch up over strong coffee at pavement cafes on cobbled squares, queue for warm bread at the bakers and get their shoes repaired at the traditional cobblers. Here in Kotor’s maze of alleyways and church-fronted plazas there’s just one thing to do: get lost and experience local life.

Forget restaurants – the flavours of Kotor are brought to life in its shops and local produce market, cloistered within the walls of the Stari Grad (Old Town). Here you can sample cheeses smoked with walnuts or pistachios, dollops of golden honey and meaty hams, then seek out enthusiastic locals in tiny wine shops to recommend stonking good reds bottled on their doorstep.

Kotor is often called a ‘mini Dubrovnik’, but that hardly does it justice. In fact, as its big brother in Croatia becomes more and more beholden to hordes of cruise ship tourists, that moniker feels more like a disservice. In reality the comparison is most likely a crystal ball for it seems as though more and more southern Europe cruises want to stop at Kotor’s diminutive port. But with such a stunning sapphire bay, it’s no surprise that everyone wants a piece of the action.

Thankfully, the hordes of now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t tourists that flit on and off the boats have yet to leave a permanent mark on this quaint town. Cruise souvenir shops are in short supply and within the fortified walls, Kotor’s Stari Grad still has the air of a comfy home. How long this charmed life will continue is anyone’s guess, but if Dubrovnik is anything to go by, the clock is ticking.

Life-changing experience

It’s a 1200m hike up the town fortifications’ crumbling steps to get to the lookout point on St John’s Hill. Only sections of the original wall remain climbable; make it up to the teeny church dangling cliffside and you’ll be greeted with sweeping views of the bay.

Exploring the bay and its romantic villages by boat, it’s easy to see why Romans built their villas here and Venetians graced its shores with palazzos. Floating in the centre is Our-Lady-of-the-Rocks – a 15th-century island, home to a frescoed church and an ice-cream pitstop.

Twenty-five hairpin bends curling up the back road to Mt Lovćen have got to be one of the best drives on the planet. Prepare to pull over many times, because from up here the bayside panorama just gets better with every turn.

Most bizarre sight

Clinging to the rock face like a brooding bony dragon’s tail, no guidebook can prepare you for that first neck-craning glimpse of Kotor’s fortifications, which began creeping almost vertically up the Lovćen massif behind town in the 9th century. Take that, Escher.

Best shopping

Venetian, Austrian and Yugoslav rule have all contributed to a truckload of treasure that still resides in Kotor’s dens of antiquities. Fine Balkan rugs, delicate Mediterranean laces, Art Nouveau pots and historical garb all vie for space in the town’s kooky antiques shops, tucked behind unmarked doors in hidden lanes and squares.

 

 
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