Ahh, Montenegro. My mom and I heard so many good things about this country, and because we were just hours away from it in neighboring Croatia, we took a day trip there. Being in the off season we didn't have many tour guide options, but we did manage to find a kind Dubrovnik native who owns a travel company to take us on a private tour for an unbelievable total of $115. While I had been confined to the picturesque confines of Dubrovnik for almost three weeks, entering Montenegro was a big change. It is clear that the region isn't as wealthy as Dubrovnik (heck, neither is Croatia for the most part). The scenery is gorgeous, and probably more so in the spring and summer, and there is a more "industrial" feel to the country. The people were of course very friendly, and the food was fresh and delicious.
This sliver of a town may have just one main street, but it is packed with baroque palaces (16), churches (19), and defensive towers (9). Perast was founded in the 10th century and is a part of the Region of Kotor World Heritage Site. According to a 2003 census, this small town nestled between emerald water and green foothills has only 349 residents. And of course, the most notable part of this quiet spot are the two picturesque islets the town looks out onto, the Sveti Đorđe (St. George) and the Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks). (We didn't have time for a boat trip out to the islets, which would have allowed me to take better pictures.) A quick story on the latter:
In 1452 two sailors from Perast happened by a small rock jutting out of the bay after a long day at sea and discovered a picture of the Virgin Mary perched upon the stone. Around the legendary stone, citizens of Perast began to sink old ships and transported stones to the site for over 200 years, creating the Adriatic Sea's only artificial island where they subsequently built the chapel of Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Skrpjela) in 1630. Because of Our Lady of the Rocks' supreme importance in the region, hundreds of rich gifts were donated to it, including 68 oil canvases by many famous Baroque masters and over 2,500 gold and silver tablets, thought at the time to ward off disasters. (Montenegro.com)
Across the bay from Perast is the walled coastal town of Kotor. Also a part of the Region of Kotor World Heritage Site, this town was settled in ancient Roman times in the mid-100s (I feel like they are missing a zero, I'm not used to so much preserved history). Kotor has a rich history that is too dizzying to paraphrase here. While the urban area outside of the walls is unfortunately not-so-dizzying, once you pass through the gates you are transported to another world. The layout of the town is more organic than the old town in Dubrovnik, and Kotor has a greater mix of architecture (Venetian architecture is especially notable). One of Kotor's greatest attractions is hiking the city walls that snake along the steep mountains; it costs nothing but is not for the faint of heart. A climb to the top (hey, you have to burn off that creamy truffle risotto somehow) is rewarded with a spectacular view of the town, bay, and surrounding mountain range, with the exception of the massive cruise ship parked in the middle.
This was the last stop on our tour, and if our guide didn't walk us to the walled town's entrance himself, we probably would not have found it. Budva's old town (stari grad) is pretty old, like settled-in-the-5th-century-BC old. Unfortunately, it is almost swallowed up by new development outside the stone walls: modern apartment buildings, towering hotels, massive shopping malls. This area is known for its beaches and nightlife, so walking around the quiet little town was a welcome respite. Since the sun was going down and the tour was up, we didn't get to see as much of this area as I would have liked. Guess I'll just have to come back!