Montenegro: Hiking Around Kotor

The Bay of Kotor is surrounded on all sides by mountainous terrain making it a perfect place to hike and get breathtaking views over the bay. I’d recommend downloading maps.me to get a look at all the trails on offer – it’s a great app which maps out all the trails really clearly and can be used offline. However, I’ve also listed some information regarding a couple of the trails I did below.

A quintessential part of the Kotor experience is going up the fortress walls which winds down the looming mountain just above the Old Town. There are “official” entrances around the back of the Old Town where you can pay €8 during high season and climb the many, many steps up to the various fortresses that hug the edge of the cliffs. Alternatively however, there is another hike which starts just outside the Old Town. It ends up in the same place and is completely free. Plus the views on the way up are probably better than from the top itself. The hike is pretty easy, following a never-ending of gravelly switchbacks relentlessly back and forth, meaning it never gets too steep. The hike to the initial fortress takes about 45 minutes or so. To reach it, you need to head to the road on which the Kamelija shopping centre (the biggest shopping centre in Kotor) sits. It’s signposted and is situated just a couple of roads north of the Old Town. Follow this road all the way to the end and it will eventually turn into a dirt path and then the switchbacks. After that, you just follow them all the way up. It’s very easy to follow.

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The trail up to the fortress.
I opted to go for sunset on my first evening in Kotor since the weather was forecast to be a bit hit and miss afterwards. It was a fantastic time to go, cooler and with a gorgeous glow behind the mountains. I stopped off in Kamelija beforehand and picked up a beer to reward myself with at the top and it was definitely a good call. At the top, it’s a bit of a labyrinth with loads of steps snaking their way to various fortresses and lookout points. It’s a great place to explore. You can even continue further up the mountain if you wish. To get down, you can just go back the “official” way down the steps since they don’t check tickets on the way out. Be aware that the steps are very narrow and quite steep and would be very slippery after rain so keep an eye on the weather.

The next day, I decided to get a different perspective, heading over to the other side of Kotor’s harbour to scale St. Elijah’s peak (Sveti Ilija). This was recommended to me by the guy who ran the hostel and whilst a bit more challenging than the first hike, you are rewarded with stunning views of the entire bay from the peak, as well as plenty of gorgeous views on the way up. Reaching it is a bit of faff (again, maps.me comes in very handy). You want to walk away from the Old Town in the direction of the bus station but stay on the road which runs along the harbour front. After following that for 10 minutes or so, you should pass a hospital and then some steps on the left hand side. Keep following the steps up and look out for a dirt trail on the right. There are occasional signs and, as always, the helpful red/white circles are there to guide you. Once you’ve found the beginning of the trail, it’s easy to follow.

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Incredible views on the way up to Sveti Ilija.

The number of switchbacks you have to ascend on this hike puts the first hike to shame. I counted around 45 but it was probably more. Needless to say, it’s a long climb up. The path is never too steep but sometimes gets pretty narrow or very rocky so good shoes are a must. Keep an eye out for occasional shortcuts which cut out having to fully do some of the switchbacks. Also don’t forget to keep looking back at the gorgeous views of the bay behind you – they make the infinite climb much more bearable. Finally, the switchbacks at Fort Vrmac, a very creepy abandoned fort which has horror film written all over it. From here, you start to get views over the other side of the bay. You can see Tivat and the airport.

After this, the trail is much better signposted. It’s about 5.5km from this point to the peak of Sveti Ilija and it remains relatively flat as you are following the ridge. At first it winds through forest but it does open up at various points to amazing panoramas on both sides of the bay. Finally, there’s a turn off to the peak which is slightly more of a climb but still nothing major and boy! It’s worth it. A short loop around the peak will grant you views of all sides of the bay, it’s really quite something and makes the perfect picnic spot before the trek back down. I could have stayed there for hours.

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More breathtaking views along the ridge.

There are a number of options from the peak. You can, as I did, hike back the way you came. Doing it this way, my total hiking time was about 5.5 hours including lunch/photo stops. Alternatively, you can continue from the peak to Gornji Bogdasici and then down to Tivat from where you can get a bus back to Kotor. This would add quite a bit of time onto the hike though and a couple of other hikers I met who had come up that way said it wasn’t very interesting. I don’t normally like just going back the way I came but in this case it made perfect sense. Looking at the map though, there are a whole raft of trails which take you all over so scan the map and choose the one that works for you.

If you like hiking though, definitely try and do at least one while you’re in Kotor, especially since they’re so accessible. The view from the town is stunning enough, but getting a good vantage point of the bay from high in the mountains is unparalleled.

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