A Montenegro day trip around the Bay of Kotor begins in Perast, a tiny town packed with the faded glory of the Venetians who built palaces and churches here in the 1400s. Some of the palazzos have been turned into stores, hotels or museums. But the real reason to stop here is the boat ride to one of two tiny islands offshore.
Getting to Perast: We arrived by car from our vacation rental in Kotor. We parked just off the main highway and walked down steep stairs to the waterfront. If you are visiting on a cruise, many ships offer day excursions here. You can also take a public bus from Kotor or Herceg Novi.
Our Lady of the Rocks
Boats to Our Lady of the Rocks leave every 10 minutes. A round trip is 5 euros per person. Arrive early at 8 am and you’ll find the church locked up tight. Promptly at 9 am, the caretaker arrived, unlocking the doors and giving a brief tour of the splendid art and artifacts inside.
The icon of Our Lady on the altar was found by local fishermen on a rock that is under the altar. Townspeople constructed an island around it with rocks, and they add more rocks every year during a festival on July 22. The paintings represent 10 years of work by a local artist, and the silver panels are offerings for prayers answered. This island was refreshingly uncommercialized: only one small shop selling ice cream and souvenirs.
What’s up with the other church island? A local resident told me it was deeded to someone during the Yugoslav times, and the lease is in effect for 99 years. Passing by on the boat, we could spy a chubby guy in a speedo who seemed to be enjoying his private island.
Bell Tower Workout in Perast
Back in town, don’t miss the climb to the top of the bell tower at St. Nicolas Church. For 3 Euros a person, you’ll get a workout — 9 flights of stairs to the top. While the church itself is unremarkable, the cramped stairs in the bell tower lead to a commanding view of the two islands, one of the prettiest parts of this UNESCO-protected bay.
You can see the highlights of this tiny town in a couple of hours, but if you’d like to stay in one of the restored palaces, check out the top places to stay in Perast on Trip Advisor.
Lunch in Herceg Novi
Parking in Herceg Novi was a nightmare in mid-August. This town is extremely popular with Balkan beachgoers, in part because this part of the Bay is reputed to have cleaner water than the area where cruise ships dock off Kotor. We left our car near the bus station and climbed down lots of stairs through the small old town to reach the waterfront promenade. It’s a popular destination with families. There’s a choice of hotels in Herceg Novi and nearby.
And, of course, you’ll have to fortify yourself for the trip back uphill. We stopped for lunch at Joy restaurant. It’s a hip lounge hangout at night, but during the day we were welcomed onto the waterfront terrace by a friendly waiter who confessed to being a huge fan of American football. The placemats — Frank Sinatra for the dudes and Marilyn Monroe for the ladies — offered a touch of fun that paired perfectly with the excellent food. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
Take the Ferry Across the Bay of Kotor
Backtrack from Herceg Novi to the town of Kamenari, where a car ferry crosses over to the town of Lepetane. One-way ticket was 4.50 euros per car. Don’t be discouraged if you see a long line of vehicles waiting to get on; multiple ferries trundle constantly across the narrowest part of the Bay. You’ll enjoy a scenic view toward Perast as you land with a choice of roads to return to your home base in Kotor.
Stranger Danger on a Twisty Road
The road along the water from the ferry to Kotor is a one-lane nightmare because it has two-way traffic. There’s barely enough space for two cars to pass without tipping into the water or brushing up against stone walls and rocks. If you find yourself face-to-face with an unyielding bus or garbage truck, you might have to back up. Or there will be cars behind you, leading to a standoff. Pedestrians and bicyclists also appear around every blind corner, and don’t seem inclined to hurry their pace or get out of the way.
After braving this road a couple of times, we found the two-lane highway outside of Kotor to the Tivat airport is a much better way to approach the ferry. You can have an interesting day in Tivat, as I explain in this post. On the Dobrota side of the bay, driving is a lot easier because the roads are one-way and the walk along the water is reserved for pedestrians only.
For another hair-raising drive, check out my post on the 25-hairpin road to Mt. Lovćen and Cetinje. Or just linger in Kotor to climb the fortified walls . The spooky Hotel Fjord has been demolished, but there are lots of other hotel choices around Kotor that offer splendid views and easy access to the old town.