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NewsMontenegro become a European hot spot

Montenegro become a European hot spot

Steep mountains plunge towards the Adriatic Sea, and taking in this stunning fjord-like panorama for the first time brings back memories of travelling through Norway.

Unlike Norway’s picture-perfect fjords though, the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro was not carved by glaciers over thousands of years. This impressive bay, with its towering wooded cliffs and narrow ribbons of charming stone villages lining the waterfront, was created when rising sea levels drowned an ancient river valley.

South of Croatia, Kotor – a secluded coastal fortified town surrounded by three walls – has a population of about 14,000. From the outset you can tell it is going to be special. As our ship and home for seven days Nieuw Statendam slowly edges her way towards the bay, more and more guests scamper to find the best vantage point.

You can only see this view of Kotor from the water. If you can picture the difference between driving down Parramatta Rd to reach the heart of Sydney or sailing into Circular Quay on a sunny day, you’ll know what I mean. Some things are simply better from the top-deck vantage point a cruise ship gives you.

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Montenegro, once part of communist Yugoslavia, has emerged from Covid-19 as one of Europe’s hottest tourist destinations. The number of luxury yachts berthed in the harbours here grows every month. Big-name hotels are opening and cruise ships are adding Montenegro, in particularly Kotor, to their Mediterranean ports of call.

Best described as petite, Montenegro became a sovereign state in 2006 when its residents voted for independence, ending the former union of Serbia and Montenegro. With a population of about 660,000, it shares borders with Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Albania.

It took us an overnight sailing at a snail’s pace to arrive here from Dubrovnik but in reality Kotor is only a 90-minute drive from Croatia’s gorgeous walled city. Kotor’s Old Town is smaller and it does not quite have the same movie-set beauty of Dubrovnik, but it is still stunning.

Triangular in shape, one side faces the harbour while the second side faces a rather unusual moat. A 365m cliff borders the third side. And that’s where, if you are prepared to climb, climb and climb some more, you will find the Castle of San Giovanni, built between the ninth and 15th centuries to keep invaders out. I lost count, but a brochure informs me 1350 steps rise from bottom to top, which is 280m above sea level. At the halfway mark you can take a breath, and take in the amazing views of Kotor’s Old Town and the harbour, at the Church of our Lady of Remedy, built in 1518.

The Old Town is an architectural jumble of churches, Venetian marble, terracotta roof tiles, set in interconnecting squares joined by a labyrinth of narrow lanes. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Kotor’s Old Town has several churches that date to the 12th to 14th century. If you only have time to visit one, make it the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor’s largest and most recognisable Catholic church. Built in 1166, it has stunning frescoes in its chapel and important religious relics in its small museum.

I signed up for a food tour of Kotor with one of the first stops being the local market, on the edge of the Old Town. On weekends farmers fill these stalls selling home-produced fruit, vegetables, smoked cheese, olive oil and meats. Go early for the pick of the bunch.

Montenegrins love their meats, especially the Njegusi prosciutto, which I tasted at our next stop on the tour – lunch in the home of Vlasta Mandic. An architect, chef, choir leader and author of a cookbook, Bokelian Cuisine, Vlasta welcomes 20 cruise passengers to her table, shares her life story, serenades us on the piano and then delivers a three-course, home-cooked banquet.

The food is exquisite. We start with plates of local mussels, prosciutto, breads and oils. The main course is Carnival njokada, a creamy potato gnocchi with veal. The best is saved for last. The krempita, a Serbian custard slice, that melts in your mouth.

Escape route

Holland America Line offers a range of cruises throughout Europe on its ship Nieuw Statendam. Prices for seven-day Adriatic cruises from Rome in 2023 start at $1474, Escape writes.

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