Climbing the city walls of Kotor up to the St. John’s fortress is a perfect hike, also on a sunny day in the off-season months. I would certainly recommend it to all tourists, nature/culture lovers and, of course, photographers (the view from the top is incredible!), who are physically fit and have sturdy shoes. During the summer you should do the climb in the morning, as it can get very hot during the day. But in the cooler months, the best time of the day for this hiking tour is around noon, when the sun shows the beauties of the Bay of Kotor in all its splendor (photo 1)!
High above the town, the city walls represent a mix of ramparts, gates, churches and fortresses. Their construction started in the 9th century and in the 15th century they finally formed a full loop up into the hillside, 4.5 km long. During the day time it is not easy to see the difference between the grey stones of the walls and the greyish rocks of the surrounding mountains (photo 2), but at night the walls are illuminated and then Kotor looks like a fairy tale!
A few months ago, we made the hike for the third time. We started our walk near the North Gate, entering through an archway and passing through a narrow street with lines of drying clothes. As the season was already over, there was no need to pay an entrance fee (which amounts to 3.00 € per person in the period May-September, from 8 AM to 8 PM) and we just followed the walls upwards.
If you think that it is an easy walk, you are wrong, especially during the hot summer months: for the steep and rocky climb along the city walls to the fortress of St.John (San Giovanni) you have to count 1355 steps; its altitude above sea level is around 260 meters.
We slowly walked uphill, most of the time using the steps. This was easier than following the path made up of rough cobbles, although some steps shift under your feet. The path was obviously used for hauling supplies up the mountain by cart, as big iron rings were fastened in the rocks at regular distances.
After around 20 minutes we arrived at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, at an altitude of 100 m, where we made a break. The church was built in 1518 by survivors of the 14th century plague and became a site for people to make pilgrimages to. The view of the red roofs of the old town and the harbor below was magnificent (photo 3). But we still needed another 40 minutes to reach the top (photo 4) By the way, the whole hike in both directions takes around two hours – so don’t forget to take a bottle of water with you!
Soon we reached a small fort with shelled out rooms and crumbling walls, which was interesting to explore. And just beyond these ruins, we came to a fork in the road, where we decided to take a detour and climb through a window in the walls. A narrow dirt path led into a small valley between two hills, where we saw a small, rather dilapidated church. The door was open, but what a pity: the interior was ruined and we could only see some faded fragments of old frescoes and a stone altar at the end. This appeared to be the church of St. George, built 1000 years ago on the back side of St. John’s hill.
Back through the wall, we continued our hike to the St. John’s fortress. The higher we climbed, the more fascinating became the views. When we finally arrived at St. John’s fortress, decorated with a huge Montenegrin flag, we saw old Kotor with tiny roofs really small-looking below. High mountains surrounded us, but the view of the blue Bay and the town of Kotor below us was breathtaking (photo 5).
By the way: if you don’t want to walk the same way back, you can also return – through the above mentioned window – to the St. George church and from there follow a marked (red and white) trail that leads over grassy terraces and via an series of switchbacks down along the outer side of the city walls on the northern side of the moat. This trail is part of the so-called “Ladder of Kotor”, the centuries-old trail that led from Kotor to old Montenegro and was used by the Montenegrin women to go to the Kotor market. But that will be the topic of my next blog post!