HIKING THE LADDER OF KOTOR

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One of the most popular hiking tours on the Montenegrin Coast is the so-called Ladder of Kotor, also called Ladder of Cattaro. It is a descent (or ascent for the more vigorous hikers!) from the 940 meters high Krstac pass to Kotor, following an old horse trail with more than 70 U-turns and magnificent views of the whole Bay. The last photo shows a view of the Ladder from the opposite Vrmac peninsula; as you can see, the trail starts on the left side behind the old town and zig-zags almost in a straight line to the top of the mountain.

ladder of kotor2But let me tell you something about the history of this path from Kotor to Cetinje that was described by many travel writers and other visitors of Montenegro in the 19th century as being very steep and rough. It was built by the Austrians as a military road up to the frontier with Montenegro. The road also served as a supply line for essential provisions – and moreover, the legendary billiard table ordered by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, prince bishop of Montenegro, from Vienna, was transported by mules and donkeys over this trail from Kotor to Cetinje; of course, with huge efforts. The “Montenegrin market” was held outside the eastern gate of Kotor and that was the place where Montenegrin women sold smoked fish from Skadar Lake, but also ham, cheese, honey and wine. At the same market, they bought olive oil, salt, petrol and clothes for their own needs.

ladder of kotor3In the beginning of the 20th century, Henri van der Mandere, a Dutch travel writer, mentioned the Ladder of Cattaro in his travel book “Montenegro”. He wrote: “From Kotor to Cetinje there are two roads; one built in 1863 that is used by post and other vehicles, and another one that was built in 1822. The last one is a very steep and dangerous mountain trail, and only born Montenegrins are capable of climbing this path without visible efforts. It is true that this horse trail is much shorter than the other one: it leads directly uphill to the Krstac pass in Njeguši, where it joins the other road to Cetinje. On this old path you can see small groups in picturesque dress, climbing the steep and rocky trail with heavy burdens, accompanied by mules or horses. A foreigner only needs to see one of such groups to become aware of the position of women in Montenegro! The man proudly steps ahead, riding the only horse or mule and protecting himself against the blazing sun with his umbrella; the women, carrying heavy loads, walk behind him, sometimes at a greater distance. Their faces show the traces of a hard life, as we can see in many countries, where women are no more than pack animals. In our country, women were treated like that in the period of the Batavians, two thousand years ago!”

ladder of kotor4Several Montenegrin agencies for outdoor tourism organize this tour with guide and transport to the starting point, but we did it by ourselves. Of course, we took the easy way out and made the descent from Krstac to Kotor, which took us around four hours, including photo stops. We parked our car in Kotor and took a taxi cab to Krstac, following the “new Ladder”, a narrow asphalt road with 26 serpentines, until the place where the trail starts. The price? Around 15 euro!

The mountain pass of Krstac is situated at an altitude of 940 meters and the view of the Bay of Kotor is magnificent from that point (photo 2). The trail – no. 759 – is clean, well-marked and equipped with signposts. It starts downhill from the asphalt road, near the cave, and leads through dense forests downhill (photo 3). The first part is an easy hike, provided that the fallen leaves and needles on the path are not too slippery by the rain. After a while, the forests stop and the views become more and more picturesque.

ladder of kotor5From the beginning, we passed an endless series of U-turns, at first through the forest. But when we got out in the open, we could enjoy stunning vistas (photo 4). At some places the trail was damaged by the 1979 earthquake and we had to find our way through boulders and loose rocks. It took us around two hours to reach the almost deserted village of Špiljari. Here we made a short detour (5 minutes) to an old church that could be seen in a clearing on the left side, the St. George’s church (photo 5). Unfortunately, the chapel was dilapidated and when we entered we could only see some faded frescoes and a stone altar at the end.

At this place we had two possibilities: to walk back to Špiljari and continue zig-zagging downhill or to climb through a – well-marked – hole in the wall of the St. John’s fortress and then follow the stairways downhill along the city walls, which would be 30 minutes shorter. We decided to take the old military road. Also from here, the view was breathtaking. After an endless series of switchbacks (photo 6), we reached the old water power plant, continued walking along the Škurda river and then crossed the old stone bridge. And so we ended the hike at the northern gate of the old town, thirsty and tired, but deeply impressed by the fantastic scenery.

And finally a few warnings for hikers: this is a rather easy trekking tour, but I would certainly recommend the use of hiking sticks and good hiking shoes, as descending 940 meters puts a lot of strain onto your knees! And don’t forget to take enough water with you, in particular during the hot summer months!

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10 Comment

  1. Truyers Paul says: Reply

    Beste Marianne,
    Een mooi verslag van een prachtig stukje natuur.
    Afgelopen jaar hebben we Montenegro doorkruist met onze fiets en de ladder van Cattaro was ons laatste huzarenstukje op weg naar het mausoleum. Onze koninginnerit! en beloond wordt met een zalige afdaling naar het gezellige Cetinje was nog beter.
    Een vraagje: in Cetinje hadden we een rondleiding gekregen door het stadje en onze gids wist ons te vertellen dat er ooit heel lang geleden plannen zijn geweest en ook de uitvoering hiervan was reeds gestart (hebben we zelf gezien) van een stoeltjes lift naar Kotor. Ze zei ons ook dat de plannen hiervoor opnieuw ter sprake komen. Weet u hierover iets meer, dit lijkt me nogal utopisch, zover naar Kotor.
    Met vriendelijke groet
    Truyers Paul

    1. Hallo Paul,
      Bedankt voor je berichtje. Inderdaad zijn er enkele jaren geleden plannen gemaakt voor een stoeltjeslift van Kotor naar het mausoleum en Cetinje. Gelukkig bleek uit de feasibility study dat zoiets nooit rendabel kan zijn. Ik zou het ook ontsierend vinden voor de prachtige natuur, dus ik ben maar blij dat het voorlopig niet doorgaat! Als je nog eens van plan bent naar Montenegro te komen: er is een serie nieuwe biking top trails verschenen, misschien kun je ze bestellen bij de National Tourism Organization! Groetjes en succes, Marianne

      1. Truyers paul says: Reply

        Ja inderdaad, ze doen daar aan de kust al domme dingen genoeg, gelukkig zijn we daar snel doorgereden (ook niet fijn en gevaarlijk om te fietsen). Ik denk er nog wel aan om nog eens terug te komen. De Albanese Alpen heb we in de verte wel gezien en staan nog op onze lijst om te doen, misschien nog wat wachten tot die weg vanuit Shkodër naar Vermosh volledig klaar is (we verkiezen toch wel de verharde weg om te fietsen en mijn vrouw is er ook steeds bij op een scooter). Als u zou gëinteresseerd zijn in onze volledige toer door Montenegro, wli ik u die eens doormailen. Er staan natuurlijk heel veel dingen in die uw weet, vermits ik toch wel heel wat info bij jullie te weten ben gekomen, maar toch. U ziet maar.
        Groetjes
        Paul

        1. Beste Paul,
          Het zal nog zeker wel 1 a 2 jaar duren voor de weg naar Vermosh klaar is, maar ze zijn intussen ook hard bezig aan de weg van Boge naar Theth!
          Ik zou het trouwens zeer op prijs stellen als u de tour door Montenegro kunt doormailen. Bij voorbaat hartelijk dank.
          Met vriendelijke groet, Marianne. Mijn email adres is marianne@vantwillert.me.

  2. AV says: Reply

    I started to follow this blog the other day in an effort to get info for my trip to Montenegro in May. Very coincidence that you posted something about the Ladder of Kotor, something I’ve been hoping to find out about. Keep up the great work with you blog and keep the Montenegro stories coming!

    1. Thank you and have a nice trip in May!

  3. Thank you and have a nice trip in May!

  4. Nadine Charity says: Reply

    Do you live in, or near Kotor? We bought a house just outside the old city in April and really enjoyed your description of this famous walk.
    From your first photograph, it seems you have also ascended (or descended) the zig-zag path between the western edge of Skaljari and the southern end of Muo. Would you recommend that we did that one first?
    If you are living in this area, we would love to meet you sometime – perhaps you could come for tea?
    Nadine and Jack

    1. Hi,
      Nice to hear from you. Do you like living in Kotor? And will you live there all year round or only during the summer? I am permanently living in Podgorica, but during the summer months I am traveling around with my husband Paul. We have a campervan and at the moment we are in Croatia, later we will go to the mountains and then we will be in the Netherlands until October. But thank you for the invitation, it would be nice to meet you and hear something more about your impressions of Montenegro.
      The first photo of my blogpost was taken from the opposite peninsula of Vrmac. You can make beautiful hiking tours following the trail on the top – until the old fortress from where you have a great view of the whole Bay.
      Enjoy your time in Kotor and all the best!
      Marianne

      1. Nadine Charity says: Reply

        Sounds like a wonderful summer. We will be back at home in Kotor in September and stay until mid-November. Love reading about your adventures and would really enjoy visiting!

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