It was some years ago, maybe seven or eight, that a few friends proudly told me they were going on holiday to Croatia. The pride wasn’t from some sense of bragging that they were going away and I wasn’t (although there may have been a bit of that).
It was more that they were going to somewhere exotic, uncharted waters, an undiscovered paradise beyond the remains of the Iron Curtain in the east of the Europe.
Well, you only have to go to somewhere like Dubrovnik today to see how much has changed. While tourism was certainly growing back when my friends went, it has now reached breaking point.
The entire city feels like a coastal fortress built by a casino or a theme park. (That’s not to say I don’t love the place – and more on that another time.)
But where is the next frontier? What will someone be writing about in a few years’ time as the destination that was once exotic and is now just part of the European summer trail?
Funnily enough… I think the answer is just kilometres away. Let me introduce you to Kotor, the Dubrovnik of Montenegro.
Those in the Balkans know the wonders of Montenegro’s coast. When the summer heat hits they head to the water and the coastline becomes the epicentre of the region’s social life. But it’s relatively unknown to those from further west.
The first place on the coast you hit coming from Dubrovnik is Herceg Novi, a beach town less than two hours by bus (if there’s no hold up at the two immigration points).
The biggest holiday resort area is a further two hours by bus – a much more developed place called Budva.
And in between the two is the real gem, Kotor.
It’s set on a bay – but not just any old bay. This is one of the most stunning parts of the country with the shimmering waters, the dramatic mountains that come almost to the beaches, and the snaking coastline border between the two that creates rises and dips of the tree-covered range overlapping each other from any angle.
The old town of Kotor is surrounded by old fortified walls but an extension weaves out up the mountain behind like an extra tentacle of a sea creature. It leads to a fortress at the top that was used to watch out over the bay for any potential invaders.
Today it’s one of the main tourist attractions in town – although it’s a long and tough climb, especially in the heat of summer.
The fortress was needed for more practical reasons previously.
Kotor was a key site for invasion – not for its beauty but for the strategic advantage of a ship port along the Adriatic. But for about four centuries it was controlled by the Venetians and it is their influence that you can see in the architecture of the old town.
Just outside the fortified walks, though, yachts and motorboats are tied up to the piers.
The small beaches are full of tanned locals; restaurants are set up along the water; and a jetski can be heard doing tricks not too far away.
Kotor is a town set up for tourism. Nearby Budva and Herceg Novi are even better equipped (although not as beautiful).
The infrastructure is here and the amazing coast has always been. The prices at restaurants and bars is about a quarter of those not far away in Dubrovnik. So what is missing?
Perhaps cheap flights from major European destinations or maybe just awareness?
Either way it won’t be long until the hordes are here. I’m sure of that. Is this the next European holiday hotspot? I think so.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN KOTOR
You can choose between a hotel in the Kotor Old Town or something a bit more relaxed around the bay.
Cheap and fun, Montenegro Hostel 4U is a great option for a backpacker atmosphere.
You’ll save money by not being in the Old Town, but Hotel Galia still has great views of the bay.
With a very cool design inside, Boutique Hotel Hippocampus is right in the heart of the Old Town.
And for some luxury, Hotel Forza Terra is a beautiful five-star hotel with an incredible location.
21 thoughts on “Is this Europe’s next holiday hotspot?”
Nice piece. Just one correction, if you don’t mind: 🙂
In the intro you mention that Croatia was “beyond the remains of the Iron Curtain.” While it was a Communist country, the former Yugoslavia was never behind the Iron Curtain and never in the Soviet sphere of influence.
Cheers and happy trails!
Hi Bob. Yeah – of course you’re right about the Balkans being relatively independent during the Cold War. I guess in this context I was talking physically, rather than politically, and trying to make the point that ‘western’ Europe stopped at the Adriatic in many eyes. But thanks for the clarification – it’s an important point.
Well,even as meaning it physically its still wrong because one immediately think of it somewhere around Russia or Poland.Former Yugoslavia was communist country but never part of Soviet block which made it Stalin`s enemy for many years.You have to be precise when exploring and to learn about some country`s history and tradition.Otherwise it will sound like nothing but stupid propaganda.
Nevertheless Yugoslavian coast was popoular place for western European tourists during the 80`s.
I already feel like I need to go everywhere NOW!! And now it seems I should get to Montenegro even quicker. It really sounds great!
I’m not sure how quickly it’s changing. It would need a cheap flight or a huge promotional push to get completely overrun with Western tourists. But it’s still probably a great time to visit.
I went to Montenegro a couple of years ago and really liked it, I also travelled further south to Albania a relatively unexplored country, it was quite a contrast but nevertheless an enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately I ran out of time to get to Albania so I’ll have to try to make it back there another time. Would you recommend spending a couple of weeks there?
Yeah, this was the other place we went. The day we were there it was very hot and there was a cruise ship in “port,” so it wasn’t empty, but not as fully overwhelmed as I had feared when I saw the ship. I could definitely spend a night there to see what it is like without anyone.
Ah, I didn’t experience the cruise ship phenomenon there. Perhaps that would change things a little bit… although I get the feeling it’s still not really on the tourist trail completely yet.
Sick, sick shots 🙂
Loved seeing the pics Ryan and Angela from Jets Like Taxis put up last year when they were living in the area, and it’s great to see the beauty reinforced here with your own visit. Definitely a place I wish I would have explored when I was living closer to the region, and certainly plan on heading back to take it all in myself. Thanks for sharing!
It’s one of those places that just seems to be beautiful without even trying. The whole coast of Kotor Bay is just stunning and you could spend so long there just relaxing and enjoying the scenery.
Really gorgeous! I hope one day I could go and explore these places too.
Safe travels Michael!
Let me know if you ever make it there. I would love to hear what you think and if it’s changing at all.
I think it is better that there is not so many cheap flights from European cities, some places should stay the way their are, have you seen what cheap flights did to Prague or Krakow?
Yeah, that’s a very good point. Cheap flights bring in large crowds… and not always the best large crowds too. Maybe it is best that it’s a little trickier to get to Kotor and the rest of the coast.
Sorry,but i don’t understand your pictures.There are many palaces in the Kotor,and you didn’t photographed any?
I¨m a tour guide from Kotor.
This was a nice piece. But, please, stop comparing our beloved town to Dubrovnik in the way you did, and I quote: Let me introduce you to Kotor, the Dubrovnik of Montenegro. These towns were always very close, but still, Kotor is not less important or less beautiful than Dubrovnik- it has a very rich history, richer and longer that the one of its counterpart in Croatia. Otherwise, I like your site very much. Thank you for the review of my lovely hometown and if you happen to be here and need a tour guide, let me know… cheers
Thanks for the comment. You’re right – it’s certainly not less important or less beautiful. But it’s not as well-known which is why I included that comparison.
There are actually quite a few difference, though. I found Kotor to be smaller and more relaxed than Dubrovnik (which is full of tourists!). And I loved the way the water was so close to everything in Kotor too.
Anyway, you have a beautiful home and thanks for looking after it so well.
From your captured images, it’s undeniable how the old town of Kotor extremely fantastic in views. From now on, Kotor will be on my top destination list. So excited to see the place in person.
Great article (and your pix and report of Stari Bar are excellent, too)
I got a cheap flight to Podgorica in September and spend several nights in an old Venetian palace conversion in Kotor and then moved down the coast to Bar. Both absolutely fantastic!
There were 3 cruise ships moored in Kotor one day, none the next – Dubrovnik seems to have dozens every single day 🙁
But I got out and explored Perast, Herceg Novi, Budva, so no problem with masses of people in a small, walled city.
The walk up to the fortress is strenuous – but the views from the top amazing. Plus all of the old city walls are lit up at night, and that is such a magical sight.
I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time until Tivat airport starts catering for European visitors in a bigger way, it’s perfectly positioned to do so.
Then watch the floodgates open – Dubrovnik Mk 2 ?
I’d recommend visiting before that happens, as I fear it will.
I think you’re so right. Although Dubrovnik is a pretty magical city, I much preferred the coastline of Montenegro. But maybe that was because there were a lot less people there. It is only a matter of time before it is full of tourists and that means new hotels and developments, which will change the whole feel of the place.