It is the perfect place and he has the perfect pitch.
Three hundred and fifty gruelling steps up the sheer Hill of St John the teenage boy is sat waiting. Next to him is an old, battered, cooler box.
“Cold drink?” he nonchalantly asks. It’s early afternoon and blisteringly hot. However, I am focused, a man on a mission and I decline.
But the kid is no fool and he allows me to draw level before following up with his killer line, “You have a thousand more steps to go”. I physically wilt, stop and buy the drink.
Trekking along the zigzag walls up to the fort is no easy hike and the last section of the 1350 steps is classed as a “high risk zone”. That seemed to be to be overstating it. However, risk or no risk the rewards for perseverance are priceless. The medieval buildings are interesting but to be honest they’re a sideshow. What I’ve come for is the view of Montenegro’s Kotor Bay.
Wide eyed and awestruck I feel like I’m perched with the gods supping up the full glory of the world. It is nirvana.
The bay is sometimes called the fjord of the south. It cuts in from the sea in a wide arc before funneling into a narrow channel of water. After this slender entrance the water turns at a right angle and the Bay opens to the south east to reveal its glory, luscious blue water towered over by almost vertical mountains. Immense, sheer, dry rock wall on one side, dark green and forested slopes on the other. It is magnificent and humbling.
At the end of the bay and almost vertically down from my vantage point lies the ancient town of Kotor. It has a fragile foothold on the mountain at the edge of the water.
The Old Town teems with history and is an enclosed triangle. The walls which protect it gradually built up from the ninth century onwards. Within is a maze of medieval piazzas and a crisscross of alleyways. They are home to scores of little shops and dozens of restaurants and coffee shops. Like Dubrovnik the Old Town it’s still inhabited by people living in antiquated homes.
I took a couple of bus trips along both sides of the bay. Vehicles cling on by inches to the edge of the road. Along the eastern side is the historic village of Prabast, a UNESCO Heritage site and the entrance to the bay. It is the place to catch a short boat ride to the small island of Our Lady Of The Rocks.
Legend tells of it being formed by sailors throwing rocks in the Bay after a successful voyage. Over time, the islet emerged. The custom is kept alive each July when villagers take their boats out and throw rocks into the water. There are spectacular waterfront restaurants where the hours easily slip by.
Montenegro, is a new country. Formerly part of Yugoslavia it didn’t acquire statehood until 2006 and is yet to get established on the tourism trail.
The country is in the shadow of its better known neighbour Croatia, one of the world’s en vogue travel destinations. Its sun drenched islands and rugged coastline are a magnet for charter sail boats and landlubbers alike. Most visitors stop at the beautiful city of Dubrovnik and never venture the extra few kilometres to Montenegro. But they’re missing out.
After Croatia the Adriatic coast continues south in spectacular style, particularly Kotor Bay. The journey of an hour or so by bus passes dozens of little bays, many packed with Montenegrins enjoying the coast.
The country’s interior is also a five star draw. It’s a hiker’s paradise of magnificent mountains and superb views to match. Montenegro is small and has a population of just 630,000 but its infrastructure is surprisingly good and it feels like a country on the up.
Do yourself a favour, get there. And if you take a walk up the Hill of St John, stop and buy a cold drink. Better still, buy two. One for you and one for the Gods.